Summer MTB Commute

Historically, I have not done much mountain biking in the summertime. The main reason is that the slower speeds and shorter bursts of exertion tend to get me extra hot and sweaty. Conversely, with road biking, there’s a consistent cooling breeze from air resistance, and the amount of exertion is more uniform, allowing for better regulation of body heat. The other issue I have with mountain biking in the summertime, particularly commuting to work, is poison ivy. My usual route takes me through a few exposed areas where the trail is narrow, with dense growth on either side that includes poison ivy.

It has always bugged me that there are so few days each year that I consider viable for commuting to work by MTB. In the winter, trails are frozen in the morning, but a muddy mess in the afternoon thanks to the freeze-thaw cycle. In spring, winter melt-off and rains make everything too muddy. Summer has the aforementioned issues of overheating and poison ivy. That leaves autumn as the only season where conditions are “ideal”, and now, it’s hard to ride in PVSP in the fall without getting coated in seeds from the wavyleaf basketgrass that is slowly taking over the entire watershed.

I would really like to do more mountain biking, but if I’m not getting my MTB time in while commuting, it’s tough to fit it in along with other activities like paddling (which I’m looking to extend into the colder months eventually), climbing, road biking/geocaching, etc. It seems like the answer is to stop waiting for ideal mountain biking conditions, and learn to adapt, kind of like what I’ve done with my road bike commuting over the years. To that end, today is not a day I ordinarily would have chosen to commute by MTB. It started off in the mid-70s and humid, and there is a heat advisory for the afternoon (a near-daily occurrence lately). I suited up with my usual summer biking garb, including a double-thickness Sweathawg helmet liner (one of those things that I wonder how I got along without for so many years). I rode Belmont Trail, Garrett’s Pass, Grist Mill Trail, and Soapstone/Starstruck. The shortcut trail that connects Rolling Rd to UMBC Blvd always gets too overgrown in the summertime, so I avoided it, opting instead to ride Rolling Rd to Wilkens Ave and then into UMBC via Hilltop Rd. The route had a few miles of pavement to help cool me off, and avoided areas with large amounts of PI (with the exception of a short stretch of Belmont/Morning Choice). The trails were dry (but not too dry) and fast.

On the way home, I usually enter the park via the Soapstone Trail, but the top of it is a veritable forest of poison ivy this time of year. Today, I think I’m going to try taking Foxhall Farm Rd to Vineyard Spring Trail. Another option would be to skip the Baltimore County side altogether, ride down Gun Rd, and enter the park at the railroad crossing. The former seems like it would be a better ride (other than the start along Wilkens Ave). It will be a lot hotter than this morning, so this will be a good litmus test of whether this will be a viable option in the summer. Another barrier to commuting in the summer is afternoon thunderstorms, but that hasn’t been an issue with the current heat wave, as it’s been exceptionally dry recently.

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