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Monday, October 26, 2009

Dear Winter...

Winter, winter, winter. Early snows usually melt and are forgotten in days. The snow cannot endure the high altitude sun until after Thanksgiving. This year, winter seems to be here early and doesn't seem to have plans for a vacation. It snowed a few inches yesterday, and snow is in the forecast for three of the next five days. One upside is the early morning light that barely touches the snow-laden treetops.How do you politely tell a guest named Winter that they've shown up too early for the party and you're not ready for them yet? Well, I guess that I am slightly more prepared than last year because I have a snow bike ready to ride.
Believe it or not, 'Life with Dogs' asked me to talk more about my bike! And, 'Life with Bikes' asked me to tell him more about my dogs. What's the world coming to?

My snow bike is a Fatback, made by Speedway Cycles in Anchorage Alaska. It's used by many of the top riders in the Iditarod bike race that follows the same route as the dog sled race. It has 4" wide tires, designed to maximize float in deep snow and give good snow traction. The frame is titanium, and the bike is amazingly light! Yes, compared to my dual suspension bikes, it feels like a feather! It has no suspension except for the huge tires. I run them at about 5 psi in the snow, and they cushion every bump. Other companies make snow bikes with wide tires but no other companies made a petite frame suited to my 5'2" stature.

A funny aside: Until I had my back fusion surgery about three years ago, I was 5'1". The first thing that the surgeon told me when I woke up was that he'd made me an inch taller by separating my vertebrae to their normal configuration. I haven't measured myself again - I don't want to know if my deteriorating back is making me even shorter, yet again!

The Fatback works optimally on well packed deep snow. Under these conditions, a conventional mountain bike sinks into the snow and bogs down. In contrast, the Fatback usually floats over the snow, letting me ride all winter long. My small size also helps keep me on top of the snow.

The funny-looking things on the handlebars are called pogies, and they're insulated mittens that cover the brake calipers, shifters, grips, and my hands. They're key for keeping my hands warm on a 18F morning like today.

Today, I had the duo of Labs join me for a bike ride in the snow. They frolicked rambunctiously. R's high voltage style rubbed off on K. R makes me smile! And, I think that he makes K smile too now that she feels peppy enough to play with him.
I've been working with R on making eye contact with me when he 'checks in'. It's a good behavior to solidify for dealing with distractions. Here, he solidly looks in my eyes.
But, this activity is so boring to our high speed Lab that he dozed within 2 seconds.
Yesterday, I pondered why K often does a tongue flick just before arriving at the end of a recall. Then, as I looked through photos, I realized that R very occasionally does the same thing. My dog training expert friends, starting with Roxanne, pointed out that it could be a 'calming signal' whereby K is trying to emotionally smooth out her ferocious sprint into my 'personal space'. She's calming both me and herself by doing a tongue flick. The flick says that, although she's sprinting fast directly at me, she means no harm. These 'calming signals' were first identified by Turid Rugaas. Here's R doing a tongue flick at the end of a recall on Saturday.
After I left the dogs at home, my Fatback and I headed out for a mostly ridge ride, trying to follow the melting snow. In the photo below, I looked over my shoulder at the ridge that I'd been following. It's the smaller one in the foreground. Behind it, a taller sawtooth ridge marks the abrupt transition from the mountains to the plains. Through a canyon in the right of the photo, you can see the yawning plains that extend to Kansas and beyond.
The coyotes also adopt my strategy of following the ridge after a snow. No human tracks followed my path but it looked like a brigade of coyotes had trotted along it.
After about 40 minutes of exhilarating views of snow billowing in the wind around the towering Divide, it was time to plunge over the north side of the ridge, into a gulch where I saw a lion last winter. This part of the ride scared me because the snow hid slippery logs and rocks just below its smooth surface. I need to get my snow confidence back!
The descent turned out to be fun. If I relax and let the bike do its job, it is amazingly nimble and stable. I followed a route that I only use in the winter and enjoyed seeing trails that I've eschewed since last April. I didn't see any lions today but I did see lots of elk, deer, and coyote tracks. I was the only human silly enough to use these trails since the snow blanketed them. I like the solitude of being the mountain biker who visits remote places all through the winter!


  1. Such great pikhs!

    I'm pretending I've got my snooter in the snow!

    Mom shared your suggestion with Unkhle Paul about the thermakhare thingies -

    He said he appreciates all the tips/etc being shared -


    He's going to khome stay here with us so he's got hoomans to watch him fur a while!


  2. Winter does feel early this year, even though I know it isn't that uncommon. Where I notice my slacking is in the pantry and freezer. I got too comfortable being able to drive down the mountain whenever to get just a few things. I need to shake my few-things mentality and start stocking up again because there is nothing worse than being home during a longer storm and getting a hankering for something.

  3. So much snow! Huh - and I was running around in shorts and a T-shirt at the trial this past weekend!

  4. The bike is very impressive and certainly gives you a great deal of mobility in the winter snows there.

  5. I do hope you get some respite and melting snow before real winter sets in.

    Interesting about the tongue flick. I'll have to look for that when we recall the girls on the trails.

  6. Hey there KB
    You always have such interesting posts. Thanks for telling us about the snow bike this time...those mittens are quite amazing! Thanks too for the lovely pics again.
    Keep warm and safe and hugs to the dogs
    MAX's mom in South Africa

  7. I laughed when I read about your "growth." Four years ago when I broke my back (compression fracture) I lost 1/2 an inch (now I'm 6'2".) If we have a few more back injuries/ surgeries between the two of us, we'll be eye-to-eye!

  8. What is going on with all of the snow? Looks like the wooly worms may be right - long and cold winter ahead of us. We'd better get to practicin' our snugglin' wif momma.

  9. As usual, great post! The picture of R trying to hold his pose had me laugh out loud.
    Been out of circulation for a bit trying to start up a company for cyclocross related stuff, part of this adventure had me at Interbike where I saw a number of fat tired bikes, Surly has a beauty and a company from S.C. has one for riding on comes as a single speed or with an 8 speed with an internal transmission in the rear cables anywhere.
    Way fun to ride!!
    Apparently we are in for big snow soon, I think you may be right about early winter.
    Cheers to your gang.


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