I've been busy preparing for the Arrowhead 135 and for launching my own race for the first time this winter, JayP’s Backyard Fat Pursuit in early March. My scouting missions allow me to train, and my training gives me time for a lot of thinking and planning.
Like any cold-weather, snow-riding addict, I often like to chase down the trails when they are firm, because otherwise I might go skiing. Recently I packed up and headed north from my house to Island Park, Idaho, to ride the 200k route of my Fat Pursuit Race. A great way to scout and prepare for the Arrowhead 135 as well. Unlike race day I chose my day. The evening ride into the night in -20°to -30°F. temps made for a great combination of firm trails, no snow machine traffic, some new gear testing and many cold weather technique reminders.
I packed for this ride as I would to ride the Arrowhead. That alone had me thinkering (thinking and tinkering in one) with my kit into the afternoon, and so I didn't leave the trailhead until about 5 pm. The sun set quickly, as did the temperature, and soon enough the focus was about staying comfortable. Notice I didn't say warm, being warm is easy enough, just cover everything and put on a lot of clothing. When working hard and sweating, being comfortable while not overly sweating is the key to extended extreme cold outings. A lot of clothing when riding generally means a lot of sweat—not a good combination. So being disciplined enough to make the correct adjustments of venting, changing wet head gear, wiggling your toes, routing the water bladder hose properly were all reminders to me as I dove later into the night.
This was the first real test for the new Cobrafist pogies. Over the years I have used several different kinds of pogies and even some custom-made ones. In general when hitting -20°F. I would have upgraded from just wearing my liner gloves to a more substantial insulated mitt inside the pogie but during this trip, despite hard cold, I never needed more than my liner gloves. Turns out the Cobrafist is the warmest pogie I have ever used. I really like the structure it holds and how it doesn't flop down—a result of good design as well as how it attaches to the end of the handlebar. Having warm hands is certainly a great thing, but in mid-range temperatures pogies can be too warm. So I often find myself riding with no gloves, and even then they can be too warm. The other nice feature is the zip venting on the top and bottom of the Cobrafist that you can access from both inside and out. I definitely use this feature; it is a great way to control the temperature as well as help push the moisture build-up out.
After 7 hours of night riding in -25°F. on some amazing trails, up and over a pass into West Yellowstone, I was certainly ready to eat some food and
dry my clothes. Knowing this sleepy little town and since it was midnight, my options were slim, but I immediately went to the local bar pizzeria. Awesome, they were open, but not so awesome the kitchen was closed. I settled for a couple of IPA’s, chips and 2 pieces of licorice. I spent a bit of time hanging out, rotating my clothing in front of the stove and asking the bar tender if he thought it would be OK to sleep in the post office? Is the enclosed store alleyway unlocked? What about that changing hut, do they keep it unlocked? I was trying to seek shelter beyond sleeping in the snow.
I found shelter. Since I didn't catch a meal, I ate the oatmeal packs I brought, using the water from my thermos to make it. Rationing the water, I also made hot chocolate before finally falling asleep past 1 a.m. Since this was a scouting and training trip and I needed to get a full meal before riding the next 60 miles, back up and over the pass. I laid in my sleeping bag untill the first restaurant opened at 6:30am.
As I headed over to the restaurant, it was still -25°F. and I knew the trails would be in great shape before the snowmachines hit them. So I hustled to get back out
there, wolfing down a hungry man's breakfast and using the restaurant's facility to get all bundled up. I was that much more comfortable when leaving vs. the evening prior because of those great little amenities and the reminders.
In these temps for extended periods of time the feet tend to be a bit tricky to keep warm. I been using the Wolvhammer boots for 2 seasons now and simply love them over my old home-made boots. Using my typical set-up for these temps of a liner sock, vapor barrier, and topped with a rag wool sock my toes were fine for the temps. Another piece of gear I was testing and believe in as an addition to keeping your feet warm is a gaiter. I used the Bergraven the whole time on this trip and found out it does an amazing job of adding warmth to your feet. I love that the Bergraven is insulated. It works! Just another great piece of gear to add to the arsenal for cold weather riding. I did not use any toe warmers on this trip even though I could have a few times, as I like to teach myself how to get my feet from being cold to being warm. A few tricks include constantly wiggling my toes, over-articulating my ankle when pedaling, getting off and walking, and sometimes just stopping and swinging my legs. It’s all about getting blood flow into your feet. Be disciplined, and you can be comfortable and warm, too!
The full day's ride to get back to my vehicle was incredibly beautiful, and I rode silently most of the day with just a few snowmachines. I finally went to the backcountry lodge that I been eyeing for a couple years to have lunch and became even more familiar with the trail system. Everything that I might say I already knew has moved to the front of my mind, and the miles were great training. All in all it was an incredibly successful scouting / training trip, and it only took 24 hours!
Next up, Arrowhead 135.