Today is Global Fat Bike Day. The 131st anniversary of the hole puncher was recently celebrated but doesn’t have the same following as this.
Global Fat Bike Day was the brainchild of Si Matthews. According to legend, he had built up quite a collection of bikes but had become bored with just polishing them and arguing over the period correctness of anodized nipples (the bike kind). He decided to expand his horizons and declared that each year in early December everyone, including himself, needed to get out on their fat bikes for a ride. Better yet, to do it while riding with others.
That was three years ago and now the celebration has gone global. Even in Antarctica, I hear. Local groups of fattie fans gather for informal rides followed by refreshments.
Hood River, my new home of two months, has nearby snow and more mountain bikes per capita than anywhere else so I set about to organize a local celebration of Global Fat Bike Day.
I put up an Events page on Facebook, which was slightly traumatic. This was my first attempt at setting up an Events page. I usually shy away from such things because it reminds me of past mistakes with dating sites. How did I do? (https://www.facebook.com/events/200451123833892/).
To get the word out about the upcoming celebration I contacted local bike shops, the Cooper Spur Mountain Resort, mountain bike clubs, and Temira. Why Temira? She is the local guru on all things adventurous. Her website is gospel (http://thegorgeismygym.com/). She writes a killer weather forecast and gets people moving by posting notices of upcoming events.
My plan was to meet at the end of the road near Cooper Spur ski area and ride the gated road up to Cloud Cap. It is 2000 feet of climbing in 9.5 miles. Two days previous I had ridden an abbreviated version of the lower section of the same road and found the snow conditions favorable for biking. According to the manual, it is bad form to lead a fat bike ride when the snow turns out to be unrideable.
I arrive Saturday morning at the designated time and then wait an additional 20 minutes for any stragglers. The parking is ample.
I skip the rousing speech I had prepared about the beauty of the route, the amazing snow conditions, and the goal — to ride until we can’t ride any further or don’t want to.
As tradition dictates, we pause at the start for a group photo.
The quiet is deafening. Just the snow crunching under the wheels and the hiss of snowflakes falling from the sky. Prints laid down by snowshoe hares, coyotes, and deer litter the road. The dark old growth forest hugs the ribbon of white ahead.
The snow has gone through a thaw and freeze cycle since Thursday and so it is compacting under the wheels with a lot of resistance. This keeps me in the lowest gear but I’m still in the lead. Not that this is a race, although for the first time in a year I feel well enough to race. A car banged me while riding last January and I have had trouble getting my body back to normal. I did ride the mountain bike race across Washington in late May but had to pass on the other multi-day races I had planned.
The dark forest gives way to a stark landscape crisped by the 2011 fire. Sixty three hundred acres of high elevation forest got a reboot.
Yet, a hike through the burn in early June convinced me that it is on the rebound. Flowers and huckleberries crowd the silvering snags. The views are unobstructed.
Inspiration Point, 3 miles into the ride, provides a first view of the Eliot Glacier valley. Eliot Glacier is Mt. Hood’s largest glacier and also the most tempestuous.
Some of the mountain climbers who have been long entombed in Eliot’s cravesses eventually get spit out at the lower end. The glaciers are rapidly receding so that means a faster recycling rate of bodies. It isn’t an easy climbing route.
Seven inches of warm rain in late October, accompanied by quick meltoff of three feet of snow, raced down the canyon and (again) piled boulders and sludge on Laurance Lake Road and took out the irrigation district’s intake structure. The flood of 2006 did far more damage.
A wealthy Portland banker, William A. Ladd, built the Cloud Cap Inn at the end of this morning’s route in 1889. The venture first required building a wagon road and that opened as a 12-mile toll route the previous year. This allowed hearty Portlanders to board the passenger train to Hood River, take the orchard train to Parkdale, and then pile into a horse-drawn wagon to Cloud Cap, just in time for an early morning climb up Mt. Hood.
The current road isn’t the same as the Wagon Road. The Wagon Road went straight up the hill with few switchbacks. Skiers will use the the old road going downhill but it would be a lousy route on a mountain bike. The current route is a comfortable 4 percent gradient.
Now, with three inches of snow on the road, the route ahead becomes slower. The brief interlude between storm fronts is over and the clouds lower and thicken. Ahead are ten switchbacks up to Cloud Cap Inn.
Physics weigh heavily on the minds of mountain bikers. It is what we ponder when exertion robs the brain of oxygen. I look back at my tracks and notice that the distance traveled, as measured along the axis of the road, is considerably shorter than the distance measured along the path taken by my tire tracks. In other words, I weave back and forth like a drunk when riding slowly through tire-sucking snow.
The energy required for the wheels to compact the snow in a weaving path, I infer, must be considerably more than that required for a straight line. Not only is there the extra length of snow to be compacted but the back wheel isn’t always following the compacted path laid down by the front wheel so the compaction width becomes greater.
Group riding resolves much of this because you can stick the strongest rider in front to compact the trail. The path hardens and widens with each additional rider. The goal then becomes being the last rider in the group. Frequent pee breaks help.
After 5.5 miles the ride comes to a stop. The road ahead looks like the mile behind and the snow is now 6 inches deep and getting no lighter in texture.
After a brief break and a round of hot chocolate it is unanimous that this will be the turn around spot.
The rush down the mountain is fast and smooth down the compacted uproute. Because, physics!
The Global Fat Bike Day ride for the Hood River chapter ends all too soon. I down a swig of hot chocolate and pronounce it a success. Maybe next year someone else will show up. Temira, can you help me out?