By Sylvie O'Rourke
They call me a packer, a trail packer that is. It’s not a bad thing. A trail packer is someone who snowshoes on the shared fat bike trails to compact the snow for the bikes. It is something snowshoers are thanked for even though we are truly snowshoeing for the love of it. If you tell them that, though, I will deny it.
Today, however, I intend to cross over to the other side. I am participating in a Fat-Bike Clinic hosted by Summerstown Trails. This is what got me outside at 9 a.m. at minus thirty degrees Celsius. It’s cold enough to freeze one’s nostrils shut. As the group attempts to stay warm by the mobile firepit that is conveniently set on skis, a Total Cyclery representative teaches us the basics of fat biking such as how to dress, use proper tire pressure, and manoeuvre the bikes.
At last, it is time to get our blood circulating. I am fortunate to have been assigned a rental bike as they were in high demand for this event. A volunteer leads our group through the woods. The trail we start out on is interspersed with knolls appearing somewhat like solidified waves on a still sea. I learn quickly why it is important to stay on the trail as a slight deviation catches my front tire and causes me to skid sideways in the softer snow. I manage to avert a wipeout and get back on track vowing to focus better on my control, a feat considering all the bends around forest trees. I get caught in the same predicament thrice more, proving that I am not a fast learner.
Before long, my efforts to go up the steeper inclines take their toll on me. I can’t feel my nose anymore, my layers of clothing are constricting me, and I struggle for breath. I am finding out that fat biking is a rugged sport that I am physically unprepared for, despite leading an active lifestyle. Several times, I find myself walking my bike as I labour to bring my breath under control. Phew! And this, I was told, was one of the easiest trails to ride.
When we reach the intersection, hubby and I take a break before the return trip. As we are standing there a chickadee lands on my handlebar to pay me a visit. I am surprised that it sticks around for a while before flying off, especially since I have no treats for it. I choose to take this as a sign of encouragement. “I can do this!” I tell myself as I hop back on my “fatty” (a biker term of endearment, I feel I’ve earned the right to use).
We are now on what we were told is the easiest trail of all. It really is. Not only am I finally warm from my nostrils down to my toes, but this trail seems like such a breeze in comparison. It is much flatter and requires less exertion. I am cruising back to the finish line with a smile on my lips. What appeared difficult in the first trail is already but a hazy memory. Oh, how fickle is the mind! This really is a lot of fun.
I am tired and my legs feel like jelly, but I am happy to be here. Helmets off to the fat-biking community! They are a resilient bunch. I will surely be back to try this again on a warmer winter day, but for now, I am ready to cross back to my role as a packer and to respectfully move aside to let the fat bikes through as I openly admire their riders’ stamina. I am a trail packer and proud to be of service.
Published in The Cornwall Seeker, 2 in 1 Flip Magazine, www.cornwallseekerca, February 2022, page 6.