This summer and fall, the trails in the Laurel Highlands and our own trails in our county park were dry and flowy. The mountain bike riding was spectacular and even when the time change came, the night riding was done in rather temperate conditions. That all changed at Thanksgiving when the winds of November came blowing. The snow came and the trails were transformed into winter conditions. When this happens, it gives the 59 year old kid a chance to switch gears a bit and do more trail running and hiking. My friend EJ Sigety used to drag me out all winter on the trails to mountain bike ride no matter what the conditions, but these days, I use good judgement and enjoy the trails in different ways.
I spoke in one of my last posts about dialing it back a bit and that on occasion, it is a good idea. Hiking is very enjoyable way to dial it back and I see things on the trails that I don’t see riding in a pack or pounding up a hill in the heat with my eyeballs bulging out of their sockets. Hiking in the snow can allow you to experience the silence of the woods, and the smell of a distant fireplace. You can experience a buck eyeing you up as you enter his domain. The trails look different and the footing dictates that you carefully place your steps so that you remain upright. Where this transformation may discourage some folks from enjoying the trails in the winter- hiking, trail running and snowshoeing can be a great alternative to the riding that we enjoy most of the year. I usually take my ski poles with me to help with the footing and balance in the icy conditions. These can also be used with snowshoes. Sturdy hiking boots are a must and I usually use my old reliable Vasque Hiker IIs that are 40 years old and still kicking. Dialing it back over Thanksgiving was enjoyable and I ran into some of my die hard friends who were still riding . They harrassed me but I enjoyed the hikes and was glad for a change.
Now if you are the hearty type and want to keep riding on the icy trails in the winter, you can use studded mountain bike tires as shown in the picture above. The new rage is the “fat bike” which has oversized tires that aid in the traction. These were developed originally to race in Alaska and have seen some major acceptance in the mountain bike community here in the lower 48. The curious thing about riding in the winter is that once you get going, the heat builds up and if the traction is good, you can enjoy a good ride when perhaps you would have thrown in the towel. Sometimes I will ride, other days I will run or hike. But the main thing is to keep enjoying the trails and the woods in all seasons and have the mental and physical preparation to do so. My friend Mark “the Shark” Sauers has a great expression for winter as well. He says there is never bad weather……only bad clothing. I would agree in that if you have the right winter weather gear, you can be comfortable even if the conditions are raw. Gore Tex, wool socks, good winter riding shoes, trail running shoes or hiking boots can make all the difference in the world and allow for that “go for it” attitude that you need in the winter. Good lights as described in my earlier posts about night riding can make a big difference too. There are a lot of good choices for lighting that are essential for enjoying the trails after dark. I try to avoid indoor exercise at all costs and good water proof clothing can allow outdoor activities even in the coldest, winter rain or snow. You get that fresh air, good exercise, come home and take a hot shower and sleep like a baby. Nothing like it.
Winter is just starting so why not think about continuing to use the trails at your own pace and sometimes with different tools. Nobody is going to think badly about you if you put the bike away and run or hike. Just as long as you do something and not let the winter get you down or allow for added padding which is painful to lose in the spring. Hydration is important as well. You lose a lot of moisture exercising in the winter and the need to drink fluids is as important in the winter as it is in the summer. Take your hydration pack with you at all times. Chistmas is coming folks and maybe Santa has some new equipment for you to use. Gear up, pick your poison on exercise, and enjoy the winter. Thanks for reading and think snow.