Surrey Off Road Cycling Enthusiasts - ride, build, learn, preserve.

Brain Freeze-Winter Riding at it’s Best

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The alarm goes off a 6 am on this Sunday morning. I am regretting that last bottle of cab shiraz and the late night last night as I reluctantly roll out of my toasty bed. Yesterday it was your typical winter "monsoon" and I dare to peek out the front window for an on the spot weather update. Thankfully the deluge has stopped. I gear up and head downstairs for a quick breakfast and load up the Explorer with my cycling essentials. We are heading down for an International Road Trip Ride to Mt. Galbraith near Bellingham so an additional post-911 necessity is my newly minted Canadian Passport.

I pull in to Casa Ammirati and Frank loads his shiny, freshly serviced Blur on the back, making my stuccoed ride look like the Swamp Thing. The only clean part on my F600 is the brand new 2.1 IRC Notos knobby I replaced yesterday. At that time I was reminded that my rear wheel had assumed a peculiar egg shape and I also discovered a broken front spoke I must have picked up on the Wednesday night ride. I guess if I quit riding altogether my bike would be in great shape. Anyway, I figure these would be perfect excuses for running sweep on the notoriously arduous "Galby" ride!

Anyway, we head out to the Starbucks and hook up with our guides Bruce and Eric. After the obligatory long Americano (or a budget java from Timmy Ho’s across the street) we roll down through the Peace Arch crossing. It’s 7:15 and the sky is opening up beautifully! This time of year it is always pretty muddy at Galbraith but at least they aren’t making any more right now. The mountain itself is between Lake Padden and Lake Whatcom, one of the many foothills that rise out of the Bellingham Bay as the topography climbs toward the summit of Mount Baker. The Whatcom Independent Mountain Pedalers (sporting the self deprecating moniker "WHIMPS") build and maintain the trails under agreement with the land owner Trillium Corp. We are wistfully contemplating this massive network of old school trail as we tear down the I-5 (at 60 mph of course!)

As we round a bend on the freeway we notice that all the surrounding hills have a dusting of fresh snow! Now mountain biking in the rain, even in the pouring rain, is simply part of our Wet Coast reality. There is nothing quite like mud, slick roots and slime-mold to test your skills, huevos and other components. But snow ups the ante considerably. As we approach the Lake Padden parking lot there is already about a centimetre of wet stuff on the ground. A courteous fellow rider warns us of the break-ins that occur here. Coming from Surrey I think we know what that is about!

We suit up and start pedaling up the fire road. Maybe I am the only one wondering "What the hell are we thinking?" Thankfully a vehicle had driven up ahead of us on the fire road so we have two reasonably snow free routes up the 20-30 minute climb to Silver Rock. At this elevation there is about 7 centimetres of freshie coating the trees. We pop into the singletrack to our right which traverses the side slope for a ways before dropping into a small valley between two ridgelines. Although some of the trail is covered with snow a lot is bare and at least the entrance is soft and not frozen mud. Periodically we have to finesse our way up some short snow clad climbs and it takes everything in your climbing arsenal to keep traction. By this time our tires are enveloped in snow and there is packed snow beginning to freeze us into our SPDs. After about 15 minutes we break out of the forest cover and out to the clear cut.

The view is spectacular looking out over Bellingham to the sea but this section of trail is a whole new ballgame. Snow covers absolutely everything. There are usually bits of slash covering this winding trail but now it is all hidden from view. In fact, a year and a half ago I got bit when a centimetre wide branch broke off into my leg on the second section of this particular circuit. "Think happy thoughts", I say to Frank as we work our way along this white wasteland. The key here is to ride smooth and light, keep your weight over your tires, cross your fingers and thank God for disc brakes!

After the clear cut we are back in the forest and the snow laden canopy is drooping across parts of the trail. Clipping in to the snow packed pedals is hopeless now since we have had plenty of dabs and hiking on the run through the clearcut. Our toes are completely numb and we are looking forward to descending out of the sub-zero. Fortunately Bruce is leading as usual so he manages to clear most of the snow off as he goes. It hits the top of his Switchblade helmet and packs in on top of his head. A couple of times he has to stop to clear it out when the brain freeze gets too extreme. Thanks Bruce! I offer to lead but being vertically challenged I’m sure Bruce might as well be front man. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Once we get out to the fire road we head over to Bob the Builder and flow down this beautifully bermed trail. We chase Frank up the nasty climb after Bob’s and hit Kaiser. Eric, riding his near treadless Panaracer Mach’s cleans the ladder section over the swamp despite the snow cover. As Bruce aptly states, "Skills beat rubber" we head over to the Pigs and finish off with a brief climb and a final singletrack descent to the Galbraith Lane gate. It was a fantastic day—I should have brought my camera and Bruce could have used a toque!

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