Dirty Words: Caught in the Freeze-Thaw Conundrum

By Sal Ruibal

Muck it!

This is the period of winter on the East Coast when we get wild fluctuations in temperatures and precipitation, a situation that seems to have been aggravated by global warming.

We get a nice set of three or four warm days in the mid-60s followed by a day of chilly wind and rain. The trails get slippery and knobbies dig in deep to keep traction. Too much gas and the rear wheel swerves, pushing a wide swath of mud into a mini-gully.

In the afternoon, the sun drops below the wooded horizon and the mud tracks freeze into hard ridges.

The next day, another band of showers leaves standing water in the trail. Cautious riders go around the puddle, believing they're doing the right thing, but their tires weaken the sides of the puddle and make it bigger.

Coming home wearing a suit of mud used to be a badge of mountain bike honor, but all that mud used to be trail.
Sometimes you just have to get off the bike and let the trail rest. It is a living thing, home to lots of microbes and nutrients that break down leaves and slivers of wood to make a better soil for the plants and critters that call that place home.

I call the forest my home, but I'm really just a visitor. So these days, I stay off the singletrack when I can see my tire tracks behind me. There are plenty of wide country trails that were specifically designed for hard use. The county is talking about paving 46 miles of the connector trail, but I'm not convinced that's a good idea.

The cost of clearing snow and ice off that undulating trail would be high, if it could be done at all. Snow will turn to ice and it will become dangerous to ride or walk. Trails can be made with fine crushed stone and crowned to let water run off. That might be a more feasible solution.

It might seem counter-intuitive to say this, but in Northern Virginia, riding on the commuter bike paths – which are well-maintained – is an option, and a mountain bike gives you more safety than a narrow-tired road bike. The indoor trainer is not for me. I've spent too many hours pedaling the slave ship from Nowhere to North Nowhere. The iPod song list I listened to for hours now makes me nauseous.

Another plan is change up your sports. A few years ago I started going to the county fitness center for strength training and stretching. It made a big difference in my riding. I came back to cycling refreshed in both body and mind. I was hungry again.

Hungry. That's the answer. This year, I think I'll eat my way to Spring.