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Wild Nights On Cycle Tours

BEARS…

Beside a mountain lake in British Columbia in 2014, I was awoken just before dawn as a grizzly bear mistook my tent for a bush and sat down on top of me in the darkness.

The previous evening had been particularly cold. The geese had pecked away in the shallows, whilst I cooked dinner hurriedly amongst the boulders on the shore. When dusk touched down, they finished their meal and began to take off, pacing across the lake, wailing mournfully against the mountains as they climbed sharply above the trees. I quickly finished my own meal and changed my clothes; packing them away in a dry-bag with the stove. I then turned on my headlamp, and walked out into the surrounding forest to hang my bear-bag for the remainder of the night.

Alone at 6,000′ on the Great Divide MTB route, it was certainly one of the wilder places I had spent the night. And yet – as I hopped around in the bracken, blowing on my frigid digits and repeatedly failing to pull the bear-bag into a high enough tree – I thought about some of the other wild places I had stopped on bike trips over the years. And how, at the time, they had seemed just as intimidating as this night I was going into now

WILD EYE

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The rancher’s son Martin arriving with water and dinner

Before that point, one of the remotest places I had ever spent the night was on a sheep ranch in Patagonia, Chile. My Korean cycling partner and I had approached the farm at dusk after being battered by the wind all day. It was bleak and cold, and we were hungry and out of water. We rolled back the barbwire gate, and wheeled our bikes onto the property.

A figure appeared. A weather beaten rancher, coming towards us through the gloom. Just feet away, he stopped and fixed us with his one good eye whilst the other flickered madly over us. We had little language to explain our needs, but an hour later we were warm, and installed inside a barn. Soon after, his son Martn knocked on the door. He was on horseback and had brought a gift. A dinner of lamb steak, eggs and mashed potato with nothing expected in return.

ALLIGATORS

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South American alligator roadkill

If that was the remotest night I had spent on a bike trip, the scariest had been in northern Argentina, while making a solo crossing of the Esteros de Iber wetlands. It was nearly dark and for the last 30minutes I had been cruising down the potholed road looking for a place to pitch the tent. The fading light was golden, and the sky was reflected in the marshes, like heaven brought down to earth. Spying a disused track, I bounced my bike off the road and crashed my way through the undergrowth to find a pitch on high ground, away from the alligators that crawl out of the swamp.

In the darkness before dawn, my worst fears were realised though, when I woke to find a silhouetted creature crawling up between the inner tent and flysheet, making its way across above my head. But as day broke the alligator began to make a strange purring noise – and I soon had a brew going on the stove and was sharing hot milk with two very small, rather cute and extremely cold Argentinian kittens.

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Baby “alligators” kept at bay with a sandal to stop them setting themselves and the tent on fire before breakfast was ready

FEAR

And so when the bear sank down on top of me in the Canadian Rocky mountains, I’d already had my share of remoteness and anxiety whilst wild camping. The animal’s crushing weight was perhaps my final comeuppance for trying my luck and exploring beyond the limits of where I should dare to go.

But like the Chilean rancher, the Argentinian alligator and so many of the other perceived dangers that make us pedal home and lock up the doors at night – we can often find they dissipate, when confronted, and prove nothing more than the crushing weight of our own preconceptions and fear.

Indeed, this is how it proved inside my tent. With a kick and a shove, I managed to free my trapped legs. Then, with a shake of the fabric, the bear shaped object astonishingly disintegrated into a brief snow flurry, before disappearing altogether.

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…The remnants of the “bear”

In the first light of day I unzipped the tent wearing all of my clothing, and inspected the broken branch from where the overnight snow had suddenly fallen onto my tent. Next I dug out my bike, retrieved my bear-bag and then continued pedaling into the brilliant new landscape.

Call for Comments

  1. Have you ever been on an overnight bike trip?
  2. Did you have to overcome any fears of the unknown?
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3. Where is the line between adventure and recklessness?

Next Up: The Cycle Touring Cookbook

Matt Maynard is a British outdoor journalist, environmentalist and photographer based in Santiago, Chile. 2016 credits include: BBC Travel, The Guardian, Mens Fitness and Red Bull. His stories seek to draw on that clarity we have when living life with determination and truthfulness.

Find more of his adventures on Twitter @MattNMaynard, Facebook and at his website Matt-Maynard.com.

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Rainy Day Commute

Photo Credit: SimonDBarnes (Flickr)
Photo Credit: SimonDBarnes (Flickr)

Down here, in Mooresville, North Carolina, it is raining and the first cold rain we have had since spring hit.  My commute in today involved a rain jacket and rain pants, both of which I haven’t worn together in months.  As I was riding the thought of what people across the U.S are dealing with this morning for their commute..  In Minneapolis there was snow, and in Kona it was 80 degrees.  Continue reading Rainy Day Commute

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How cold is it?

Thanks for the tremendous response on if you plan to ride over the winter or not. I saw a lot of great questions that I hope to investigate over the next couple of weeks.

In the meantime, the U.S. national weather report shows rain and snow over much of the U.S. Midwest today. I’m supposed to have a high of 90° F where I’m at near Santa Cruz, California today, but I know many of you are donning cold weather gear for the first real storm of the winter season.

What was the temperature when you left this morning for work? Were your neighbors scraping ice from their windshields?

My coldest ride was in Champaign, Illinois in the early 90s. It was forty degrees below zero when I left for work one morning.

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Pogies

Last week I wrote about some inexpensive pogies over on Blue Collar Mountain Biking. Pogies, sometimes called Moose Mitts or Bullwinkles, are weatherproof handlebar covers made of materials like Cordura and fleece. As cold weather cyclists know, bulky winter gloves can make it difficult to do simple things like brake and shift, adjust zippers, or grab something from your pocket. Pogies enable you to use your standard, thinner cycling gloves in cold weather. Although almost all the pogies mentioned in this post are for flat or riser bars, I did find one website that plans to sell some made for drop bars; however, it looks like they are still under development. More on that later…

Dogwood Pogies

Pogies from Dogwood Designs – Photo courtesy of Tim Woody

For my Pogie research I asked Anchorage, Alaska resident Tim Woody for his opinion on what works best when it gets really cold. If you’re not certain what really cold means, go check out Tim’s blog, Bicycles and Icicles, to see what I’m talking about. The following are some of the options Tim provided me at various price points.

On the cheap end, under $20, go check out my post on Blue Collar Mountain Biking. Cabela’s makes ATV/Snowmachine hand covers that should work ok for cycling. The design is certainly not as good as the cycling specific pogies below, but the price is right.

For quite a bit more money, but a much better design, there are the Bike Toasties available for $68 from Apocalypse Design in Fairbanks, Alaska (scroll down near the bottom of the Apocalypse Design site to view the picture). These also have a nice reflective strip across the top.

Next up are the Pogies from Dogwood Designs (pictured on this post), which Tim says are very popular with Anchorage Riders. They come in a variety of colors if you’re trying to match them up with your bike or attire, and will run you about $90. Apparently Dogwood Designs doesn’t have a website, but you can email them at dogwooddesigns@gci.net for more information.

Dogwood Pogies Closeup

Pogies from Dogwood Designs – Photo courtesy of Tim Woody

On the very high end there are the Expedition Pogies from EPic Designs. These $200 pogies are designed and hand made by Tim’s friend Eric “Bearbait” Parsons. According to his website, Eric Parsons “has over 15 years of adventure cycling experience, ranging from Alaskan winters, to high and remote Himalayan passes, to thousands of miles across South America.” These are probably overkill for most of our needs, but they are worth a visit to the EPic Designs website for a look at these robust pogies and some of the other hardcore gear designed by Eric Parsons.

Here’s another website that sells pogies, trails-edge.com. They have a pair of of mountain bike pogies for $60, and it appears they have some pogies for drop bars in development that will be $70. There’s no date on this statement, so it’s hard to tell for sure when they’ll be available. Personally, I’d love to have some for my road bike, since the wind chill is so much greater at the road bike’s higher speeds. The trails-edge website is a bit hard to navigate (and link to), so look for the winter biking products section for more details.

One of my friends let me try his pogies, an old pair from the early 90’s made by Madden. I used my summertime long fingered gloves for the test on my commute home. Before I started my ride, the sun had gone down, temperatures were in the 30’s, and the wind was blowing. I could feel my thin gloved hands getting cold quickly. With the thin gloves, my hands slipped easily into the Pogies, and my hands stayed warm all the way home. I pulled a hand in and out during the ride to verify that they were indeed keeping me warm. I also verified that I could get my hands in and out easily enough to be safe. I was impressed with how well they worked!

As you can see, there is a set of pogies for every budget. Hands can be one of the harder things to keep warm during the winter. If you’ve been suffering from cold hands, or would like the dexterity of a thinner glove while still staying warm, then pogies are definitely worth checking out!

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Snow and Ice

Some days there are no safe routes to work. Today was the first day back to work after a weekend of snow storms. The snow plows had only worked on the main streets, so all the side streets were a lumpy mess of ice and snow. And since the sides of the roads were piled with snow from the sidewalk snow blowers, I was forced to ride too close to traffic. By the time I got to work, I had spent over a half hour creeping along the streets and hiking through the park for my 2.5 mile commute!

Snowy Bridge

Here are a few of the things I learned and practiced today:

Slow down! The unpredictable terrain caused me to watch my front wheel. Occasionaly I tried to make up time where I had traction, only to come into a dangerous section that I didn’t see coming. I practiced keeping my speed slow enough to react to changing conditions, braking where I had traction before hitting patches of ice.

icy road

Keep a straight line. Wandering around from tire track to tire track is a good way to end up on your head. It’s important to keep an eye on what your front wheel is doing, but remember to scan ahead when possible and pick the best line. Slow way down when taking turns. This is where I had the closest calls today. Luckily I was able to unclip in time and get a foot down before the wheels completely slid out from under me!

Be mindful of what’s behind you. There were times today when I looked back and saw a lot of traffic headed my way. I decided it was safer to get off the road and wait for the cars to pass instead of taking a chance with an automobile close encounter.

Give yourself extra time. I ran into a dead end while trying to cross the park. The snow was too deep to ride, so I decided to backtrack to the road. This wasted some time, but was probably wiser than trudging through 200 yards of snow.

Consider studded snow tires. If you’re serious about commuting through the snow and ice, get some studded snow tires. I had some very aggressive knobby tires on today, and they didn’t do much in the ice. I was always looking for a bit of snow to ride in to make sure I had a little traction. I’ll be shopping around for some snow tires soon. Recommendations please!

Overall, my commute was a great experience. It’s fun to have an adventure before work!

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Top 10 Tips for Riding in the Snow

snow bikeNPR.org:

Jill Homer of Juneau, Alaska, is training to ride 350 miles in the human-powered Iditarod. The race, which starts in February, follows the same route used by the famous dog sled teams.

People sometimes say, “Wow, riding a bike on snow – that’s great. But how does it work?” Snow-biking can be different from regular cycling, so I’ve compiled a list of 10 tips for riding a bike on snow.

Read the tips…