Tuesday 27 January 2015

To Boldly Go Where No Bicycle Has Gone Before

Being happy about winter is a still a new sensation to me.  In previous winters I was very unhappy with the weather and climate.  Ice storms used to mean a dangerous time walking or driving, now it means putting my studded tires to the test.  Snow squalls used to be a call to stay inside, now it's a siren call to hit the road.

My studded tires, hungry for some ice and snow.
This particular Sunday I found myself in a bit of a lull.  No inclement weather, things had actually warmed up and even side roads were becoming bare and dry.  Not exactly the kind of ride I crave; I can ride on plenty of bare roads all spring/summer/fall.

I thought I would give the lake another try.  If it was safe there would be plenty of people fishing on a Sunday.  I know I'd feel a lot safer knowing there were lots of people around who could help if something bad were to happen.

How I wish all the trails nearby were like this.
I made my way to the trail that accesses the river.  My traction was great today.  Normally I sink deeper than a typical snowmobile does.  But this trail is pretty narrow and heavily trafficked.  As I was about to discover, there is a lot of pick-up truck traffic that goes through the same trail.  All this traffic packed the snow down making it easy (well, easier) to navigate.  I'm really glad I have access to trails like this; most trails in my area can't be navigated without a fat bike.

Sharing the trial with fellow winter enthusiasts.
In the case of winter off-road trails my plan is the same; yield to everyone else.  Snowmobiling is an extremely popular activity in my area and I'd rather have the snowmobile community looking upon me favourably.  The same goes for other trail users; I don't mind yielding to a XC skier, someone snowshoeing or someone simply driving their pick-up to their fishing locale.  After all, I'm the new kid on the block here.

The tiny specs in the distance are people, trucks, sheds and snowmobiles.
As I arrived on the shoreline I could see people in the distance.  This was great news to me.  Being alone and far from help made me hesitant to traverse the ice.  Lots of people around meant lots of help in case I fell through the ice.  I'm also pretty certain they wouldn't be out there fishing if it wasn't safe.

Venturing out, my first surprise was just how cold it was out here.  Being on a frozen body of water meant there was literally nothing blocking the wind.  The river that connected to the lake is also a major east/west corridor to the Great Lakes.  Wind just rips down this corridor unimpeded.

Other than the occasional buzz of auger or motor, it's very
serene and quiet out here.
After getting a taste of that first hand, I can completely understand why an ice fishing hut makes sense.  Just cutting that kind of wind would help keep you a lot warmer.  In fact a lot of those shacks took it a step further, you could see exhaust ports from heated sheds.  That being said, there were also people just fishing out in the open.  These hardy individuals would show up with gear and an auger on their snowmobile and fish right in the open.  Imagine how cold they were!

Unless partially submerged, trucks on the ice are a good sign.
As I made my way into the mini village of fishing huts and pick-up trucks, I could see curious onlookers checking me out.  I was possibly the first person they had seen cycling on the lake.  Well, can't blame them, I was just as curious about them.  I have never been ice fishing in my life.  I actually have a full set of ice fishing gear; this trip has me wondering if I could fit my gear on my bike and head out here.  There is definitely an allure to this niche form of fishing.

My tires finally got the taste of snow they were looking for.
The conditions on the ice were not what I expected at all.  I had envisioned myself carving through the ice, having full traction in a glassy sea of slipperiness.  The reality was very different than the notions in my head.  I encountered just about every kind of snow I had seen on roads; powder snow, packed snow, packing snow, crust, snirt and slush.  One moment the ice was bare, the next I'd run into a drift so high my momentum barely carried me through it.  It's the nature of the lake ice in a large open area with lots of wind.  The wind just blows the snow all over the place.  The only thing you can expect is the unexpected.

You can't escape pot holes, not even on lake ice.
Snow aside, you couldn't even count on a flat surface.  The ice expands and contracts with variances in temperature, leaving ridges formed from cracks.  In the summer you can see rocks above the water in shallower spots; these were now dangerous as they were hidden with snow.  The one event I wasn't ready for were the ice fishing holes.  They're like potholes on steroids.

An ice fishing hole.   Very jarring to run over on a bicycle.
I got close enough to look into one of the recent holes.  The ice looked at least 40  cm deep.  Strong enough to hold all these trucks and ice fishing sheds.  I knew I was safe but I could feel fear surging as soon as I saw the water below.  I made a mental note to try to stay away from looking at the ice or thinking about falling through.

There are also cracks in the ice which can be unnerving.  The cracks form from various stresses such as the ice contracting and expanding as it heats up and cools off.  At 40 cm thick there really is nothing to worry about.

The ice is literally floating on the water.
Tire wise I felt like I was riding around on one of the better selections.  I think the ideal for this would be studded knobby fat tires.  But my Ice Spiker Pro's, a studded knobby tire, worked out really well.  If I had the budget, I would probably get wider rims; they would stretch out my existing tire, letting me run at a lower pressure and float a bit more.  Widening the tire would also put more studs and knobs in contact with the snow and ice.

The trails in and out are almost as fun, but with more wind cover.

Being in the wind really put my gear to the test and I found a flaw in my configuration.  My feet were getting very cold.  To date I've been getting away with a pair of Merrelle windproof hiking boots and one pair of merino wool socks.  Next time I'd use my hardier pair of Merrelle boots (Opti-Warm) with a few more layers of socks.  Probably wool socks as they retain some insulating when they are wet.  I find cotton is terrible once you sweat through it.

While I did feel much safer with the increased presence of people, next time I planned on coming better prepared.  For starters, watching some Youtube videos on how to save yourself if you fall through the ice.  I'd also look into investing into some safety equipment to help get me out of trouble. I'm definitely looking forward to coming back and enjoying the frozen lake while I can.


  1. Looks like you had a great time out on the ice! I do miss seeing the ice and snow, at least for a few minutes. This desert is pretty and all but there is something to be said for being out in the freezing cold and wind,

  2. Yes I really love it. Good thing because I'm stuck with it several months of the year. :D

    The desert sounds like a fun place to cycle; I bet it has its own challenges.