Tuesday, March 24, 2009

TART Trail Eastbound to Bates Road

Gloomy March Ride on the TART Trail:

Here's a route map from my GPS app on my Blackberry.

Here's a short synopsis video set to some music by the Greyboy Allstars.

Our friend Barton Kirk came to town today from Pittsburgh and emailed me looking for a bike to borrow and a ride to join. As you probably already know, he called the right guy. I'm itching to ride more now the Sun is setting so late.
Bart's a young lad with some serious riding chops. (Note the Penn State jersey.)

Knowing Dennis and I would ride fixed, I took the DBR carbon road bike (with real gears!) off the wall and topped off the tires, and within an hour we were all heading out from Gary Howe’s place on Lincoln Avenue for a little leg-stretcher.
Dennis (from Fixed Gear Gallery) surprised me with his brand new Nobilette track bike. He’d ordered it right off the floor at last month’s North American Handmade Bike Show in Indianapolis from Mark Nobilette himself.
Here's a video of Dennis describing the bike as he rides it.

As it turns out Mark and Dennis ride the same size frame and since building handmade frames on a speculative basis can get expensive, Mark tends to make his spec bikes in his size. Smart guy, and it sure makes Dennis a sitting duck every time he sets his eyes on one of Mark’s beauties. Dennis says Mark made him one of those Tony Soprano deals. You know; a deal he couldn't refuse.
Anyway, the bike is a nice battleship gray with some UCI track championship badges on the down tube. Old School and simple. It’s fillet brazed to perfection with a hard-coat powder finish. The seat stays are enormously beefy and when I asked Dennis how it rode, he simply thrust his forearm up in the air in that manly way to suggest... "hard as a rock." Dennis dressed it up with a Campy crank, custom powder-coated black Velocity Fusion wheels on Phil hubs, a Cinelli Ti Stem, NO brakes, yadda – yadda – yadda. You know. It’s Dennis Bean – Larson’s personal pet. Jeesh!

The day was gloomy, cool, and very windy. We decided to beat the southerly wind by transversing it east/west. So, we took a leisurely route that followed the TART Trail to its extent eastward out of town. It’s just eleven miles out and another eleven back.

The TART Trail, for those uniformed is a great resource here in Traverse City. In total its thirty some miles of mostly paved and mostly protected multi-use, (non-vehicular,) trail. Stretching from Acme to the northeast, through Traverse City, and all the way to Sutton’s Bay to the northwest. If you ride a bike in this region, you spend a lot of time on this trail. The trail passes behind many commercial sections of the community and rests either next to existing railroad track or on top of removed tracks for most of its length. Views of Lake Michigan abound, as do miles of deep woods with the occasional wooden bridge crossing streams or swamps. In the summer the trail is singing with birds, bugs, and wildlife of all sorts.
This ride did point out a couple of the very few problems with the TART Trail.

It’s the spring time and the trail had it’s accumulation of dirt and other detritus. That’s expected. It did focus our attention however on a some other dangerous features.
The section of trail that pops out near east bay on Five Mile Road leaves the protection of the railroad right of way and borders the road with no other protection. Then in this same section the trail crosses the road at an odd angle in a fast section of Five Mile. Immediately following this, the trail takes an abrupt 90 degree turn to align riders perpendicular to the railroad crossing. It’s a bit dicey. One of the most unfortunate aspects of the TART Trail is that the railroad right of ways were not obtained for the whole distance. At Bunker Hill Road the trail enters this busy roadway and climbs up hill for distance. This is too bad. It’s the main determining factor for families turning back at this point.

(Barton demonstrates a perfect Xcross dismount for the impending lumber obstacle.)
For those who push on past this obstacle, there is more gorgeous Northern Michigan scenery to be had. A mile and a quarter later we turn on Lautner Road, go another 4/10ths of a mile and recapture the trail.
This is a great part of the trail with a very long strait-away that begs the sprinter in you to jump off the seat. Another mile and 3/4 and the trail abruptly ends. Unfortunately the pavement ends awkwardly about 30 meters from M-72. It forces you to trudge through soft grass and sand. This technical issue also distracts you from the worst part of the ride. M-72 isn’t fun to drive your car on, and it’s incredibly intimidating to cross its 50 or so short feet on a bike, especially from the sand trap at the end of the trail. For those wanting to jump onto Bates Road and ride up through Antrim County, this is a challenging and hazardous intersection. There’s no marked crosswalk, no trail signs, and this is already a notorious section of road. So until this is somehow remedied, be careful if you venture this far on the TART.

Here's a video of the trio descending Bunker Hill Road with a still iced over East Bay in the background.

To make it clear, I’m a huge supporter of TART. I volunteer on many committees and for fundraisers. These comments are not meant to criticize TART. In fact it's meant to encourage and support their great works. I am all too familiar with the financial, and especially political, restrictions imposed on a group trying to make big changes like this.

Lastly, Dennis was sporting a very hip lightweight jacket hot off the presses at CHROME. They call it The Champ. The picture above shows Dennis demonstrating the cool reversible cuffs that change from discreet strips of fabric to super reflective night safety stripes in a jiff. The fabric is silky, but bombproof. I think it's made with some nifty pico-dynamic Kryptonite or some such nonsense. Check it out here.

Despite the trail issues, we had some fun and Dennis was along so Barton and I did a lot of listening. If you’ve ever ridden with the wizard, you know what I’m talking about. What else is there to say?

Take a peek at the map of the journey with the embedded Allsport GPS track at the bottom of the page. And if you're lusting over his new ride, you can check out the FGG store pages on Facebook, or Dennis's blog. Go to http://www.fixedgeargallery.com.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Riding the Ice up Hylalite Canyon

Riding the Ice to Hyalite Canyon Reservoir:

March 1, 2009

A few months back Torie and I drove as far as we could up Hyalite Canyon, parked our car and hiked up to a beautiful set of waterfalls on the other side of the reservoir. On the way up I kept mental notes on the length and pitch of the road up trying to determine if it would be a good route for a fixed gear ride. I concluded that, yes indeed, it would be a blast to ride. I just hadn’t considered doing it in the winter. Then the time just seemed right. A storm finally came through few days ago and dropped some long awaited snow, and today the temperature dropped from the high forties into the low thirties. Perfect for a day trip on my fixed gear cross-bike with studded tires.

Hyalite Canyon Road is about eight miles south and a bit west of downtown Bozeman, Montana. The way there is fairly flat, with just a subtle constant uphill pressure on the pedals. The roads take you first through the edge-lands of Bozeman’s growing city, with condos and subdivisions speckling the first few miles. There’s hardly any traffic out here and the roads are in decent shape with substantial shoulders for most of the way. So the riding is pleasant.

Further outside the city limits the view turns decidedly Midwestern with irrigation equipment littering the fields out to the horizon, horses romping in the early spring Sun, and birds of prey resting their wings on any branch that might give them a clear view of a potential dinner. In my immediate view small ice-lined streams crisscross the roads every quarter mile or so with gentle swishing and gurgling noises announcing their presence.

When I finally turn onto Hyalite Canyon Road about 8 miles from town, the farms quickly fade away and are replaced by lodge-type buildings huddled around the banks of Hyalite Creek. I can’t see it yet, but I know it’s there from the subdued, if impressive, roar coming from somewhere behind the trees.

As I look straight ahead, my neck cranes to see the tops of mountain peaks in the distance. Smaller hilltops fill my near vision and offer their own wisps of intimidation. Somewhere back behind all this lays Big Sky, the resort village too costly for most friends here to ski. They seem to prefer Bridger Bowl. It’s the local favorite and only 15 miles from downtown. Another quarter mile down Hyalite Canyon Road and I find a sign disconcertingly hung directly over the permanent “Fire Danger” sign. It’s roughly conditioned 3’ x 6’ vinyl sheet that says plainly: “Studded Tires, Chains, Recommended," and then the bottom of the other sign still proclaims, "Today!”

I stop and take a photo with the sign in the background and my Schwalbe Marathon Winter studded bike tire in the foreground. I’m happy to comply with the recommendation.

Thus far the roads have been a mixture of wet asphalt littered with the occasional crusting of snow or ice. I grow to enjoy the constant “zzzzzzrrrrr” of the carbide studs singing on the blacktop. But I already feel the temperature dropping in the canyon, and the road responds with fewer and fewer glimpses of pavement. The next sign provides another warning of sorts, “No Passing – Next 9 Miles.”

Here I cross over a cattle-guard that stretches across the road. For the uninitiated it’s a horizontal row of steel beams buried in the ground with a void beneath. It’s designed to keep livestock from venturing beyond its gaping maw and the fence on either side. This is “Range Stock” land, where ranchers lease the rights from the federal government to let their cattle ruminate whatever might grow on this rocky soil.

Beyond the cattle guard the road narrows to one lane going up and another coming down, the shoulder disappears, and Hyalite Creek suddenly appears just beyond reach on my right side. Now the snow and ice create a few new sounds from the studded tires. The snow muffles them almost completely, but the ice has a completely different effect. This sound is more akin to dragging the back of a kitchen knife over a metal cheese grater. There’s more articulation in the rhythm. I think my friend Roscoe would be jumping off the bike to digitally sample these sounds for use in his recording studio. Their cadence and slowly changing dynamics help me pace the pedals as the road’s pitch quickly turns upward.

The road is now in the shadows of the ridge-line on either side. Here, it’s all ice. Sun soaked trees promise a warm greeting once I get to the top of the pass. I can see them occasionally as the road twists and turns, but that won’t be for another 45 minutes or so.

The cars passing give me wide berth, as they carefully make their own ways up the narrow pass. Some clearly have studded tires themselves, some do not. The latter will likely have a fun slalom of it on the way back down. Every once in a while a gaggle of young students passes by and screams encouragement out the windows. “Go dude! You’re doing great!” “Looking good man.” And even a refreshing, “There’ll be a warm PBR waiting for you at the top.” It’s nice to be in a community where riding a bike in a precarious place manages some level of respect.

The first few uphill miles go by easily. I learn to pick my line through the differing road crustings. Once I settle into one particular type or the other the ride is unremarkable. However, it’s the frequent transitions in and out of snow, ice, wet pavement, and loose icy gravel that are the challenge. Here’s where I can feel the studded tires make the difference. They bite into the ice giving a secure feeling. It’s worth mentioning what an extra level of confidence in such situations can do for your attitude. I also learn to use a tactic developed on icy city streets for staying upright. Rather than ever leaning the bike into turns or other direction shifts, I concentrate on shifting my weight while keeping the bike absolutely perpendicular to the road surface. This gives the best bite for the tires, allowing more of the studs to have constant contact with the road. It’s a very different, somewhat antithetical skill, and it works my abs and back much more than the traditional method of road riding.

About five miles up the pass the pitch increases again and I can feel my body settle into the work at hand. My thighs are burning and my arms and neck are tightening up. I’m just trying to turn over the pedals and stay upright at this point. Several times during this section I imagine the Hyalite Reservoir, (my goal,) is just around the next curve. As I get higher the Sun is visibly blanching the peaks of the range, and I fool myself into thinking I’m almost there.

Three miles later I’m laughing at myself as I slowly reel in the summit. It’s here somewhere dammit! Finally, the parking lot comes into view and the frozen reservoir beneath. It’s been an hour and thirty five minutes since saddling up. The area around the lake is teeming with activity. There are at least 50 people ice fishing, and hundreds just cavorting around the overlooks. Many of these people are simply having parties up here. Little gatherings perched on carved out sections of snow peering down on the lake.

I pass a busload of college kids who immediately recognize that I'm riding a fixed gear bike and they break out into hoots and hollers even offering to give me a ride back down the pass if I need it. One crew has beach chairs and they appear to be conducting a formal wine tasting…. fine glass goblets and all! For Bozemanites, it’s just another excuse to be outdoors on a gorgeous Sunny day in March.

A fisherman asks if I want him to take my picture, and I oblige. Then I chomp down a granola bar, and try to take swig of water. Unfortunately the temperature has dropped enough in the past hour that the bottle is frozen shut. It looks like an icy luminary, with a complete shell of the bottle visible inside. I rap the thing against my Trek’s frame and break it up. Keeping hydrated in the Montana mountains is no joke. I drink half the bottle and also realize my camera's iris is now frozen partially closed. I look at my watch and see it’s now ten before 5:00 P.M. “Gotta roll Bill!” I mumble to myself, and hop on the bike for the downhill run. In the fifteen short minutes since I hit the top, the Sun has gone down behind the mountains measurably. Everything but the very top of the west-facing peaks is in shadow. With the Sun goes any semblance of warmth and my hands immediately start to feel the sting.

I’m happily still very well connected to the road, even as I speed up in the straight sections of the pitch to 30 or 35 mph. I am catching up to some cars as they gingerly use their low gears to creep down the mountain. Now, more hoots and well-wishing from passersby, albeit mostly slurred at this point.

There are suddenly little ruts in the road, no more than an inch in height where the slush has frozen into razor sharp hills and valleys formed by passing car tires. These are extremely hazardous. I carefully settle both bike tires into the center of these being careful not to hit the edges. Sometimes no matter how hard I try my front tire falls into one, and I can feel the tension and stress careen up my arms. My body is at full alert trying to see, feel, and sense the slightest change in road conditions. About halfway down the mountain, as two cars pass – one from each direction - I try to move over as far to the right as I can and my front tire does a little Tango thing…. "step, side, slide, side, dip!" I over correct and in my struggle to regain control my left cleat pops off the pedal. This can't be good. A lot of the control that you get riding a fixed gear bike, (and I will say considerably more control than riding a freewheel,) comes from the contact with the pedals and, by nature, the rear wheel. But lose that contact, and things get dicey real fast. Purely by accident I manage to skid the rear wheel by locking up my right leg, while my left leg flails in the mid air, and wham I’m back in the middle of the road right behind the passing car. Whew!

But that proves to be the worst of it. I’m down the pass in less than a half hour, and home before six. What a great experience. I think the whole thing is a testament to studded tires. I paid a lot for the Schwalbe Marathons, about $70 each. This ride proved them worth every penny.

Don’t miss the mapping session recorded during the ride with my Blackberry Trimble/Allsport GPS software.

And the synopsis video I slammed together of the ride.