Pete, Ian and I headed out for an extended winter outing last weekend, the idea to ride 160km in two days and camp along the way. We were game for exploring some of eastern Manitoba and trying our hand at winter camping. I also wanted to see what a possible “Winter Challenge” course might look like, more on that later.  Here are some pictures and thoughts from the weekend.

Loaded 3 bikes in the trailer and headed out to Marchand Provincial Park which was our starting point.
Loaded 3 bikes in the trailer and headed out to Marchand Provincial Park which was our starting point.
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After getting our gear together we headed out, the weather and conditions were pretty sweet.
The conditions on the trails were soft but manageable
The conditions on the trails were soft but manageable
We traveled a combination of trails (unofficial snowmobile) and roads. It was mostly back roads.
We traveled a combination of trails (unofficial snowmobile trails) and roads. It was mostly back roads.
The second trail we encountered was not maintained and it had been sometime since a snowmobile had been down on it, it was slow going.
The second trail we encountered was not maintained and it had been sometime since a snowmobile had been down it, it was slow going.
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Trying to figure out how much further we had to go on the trail
When you can ride you walk
When you can’t ride you walk
A great way to pack and carry a 3L pot
A great way to pack and carry a 3L pot
Following the trail it was back on the road till we hit the Whitemouth River
After the ‘snowmobile’ trail it was back on the road. At 35km we hit the Whitemouth River…
Problem with the Whitemouth river is there is no longer a bridge to across - but it being winter and river being frozen it should be no problem getting across...
Problem with the Whitemouth river is there is no longer a bridge to across – but it being winter and river being frozen it should be no problem getting across…
...that is until your foot goes through the ice
…that is until your foot goes through the ice when you try to cross
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We assessed the situation, risks, and weighed the options

 

 

We noticed a cabin just before we got to the bridge and decided to knock on the door and ask if there was a safe way across the river. We were told that it should be safe to cross if we went 40 meters up the river and crossed there - here is Ian testing the safety of the ice by poking it with a stick
We noticed a cabin just before we got to the bridge and decided to knock on the door and ask if there was a safe way across the river. We were told that it should be safe to cross if we went 40 meters up the river and crossed there – here is Ian testing the safety of the ice by poking it with a stick
Deeming it safe we proceeded to make our way across the river
Deeming it safe we proceeded to make our way across the river, first we had to transport the bikes down the bank, a fully loaded fat bike is a heavy heavy bike
Having safely made it across it was back on the road
Having safely made it across the Whitemouth it was back on the road and on our way

We continued on the route that Pete had mapped out until we hit the 25km connector trail/road at kilometer 86, that road had not been maintained or traveled on and was under 20cm of snow. It was just before 5:00 and we did not feel like pushing our bike for that distance, we talked about options one of which was to head up to the Snowman snowmobile trail and ride that through to make our way along the route. We talked about this for a bit and we came to the conclusion that we were uncomfortable with riding on the Snoman trial without first getting permission, we decided to head back the way we came. As the light was beginning to fade we decided to ride back 10km and try and find a good place to camp beside the road.

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Finding a spot just off the road we proceeded to make camp, first thing to do was to find enough wood to make a fire
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Bikes safely under the trees
Warmth
Warmth
Melting snow to make dinner
Melting snow to make dinner
Waking up from a fitful night's sleep, I was warm enough but always find the first night in the sleeping bag difficult
Waking up in the morning

 

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Neighbour
Other neighbour
Other neighbour
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It took all of us a while to get our boots back on in the morning as they were all frozen solid being left out all night. Once we forced our feet back in our boots we began the next task, making breakfast
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The ride home was good. It was mostly sunny but we did have headwinds most of the way which took a bite out of each of us.

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The trip was a lot of fun and we all learned a little more about winter bikepacking, here are some observations from the weekend.

Ian’s observations:

Liked:

  • Variety of road and trail types – not just all gravel or all trail.
  • Riding with 3 or 4 people seems to be a pretty great social situation for me, personally. I think I like it better than 2 for long rides (more variety, maybe?) and decisions are easier to make when you’re tired than having 6 or 7 people.
Worked great:
  • Ground sheets sure are nice in powdery snow.
  • Wolvhammer boots – yep they are great (with gaiters was good call)
  • GPS. This was my first ride ever following a track on a GPS. It’s pretty cool, although I’m not entirely sure I like the level of hand-holding. Maybe over time I’ll revert to maps and only use the GPS for backup/confirmation. Time will tell.
  • Sleeping in wet clothes. Well, maybe didn’t work great, but wasn’t bad, either. I usually make a priority of changing into dry stuff. But for various reasons I didn’t and was actually surprised that (a) I didn’t freeze and (b) I was dry by morning.
Do differently:
  • Bring more real food and a wider variety of food. I feel like I always say this after medium/long rides. Nutrition continues to be one of my primary challenges for consistently turning out good rides over 6-7 hours.
  • We talked about this one — keeping boots warm. Bring them in sleeping bag? Sleep on them as a pillow? Sleep in them?
  • Possibly… put more effort into finding dry firewood (or how to differentiate between dry and wet wood when everything is frozen).

Pete’s observations:

Liked

  •   Sharing a new area with you guys
  •   Having the flexibility to stop riding and camp when we felt like it
  •   Riding roads and trails I hadn’t seen before.
  •   Being ok with changing the route on the fly.
Worked great:
  •  My sleep system (bag,ground sheet and pad) is more than adequate for the conditions.
  • Clothing, dressed a bit lighter then I have been to make sure I stayed dry. It was a bit light in the open stretches but fine when out of the wind.
  • On top I wore a light wool hoody and the Revilate hoody legs wool tights and a light soft-shell pant, feet light running socks, vapor barrier , fleece socks and Wolvhammers.
Do differently:
  • Do we need a fire?
  • Keep boots warm over night, in sleeping bag or put a hand warmer in and tie the tops shut.
  • I need to find a way to stop for a meal/break on long days when there are no checkpoints or towns. This a problem on the summer rides as well. Ties into Ian’s real food as well. Don’t know if I would bother cooking something but to take time to sit down off the bike and eat is important.
  • Camp booties or something to get the bike boots off when stopped.

Hal’s observations

Liked:

  • Getting out on the bike and having an adventure with friends
  • Seeing new areas of the Province
  • Winter camping, it requires thought, patience, and making good decisions

Worked great:

  • A lot covered above but…
  • Brooks saddle, they are fantastic
  • Using bar ends (mounted as close to the stem as possible and facing down) to keep the sleeping bag in a good position on the front of your bike
  • Finding out that cold hands and feet do warmup when you get back on the bike the next day

Do differently:

  • More food varieties (I should have figured this out by now but gummi bears need to come with me on all of these trips)
  • Bring less stuff, really, 2 sleeping pads??? Like they say you pack your insecurities and I guess I was insecure
  • Stopping for lunch as Pete suggested would be good. Someone said eat energy foods for about 2 – 3 hours but then take a break and eat real food
  • Setting up your stove beside your sleeping bag so you can start melting snow for water from the comfort and warmth of your sleeping bag
  • And what everyone else said…BOOTS IN THE BAG WITH YOU

The trip was great, good times with good friends. What this trip also convinced me of is the need to have Winter Challenges, starting next year look for winter MUERTO challenges to come your way.