Self-Propelled

Sitting by the fire, cradling a cup of coffee, I watch the snow fall, gently blanketing my front yard in white. Spindrift swirls from the large limbs of the spruce tree. A loose piece of metal roofing flaps and bangs ferociously on my shed with every gust of wind. The sky is grey, heavy, a little oppressive, yet the scene seems oddly inviting from the comfort of my home.

This year, I have yet to ride my bike in this kind of weather, so preparing my gear takes longer than usual. It’s always a bit of a process at the beginning of the season to gather all the pieces out of storage and adjust to the more cumbersome demands of winter.

I’m tempted to ride my fatbike, but am eager to get going and don’t want to spend the extra 15 minutes changing from my summer tires to the more aggressive snow tread. The road is plowed anyway so my touring bike will suffice.

Despite the poor forecast, my plan is to ride west to the Indian Peaks and plow my way up Niwot Mountain on snowshoes. There isn’t quite enough snow yet to warrant skis and my intended route involves some tight bushwhacking in a few sections.  I strap my snowshoes to my handlebars and hiking poles to the top tube with ski ties.

The road is covered in about an inch of snow, hiding treacherous patches of ice so I proceed with caution up the first climb. My tires grip surprisingly well, though, so I pick up speed on the flats and downhills. It’s always a challenge for me to stay warm on the bike as I work up a sweat up the hill only to get chilled on the coast down.

A car passes me. They honk, wave, and give me a thumbs up. Their bumper sticker reads “got Alaska?” I figure that a guy hauling gear on his bicycle in the snow is a much more common sight up there and doubt I would get this display of excitement if I were riding through Fairbanks.

Just before reaching the end of Gold Hill road, at the intersection with the Peak to Peak highway, I pause to contemplate my destination ahead.

Niwot is barely visible, engulfed in fog, the wind ripping over the ridge line. A bald eagle soars high in the sky, drafting the air currents. It floats with effortless grace in stark contrast with my labored forward progress.

I shoulder my bike and make my way into the woods. I lock it under a tree, stash my boots and helmet and change into my trail shoes. For the first few minutes I run in my snowshoes, but as the grade steepens, I fall into a hike, gasping for air. The snow is wet and heavy, making each step awkward and strenuous. I find a good rhythm and work hard up to treeline. As soon as I leave the shelter of the forest, I get blasted by wind and snow. The cold bites my face and stings my lungs with each inhalation, a sensation that feels all the more harsh at the beginning of the season.

I can barely see anything as I cross the long, flat ridge to the summit wind shelter which is nearly full of snow. I pull out my phone to snap a pic, but it shuts off in the cold. I don’t linger and charge back down the hill to my bike to ride home.

Despite the lack of views and inclement weather, I find this type of pursuit immensely satisfying and fulfilling on many levels. Transitioning from biking, to running, to hiking demands different levels of physical engagement, all stimulating in their own way.

For me, there is a purity in the aesthetic of departing from my doorstep, relying only on simple means to explore mountains self-propelled. It allows me to broaden my perspective and find new avenues for adventure not solely limited to foot travel. Even a relatively short and straightforward outing like this one becomes more complex and interesting. It pushes me to alter the way I look at places, to elevate my skill level, and therefore expand the scope of my dreams.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

When was the last time you undertook a multi-sport voyage similar to Joe’s that began right at your doorstep?

Self-propelled 1

Self-propelled 2

Self-propelled 3

Joe Grant

frequently adventures in wild places, both close to home (a frequently changing location) and very far afield. He inspires others by sharing his words and images that beautifully capture the intersection of the wilds, movement, and the individual at Alpine Works.

There are 5 comments

  1. E_C_C

    OK, that's motivational!

    A couple of years back, some friends and I attempted a ski ascent of James Peak by bike, from Boulder. Plan was to ski one of the Star* couloirs. We didn't make it; we learned a *lot* about how not to carry that much gear efficiently on a mountain bike. I envy your starting point, Joe … you've got about a 3000' head-start. ;)

    Beautiful pics and interesting thoughts, as usual.

  2. romanair

    Very well written, a pleasure to read.
    Do you have special snowshoes in which its somewhat possible to run? My snowshoes are kind of clumsy and I wouldn't even try to run with them.
    Performing and combining different sports is truly an enrichment. I enjoy combining moutain biking with running or sometimes bike&hike. It can be such a relieve when you finally reach your bike after hundreds of ft downhill running and you just have roll :)

    1. JoeWGrant

      Thanks romanair! I use the Northern Lites Race http://northernlites.com/race/ I used to run in the Elite which I liked as well. You could consider their "direct" frame if you want to dedicate a pair of shoes to snowshoeing. My wife uses Dion snowshoes, but I don't find them as durable. Being able to run in snowshoes is highly dependent on conditions.

Post Your Thoughts