Fatbike Adventures In Gatineau Parc

Place: Gatineau, Quebec (45.4833, -75.65)
Address: Gatineau, QC, Canada
Adventure often begins with ambiguous plans.

If the tumultuous year of 2020 has taught me anything, it’s that we are all getting by as best we can. I feel fortunate to have a mostly balanced life and I’ve been able to keep my hobbies intact. I’ve had enough outlets to quell my occasional inner turmoil and the odd old demon that has stopped by to snuggle. The ever changing world has new risks, but like many people, I too am trying to keep some of our habits and traditions in place as we trundle forward into the next phase of life + virus. Risk, it seems, is a bit more important these days.

This year marks the first year in over a decade that We have not been to Utah for riding. That sucks. So some of our other traditions, like bikepacking and fatbiking are getting a dash more priority this season. And while I love to rip around our local groomed trails on my fatbike, there is another side to large, wide tires.

The time between October 1st and the start of winter proper is mostly a swing season in Eastern Canada. Some people push their mountain bike riding as late as possible, but by late October I’ve had enough bike cleaning and I settle into some indoor training and wait for freezing temperatures and snow. Some years, but not every year, the thermometer drops to sub-zero before the fluffy white stuff drops and we get a few special weeks of riding.

It has been said that Adventure and Risk are two sides of the same coin; but really, they are just different words for the same thing. As the temperatures trend lower and the surface water freezes, my friends and I install our studded tires on our wider rims and then begin to plan more time outside. The studded tires help to manage the risks associated with mixed and unstable trail conditions. Then when the time is right, we escape out into the frozen landscape. In search of adventure.

Biking in sub-zero cold always carries with it some risk. A flat tire with no spare tube means a walk back to your vehicle. (Fro-Toe) There’s a risk associated with having no food. (Hangry-Girl). Or no maps. (No-Exit). Riders learn what works for them and many tend to stick to what they know. But when our crew gets the word, “It’s on this weekend” there is a flurry of messages exchanged to find out what everyone is packing for the next adventure day.

This is governed by general terms of the engagement: “Looks like -5 to -10”, “Probably 25 - 40kms”, “A new route”, “2 sandwiches and 2 snacks”, “Big puffy coat”, Thremos”, “Libations”. Nobody wants to risk being under-geared, under-fueled, or under-supplied.

This past weekend our purpose was to hunt for water, frozen water, and to ride on it. This has become quite a thing for our extended team. Hunting frozen lakes and rivers bring with it the chance to experience our familiar and unfamiliar territory from new and rare vantage points. And to boast about the serendipity of our choices and timing.

So, bundled and mutually prepared we embark into the wild usually with a goal if not an actual plan. It’s best to be flexible in your approach to cold weather adventures. Conditions and attitudes can change quickly and dogmatic behaviors do not often return enjoyable journeys. On this day though, our directive matches conditions, spirit, fitness and travel time, and one-by-one, we visit the spots we had eyes for.

Snapshots from our lake quest can’t fully communicate the adventure of being in a familiar place, but in this different way. A few of the lakes we bagged are not even accessible by canoe, so it remain in question how many people have looked up at the cliffs and rocks from som of the places we stand. Animal prints often dot the frosted and frozen landscape and tell of the hidden life that is still awake and thriving. Occasionally we see what we think are track from other humans, but we rarely see any other life.

Occasionally, the lake reminds us that ice, although a solid, is not static like granite. Pops, booms and cracks emanate from different places around the frozen perimeters. Beaver dams and water outflows have magnetic and hypnotic qualities that call to us, inviting us to venture beyond the safety of the black ice. It’s easy to start following an animal track and end up much, much further from the pack than is comfortable. Risk is inherent to riding on ice. Mitigation is a constant balance of what you feel, and what everyone else is doing out there.

For our team this past weekend, the risk varies from “I’d be comfortable driving a truck on this” to “What the hell am I doing out here with these lunatics?” Risk is variable between people; this is always important to know. Rob and I fall into the first category and since he brought a throw rope on this quest we we figure we couldn’t possibly lose anyone on this trip. But as we continue through the day, traveling from lake to lake along our known route, the wind whips everyone into lower states of energy, and the stress of riding unknown surfaces accumulates until it is decided that we have bagged enough ice today. Risk tolerance changes; this is important to learn. Especially if you want your friends to enjoy the adventures.

Departing the primary lake zone, we find that lower temperatures have made the trail faster and we speedily return via the route we came in. In perfect planning, the last mile is downhill and we emerge from the forest in awe of bagging all our lakes, and a touch fatigued from the glorious singletrack exit. Was the risk from today worth it? Perhaps, a rhetorical question. Because, of course, most dangerous risk of all is the risk of spending your life not doing what you want, not experiencing magical things, or not feeling Adventure coursing through your veins.

Good hunting.

Tannus Armour 9:ZERO:7 Bikes Revelate Designs Professional Mountain Bike Instructor Association - PMBIA
Dec 20, 2020 6:51:39pm

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