Riding Powder

Today began around 0 degrees, the coldest day we had all winter. I went to the shop and tuned up the computers in the office, then went home for lunch. At 4:30 I got an idea to bike up Strohm’s Hollow trail to the top of the mountain. This trail is an old road that is narrowed down to about six or eight feet wide by the brush on both sides. It’s a three mile trip up to the gate on top and an elevation gain of around a thousand feet. There’s a short stretch with softball size rollers close to the top, but the rest of the trail is a fairly fast, smooth downhill. The bottom gate is only about three miles from home, so this trail makes a great late afternoon ride. We had a dusting of powder last night that added up to nearly two inches, so it is really a great time to ride. How often do I get the chance to ride powder in PA? The incredible thing is that there is still powder 24 hours later. This is a real once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. That’s how I convinced myself that it was a good thing to do.

I started out strong enough. Someone had driven through the gate and left frozen tire tracks, which made fast riding. Then I met the first tree. This huge tree had fallen with its top across the trail. The trunk came from far up the bank on the right, with a huge pile of branches on the trail, and ending above the creek on my left. I couldn’t cross the creek without getting my feet wet, and the hill on the right was higher and steeper than I wanted to climb. I decided to go over, or rather, through, the tree. I threw my bike –yes, threw it- as high up onto the pile of branches as I could, then climbed through, and up to the bike to throw it a little farther. In this way I made it across. I glared back at the tree, and continued on.

On the upper side of the tree, there were no human tracks at all in the snow. The trucks and even the big hunting boots had been turned back by the tree. On I went, higher and finally high enough on the shoulder of the ridge to look around and down behind me. The ground was frozen underneath the snow, and I made good time. Last time I went up this trail, I kept glancing at my tires because it felt like they were flat due to the soggy ground, and I had to pedal to keep going downhill. This rode so much easier. The snow had decent traction and squeaked a little under the tires of my bike. There were several more small trees down across the trail that I was able to pop over or ride around. I had to dismount and lift my bike over one. I made the top in 50 minutes, not a very good speed, but 10 minutes less than it took me the last time.

I fear my pedals will not make it back to the pickup with me. The frames are threatening to separate completely from the axle of the pedal. And these being the very best platform style pedals that Mr. Merv had in his bike shop. I had bought these top of the line WTB pedals to replace the worn out generic pedals that I previously had. They performed marvelously, but first one corner, and then others, had caught on rocks and had gradually taken on a different shape. This concerned me a little; with the corner of the cage sticking out, it caught more rocks and twisted still farther. Now the other corners were doing the same thing. I have been trying to stay off of clipless (why do they call the straps clips, and the clips clipless?) pedals because they are difficult for me to learn. While I’m waiting for my sunglasses to unfog, I’ll tell about some of my experiences with SPD pedals.

The first clip-in pedals I bought were a pair of used LOOKs. I had ridden over to Merv’s Bike Shop and bought the set of shoes and pedals for ten dollars. I put them on my bike and left for home. I rode about a half mile and then wanted to get off my bike for some reason. I stopped and began getting off, but then couldn’t release my feet from the pedals. I was on a narrow bridge and a car was coming, but that didn’t stop me from toppling right over and laying there squirming until I was able to get one shoe untied, and my foot out of the shoe, and drag the whole conglomeration off of the road. I learned fast not to stop where I did not want to fall, but still forgot sometimes. Eventually I gave up with those pedals, telling myself that since they were road pedals, they wouldn’t work on a mountain bike anyway. I put my strap cages back on for awhile.

Soon the cages and straps ratted out, and bearings went out in my pedals. I decided to try SPD mountain bike pedals and shoes. So I got some shiny shoes in the mail, and some new pedals from friendly Merv. I was a little braver this time and took them off-road on some pretty technical stuff. I don’t think I improved my technique much, I just fell a lot oftener. Again I got discouraged, put them on the shelf, and bought a new set of straps and cages. When this set of straps, pedals, and cages wore out, I dusted off the SPDs and put them back on the bike, determined that this time I would learn how to ride as good clipless as I could with cages. Eventually I broke down, put them up on an even higher shelf, and bought me a good set of WTB pedals, cages, and straps. Now my WTBs are showing signs of disintegration, and I’m trying to remember what I did with those SPDs…

My glasses are as clear as they are going to get at 27 degrees. When I bought them I asked the little white haired woman behind the counter if they would stay on my face at 30 miles an hour on a rough mountain trail. She said they would, but I was skeptical. I have the stems on the outside of my beanie and still they stay on perfectly all the way down. They don’t fog and slide down my nose like some I’ve had. Go Oakley! Full fingered gloves would also be nice. My fingers stick to the brake levers; I have to constantly move them and keep them off the cold metal as much as possible. I throw out recreation, and go into survival mode. This means hands off the brakes as long as I can, then aggressive braking for a few seconds, then hang on tight again. My front wheel flips up a branch that whacks me in the face. I just hear a thud as, thankfully, my face is numb from cold. My pedal catches while riding over a fallen tree, and yet another corner is pulled askew. The next tree takes out another corner. One pedal frame is held on by only a small screw. Trees must not be good for pedals.

I finally get to the-tree-that-fell-completely-across-the-trail. I size it up again, throw my bike up onto the mass of small branches, and crawl myself through. I pull my bike down and out the rest of the way. One of my pedals gives up and the bulk of it drops to the ground. I pick it up and coast the rest of the way to the pickup on a smooth aluminum stub.

I turn the heat on in the pickup and wipe the blood from my cheek and nose. It’s been a good ride and I think I’d do it again, with gloves. I need to ride up with a chainsaw in my backpack and conquer those trees. Maybe next week…