The Things Winter Gives Us

In New England, where we live and work and ride, the winter can seem unkind to cyclists. Snow falls, the roadways shrink, and the melt-freeze cycle makes ice a constant hazard on paved roads and dirt trails alike. Oh, and it’s cold.

Having said all that, there are few things we look forward to more than pedaling through the first snow, or cresting frozen climbs in our local woods, the air perfectly still in among the trees, everything quiet. Winter gives you those peaceful moments in ways the other seasons never quite manage.

It’s funny the way, in summer, we can find ourselves out riding at all hours. Late sunsets help, early sunrises. Winter compresses the active part of the day. We get home after work, and the day feels over, just because it’s dark. For us, that makes it all the more important for our health (and sanity) to get out on the bike as much as possible. It’s the endorphins, but also the inspiration that riding provides.

Naturally, we take it a bit easier this time of year. We cut back on the distance, tone down the effort. Our bodies need time to recover. Winter gives us permission to do that. In many ways, it’s easier to appreciate riding in this mindset, because we’re unplugged from goals. We’re not trying to be fast. We’re not trying to go far. We’re just pedaling.

And for those who want to continue to test their mettle, the cold offers ample opportunity. Temperatures here the last week of the year were most in the single digits, but day-after-day the Seven crew came rolling through the door, some with ice in their beards, but all with a smile on their face.

Evergreening – The Friday Morning Epic

This time of year, if you want to get a longer ride in before work, you’re leaving in the dark, so we charged up our lights, plotted and planned with GPS and a map, and rolled out while the rest of the world was still listening to the gurgle and pop of their coffee-makers.

We are riding trails all the time right now, Evergreening our commutes, slithering and snaking through every suburban patch of woods we can find, and it’s so much fun, that we find ourselves wanting to do more. So it was with eyes bigger than stomachs perhaps that we planned a 23 mile off-road gambol that we had little hope of completing and still getting to our desks/workbenches by work o’clock.

Optimism is priceless in the first week of December.

Cold weather riding (it was 25F at 6am) demands a little sacrifice. To get your temperature right over the length of the ride, you have to know you’re going to be a little cold at the start. In the dark, this is an even bigger challenge to surmount, but today we all held fast.

Through the woods behind the middle school, around the Reservoir, through the Great Meadow, then Vine Brook and Willard’s Woods, out to the Paint Mines and up the power line cut to the Landlocked Forest, the narrow boardwalks all glinting with frost, slick as fresh pond ice, leaves frozen in clusters with mud and sticks, the banked turns crunching under our tires.

It was just that kind of morning. We were too far from home (work), but having too much fun to turn back early. That led to an exhausting hammerfest once we’re back on paved road, each of taking our turn on the front, until we were here at Seven, hot coffee steaming, smiles all around.

Cold Season Adventure – Evergreening Vermont

There is no off-season when you love to ride bikes. We were in Vermont over the weekend, and we couldn’t resist the opportunity to put our tires on dirt, even though it was 19° F when we rolled away from the house, a fresh inch of snow on the ground.

This seemed a good test for our Evergreen SLs, set up with disc brakes and file-treaded 32mm tires. The dirt roads were packed hard in the cold, and traction was challenging in the steep up and down of our route. The funny thing about riding a bike in Vermont is that distances don’t mean that much. There are few stretches of long, level ground to travel, so you are almost always either going up or coming down.

Even in the bitter cold, we worked up plenty of heat by the end of the first climb. The challenge then is to stay warm on each descent, where any sweat you’ve managed to generate amplifies the freezing wind of your hard-earned plummet.

You’d be far better off gauging the difficulty of your ride based on total climbing feet.

We had been eying these roads for a while, driving by, wondering where they went, whether or not they connected. This is evergreening in its purest form, exploring what’s in front of you, looking for trails, cobbling together long, dirt routes that take in the scenery and shut out the traffic.

We were sure we could find some trails that connected us all the way north to Lake Whitingham without having to touch the highly-trafficked Route 100. Google Earth yielded some clues about where we might find those trails, and our Garmins banked the info to make the search more efficient.

We found this Corgi Crossing just before heading into the woods for the first real off-road section of the ride. We came around a corner, nearly at the end of a dirt road, and there it was, a small wooden bridge over a creek, proudly maintained and serving almost no purpose. Beautiful.

This sign was reassuring, although we wondered for a minute whether or not we qualified.

This part of Southern Vermont is crisscrossed by trails for cross-country skiing and snowmobiling, and we picked up on some markers shortly after entering the woods. Then it was a case of keeping our bearings as the snowy path dipped and swerved along, crossing small streams half-a-dozen times before spilling us out by the lake. You have to tip-toe across these crude bridges. Covered in snow and packed with leaves, they’re dangerous, and we thought ending up with one or both feet soaking wet at this temperature was maybe not a great idea.

Finally at the lake, we stopped to toast our first victory and realized we needed to drink quickly, before our bottles froze.

After the lake, we climbed up and over a dirt road lined by farms, before plunging back down into the town of Wilmington. From there it was up, up and up over another steep rise on the way to Mt. Snow.

The last turn on this route was a merciful right-hander onto this trail. The alternative was to continue up still another pitched climb. Instead we smiled like idiots, our tires crunching softly over the snow until we were rolling into Dover, the town clustered at the mountain’s base. We’d covered only 15 miles, but packed in 2000 ft of vertical, discovered some useful new trails, and spent 90 minutes in the woods, evergreening.