I have been dreaming of riding the Offtrail in snow since October. It is a great trail bike and makes riding in the woods on mountain bike trails so much fun. But the fat tires just were begging to play in powder. Looking at the forecast for the Thanksgiving break my stoke level went off the chart. A Nor'easter was bearing down on the coast of Maine where we would be spending our holiday. I have spent the last four years scouting out the trail system around the farm we stay at. They are a great mix of paths and singletrack in beautiful wooded terrain. There are also a couple of sections that include a beach! I have ridden Kettle Cove on my CX bike a bunch of times and it is always a blast. But the thought of riding it on the Offtrail opened up parts of the beach that were too soft to ride on skinny tires.
I got a bit of a late start which made for some snow that was a bit softer than optimal. And most of the trail was fresh pack. I saw a few deer tracks but that was it. I had the whole winter playground to myself. Things that would usually put fear in my heart, like a snow covered boardwalk were no problem at all. The big fat tires at 8 psi just floated over everything and were incredibly stable. The biggest problem I came across were all the trees that had fallen down in the high winds and heavy snow. A fair amount of limbo and crawling under and over tree limbs added another level of adventure to an already super fun ride.
The first half of the ride went without a hitch. I knew most of these trails and the section by Kettle Cove. Once I popped out onto route 77 things got a bit how you say "interesting". I was hunting for an open space I had ridden last summer. It was new to me and really well marked. As I rode along the nearly abandoned road I saw a sign at the edge of the woods I had never seen before. It looked very promising. It was called Cross Hill and was part of the Cape Elizabeth Conservation Area. It had a very detailed map of the trails. I took a photo on my iPhone so I would have it in case I needed it.
The trail reminded me of the Cross Town Trail in Wellesley. It wove in and out of neighborhoods. It never was too far from a road or a house. At some point I began following a power line trail and that is when things got a bit "exciting". I began regretting not telling my wife where I was riding. And of course sunset was creeping in. And of course the snow was getting deeper and softer. And my phone was dying. Did I mention I hadn't brought a light or any type of safety gear for winter woods riding? Yeah, I basically was a massive fail for being prepared in the woods in winter. Little alarm bells were going off in my head but I was ignoring them and putting them into little boxes. The good news was that the trail was incredibly well marked. I couldn't even see the trail as it was so covered in snow but the trees had blazes and arrows. So I kept pushing on and having an amazing time.
Riding in this type of snow on the Offtrail was more like surfing than riding. I would literally laugh as I dropped down little chutes on the bike. I stopped laughing once the trail markers stopped. Ok, I thought. Now you have my attention. I was deep in the trees so couldn't tell how dark it was. It was definitely dusk and getting darker by the minute. I remembered a fence about a half mile back so I backtracked as quickly as I could. I saw a house and relaxed a touch. I almost just went up through the backyard but didn't want to trespass. So I just followed the border of the fence until I saw a berm which clearly led to a road. I trudged up the berm and dropped down the other side to pavement. I was never so happy to see a paved road in my life.
I rode back on 77 all the way to the house thinking just how lucky (and stupid) I was. I pulled in right as darkness fell over the coast and walked into the smell of Thanksgiving. That turkey and IPA never tasted so good.