Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Riding the Minnesota River Bottoms

I've heard so much about riding the Minnesota River Bottoms bike trail and have wanted to ride it ever since I got my Beargrease. We've been talking about making this happen for a while but, finally, on Saturday Owen and I made it happen! We loaded up our bikes and drove to the Lyndale Avenue access point and parking lot to explore the river bottoms for a bit. Even though we weren't sure where to go and certainly are out of shape for a long ride, we figured we could ride at least a few miles of the 11 mile trail and check things out.
Owen riding his Mukluk on the River Bottoms trail
The temps on Saturday were above freezing, about 37°F,  and the sun was shining. We arrived at the parking lot shortly before noon and unloaded our fatties. There were about 20 cars in the lot and we saw a couple of fat bikers right off. We unloaded our bikes and got ready to go out and find some fun! Even though we had planned to ride east on the trail, I figured I would play it safe and follow someone, so we headed west on the trail. At first we were riding on a road but then we hit some obvious bike paths in the snow and knew we were in the right place.

Oh, was it ever the right place for this gal and her fatbike. I felt right at home riding the trails on Bear. The trails twisted and turned. They were challenging enough but not so much that I felt completely overwhelmed. Best part of all -  I did not get bored! My brain was fully engaged and my body felt strong. And it was absolutely beautiful riding the snow covered trails!

Long and short of things - Yippee Skippy! We had a blast and rode about 7 miles of the trail in just over an hour. We were tired in the end but really had a great time. I can't wait to do it again. And I'm SO glad I bought my Beargrease just over a year ago!

Yep - that's all! End of blog post. Sort of...


Here I am going down a big hill to cross Nine Mile Creek
(I made it about 3/4 of the way up the other side and had to push the rest of the way)
If you are a bike person you may want to know more about trail conditions and stuff. Or maybe you want to read about how I almost had to walk back because I let the air out of my tire. If you are interested in reading a lot more, read on! If not, you're off the hook and can get back to whatever it was you were doing before you visited my blog.

Back to the ride:

The River Bottom trails are relatively narrow, anywhere from the width of a fat tire to about a foot across. The trail twists and turns through the woods along the Minnesota River. It's quite scenic! I loved it. I find I like riding single track and LOVED riding in the snow!

We saw about 20 other riders and, since we were riding single track, we had to move over to let people pass us from time to time. The good thing about this is that we got to see a lot of people and actually talk to some. Sometimes we'd pull off the trail to let people pass, say "hi" and "thank you" and bike on. Other times we'd all stop and chat, maybe ask about the trail or talk bikes. Almost everyone we saw was SO friendly and helpful. So far with riding trails, I've been fortunate to meet riders who are generally friendly - Maybe it's the fact that people are riding fat bikes that makes them so cheerful :)

This whole passing on the trail thing is not an easy feat, at least not in the winter - basically you either stop and awkwardly move your bike off the trail into the snow so people can pass you or you just ride off the trail and coming to a dead stop in over a foot of snow. Either way, it's awkward and you end up standing off trail in the snow until the other rider passes.

As the day went on, it got warmer outside and the snow got squishier. One rider described the conditions to me as like riding on mashed potatoes. That was a pretty good description! The trail was well packed but the top few inches were pretty soft in places. I decided that I would let some air out of my tires so they would handle the soft snow better. So I stopped and stepped off the trail and let some air out of my rear tire. No problem.

Then I went to let some out of my front tire. I took off the valve stem cap then unsecured the tip of the valve so that I could push it to let air out. Unfortunately my valve core (the tip of the valve stem) unscrewed and came off of the stem leaving the top of the stem open so that air started coming out fast. I had to put my finger over the hole to stop the tire from going completely flat. In the process I dropped the valve core into the snow. So there I was, digging in the snow with one hand and covering the tip of my valve stem with my other hand. Brilliant!

I found the core (thankfully - had I not my only option would have been to completely change out the tube with a new one, or, now that I think of it, maybe pull the core out of my spare tube. But generally you'd need a pliers or something to loosen the core, and I didn't have one of those) and Owen helped me screw it back in. Whew. Relief!
Bear in snow
So now I was ready to get some air back into that tire (it was pretty much completely flat at this point). Owen got out his bike pump and tried to attach it to the valve stemp to pump the tire. But the pump fitting wouldn't fit onto the stem. After some troubleshooting and after dropping of a very small piece of the pump into the snow then digging for it and finding it, we got the pump put together correctly and started pumping up my tire. It takes forever to pump up a flat fat tire. And it doesn't help when you bend the stem a bit like I did. But we finally got my tire pumped up and we were ready to ride again.

All in all, we were maybe working on the tire for 10 minutes but it felt like forever. There was more than one moment where I thought we'd be walking back or waiting for someone who had a pump we could borrow. But, in the end, we were able to fix things and get back on our bikes. And, best part of all, I learned a lot about valve stems and pumps. That's all good.

We rode a bit further up the trail but the conditions were getting worse, we were already tired and I was not keen on trying to adjust my tire pressures anymore - so we turned back to the trail head and called it a day. And a good day it was!

Lessons learned:
  • valve stems have valve cores (I knew this at some level this but know I REALLY know this)
  • it make sense to make sure your valve cores are actually tight
  • remember to bring a spare CO2 cartridge just in case your pump doesn't work. 
  • before you ride, test your pump to make sure it actually works
  • seems like a good idea to add a small pliers to bike bag
  • if you need to make adjustments to your bike, find a place that is NOT in a foot of snow
  • almost everyone who passes you will ask you if you are okay or need help 
  • laughter helps everything
Owen and I along the trail