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The day started off slowly…
…much like any other relaxing Sunday morning. After a leisurely breakfast at home and an unsuccessful Sunday Times crossword attempt, my wife Sara, and I decided to spend the day gallivanting around the woods. We’ve both been so focused on our own activities lately (dance for her, snowboarding for me), that we literally hadn’t done anything outdoorsy together for quite some time. With a commitment to exercise solidified, we looked at the local forecast for guidance. The weather looked warm-ish, right around the freezing mark plus or minus a few degrees throughout the day. We decided to take our chances with softening snow conditions, and spend the day down at Granite Hot Springs, east of Hoback Junction.
The springs are typically accessed via snowmobile and dogsled in the winter, requiring a 20 mile out-and-back excursion from the trailhead near the confluence of Granite Creek and the Hoback River. Occasionally, those with a penchant for punishment elect to get to the springs under their own power via, skis, snowshoes, or fat bikes. Having recently acquired my own large-tired beast, fat biking seemed to me to be the logical choice. Sara hadn’t tried riding on snow yet so we agreed to give it a whirl, stopping by my brothers’s house to borrow his bike before heading south. To help reaffirm our decision, I made one last call to the experts at Teton Mountain Bike Tours before leaving town and was encouraged by their assessment of the ride. With the internal dialogue of “If you don’t go, you’ll never know” egging us on, we decided to go for it.
I wouldn’t normally recommend that most people give this type of winter riding a go on their first try, especially at this distance, but Sara is no ordinary person! Having spent most of her life as a competitive Nordic skier and coach, she’s also a highly competent mountain biker with a healthy tolerance for pain… AKA, the perfect ride partner! We arrived at the trailhead at 11:20 and received a few quizzical looks from the tourists gearing up for their snowmobile adventures. Two on-duty forest rangers came over to say hello, inspect our bikes, and ask our itinerary. They seemed to be impressed that we were committed to riding to the pool and back… Should we have been concerned?
…snow biking is a bit of a poker game where you need to know when to fold and leave your destination for another day.
With hydration bladders filled, extra layers in the packs, swimsuits, microfiber towels, SNACKS, a couple of beers, and cash for admission to the pool all loaded up, we departed for the fabled springs. We quickly found that the trail was thoroughly chewed up from heavy snowmobile traffic. It made for challenging, but not impassable riding. We aired our tires down to the 4-6psi range and began making our way. Navigating a snowmobile trail is an interesting experience. While the road is only 10 to 15 feet wide, as you ride, you’re constantly moving around the trail in attempt to find the most traction and smoothest passage. After a few miles, we found our respective grooves (literally), as the the smoothest line seemed to be directly in the line of the most recent sled traffic.
We stopped for a quick refuel near Forest Road 3050C and chatted about our experience thus far. Sara and I both agreed that we were riding the trail on the warm edge of comfortable. While the sun stayed behind the clouds, we could feel the temperature steadily rising, and with rising temperatures, we could expect softer, more challenging conditions riding out. As the conditions soften, it’s a bit like riding a stationary bike with the tension dial cranked down while your bike simultaneously is pulled from side to side. Challenging to say the least. We both decided that snow biking is a bit of a poker game where you need to know when to fold and leave your destination for another day. Some days the conditions are great, others not so much.
Powered by optimism and the desire to relax in the springs…
…we pursued on. A few more refueling breaks and pauses for passing snowmobile traffic, and we had arrived at the springs, just after 1 pm. In a sea of two and four-stroke steeds, our mode of transportation was unquestionably unique.
The springs although crowded, offered a respite for our weary muscles and a fun mid-ride break. Neither of us relaxed too much however as the air temperature was confirmed to be a blistering 38º; Not a big deal on a snowmobile powered by 91 octane, but ominous if you’re fueled on trail mix and water. With a sense of urgency, we toweled off, ate a few more calories and headed for the trailhead some ten miles away. Fortunately, the ride out offers a fair bit of descending and the sun breaks that did pop out, helped to glaze the surface, increasing flotation. We ground out the miles only stopping a few times to offer guidance to fellow travelers. All in all it was a fantastic adventure and one serious workout.
A couple of thoughts on winter riding…
Before you head out on your own fat bike adventure, be sure to have a plan and make sure that you have an exit strategy in case you decide it’s not for you. A great place to start is the Cache Creek drainage in east Jackson. Here you’ll find a multi-use trail system which is groomed at regular intervals. Cache has both a groomed arterial road and adjacent single track coupled with quick access to town. This is the best place to get familiar with the gear and the terrain.
If you’re looking to rent a fat bike, there are plenty of knowledgeable shops in the area that can get you on your way:
In Teton Valley, Idaho
Most importantly go out with an open mind and have fun. Fat biking isn’t for everyone as it requires equal parts hard work and finesse, but when you get the conditions just right, it’s hard to beat!