Monday, January 14, 2013

Fat Bike Bedlamites: Surviving boredom one day at a time!

Bedlamites for sure!

Well, the conditions that we have all been waiting for have finally arrived.  Albeit with one caveat.  Studded tires.  Game changers indeed.  After suffering an anemic snowpack, but artic temps we were given the coup de grace with a 2 inch rain followed by the return of sub zero temps.  Go figure.  All that said however, the added water and artic air have just strengthened the ice out there and because of that we able to ride some insanely cool stuff over the weekend.
Using an ice screw to check ice depth

Dont forget the ice ax, and the rope and the fisherman's friends.....
Before I wade into the post I wanted to put down a few words on the idea of safe ice travel.  I have seen some web posts out there recently with some shots of folks riding on some pretty sketchy ice and with some pretty crazy exposure, I have also heard folks grousing about how crazy ice travel is.

Because of that I thought I would put some basic tips out there on how to safely travel ice (knowing that I am certainly NO expert, just have managed to stay dry over the years!)

 Yeah, you can actually prepare and do this in a safe manner.  Safe as any other sport that incorporates risk anyway.  I personally feel very at ease on ice, as do my buddies.  That said, there are no givens on ice.  However when I was a backcountry skier there were no givens about avalanche, and when I have gone ice climbing there were no givens on free standing pillars of ice and when I have gone surfing or whitewater kayaking there were no givens in those sports either.  However there were ways to educate yourself and make informed decisions about risk.  There was also the ability to carry basic safety equipment and we are doing that in this regard as well.

Good safe choices always happen with as much information as possible.  So I actually start my winter season in the fall and I canoe and kayak all the lines I would love to ride once the ice is in.  I check water depths, currents and flow.  Then I monitor ice formations as they are created.  I keep track of consistent temps and warm ups.  I constantly push into the lines we will ride later, checking ice depth and formation.  The places that form earliest tend to be thickest once we can ride and of course the stuff that forms last is the thinnest and those spots are remembered as such throughout the season.  As spring comes and thawing occurs that knowledge allows me to keep on riding understanding where off limits will be first etc.

Monitoring ice formation is very similar to keeping tabs on snow pack.  Sometimes it is stable, sometimes it is not and varying temps and weather make varying changes to ice formations and depth and quality of ice.  However without the history and prior knowledge of the ice you cant make informed choices on when, if and where to travel on it.  This knowledge is not only needed for safety is also great to have so that you can push the fun factor the highest as well.

In the place I grew up, we were introduced to the ice at an early age.  We were taught to value it, not fear it.  

My grandfather and his river rat friends looked at ice formation on the Mississippi River not with trepidation but as an opportunity.  A chance to catch more fish and they realized that by knowing how to travel the ice safely they could access places that they would never go in the summer.  That same premise goes into riding fat bikes on frozen rivers.

Here is a great link to have.  It is about ice thickness and what depth can safely support you.  It makes some sense, however it can be tough to always follow these rules when you are traveling in the backcountry.

That said you can use basic decision making processes to create safe choices.  First off, on rivers never go far from shore and understand (because of your scouting) how deep it is next to shore.  Lakes tend to be a bit easier to suss out, the easiest being if your not comfortable, just keep an eye out for the ice fisherman and the cars!

Never make an exposed move unless you have the need or information to do so.  Once you have that info, what you choose to do with it is up to you.  Let your brain relapse back to that Ice Thickness chart.  5 plus brainer, you could ride an ATV over it.  Over two inches, your safe but being aware.  Two inches or less?  Your desperate and should only be making a move like that if you have no other choice....not going to say I have not done it...

IF you do have to make a crossing, do so only at the point that is least exposed.  Shallow spots, spots with the least current etc.  My crew use both an ice ax and ice screws to make our decisions.  The ice screw can be used to check depth quickly, the ax can be used to hammer on hollow ice to see if it is layers or truly to the water.  We can also use the screw to tie off with as we bring a 20 foot section of rope as well.  In really tight spots a person can rope up, grab the ax and either walk or ride across thus safely testing the crossing.  There is also the ability to tie off down stream if we are doing a shot or trying a challenging move, thus having a line to grab if things go bad.

I am no expert and realize that ice travel comes with risks, but there is no doubt that similar to backcountry avalanche awareness you can travel ice safely.  If anybody out there has more tips, then post them on the comment pages as again, more knowledge makes for more safety and more fun.

Eric Peterson, looking for the "Phat" line

Changing a flat in -6 windchill = no fun!
Winter conditions in Duluth after the rainstorm are pretty interesting (and depressing).  XC skiing is toast.  Running is scary at best.  In fact just walking on the trails is taking your life in your hands.  Winter cycling however is perfect....

On my way back from CO this week my good friend John Gaddo called and asked if I wanted to try out a pair of the new Dillinger Studded tires on the Mukluk.  This was before the rain and while I was interested I did not really believe I would need them.  Once the rain hit however, I am wondering how I could ever live without them.  I am riding with total un-abated freedom with these tires on.  Places you could barely stand up on, I am rocking at full speed.  Studded tires are game changers for sure.  Right now you could literally ride anywhere with studded tires, Fat bike or skinny.  However on a Fat Bike they are pretty special because you have lots of them plus the added width and low PSI.
Game changers


Dave Cizmas rocking "Boat Breaker"
In addition to the safety discussion it should also be added that the folks I ride with are amazing cyclists.  I am not personally riding much of what I am taking photos of.  Dave, Rudy and Eric are super solid riders and also super comfortable with their abilities.  If they think they can ride it, they can.  If they dont, they walk away no questions asked and no egos bruised.  Seems easy, but when your with the bros, you can get Bro Bra Fever and in these conditions that could be bad.  I trust these guys though, they are smart and at ease on the ice as well, a good combo and fun to shoot.

Rudy O'brien front side pancake hop.  

Rear view, pancake hop
This is the winter of the Fat Bike (at least so far) and because of that I am really looking forward to getting into some cool terrain and rides.  My mind boggles at the possibilities, now however it is the time to refine our safety techniques and figure out how to push ourselves in a way that allows us access to bigger endeavors.

Shaken not stirred....with ice.

Dave on the big wave

Rudy rolling Boat Breaker
We have taken it this far.  I am sure others have as well and I am waiting to start seeing and hearing more about other folks riding winter rivers.  We live in the land of water.  Minnesota and Wisconsin alone have thousands of waterways just looking for exploration.  So there is no doubt in my mind people are going to start venturing out on their ice to check them out.  Maybe some of my tips with help.......... hope so.  Stay safe out there!

Doot E doo....Matt Evingson rolling for home
Ice water build up!  All things were working though!


Griff Wigley said...

Hansi, thanks for opening my eyes to what's possible on river ice. It had never occurred to me and now I'm psyched to do this. I just have to get some studded tires for my 29'er... and get my butt up there!


John Yonkers said...

Great shots on the river ice. Looks like you have yourself a regular winter playplace. I have to make a trip up that way when I get outta school.

Cycling Products Supplier said...

Wow! That is what you call true adventure! Looking at the photos, cycling along icy trails is indeed risky but with your tips and ideas, a safe ice travel is achievable.