bikes canada snow

Festive 500

Riding the Rapha Festive 500 in Canmore seemed like a pretty sketchy idea. To ride your bike 500km outdoors, between Christmas Eve and New Years Eve… well, it can be hard enough when you’ve got a roadbike and no snow. But when you decide to do it on a fatbike, riding on snow, and then add in all the other family obligations, the sub-zero temperatures, the incredibly short daylight hours, and on top of that the high likelihood of snowfall, -30oC days, and illness (because it’s just that time of year). Well, I was kind of dubious about whether the whole thing would ever pan out. But I figured I may as well try.

So this is me, heading out on a nice warm lunch ride a couple of days before the Festive 500 began. Of course, it was nice and warm then. But then it got cold. And snowed.

24th December (57km)
My Festive 500 began with an attempt to get in a morning ride before a day spent with family. I was tired though, and managed to get a flat tyre only 3.5km into the ride, just after hitting singletrack at the Nordic Centre. Who gets a flat tyre on a fat bike? Me apparently. Why? Because I was trying to let a little air out, and managed to mess it up entirely, then not realise what I’d done until it was too late. And of course, I hadn’t brought a pump, because I was riding so close to home, and who gets a flat tyre?

So, ride aborted, I called the return journey hike-a-bike, and jogged my poor bike home again.

I headed out again that evening, in the snow, and rode up and over the pass and south along the Spray Lakes road. It was to be my coldest night of riding, around-20oC. After passing the Nordic Centre there wasn’t another soul on the road. The sky was overcast, no stars, and the world was reduced to the snowy patch of road illuminated by my light.

I rationed my headlight, not sure how long it would last, not sure how long it would take me to ride my planned 50km out and back. Having a headlight is reassuring when you want to check the snowy trees at the side of the road to confirm there isn’t a lurking cougar that wants to eat you. But having a flat headlight is worse than having a headlight that’s turned off, so I kept mine off for much of the ride, turning it on when the trees closed in and the road narrowed.

I had just enough layers to keep warm, with toe warmers in my shoes, and hand warmers shoved in my crop top and my gloves. Despite that, I felt the creeping numbness in my fingers once or twice, and resorted to riding along swinging my arm, forcing blood back into a recalcitrant pinkie, and then dealing with the ensuing screaming barfies as sensation returned. (Screaming barfies is the ice climbing name for this – when the return of sensation is so painful you don’t know whether to scream, throw up, or perhaps both).

25th December (20km)
I wasn’t planning to ride today. I spent the day at home alone with the Moosling, before heading out for a Christmas potluck dinner (I made my first pavlova, woohoo!). But when we got home at 9.30pm, and there was a chance to go for a ride. Sure, why the hell not. So, stuffed full of Christmas dinner, I went for a 20km ride in the dark, fatbiking along snowy trails around town.

26th December (0km)
On solo parent duty all day today. I could have gotten out at 9.30pm again, but by then I was ready for bed, so I decided I’d make up for it by getting up super early tomorrow.

27th December (120.5km)
I completely failed to get up super early. By the time I hit the road it was after 8.30am and the sun was already up! But I had the whole day to try and get in as many kilometres as possible.

First – up and over the pass and away.

I was going to head along Goat Creek and into Banff, and then see what I felt like from there.

Goat Creek was softer than I was expecting! It was the kind of snow where you tend to sink in a little and have to work to keep traction and forward progress. A few times I punched through entirely and came close to spinning out… or did spin out. It was worst between the two main bridges, as I struggled to pick and hold a good line, fighting for every metre.

Progress was slow. There weren’t many other people out. I listened to podcasts with one ear, to the crunching churning of my bike tyre with the other.

In Banff I made a pitstop at the Wildflour Bakery, overwhelmed by all the people in town – so this is where everyone was! Bag stocked up with extra food, and body warmed, I headed out towards Sundance Canyon. An out and back along the Sundance Canyon road was punctuated with my down skirt getting stuck under my saddle, and me, trapped, falling into a flailing mess into a drift of deep snow. Dignified.

After that little episode, I tried heading further west and up to Sundance Lodge, but gave in on the idea as I worked hard through slow, soft snow. The struggle was too tedious, my kilometres too hard won. Instead, I returned to the bakery in Banff again (ahh, more chocolate zucchini loaf, don’t mind if I do!) and then hit the road out to Lake Minnewanka, and then onto the singletrack. The sun was getting low in the sky by now. Well, even lower. It barely scrapes the mountains at the best of times in the depths of winter.

The first few kilometres of Minnewanka singletrack were well packed, highly travelled. But as I rounded the corner and started to descend, things got looser. I then had my best crash of the day, flipping down the lake side of the trail with my bike bouncing after me. Thankfully I was completely fine, although I did startle two riders who had just started heading up the hill toward me.

Riding more carefully, I made it to LM8 (the 8km campground) and back unscathed, then, lights on, belted through town and back along Goat Creek once again.

In the dark, on slow snow, uphill, hungry, it was a long ride home.

28th December (54km)
Today I posted five separate rides to scrounge an additional 54km, and finally make it to the halfway point of the Festive500.

First up, 6km of towing the Moosling to his daycamp with the trail-a-bike mounted on the fatbike. Then another couple of kilometres as I commuted around town for work.

But then a solo lunch ride! Singletrack! Riding in daylight! And through the Christmas grotto up at the Nordic Centre.

Glorious riding, very tired legs. The climbs were much harder than I remember them ever usually being, but the snowy swoopy descents were wonderful.

Then, after work, a failed commute to pick up the Moosling as I snapped my poor neglected, poorly maintained fatbike chain. The walk home with a broken bike in the bitter cold was not fun.

I was still determined to reach the halfway point though – but I couldn’t get out until 9.30pm that night, and still didn’t have a functioning fatbike. So instead when the time came I disappeared into the dark on the studded 29er, heading out along the Spray Lakes road for some mindless kilometres.

29th December (53km)
Another lunch ride at the Nordic Centre, this time with actual company! Riding with Marcus, and a brand new chain on my fatbike! Joy!

That evening, with tired legs, my fatbike and I headed out into the dark yet again for 42km more of evening riding. I headed up the pass with big dreams, but gave in as I started slogging through drifts in the cold, snowy blowy weather, and descended back towards town. There I started picking off random road loops, trails, paths, and essentially doing whatever I could to gather some easier kilometres. But there are no easy kilometres riding on a snowy night on a studded fatbike.

30th December (82km)
Another lunch ride, more sunny kilometres! This time with Allan, my most usual riding buddy (and also my Strava certified training parnter of the year).

A long lunch break was enjoyed, weather and conditions were wonderful. And did I mention it was sunny?!

That evening I headed out after work for my penultimate Festive500 pedal, wandering out along Spray Lakes road again because it was in such great shape. I was thinking of heading straight back to my house once I got back into Canmore, but instead I was lured across town to enjoy some apple pie, along with a mug of hot chocolate and Baileys courtesy of Allan and his family (and the other red wine drinking folks who were at the dinner party I crashed!). That all meant quite a few extra bonus kilometres, as well as finishing off the ride feeling warm and rather pleased with myself!

31st December (114km)
A 7.30am departure from home, as I was hoping to be done early. The sunrise pinkened clouds as I rode up the pass.

One of the problems with starting in Canmore at sunrise on a clear day is the compulsion to stop and take photos of the damn scenic mountains everywhere.

Eventually the beautiful morning light faded and I was actually able to settle down and ride my bike for more than a few minutes at a time.

I headed off down the High Rockies Trail. I’d wanted to ride the Spray Lakes Road and jump on the HRT further south, but there was just too much traffic for comfort on the road, so instead I tried to ride the HRT directly from Goat Creek.

This was not a good idea. Sure, it initially seemed like a great idea. But gradually the trail was less and less well packed, and then I was struggling to stay upright in deep unconsolidated trail, and hike-a-biking. Damn. Should I turn back? No, it can’t be too much further.

And so in that way, I lost a lot of my morning to not many kilometres. Once I got to Goat Pond I jumped on Spray Lakes road and pedalled quickly back to the Goat Creek trailhead, and headed out along Goat Creek once again.

There was a lot more traffic today, although it wasn’t really in any better shape, or any warmer.

In Banff, I hit up Wildflour Bakery again, where I was heckled by the Australian cashier for the amount of chocolate items I was ordering – I say what’s wrong with chocolate zucchini loaf, hot chocolate and a chocolate spice cookie?

Then, out and onto the Tunnel Mountain singletrack. Fun, but my legs didn’t have a lot of go in them. By this point I really only had one speed, and it wasn’t very fast. I kept finding excuses to stop and rest – this was not conducive to finishing my kilometres quickly!

Finishing up my Tunnel loop, I returned along Goat Creek as the sun set. It didn’t seem so bad this time, I had skittles with me.

After some internal debate (should I ride the Highline? it would be fun, but oh, my legs were tired) I rode out along the powerline trail and along Loki’s (weee!), out to Three Sisters. It was cold, dark, but I churned through those final kilometres, finishing with a loop around town, and even ending with a bonus kilometre or so padded on just in case.

Done! 501km in 8 days. And the stats?

Ridden at night: 293/500km
Ridden alone: 449/500km
Ridden on my fat bike: 445/500km
Ridden on studded tyres in the snow at below-freezing temperatures: 501/500km


bikes general moosling travel trip reports

Scotland: The Isle of Rum

The rain has stopped. The air is still and moist, and the midges are swarming.

Our wet tent packed away, we cycle down to the ferry terminal. Onboard the ferry, bikes are lashed to a railing, and we trudge upstairs to break into our Nutella for a civilised breakfast at an actual table.

The ferry takes us to Mallaig. We aren’t sure where we’re going next, it will depend on where we can get to. Alex finds a ferry going to Rum, but we’ll have to cycle down the coast a little to get to it, it leaves from Arisaig.

There’s time to do a quick grocery shop, then we hit the road. We opt for the A-road, which is wide and quiet with a good shoulder. The B-road would be more scenic, but there isn’t time. In Arisaig it’s straight to the ferry terminal, buy one-way tickets to the Isle of Rum, then jump on the ferry.

Unlike this morning, this one is not so much a ferry as a small sight-seeing boat. It carries us, some daytrippers, and some locals off for a few days of hunting. Our bikes are dismantled and tied to the roof, and we sit watching the view from the back of the boat as we bounce along past seals and seabirds, until Finn falls asleep on my lap.

We pull up at the dock in Kinloch, Rum. The large jolly tweed-wearing Scotsmen with their large jolly Scots sons disembark first, along with their gun cases. The daytrippers dissipate quickly. We’re left alone on the dock, reassembling bikes.

Into Kinloch, we wander past a small field with horses – Finn wants to know why they don’t have horns on their heads. He’s baffled by my inability to keep a straight face, as I attempt to explain to him the difference between unicorns and horses.

The Isle of Rum is one of the Small Isles, and its thirty or so residents all live in Kinloch. It’s been inhabited since around 8000BC, with neolithic folks, early Christians, Norse, various Scots clans, and finally crofters. The crofters lived here until 1826 when they were largely packed off and sent to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia so a man could turn the island into a sheep farm. That failed miserably, and the island was eventually sold to the Marquess of Salisbury who converted it into a sporting estate, which eventually had a castle built on it (fourteen under-gardeners worked on the grounds and were paid extra to wear kilts). It was finally sold to Scottish Natural Heritage, to become a national nature reserve.

A very wet nature reserve, with an average annual rainfall of 120 inches.

Riding out of Kinloch, we don’t see anyone else for the next 24 hours. It’s wonderfully deserted. We pedal first along the dirt road and then start pushing our bikes up the steep and boggy path. The plan had been to see if we could get to Dibidil Bothy. It starts to look unlikely. Without Finn, we would have more of a chance, but his trail-a-bike makes everything harder, and Finn himself is very mistrustful of this boggy ground after the incident in Glen Affric. It’s slow going, and very wet.

We watch a group of red deer, as we make our way up to the saddle that marks the middle of the Isle. From here we can see out to the ocean on both sides of the island, and decide it’s as good a place to camp as any. It’s cloudy, with patches of rain, but there are glimpses of blue sky around. The wind is light, and the weather forecast is good.

We set up camp, cook dinner, and get Finn to sleep. I’ve been experimenting with trying to manage without a sleeping mat, but find I always get too cold after a couple of hours. I’m listening to the audiobook of Trainspotting, by Irvine Welsh. It’s really well read, and I’m enjoying the story, but it feels out of place in our current surrounds.

Then the wind picks up and changes direction. It starts to rain. I start having flashbacks to reading tent reviews before buying our Big Agnes Copper Spur UL3 tent – it performs poorly in windy conditions. This is confirmed as Alex and I take it in turns to sit bracing the side pole that’s dipping and bowing, coming dangerously close to snapping. On our long European cycle tour, we had a Big Agnes Seedhouse SL2 tent that had a few poles snap. They’re great tents, but the lightweight poles come at a price.

Around midnight a few pegs pull loose and the tent starts snapping wildly in the wind. Alex lunges out into the rain and starts trying to stabilise it with rocks. We debate the merits of re-orienting the tent where we are but decide the wind is too strong and doesn’t show any sign of abating. Instead, we make the call to relocate. I sit up, bracing the tent, as Alex scouts out a better spot. Confirmed – we can move to the lee of the rock we’re camping above.

I get Finn dressed in his rain gear. He’s unimpressed at being woken and doesn’t want to stay put when I carry him to the proposed new tent spot.

I empty the heavy items out of the tent, we unpeg it, wait for a lull, then run it down to the new spot. Re-peg. Re-insert child and other items into tent. Although it’s wet and windy, it’s not cold at all. Thankfully.

With everyone inside the newly erected tent, I find a spot for Finn. We curl up and relax, the tent seems properly sheltered here. Although it’s far from flat ground – the four corners of the tent plunge deeply, and finding a place to sleep is more about nesting.

Finn largely takes the whole episode as a matter of course, just saying in the morning: “When we’re in my place Mama, we don’t get up in the night to move things.”

After packing up camp the next morning, the trail-a-bike gets a flat tyre within a few hundred metres. After that hiccup, we find it’s much faster going – a good chunk of the terrain is actually rideable on the way down.

We have time to kill, so wander over to Kilmory Bay before backtracking out through Kinloch Glen to lunch in the community hall. There we sit awkwardly and drink coffee from mugs that look like they’ve been in the hall since the 1970s. I worry that the world might end and we’ll be stuck on the Isle of Rum forever. It feels a little as if time doesn’t really touch it, and perhaps the world has already ended.

The ferry is late, and I wonder again if the world has ended. But all is well and eventually, the ferry arrives and takes us back to Massaig. It’s raining, and we gleefully splurge on fish and chips before riding to Camusdarach Beach. They let us into the campground there despite being full, and we watch the sun as it sets over the Isle of Eigg and the Isle of Rum.

Distance: 23km on the mainland, 23km on the Isle of Rum
Elevation gain: 300m on the mainland, 340m on Rum
Location: Mallaig to Arisaig, ferry to the Isle of Rum, then ferry back to Mallaig, and a wander down the coast to Camusdarach Beach

bikes canada general hiking snow

Smuts Pass, Birdwood Traverse and Burstall Pass

We planned a grand adventure for the day – from Canmore, then out to Smuts Pass, along the slopes of Birdwood, and over Burstall Pass, then back to Canmore.

First of all to ride along the dusty roads, through biting headwinds, along rough gravel, by many cars.

We attached the magnificent velocipedes to a hidden tree, snacked and tied on some speedy shoes.

Beating through the vicious creek until the valley opened, we began our ascent to Smuts Pass, where the trees finally relinquished their grasp on our flesh.

There we found snow, and trod carefully for fear of getting our shoes dampened.

We looked on the magnificent Mount Smuts and pondered the difficulty of reaching her summit.

Far below lay the Birdwood Lakes, turquoise and marvellous in their alpine splendor.

Then a small traverse, through inches of snow. We thanked the footsteps of those who had travelled before us and made our work easy.

Onwards, and under the mighty slopes of Mount Birdwood, majestic and looming.

We trod carefully as we travelled through yet more snow, our traverse continued.

And then, peering backwards, we admired our footsteps, and the slopes of Birdwood, the marvellous Smuts, and the perhaps less marvellous and certainly oddly named Smutwood.

Then finally Burstall Pass lay before us, with just the slopes of Snow Peak to sidle along before we reached the final pass of our day.

The sidling was long, hard and snowy, but then finally safely over and done. We had reached Burstall Pass and were now on a veritable highway of slush, jogging downhill and back to the flat land below.

From there, the journey to the velocipedes was long, yet not difficult. Except for the large amounts of fatigue in our feet and legs.

As darkness fell we retrieved the velocipedes, attached glowing lights to them, and soared home with a favourable wind at our backs and starry skies overhead. It was glorious.

Distance travelled: 80km (velocipede), 27km (on foot)
Elevation gain: 1130m (velocipede), 1050m (on foot)
Max elevation: 2424m

The foot portion of the day:

general snow

The Grande Tour of the Nordic Centre

The Grande Tour of the Nordic Centre started off as a vague idea I had, that I should really ski all of the trails at the Nordic Centre. And that it should definitely be possible to ski them all in one day. And then I went and mentioned this idea to a couple of fellow lunatics who considered that this may well be a worthy thing to attempt.

When it came down to it though, the day we had chosen had the unfortunate problem of TOO MUCH SNOW. It is something you feel terrible complaining about, but it really makes for awful skate skiing when you’re wading through inches of ungroomed fresh powder. Nontheless, the other two were happy to start with the attempt, and so I felt compelled to join them.

Fresh tracks through powder, hurray!… No, hang on, not hurray.

We starting skiing not long after 9am. Conditions were not fast. And if Miles and I were smarter, we would have been on classic skis, at least at first. I’m not sure what Miles’ excuse was, but mine is that classic skiing irritates my hip flexors.

Knocking off a bunch of the black trails early on.

I had a route all planned out, based on five separate loops of the trails. Of course the whole thing was complicated by the fact that a huge chunk of the trail network was closed off for the Winter Olympics qualifying races (amongst other things), and they wouldn’t be re-opening until around 3.30pm. So we were re-routing on the fly. And then re-routing some more when people came up with cunning plans. While simultaneously trying to keep track of the mess of trails, and which ones we had and hadn’t skied.

The snow may have been slow, but it was still fun!

The idea of actually finishing all the trails seemed fairly unlikely. The skiing was such hard going that I stopped even bothering to check how far we’d gone. It was just too depressing. By the time we returned to the daylodge for lunch, we’d only managed to ski 27km or so in over three hours (for reference, a few days later I easily managed 16km in one hour).

Still lots of snow around, but the sun is out!

After lunch we lost Alaric to family skiing time, and so the remaining two musketeers set out to conquer the green loop – Salt Lake trail, and what was left of the biathlon trails. The snow was packing down as it warmed up and more people had been skiing it – so the going was getting marginally easier, and we were skiing a little faster.

Somehow instead of returning to the daylodge for more food after finishing that loop, we kept going. And started to get hungry. Rationing was in force and I was feeling shaky, low on water and out of food.

A driving desire for moral superiority led to the decision to ski up and down Bruin Cub, an ungroomed connector trail that for some reason is on the map and has a sign and a name

The descent on Bruin Cub didn’t treat me kindly, and I created a wonderful cloud of snow as I crashed

It was on the home stretch of the last of our far loops that Miles let me know that his back had started to cramp, and that he didn’t want to push it. At the same time, we were beginning to realise that it wasn’t a safe bet by any means that we’d make it to the daylodge before it closed at 5pm. And so I put my head down to ski the rest of the loop, and huzzah, made it back to the daylodge at 4.59pm.

Heading out on our last outwards loop, the sun is lower in the sky now

After retrieving the duffel bag full of useful things, like food and headlamps, I graciously relieved Miles of most of his brownies, then sadly waved him goodbye and got ready to set off into the darkness of the Olympic loops. After eating I felt tired but ok, and mainly I really didn’t want to let all of the hard work that morning-Megan did go to waste. I pulled out my iPod, started some songs playing (ska!) and got ready to head off.

But then I got a message from Lincoln – he could come ski with me! I waited 20 minutes for him to finish up at work, and we set off together at 5.40pm.

The final 11km required a ridiculous level of concentration and route finding. Another added ‘benefit’ was that the trails around Centennial and Olympic that hadn’t been raced on (but had been closed to the public) were ungroomed slogs. The race trails on the other hand, were nearly all set with 4 classic tracks, or were hardpack icy doom. Or both. I managed to avoid hurting myself or losing my iPod, and we only ended up missing one short connector trail that I’d meant to ski.

Finally, I was done at 7.25pm.

Distance travelled: 74.5km
Elevation gain: 1,767m

Things I learned

  • It’s best to have out and backs out of the way early on. Later on, you’re tired, and less committed to map reading, and just want to focus on skiing.
  • Always carry lots of food.
  • Don’t leave your duffel bag in the daylodge unless you’re 100% certain you’ll easily make it back before closing.
  • Carrying a headlamp is always a good idea.
  • Having crazy people for company when you’re setting out to do something crazy makes the whole endeavor much more enjoyable.

Here is a before and after map, with the five coloured loops. The one on the left is the track of where I skied. The one on the right is how I’d try and do it next time (although it still has a couple of things that need to be fixed up, it’s a bit easier to read than the original, and has a few better route options). If you click on them, they’ll embiggen to full size, so you could use them for your own attempt – if you do, please let me know :)

general travel

an ode to airports

Yesterday I spent nine hours in airports and aeroplanes. For the sake of flying from Melbourne to Canberra in the morning, and back again in the evening. The first culprit was the ice. As we sat in the plane at 0730 we waited for the de-icing equipment (a man with a ladder, a bucket of warm water and a credit card) along with a lot of other planes. Then came the good news! Thanks to a security breach (some contractor passed their keys around the security barrier) the entire domestic terminal was being cleared. Including us lucky folk already on planes. We all had to file out to wait to go through security again, while staff wandered around poking things in shops in the secure area with sticks.

After passing through security again at 0930 and finally boarding, we naturally once more experienced the joy of queuing as our plane waited to be allowed to take off. This required some waiting, and some manoeuvring of other planes which had arrived but had not been allowed to disembark.

[insert fun part of the day where I ride around Canberra on my bike visiting people]

And then I checked in and found out my flight back to Melbourne was pushed from 2030 to 2200, no wait, make that 2235, and I’d just missed being bumped to the earlier Melbourne flight. *mutter*