Every year when mid-November rolls around again I find myself in the same predicament: I want to squeeze one last bikepack in before the big snows arrive and shut down my favorite Sierra routes. But as I sit here checking the weather forecasts before heading north tomorrow it looks like the same old story. A storm is streaming in from the Pacific with rain forecasted in the valley and snow up high. Looks like it’s time to place my bets and roll the dice on which season I’ll find myself riding around in over the next few days.
Not that gambling on the forecast is always a bad thing as some of my most memorable rides have come during this time of year. The clash of seasons never disappoints even if you’re hedging your bets on whether you want to ski or pedal.
If you’re lucky, a cold air mass blows through the range while you’re sleeping and you wake in the morning to astounding views. With only a few fluffy inches of snow on the ground you blast through the ride on rails, a toy trainset beneath Christmas trees festooned with fake snow in the big book of toys from your childhood. I want the one with the fat tires.
Finding water without resorting to melting snow is still relatively easy this time of year even if the gale streaming over that ridge threatens to blow you off your bike while you hang on like the last obstinate leaf on the oak that never budges until December. If you live somewhere with seasons look outside your window right now. He’s shaking his fist at you.
Personally I’d rather have snow, but if rain is falling in the valley it’s all good. Rain adds texture to the day.
The trick is to always sleep at higher elevations even if the night is starting to become a bit chilly and your clothes (which are drenched from low elevation rain) are a steaming exhaust pipe of a car stopped at a red light in Fairbanks on a typical February day. Always climb to higher ground even if the sky is clear…
Sleeping high makes getting to lower elevations a lot easier when the forecast is wrong and you wake entombed in Sierra cement. When this stuff gets too deep it leaves you wishing for skis as the biking’s not much fun, so before more of the slop accumulates blast downhill through the fog like Santa Claus on crack without resorting to pushing (it’s ok if you fall, it’s inevitable).
I take that back – blasting downhill is still fun even if it can’t decide whether to rain or to snow, just make sure and wear your sunglasses so you can see where you’re going.
Of course most importantly, no matter what weather you end up with always enjoy the ride. You never know what’s around that next corner and the weather can clear just as quickly as it can turn sour – which is what makes rolling the dice on a ride so worthwhile during this time of year.