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Black Friday mountain biking: inadvertently, snow biking

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008

The past couple of years, I’ve spent Black Friday mountain biking wtih my riding buddy Dave. Last year, we went to the southern end of Indiana and rode at Tipsaw Lake and the Oriole West trail in Hoosier National Forest. The year before that, we headed east to Versailles State Park. It’s become a great tradition, and I love being deep in the woods while so many people are deep in the mall, mired in crowds; it’s a great way to escape from the mad rush to buy stuff.

I hadn’t been mountain biking since moving to Pennsylvania, and I’ve been hoping to find a good way to ride some trails with someone, as a way of learning my way around, and meeting some people. So, when I saw that the Hubbard Bike Club was doing a Black Friday ride, I decided to go.

There was one thing I hadn’t considered. The club meets a bit north of Scranton, partway up a mountain, about a 45-minute drive away. I arrived at “The Barn,” a clubhouse of sorts where their rides start, and was astonished to find a few inches of snow on the ground (there was none where I lived). I’ve ridden in snow before, many times, and really enjoy it, but at the same time, 14 miles of riding is a lot harder if it’s in the snow, and I wasn’t mentally prepared for it. I was, however, fully prepared in terms of the gear I brought, so I didn’t consider bailing. Truth be told, I was excited about some snow biking, and a little nervous, since I had no idea what the trails would be like. There were probably 30-40 people in the parking lot, a huge turnout for this ride. It looked to be a lot of fun. Note: the club has a gallery of shots from the ride here. I have borrowed a couple of shots that have me in them, I’ll note which ones they are, below.

Parking lot

The ride began with a singletrack climb. There was no opportunity to get used to riding the mountain bike, and reaquaint myself with its rather squirrely handling in the snow, just a climb almost immediately. Fortunately, I wasn’t the only one having trouble. There was quite a bit of congestion as everyone tried to get some traction. The snow was wet and slick, and had a layer of leaves under it. Within minutes many of us were walking up some hills where we could not get traction. One guy even, somehow, slipped while standing still and went over the handlebars.

Getting acquainted with the singletrack (that’s me, on the right) — from the Hubbard gallery

The first section of trail didn’t last long. Before long, the trail spit us out onto a road, and we followed paved and gravel roads for a while. The roads were slushy and slick, but quite ridable. The scenery was excellent, as we passed farms and mountains, and went by a small lake.


Gravel road climb

11-28-2008 Black Friday ride 010
Here I am, enjoying the ride (from the Hubbard gallery)

Looking back

View from the slushy gravel road

Lake at the base of the mountains

Descending toward the lake


The roads were very pleasant, but I was anxious to get back on the trails, and before long, we did. Not surprisingly, we had a huge climb to deal with. Many of us walked most of the climb, and it was quite a long one. Never before have I done so much walking on a ride, although I don’t know exactly how much it was; I forgot to turn my GPS on until halfway through the ride. Whoops! I probably could have ridden more of this climb than I did, but I felt I needed to pace myself, so I tried to take it easy. Even the stronger riders had to walk their bikes for a bit, although some of them didn’t walk much, I think.

Getting on the trail


And more pushing …

Gus, a very tenacious climber

After what seemed like forever, we reached the top of the hill, and flatter ground for a few minutes. The trail was doubletrack winding through the woods, and I was glad to have a wider trail. The faster riders broke off to take in some singletrack, which I heard was more technical, but I was having enough trouble. My front wheel kept washing out. I guess the tire I have on there (a Kenda Blue Groove) isn’t good for snow; I’ll definitely need to find something better. But, for the first time ever, I really wished I had a 29er; I really think that bigger wheels would have helped hold a line in the snow. Not that I’m making excuses: my snow-riding skills need a lot of work, too, although I got better as the ride wore on.

Gently winding, flat doubletrack

A glimpse through the power line right-of-way

Snow on rocks

After a little bit of easier trail, we reached an awesome overlook. We spent a while taking in the view.

The group by the overlook

Incredible rays of light

Hubbard Black Friday Ride Panorama
Panoramic shot of the view (worth viewing large)

Power lines

After resting at the overlook, we turned and followed the power lines. My jaw dropped when I saw where we were headed: straight down a big hill, then immediately back up. Power lines mean a clear(ish) place to ride, but they simply go straight, making no attempt to lessen the grade. Even going downhill was difficult, since my front wheel kept drifting and washing out. I had a hard time holding a line. Climbing was even worse (impossible, at least for all of us) as our rear wheels would spin out when we attempted to climb. It was just too steep, and the terrain under the snow varied from loose gravel to large rocks, all very slick. It was a beautiful scene, though, and despite how difficult it was I was in good spirits the whole time. It was, truly, a great day to be out riding. And more and more, I’m looking at rides as a way to experience places, rather than only focusing on the riding itself. I fell behind several times as I stopped to take photos. I couldn’t help myself. I was able to catch up fairly well, even though just pushing our bikes up these hills was quite challenging.

A look at where we’re headed

Looking back

Falling behind

Catching up. Loose gravel is visible in the ruts

Rocky, snowy climb

I found a real weakness in my shoe covers. The right one, specifically, tends to flip up at the toe, and in this case, snow got between my shoe and the shoe cover; at this point, the cover was simply holding the snow against my shoe! This sort of defeats the purpose of keeping my feet warm, although my wool socks kept me from getting too cold.

Taking a break (my bike got tired … yeah, that’s it!)

The climbs kept coming. We must have done five of these power line climbs, each about 100 feet of climbing. Some were so steep we had to walk, even downhill, to prevent our wheels from washing out. Some were able to ride more than others; I was sliding all over the trail, especially in the last downhill. My front wheel simply wouldn’t hold a line no matter how hard I tried.

Another rocky climb

Rolling hills

Hike-a-bike … downhill. From the Hubbard gallery

Apparently, we tooka bail-out route that cut one one more of these climbs, and headed back to the road. The last 3 miles or so were on roads, and the ride ended with a 200-foot climb back to The Barn.

After the ride, most people hung out and headed into The Barn, where they had some amazing meatball sandwiches and beef stew waiting. They had bathrooms, great food, even beer and coffee. I went for some coffee and ate a sandwich, and some stew. It was a fantastic way to warm up after the ride. It is truly awesome that they have this clubhouse of sorts where everyone can just hang out after the rides — and apparently they always have something delicious to eat. I also learned what a huge network of trails they have, which they built themselves. I only saw a very small portion of the trails. Very impressive!

Whiteboard trail map

I really enjoyed this ride, and I hope to ride with the Hubbard Bike Club again. Unfortunately, their main rides are on Thursday nights, which isn’t really doable for me. I hope they will have some weekend rides; if they do, I’ll try to go.

5 Responses to “Black Friday mountain biking: inadvertently, snow biking”

  1. Myles/ rattrappress Says:

    That’s a large group of riders to show for a ride on a day like that. It looks like alot of fun.

  2. Dave Says:

    What a great Black Friday ride! I’m sorry we couldn’t do this one together to keep the tradition going…but it looks like you’ve started a wonderful NEW tradition. And this one ends with warm food! Bonus! Great re-cap of the ride; I was feeling the burn of all the hike-a-bike…

  3. Eric Says:

    Looks like a challenging ride. I couldn’t deal with that terrain even without snow on top of it. Nor am I that great at riding in snow on roads, for that matter.

    The rays of light showing up in your photos are great!

  4. John Says:

    It didn’t take long for you to find some like minded riders.
    You need to organize full moon rides like this group, with your gang.

  5. Ear to the Breeze » Blog Archive » Mountain biking at Frances Slocum State Park Says:

    […] photos « Black Friday mountain biking: inadvertently, snow biking […]

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