Maybe I got a little conned, maybe I wanted to get conned. Normally the mention of bicycles and snow has me turning my back to the whole idea. I’ve done it. Too many times. I know how hard it can get. I don’t think there are too many things that have such a variation between the romantic ideal and the reality of the situation as riding in snow. It seems like it should be so much fun, all that swooshing and soft powder, beautiful sun, dappled trees, the imagination runs wild. In truth, it can often turn into nothing but a cold, wet trudge under grey skies with the ghosts of hunger and famine gnawing at your bones. This time, I got lucky.
There were a few things that tipped me toward agreeing to this mad cap adventure. Firstly, the weather looked to be pretty stunning. Cold, but dry. Perfect.
The other positive for throwing my hat into the ring was the rest of the crew. I’ve been on enough adventures to know the importance of being with the right people. There’s nothing worse than having some git lose it at the wrong time. When the going gets hard and everyone is cold, wet and hungry, the last thing any group needs is someone to start complaining about being cold, wet and hungry. I’ve been on a few bike misadventures that were miserably wet and barely scraping above 0 on the thermometer. On the fun ones, everybody keeps it together and gets it done.
On one ride, we were unlucky enough to have a whinging pom that just couldn’t stop complaining about how cold his hands were. It was infuriating. To him, he was just stating the obvious. To us, sheesh, we could have rolled him off the edge of the cliff. Lucky there wasn’t one. We just picked up the pace a bit and made sure we were out of earshot for the next 3 hours. When we hit home, warmed up and dried out, we got stuck into him. Everyone had the choice to be out there or not, but the rule was, if you were coming, no whinging, no complaining. It pays to choose your company wisely.
The hardest trip I’ve done that involved a bike and snow, was crossing a snow covered pass in BC, Canada. I was making my way across BC to end up in Edmonton for the Cycle Messenger World Champs. A couple of days out of Vancouver the road I was on turned to trail, walking trail. It was past lunchtime and I thought I’d keep pressing on. With the optimism of youth telling me things could only get better, I gently pushed aside my common sense. The day got longer and colder, and I just kept seeing more snow. There were plenty of forest noises, some that sounded suspiciously like bears, but thinking bears were about wasn’t helpful, so I just trudged on with my task.
At this point, it was a serious little walking trail, impossible to ride. The snow was knee deep, and when I drifted too close to the trees, I’d fall through the snow up to my waist. Unable to face the indignity of turning back, I was portaging my belongings over the top. I’d drag my bike up about 3-400m, head back, grab my panniers, take them a further 3-400m and then back to my bike. I repeated this cycle near endlessly. Eventually, I came to the top of the pass and saw this wonderful bowl. I put my head down and hit across the other side, only to realise that when I got there the road was actually off to my right from where I’d stood before. I headed back across the bowl and down the road. Ahh, the joys of poor decision making induced by hunger and fatigue.
There was still too much snow to ride, but at least I could wheel my bike now. The road wasn’t steep enough to get any momentum riding, so unfortunately, I was resigned to pushing it. I was grateful however, that I was no longer carrying it. Soon enough I could ride little sections where the snow wasn’t as deep. As soon as there was enough of a cleared spot for my tent I pitched camp. I was so exhausted, I crawled into my sleeping bag and ate whatever food didn’t need to be heated. I still felt pretty wrecked the next day, but I did have a lovely 15km decent to start the day, followed by an afternoon of gentle climbing.
I think snow is wonderful stuff. Trekking through it at altitudes above 5000m is amazing and one of my all time favourite adventures. Riding through it, however, leaves me a little bemused. I see and hear of more people with the dreams of riding in snow, imagining how wonderful it will be. I hope they’re careful, because it can quite easily turn into a day you wished you’d chosen the lazy option of setting up by an open fire instead.
I’m pretty stoked that I got lucky. A hard day’s adventure with a couple of top cobbers, too many magnificent views to Instagram, and some great fun flogging down roads with the snow hub deep. I had fun, proper tired by the end of it. I won this day.