Making the most of mush.
Have you ever shown up to a party that feels "too cool" for you? The music is wordless but has a good beat, yet no one is dancing. And everyone is silent. And instead of beer, people are drinking cocktails. Just thinking about it makes me feel uncomfortable. And that's kind of how I feel when it comes to fat-biking; I know the phenomenon is sweeping the outdoor-recreation world, but I'm not really sure if I get it, or if I fit in, or why people are doing it. I guess I'd better chug two PBRs and introduce myself. Afterall, there's no powder to ski—might as well make the most of the mush.
In order to adequately test the discipline, I rounded up my colleagues and a few office dogs and headed for Owenhouse to rent a few bikes. Our destination would be our backyard playground, the Bridger Range. The old logging-roads-turned-snowmobile-trails were the perfect testing ground, and while the mercury was on the rise, heavy cloud cover kept the snow hard enough to go for a spin. From the Battle Ridge trailhead, we made our way west deeper into the foothills. Slushier conditions down low tested the bikes' traction, and overall marked them with a passing grade. A fair amount of user error lead to some washing out, even a couple crashes, but our riding improved as we spent more time on the bikes, gaining control and confidence with every mile.
After what felt like an endless slog through tree-lined doubletrack, we arrived at a bend that offered our first panoramic of the Bridgers' peaks. We stopped to scout some spring ski lines and noted how different Bridger Bowl looked from this angle. Dark clouds gathered to the south, so we thought it best to keep moving—our canine companions were also restless, frustrated by our snail's pace. Said pace was slow but steady while we remained on packed-down snowmobile trails, but somewhere a few miles in, the trails went in divergent directions like the legs of an octupus, leaving us to posthole through calf-deep snow.
Right around that time, the snow started coming down in earnest and our stomachs began to grumble—burgers at the Eagles were calling our names. We pushed our bikes to the top of one last slope, hoping to enjoy a much-deserved downhill before making our way back to the trucks. One at a time, we pushed off and pointed it down a long, steep slope, grouping up at the bottom to share woo-hoos and high-fives. Our ride out was hastened by the storm, which pelted us with graupel and impaired our vision.
At the trucks, we loaded our bikes and peeled off wet layers, lamenting our oversight in not bringing beer—a barley pop is welcome at any trailhead, winter or otherwise. As we drove back to Bozeman, I thought about my uncertainty with embracing fat-biking. I've always been an every-season-has-its-sport kind of recreationist, and my winter sport has been skiing. But that doesn't mean I have to ski all day, every day. I've fished in the winter, why not bike? In fact, the biking was much more enjoyable—the conditions were right, and so was the company. We explored some country we otherwise would have neglected this time of year, and had fun doing it. The dogs got a workout and so did we.
Next year, when the first snows of winter blanket the Bridgers, my first thought will be "I can't wait to ski." But after that, I'll recall about our early-March ride and think "the biking should be pretty good soon, too."
For fat-bike rentals and local beta, visit the guys at Owenhouse Cycling in downtown Bozeman.