Eric and I both have birthdays in March. Eric’s birthday is 10 days prior to mine except I’m a year older. He just turned 61 and I turned 62. This year we decided to do something different and celebrate our birthdays with a multi-day bike trip in the White Mountains. I can’t think of a better way of celebrating.
Although Eric has spent most of his life in Alaska, I moved here in March of 1990. So, by my calculations I have now spent 1/2 of my life in Alaska! There are a lot worse places to spend 1/2 of your life.
It’s hard to believe, but we had never done a trip in the Whites in March. Usually, we have either been tapering for or racing one of the many spring endurance races such as the White Mountains 100. March weekend trips were out of the question. But due to COVID, the WM100 was cancelled, and other races seemed less important to me this year. So, we decided to make other plans.
There are many reasons why March is a great month for overnight trips to cabins.
--More daylight: You definitely don’t need bike lights and hardly need headlamps in the cabins. It is light until 10 pm!
|9:30 PM at Caribou Bluff Cabin
--It’s still dark enough at night to enjoy auroras: We did see them every night. Alas, no photos. Our little point and shoot cameras don't take good aurora photos.
--This time of year temperatures are generally warmer with highs around 30F: Temps were below average for our trip but still mostly between -10F to +10F. And the sun makes it feel really warm in the afternoons.
|Okay, it did get a little colder at night at Borealis-Lefevre Cabin
--Rock solid trails: This year the trails weren’t rock-hard, due to way above average snowfall in February, but they were firm and quite good for either biking or skiing.
So yes, March is a great time to get out in the Whites. And the perfect place to celebrate a birthday!
Our first day we headed to Caribou Bluff cabin. We started at 11 AM to let it warm up a bit, and we made good progress down the trail. We’ve done this part of the trail many times, so we knew what to expect, but we still love the views. Once past Borealis-Lefevre cabin the trail was a little slower going but good overall. We got to Caribou Bluff Cabin in late afternoon. Caribou Bluff is a great little cabin. It sits up on a hill with views up and down the valley. But it is tiny. The night before, 6 people with a total of 29 sled dogs (5 mushing teams) stayed there. We felt it was a bit cozy for 2, I can’t imagine 6 people in that cabin!!
|Can you imagine 6 people in this little space? This is the entire cabin!
As soon as we got to the cabin we started in on chores. Eric and I are a well-oiled machine when it comes to camp chores. I start the fire, collect snow for melting on the wood stove, and get our sleeping bags and food out while Eric goes off and finds dead trees for firewood and then saws them up. With chores done, we still had time to hike up to a high point on a trail that previous cabin occupants had put in with snowshoes.
|Eric celebrates getting to the top of the trail without breaking through too much
|View from our little hike above the cabin
The second day, we once again waited for the sun to warm things up before starting biking. There are two ways to get to Windy Gap Cabin from Caribou Bluff. We had never been on the Fossil Gap Trail, but we saw it had been groomed the day before by BLM. Traveling with fully loaded fat bikes on snow is slow, and we usually only average between 5 and 8 mph. If we took that trail, we would double our mileage for the day (about 20 miles) but the weather was great and the trail bikeable, so we took the long way to Windy Gap Cabin. I love exploring new trails! Fossil Gap Trail was really fun. We went through a valley with lots of limestone outcroppings, then through the woods on a meandering trail along Beaver Creek, which was open along that stretch, and then up and over Fossil Gap with long views in every direction. Spectacular.
|We ran into Nick and Bryant doing a 3-day ski around the big 100-mile loop
|Narrow trail winding through the woods
|Open water on Beaver Creek. Luckily the trail runs along the creek.
We turned right at Windy Creek Trail, took a quick break at Wolf Run cabin, then continued up and over Windy Gap. No one had ever told me how much climbing there was on the Windy Creek Trail. We spent 9 miles climbing and then a quick and very steep downhill and we were at the cabin. The views were amazing which made the climbing a little easier. And it was so fun to be on new-to-us trails.
|View from up on Windy Gap. Windblown trail.
|Windy Gap cabin - another great cabin with spectacular views
We had both spent time at Windy Gap cabin during our WM100 races but had never spent the night. It’s another cozy and warm cabin (which was good because it was -18F overnight) and it is in a great location. Eric took off on his bike to get wood and managed to drag several dead trees back that we then sawed up for firewood. We had another relaxing evening.
|Eric bringing back dead trees to the cabin for firewood
Day 3 we headed out on the Fossil Creek Trail back past Caribou Bluff and onto Borealis-Lefevre Cabin. We got to bike the new reroute that BLM put in to keep from having to cross Fossil Creek 4 times, often with lots of open water and overflow. Instead, the new 1.7 mile trail climbs up and over a slight bump. Well, it felt like more than a just a slight bump! More like 300 feet in a half mile (according to Strava) with some hike-a-bike.
|Sign at the end of the reroute
|Pushing up the last of that "little" hill on the reroute. Views make it worth the push.
But after that it was mostly gradual downhill with just a few climbs. At the top of the last major climb, we saw 2 bikers, one sitting on the trail. Were they injured? Bike problems? No, just our friends, Zak and Peter, out for a day trip taking a lunch stop complete with hot drinks. I seem to run into these guys often when out and about on long bike rides. I guess we must be on the same wavelength. We chatted for a while but then made our way to our last cabin, Borealis-Lefevre.
|Zak and Peter on their lunch break
Once again, I had stopped at Borealis during the WM100 race but had never spent the night. Eric had done a trip there a few years ago with friends. It’s another great cabin in a great location although it is often very cold there as it sits just above Beaver Creek where the cold air likes to settle. It got down to -20F that night so when the auroras came out nicely at 4 AM, we only spent a couple of minutes outside watching them before jumping back in our sleeping bags. And even though we wanted to get an early start the next morning, we once again waited until the thermometer climbed to -10F. Why bike when it’s so cold if you don’t have to?
|Our last cabin - Borealis-Lefevre
|Eric looking a bit goofy with Albert Einstein hair after 3 days on the trail!
The trails were even better on the way out, so we made pretty good time the last day. And for the 4th day in a row, it was sunny and beautiful.
|Eric warms up on the first climb out of Beaver Creek
|It's cool to see all the animal tracks
We had discussed whether we would try to ride up the Wickersham Wall (a 1-mile, 600-foot climb). We had both ridden up it in the past on fresh legs with unloaded bikes when the conditions were just right. I figured we would be walking it this year.
|You can make out the trail up "Wickersham Wall" ahead of us
Eric was ahead of me, and I decided I would ride at least as long as he did. But when he started walking, I was still able to ride. (It may have helped that I got a new super granny gear this year.) So, I decided to keep going. I did have to stop several times just to gasp for breath but then would get right back on and keep riding. So even though I didn’t ride it continuously, I did ride all of it with just several short stops to let my heart rate slow down. Well, and I did have to walk 15 feet when I couldn’t get going again due to the steepness of that portion. But I had a fully loaded bike this time. And my legs were tired after 4 days of biking. And I’m a year older. I’ll take it! Maybe these 62-year-old legs still have a little power left in them!
|Success, even it I had to take breaks to rest and walk 15 feet of the "Wall". You can see the trail we came from down below in the valley
As we got closer to the end, we saw more people out skiing, biking and snowmachining. It was great to see so many people out enjoying this winter wonderland in our back yard. And it was an incredible 4 days out celebrating our birthdays. We might have to make this an annual affair! And now there is only one cabin in the White Mountains that we haven't spent a night at -- Richard’s Cabin. Fortunately, I made reservations for that cabin in early April so hopefully we will make it there, too!
|Cabin birthday celebration with hot chocolate and Snickers bars!