Coup de grâce ride.
The phrase can refer to the final event that causes a figurative death. After a winter that held all of us so tightly without reprieve, a day in the mid fifties would finally be it's end. Anticipating the season's impending passing, fatbikes would have to roll early to catch that small window of riding opportunity. Temps barely dipped below freezing overnight, but enough to firm the remaining snow and allow the big tires to float on top. A week previous, we could ride the crust everywhere, but the power of the late March sun ate away the surface integrity and now we were left with just ribbons of ice and snow on singletrack. Which is okay too.
It's been a long winter to be sure-record cold and snow and no typical thaw at any point. Our snowbike trails held up great and afforded us a lot of riding, even in below zero temps. In fact, at those cold temperatures, riding was preferred over skiing, where glide would be non existent. This year has really seen the sport of fatbiking explode and more and more riding opportunities are popping up around the state. The Midwest has been called the “Fatbike Mecca” in some national publications and I agree. That fact was illustrated in how many different brands were represented on this final winter ride- six manufacturers toed the starting line- defiantly mainstream now.
Even at an early hour, it seemed the sun immediately started softening the snow-especially on the south side of Levis Mound. Scattered oak leaves soak up the heat and burn postholes in the trail making for a bumpy ride even on big soft tires. Any thought of an nice easy spin was gone as our gang of ten mashed the pedals just to move forward. Switching from singletrack to an old ski trail made pedaling a bit easier until reaching an incline facing the sun-then I found it a challenge to keep traction and the lungs in my chest.
A freshly groomed skate ski trail still remained hard, so that provided an autobahn stretch to click off a few miles to a more shaded bike trail. Our favorite winter trail is Yellowjacket and on this day, some of it was buffed smooth and fast, others a grinder as the surface gave way to the warming sunshine. At the tail end, we gave up, left the struggling behind and finished the ride on the deserted ski trail.
In the end it was perfect, the chatter among friends resumed as we rode in close quarters finally spinning easily. As deemed appropriate, the group finished with one last climb and a blistering frost flying downhill race to the chalet. The consummate end of a great snowbike season.
The post ride discussion revolved around the new bikes laying scattered in the parking lot, of brakes and fat tires and of maybe finally riding dirt again soon. I wasn't as keen on the last topic for I love winter riding. I love the pure white around me and the quiet and softness when I hit the perfect day of riding. There was a bit of melancholy when I hoisted the bike into the truck, knowing it'd be 9 months until we had this chance again. It felt like we truly did put the winter to bed and I'm glad I could share the day with so many new and old friends and look forward to the chance to do it all again.
Read more posts from Steve Meurett.
Steve Meurett lives, works and plays in West Central Wisconsin and spends about every free moment outdoors where his passions lie. His outdoor interests take him on and off trail, pursuing mountain biking and skinny skiing, photography and hunting, while keeping an eye on wild mushrooms and the next fruit for craft wine. Steve is the Trail Director at The Levis Mound Trail System and member of the Clark County Trails Advisory Committee. He resides, teaches and is a photographer in Neillsville. Steve can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.