When Life Hands You Pineapples, Make Pina Coladas
This winter was supposed to be all about riding our new fat bikes in the snow. Wool socks, boots, pogies, insulated camelback bladders: we were ready to spend our weekends pedaling in the cold, white world. But a little South American by the name of El Nino decided to send us West coasters the Pineapple Express – insanely warm winds that rocket up the coast from Hawaii to dump tons of rain and push temps to 10C+. Whatever snow we had locally was obliterated all the way to the alpine. What’s a pair of snow-hungry fatties to do?
The snow wasn’t coming to us; we had to go find it. The New Year started off with an exploratory ride on the East Canyon Trail in Golden Ears Provincial Park, about 50kms east of Vancouver. This old service road with the occasional creek crossing meanders for about 5kms up and down alongside Gold Creek. A good place to mosey, past moss-covered tree tunnels and occasional mountain views. The few snow covered sections were teasers only; we wanted more.
The pineapple winds hit the coast full force in late January. Those famous North Shore mountains were gaining hikers and bikers faster than skiers could make it down the slushy runs. We had to go beyond Metro Vancouver to find what was quickly becoming a rare commodity. An online post by a couple of snowshoers about “compact trails” swayed us into a last-minute trip to Manning Provincial Park, located 200km east of Vancouver.
Getting up at 6am to find over a metre of snow after a 2.5 hour drive made for happy fat bikers. Almost everything lined up perfectly for the day: it was -2C; the trail (Windy Joe) was groomed most of the way up; the skies were bright, and every trail user we came across was excited to see fat bikes. Our finish at the top of Windy Joe was capped off with a nice sunset, celebratory brew and the expectation of a fun night ride down the 6km descent. I did say almost everything was perfect. There was the matter of blowdown; those pineapple express winds had knocked down about 30 trees, blocking the trail at regular intervals forcing you to go over, under or around. We may not have had flow but at least we had snow.
Head South For Snow!
With its large network of dedicated, groomed fat bike trails, the Methow Valley around Winthrop, Washington seemed the logical place for us to go next. They had more snow than Manning, no blowdown to worry about and a trail maintenance crew to keep the trails in tip-top shape. With a long weekend available in mid-February, this 6-hour road trip to north-central Washington fit the bill.
Watching the weather reports two weeks out, we got a little nervous. That Pineapple Express was extending its reach a lot further inland than we thought. Average day temperatures were showing above zero. Not a good sign but we were committed to the trip.
It’s a good thing Winthrop has character, good food and a great brewery. This helped us to overcome the ‘pineapple slurpee’ conditions. Lowering the tires to 5 psi made the Pearrygin Lake trails rideable the first day but by the second, we were playing Who’s going to Superman next? too often. So we took a stab at riding up Highway 20 north of Mazama; about 65kms of this highway is closed to vehicle traffic in winter leaving it open to skiers, sledders and fat bikers. Soft snow made for a hard workout; even downhill we had to pedal to make headway. We’ll save this for another colder day.
Forget The Snow!
There comes a time when you either have to hop on board a plane to get to good snow or admit defeat. We’ve chosen to forget the snow; it’s not the right winter for it here and it’s not worth the money flying to find it. Fortunately, this doesn’t mean we lock up our fat bikes for the winter. There’s sand to be ridden!