I finally got back out on my mountain bike this morning, for the first time in about a month. My last ride was not all that enjoyable, because the trails were such a muddy mess. I try to avoid riding through mud, both to keep it off my bike, and to avoid damaging the trails. As a result, it seemed like I was doing as much walking as riding that day, which really takes away most of the fun, because you can’t get into that awesome zen state of mind that you get on a long, uninterrupted trail ride.
Different story this morning. In the winter, when I wake up, my usual routine is to check the temperature. So often this winter, the forecast has predicted a dip into the mid 20s, but I’ve woken up only to find it never dropped below freezing. Today was the opposite. I initially didn’t think it was going to get cold enough, but I woke up to a very solid 26º. I checked the hourly readings, and found that it fell below freezing around 11pm, and stayed there all night. A perfect recipe for frozen trails!! With mild conditions predicted for the rest of the week, I figured today was the day to get reacquainted with the MTB.
I hit the trails a little after 7 this morning. Conditions were just about perfect. It was mild enough to be comfortable, but cold enough that the trails were frozen mostly solid. None of the streams were frozen, so I had no issues with footing on the crossings (I know I could just power right through the streams, but I still think it’s better for the bike to walk it). I’m happy I didn’t wait too long to get out. There were lots and lots of sections of thick mud with deep tire ruts and footprints. When frozen, you can just ride right over them. It makes for a rough ride in places, but it’s far better than slogging through mud. As I write this at about 11:00am, the temperature has crept above freezing, and I suspect the window has closed. On several occasions this past month, I’ve been tempted to head out despite marginal temperature conditions. Based on today’s ride, I’m glad I held off, and will wait for conditions like this before I go out again. I’m hoping the second half of January brings some colder mornings with it.
In spite of my rustiness, I think I rode pretty well this morning. I rode sections of Morning Choice, Rockburn Branch, and Ridge Extension (Captain John Smith) in Howard County; and “Gunned”, Soapstone, “Starstruck”, and Soapstone Reroute/Bull Run in Baltimore County. Out of all my various modes of exercise, mountain biking is the one most likely to get me winded. Lately, I’ve been reading “Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art”, and working on applying some of the techniques while exercising. Today was my first opportunity to do this while mountain biking, and I think it helped me power up some ascents with which I’ve struggled in the past. One of these is “Water Bars”, a steep climb up from the Avalon day-use area that joins the trail network on the Howard County side of the park. One of my goals is to make it all the way up this ascent without stepping off the bike. I’ve come close, but the rocky stretch near the top has always tripped me up. Today, I got a little hung up on one of the trail’s namesake water bars about halfway up, but was able to power through the rocky section for the first time ever. I still got pretty winded at the top, but recovered fairly quickly. I think I’m making progress. I just need the weather to cooperate so that I can get more practice now!