“Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay”
– Robert Frost
“Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay”
– Robert Frost
“We live in a world where strangers will pick each other up off the streets. We live in a world where people will bring other people into their homes, feed them, and drive them up and down a snowy mountain in the depths of a winter’s night. We live in a world where people will hand strangers they’ve only just met one hundred euros with nothing but the implicit request of please don’t screw me on this.
Yes, there’s a darker side to this world. Yes, we also live in a world where people shoot at other people for no reason. We live in a world where people sometimes can’t agree, and where people sometimes do terrible things to those they can’t agree with. We live in a world with a whole lot of human suffering, most of it caused by the way humans treat other humans.
Mostly, we live in a world where how you live is dictated largely by how you trust. If you do not trust others, if you believe human nature to be something dark and rotten, you close yourself off to a whole lot. If you do not open the shutters, all you get is darkness, no matter what’s outside. True, you may get darkness even if the shutters are open. Darkness or something worse: a rock hurled through your window, a tree branch kicked up by violent winds. But there’s no way to let the light in unless you open your shutters to the wider world.
And sometimes, that light can be pretty blinding.” – Jay Austin (touring cyclist attacked and killed in Tajikistan 7/29/18)
“I can’t stand it to think my life is going so fast and I’m not really living it.”
– Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises
Jet lag my old friend, how the hell are ya? It had been a while since I’d run the Ritchey Breakaway bike though the airline baggage fee gauntlet so the the shock of hailing a cab at the Barcelona airport for my journey downtown was even more severe than it should have been. Sitting curbside in the taxi line with a foggy brain I silently mouthed how I was going to relay where I was going without looking like a total moron.
C’mon brain, it’s only an address you need to recite. You can speak enough Spanish to relay numbers and a street name. You’ve got this.
With that mission accomplished, twenty minutes later I was lugging my belongings into a tiny hotel room that would soon serve as an assembly room for my bolted-together escape vehicle/bike. But first, a quick bite to eat with the wife who had taken time from her business (the real reason to go to Barcelona in the first place) to see that I had arrived in one piece. After a quick hello and lunch break I had the remainder of the day to myself for exploration.
Honestly, I wasn’t that thrilled about going to Spain at first. In retrospect I’m so glad that i relented. I had visited years before and while I had enjoyed my time I wanted to go somewhere new. However, the issue of syncing up spousal schedules reared it’s ugly head and a compromise was reached: I’d have 2 whole days pretty much to myself to explore Barcelona on my bike.
Well 2 whole days if I hit the ground running that is, which is exactly what I did as soon as I returned to my hotel room following lunch. Less than an hour later I was following a Starva currated ride on my GPS as I dodged taxis and scooters on my way out of the city.
Barcelona is a very bike friendly city so unlike a place like, for instance Rome, a dousing of holy water was unnecessary to protect life and limb. In retrospect, after some close calls the second day while reentering the city on a Friday afternoon that might have been a good idea. Running with the scooters is almost as unpredictable as running with bulls.
Still, if you’re ever in Barcelona bring a bike (or rent one) and point it toward the hills. Jet lag be damned! Catalonia is beautiful, the people are friendly and there are miles of quality riding nearby in the hills above town (and beyond).
Listen to your inner Hemingway and run with the taxis and scooters! Climb the hills, ride the curves with the deathwish motos! Drink black coffee until you twitch. While it can be hard to comprehend on a seemingly endless jet lagged day, some day the sun will cease to rise no matter how careful you may be.
“Your body is not a temple, it’s an amusement park. Enjoy the ride” – Anthony Bourdain
“It was a strange figure – like a child: yet not so like a child as like an old man, viewed through some supernatural medium, which gave him the appearance of having receded from the view, and being diminished to a child’s proportions” – Charles Dickens
I first spied the line while on a fat bike ride earlier this winter. OK, there’s not much elevation change anywhere near Portland, Maine so calling it a “line” is a little optimistic. But seeing as how I’ve been earning my turns for the past 10 years or so any bit of nearby skiable vertical is a good thing, especially if I don’t have to drive an hour (or more) to reach it.
The snow was crusty and old (much like myself) as we hadn’t had any fresh for a few weeks and the midwinter thaw was in full force. As I rode I noticed that off to the side of the trail was an undeniable clearing in the woods. It led directly off the ridgeline and out of view. I walked over to the edge of the incline and immediately saw it: a fall line with just enough space to link some turns. I made a mental note to return when (if) the snow did.
In the meantime I did a little research. Amazingly enough, there had once been a ski area on this hill! The topo map of the area still shows the liftline of the defunct Hurricane Ski Slope . From 1946-1973 it had operated on this pleasant little slope, with a larger open area of private property still remaining as a pasture to this day. It just goes to show that skiers know a line when they see one, even if it’s only 200 or so vertical feet. I can almost hear the schralpf of ski edges and the cries of kids learning to ski in Winter’s past.
A week later I finally got my chance to ski it. After a massive almost 70 degree warm spell had decimated the remaining snowpack we were gifted with a surprise foot of fresh. I headed up to the ridge on my ancient Kazama Mountain High metal edged touring skis, found the clearing and pointed them downhill – a direction they remained headed despite my best efforts to turn them until a tree loomed in my field of view. I’d forgotten how fun it is to coax skinny 210cm double cambered touring skis to turn in fresh snow. I kick turned down the rest of the massive vertical face. Errrrr well it felt intimidating on the skinny skis at least.
As unenlightened it may have been, the proof of concept was sound. There was a hill nearby that offered an opportunity for some sorely lacking verticality in my life! I dug out my rusty-edged-almost-as ancient-as-the-Kazama’s K2 Piste Stinx tele skis and ordered up some 3-pin bindings for some control with my touring boots. After another excruciating week of ridiculous up and down February temperature swings (60deg to zero and the almost back to 50! No one ever said living on the coastal plain in Maine is conducive to great snow conditions!) and a visit from mail order Santa, I was ready for the next storm cycle.
The buds of the beeches may have been fooled but the calendar still read “winter” as a few coastal storms soon churned up the Eastern seaboard. Three feet of fresh fell within a week – winter was back! With my grungy 90’s era skis humming Nirvana I hit that slope after every storm blanketed it with fresh snow. The Atlantic Ocean can be a great snow gun under the right conditions.
“Here we are now, entertain us
I feel stupid and contagious
Here we are now, entertain us”
Some days the powder was knee deep, on others it was crud. Though the runs may have been short the lift lines were even shorter, not to mention the price was right. I’m not a total cheapskate but $100 plus lift tickets are not my thing anymore. As long as I have enough base to clear most of the fallen tree branches that litter the floor of my little glade the price is right.
Of course now the calendar has been flipped from Winter to Spring. The snows are melting as the sun intensifies with each passing day. Soon I’ll be mountain biking these very hills as some of the best trails in the area wind to the top of this tiny ridge. It’s my hidden gem, my escape from the everyday. Regardless of season, it’s a chance to recapture the past and feed that inner child on the slopes of Poplar Ridge.
Oh and Powder Magazine, if you’re listening – feel free to drop by anytime for a tour.
My previous black and white post was from within the depths of a winter day earlier this year. Yesterday I went back to the scene of the crime (the Carrabassett Valley) for what will probably be my last extended snow ride of the season. It turned out to be one of the best of the season.
Winter is dead. Long live winter!
In spring you’re always just around the corner to the light of day.
If you’re up early in the morning and outside this time of year you know that there is change right around the corner. The earth exudes it. The birds are singing with a purpose other than just to stay warm. The trees no longer shiver rigidly in the wind, they sway to the pulse of sap rising through their limbs. Heck, even the squirrels are all smiles as they hop around uncovering long forgotten treats hidden beneath the receding snowpack. Although I think the moose remain rather nonplussed by the whole deal, there is no denying that spring is not just a season, it’s a feeling.
With temperatures in the 20’s combined with a little fresh snow over the hardpacked groomed trails it was fat biking at its finest. I can say this with all honesty as when I first started fat biking (if you’re following along at home this is the “back in my day” part of the story) pushing your bike was an accepted part of the game. We trained for it. Unless you were riding snowmobile trails you either packed your own trails or forged ahead by pushing your steed at times. It was fun, or so we told ourselves.
Side note: my first snow bike race (the Togwotee Classic in Wyoming) I pushed my “fat” tired (I was running 2.4’s that day!) Karate Monkey almost 25 miles through unconsolidated snow. Most “fun” I’ve ever had. While the course was a loop, I’m pretty sure it was uphill all the time too. So much fun.
Luckily, there are now wonderfully groomed trail systems like in the Carrabassett Valley of Maine where a coalition of organizations have seen the light and maintain a system of groomed trails for human powered recreation. The Carrabassett Region NEMBA and the Maine Huts and Trails provide ample opportunity to get people out and enjoying the trails in winter. I’ve dreamed about it for years but still haven’t strung together a multiday ride on the entire system but nest year for sure!
So not only can one climb up to Stratton Brook Hut on the aptly named “Newton’s Revenge”, but after gaining your gravity points you can point the fat bike downhill for a fun blast before hooking up with the machine-packed singletrack that winds its way along the Carrabassett River. If you want you can continue further afield and stay at a hut overnight. Seriously, this stuff is top notch especially on a perfect late-winter (yes, I know the calendar says “spring”) day like this past Sunday.
While I explored I took a few pics then gave in to the allure of just ripping this luge run of a trail, clipping trees with abandon as I sought gold and Bode Millered my way along the rolling terrain of the riverbed. The tighter turns were bermed with the occasional jump to add to the pure enjoyment. I’ve ridden these trails in the summer and enjoyed them immensely, but there is something so paper-boy fun as weaving through the trees on a balloon tired bike. Everyone I encountered, whether skier, fat biker or hiker (and their happy dogs) was just stoked to be out enjoying this incredible day.
So I guess there is something to this newfangled fat bike phenomenon. Almost makes you want to put your skis away and just ride your bike all the time in winter doesn’t it? Who needs ski areas anyway?
Of course I’m kidding. There’s still plenty of opportunity to pack both into one season and the Carrabassett Valley is the perfect place to do so. Maybe all I need to do is move to the area so I can do it all the time. Anyone hiring in the Valley?
Long live the fat bike!
“When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence” – Ansel Adams
I other words, I have nothing to say right now. But in the meantime enjoy some trailside beauty from Western Maine as my images are wholly inadequate to capture the beauty and sensations of this particular ride. Days like this are why I love winter.
“There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept” – Ansel Adams
I would argue that the inverse is also true when it comes to many of my photos. I’ll blame it on the cold weather causing me to shake. Or maybe it was the driving wind?
“A good photograph is knowing where to stand” – Ansel Adams
On this out and back ride from the Carrabassett Valley, I failed to notice this spot until the ride back. It IS all where you stand.
“Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop” – Ansel Adams
Twelve to go!
“Are you going to pull those pistols or whistle Dixie?” – The Outlaw Josie Wales
I’ve recently turned old. I’m not sure when it started or how it happened, but everything hurts. Most of my joints, lungs, brain – the list goes on. You name it, it hurts. One look in the mirror tells me that it also hurts for others to look at me (nothing new there) but it gets worse with each passing day. Frankly, it’s annoying as hell.
Which is why this morning it was imperative that when the alarm rang out into the cold darkness, I throw the down comforter from the bed (being careful not to dislodge any cats that might’ve huddled there for warmth) and run out the door with my bike.
It was time for Dawn Patrol on the Lost Boot Trail.
I’ve been lazy recently, especially in the mornings as the winter darkness can make escape from the down cocoon problematic. It’s easy to get outside during the “heat” of the day (I use that term sparingly, it’s been wicked cold here lately), but that only works on weekends for me this time of year. Luckily the days are growing longer with each spin of the earth. Regardless of this certainty one personal truth exists: I need to get back out riding before work.
So this morning was a showdown of sorts: fat bikes at dawn. Which person would win? The 50 year old with a propensity toward whistling Dixie, or that ageless soul of a gunfighter that exists within everyone? The kid versus the aging man. Truth versus Justice. Dreams versus Reality. Sloth versus Industriousness. Metaphors spun in the wind as I pedaled to the face of the first hill, at war with myself. I squinted my crow’s feet into the predawn blue.
Just then a barrage of a snow squall pierced the air and the world fell silent as I was strafed by snowflakes. My life flashed before my eyes, suspended like grains in a snow-hourglass. As quickly as it had gathered it passed, and there I was still pedaling into the wind trailing a constellation of flakes in my wake. I swear not one of them touched me.
A wry smile crept across my face as I soldiered on up the hill, straining to keep the wheels moving through the unconsolidated snow. Just another Dawn Patrol on the Lost Boot Trail.
“I don’t know what to say, except it’s Christmas and we’re all in misery” – Clark W Griswold
Ahhh the holiday season has arrived and everyone is running around like Rudolph with his nose cut off trying to get everything done that needs to get done before the end of year. Deadlines, both personal and work related begin to accumulate like grains in a snowglobe. Sometimes it’s enough to make you scream.
Which is why that first real snowfall of the year is always so magical. Sure the lakes are not quite frozen yet and the first few inches may fall with a slushy thud, but it’s a fresh start. The air is infused with the scent of balsam fir riding on the back of each crisp flake. Within hours the barren forest is transformed from drab browns dusted with windblown leaves to glazed perfection. There just seems to be more oxygen available with each chilly lungful of air. The old trails are new again, if only until the next thaw.
Deadlines be damned! Tis the season to be outdoors doing what you love! Ride, drink and be merry! Just watch out for those frozen roots that linger just beneath the surface as they are slicker than Grinch snot this time of year.
And if you’re lucky the low, glinting sun will filter through the forest just right and top your Tannenbike with a star.
November is the cruelest month. Darkness lingers long then settles in on the edges of day like tunnel-vision, grainy as sand. Gone is the retina piercing splendor of Autumn foliage. Images of November rarely find their way onto picture postcards of New England; the only bright colors left in the woods are those of hunters and the others that prefer not to be mistaken for a trophy buck. Shades of grey reign in the darkness on the edge of town.
Whatever snow tends to fall doesn’t last, yet the wind bites like shards of glass as I pause on the edge of the field. The trees along the perimeter stand waiting for snow wearing shorts with black socks and sandals over their roots like old men, veiny arms lifted skyward as if to surrender. Wheezing with the wind, they shiver and stretch for a thermostat that’s never quite within reach. It’s time to either suck it up and get tough or put your head down and dodge buckshot. Although I suppose hibernation may be another option.
Not a very good option, of course. I prefer to be outside so I pedal over to the cove. While the season of darkness may be upon us there is still much to see and experience out here in the cold. Hibernation is for the bears! I choose to fight and resist the temptation of the woodstove and couch.
Around me the world exhales with the spirits of sea smoke as the first arctic air of the season overruns the warm waters of the ocean. The rocks lay defiant and mute as always. Vapor, you may escape for now but you’ll be back. Try as you might to escape into the vacuum of night, we’ll see you again as snowfall – the sooner the better! You wraiths will be sliced with the ski edges of Norse gods someday.
With the days growing short the ocean and all beings between it and the sky draw one final receding wave of breath before settling in for the fight to come. The hemisphere inexorably tips away from the sun, the world freezes over and steels itself for winter.
I enjoy the cold burn of the wind upon my cheeks for a final moment before retreating into the shelter of the forest.
“… and I’ll pay the cost
For wanting things that can only be found
In the darkness on the edge of town” – Bruce Springsteen
It’s easy to love summer with its long, carefree and sunlit days. Who doesn’t like lobster devoured on a wharf plein air all washed down with cold beer? And when conditions are right (not wet and warm blehhh) winter is tough to beat for the wealth of recreational opportunities it affords. Nothing beats packing a day full of snow shoveling, skiing and fat biking, am I right? Of course Spring has a certain regenerative charm (no, slapping mosquitoes doesn’t count) once all the mud has subsided, but for pure enjoyment of living Fall is without question the king of the seasons. Especially because of foliaglow.
Don’t bother looking for a definition of foliaglow, it doesn’t exist. I made it up. And since it’s my word I can define it however I like. Part of me would like to be all mysterious and claim that it’s untranslatable from the original German, but if pressed I’d probably describe it to as “the incredible lightness of being that envelopes one upon entering a forest in Fall. See also: Eufolia” (yes, I made up another word – that gives me something to blog about later this winter when it’s 33 degrees and raining).
If you’ve ever walked into a forest on a crisp Autumn day and felt as if you were floating suspended by rays of light you know exactly what foliaglow is all about – no definition, real or imagined is required.
As far as I’m concerned those gaudy high mountain ranges can keep their snooty alpenglow. For those of us here on the east coast with our old, grumpy and thoroughly worn out mountains more often than not we’re surrounded by trees. We only have alpenglow in our Instagram feed. But luckily in northern climes come Fall, under certain lighting conditions the forests begin to literally glow.
All summer long the forest floor may have been a grimey tableau of hummocks pockmarked with the occasional mosquito infested bog, but as the forests dry out from the spring and summer rains the mosquitoes begin to dissipate (somewhat), the leaves begin to turn and the world smiles for a blessed few weeks. It might even get dusty, but even dust can be smile inducing.
Foliaglow begins gradually in the forest. At first it might go unnoticed, an alien force in the understory. Gradually it builds to a slight buzz in the high voltage wires of branches and stems that hint at the potential of what is to follow.
Soon it’s inescapable. Autumn ascends astride its chariot trailing foliaglow though the forest whenever the sun is shining. Screw the chariot, let’s say a biking god pulls it across the sky in a BOB trailer. The god with the quads.
Even moonlight of the proper intensity can set off the necessary chain of events to induce lunafoliaglow (really too complicated to define, perhaps more blog fodder for a night filled with dark and mysterious alcoholic beverages). It is the best of times. Perhaps for a vampire it is the worst of times.
Light – whether reflected, refracted or delivered via wave or particle – is alive with possibility. Immortality seems within reach. Politicians make sense. All of my sentence structure is correct. It slices, it dices and makes julienne fries golden and brown with each sunrise and sunset. Alpenglow eat your heart out.
Of course all good things must come to an end. After all, if Fall never ceased we’d never have a ski season <cold shudder>. The days shorten and the leaves begin to shrivel and fall. The woodstove groggily awakens and smokes with a yawn and a puff into the cold night sky. Late fall is still glorious, mind you, but the end is near.
With the advent of shorter days it’s time to embrace the darkness that lurks on the horizon. With one last look over the shoulder with headlamp attached, it’s time to leave the realm of foliaglow behind and ride off into the gloaming.
Fat bike season is right around the corner!
Photos and Writing by John Fontanilles
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