Sunday, November 20, 2022

First Cabin Trip of the Season


post by Corrine

What the heck? 

I had been biking along Trail Creek Trail toward Moose Creek Cabin when the snow machine trail just ended. The snowmachiner had just turned around. The trail going forward was untracked.


Why did the snowmachiner turn around here? It was partway down a steep hill. There were no more tricky sections. Why didn’t they go all the way to Moose Creek Cabin, my destination, before turning around? Clearly, they weren’t thinking about my best interests!

Should I keep going?

I had ridden 11.5 miles on gradually worsening trails and had only 4.5 more miles left to the cabin. Now what do I do?  It was already 3 PM. Should I turn around and ride back to the trailhead. Do I keep going in the deeper, untracked snow? 

I continued riding towards the cabin. I did more pushing than riding, but after five and a half hours I finally made it just as the last bit of light was leaving the sky. I was exhausted but happy at making it to the cabin despite the conditions.

Happy to be at the cabin

Early Season Gambit

Eric and I had planned an early season overnight to Moose Creek Cabin. It’s only a 16-mile trip, so not too strenuous. Usually, it’s a well packed trail that takes 2-3 hours by bike. But this year, the snowpack was still scant enough that snowmachiners hadn’t been out much. And there had been enough snow that fatbiking would be difficult without somebody packing down the trail. I contacted BLM and they thought the trail to Lee’s Cabin at 6.5 miles was in good shape but had no idea if anybody had been past that point.

Then Eric tweaked his back and decided it wouldn’t be good to stress it with a fully loaded bike and uncertain conditions. The weather forecast said it would be warm (for November in Fairbanks) and sunny, so I decided to check it out myself. After all, if it wasn’t good, I could always turn around. I needed to at least check it out. 

Warm temperatures for November - often it's -20F

Fridays are usually a day off for me. I had an early morning dentist appointment, then came home, finished packing, and left for the trailhead. I was on the trail by 11:30 AM. 

I was glad to see snowmachiners had been on the first part of the trail, but the packed snow was still soft, so I had to let air out a few times to be able to ride. It was slower than usual, but I had no problems biking. As I made the turn to Lee’s Cabin, I could see that nobody had been down the Wickersham Wall since the last snowfall. I wondered if anyone had been past Lee’s Cabin. 

Soft but good trail to begin with

Happily, a snowmachiner had continued past Lee’s. Well, sort of happily. That snowmachine track was narrower and softer. Some parts were squirrelly. I had to go slower and let out more air, but I was still biking! At the bottom of the hill, the snowmachiner had continued. Usually if they go past that spot, they go all the way to Moose Creek Cabin. Yes! My cabin trip was still a go! 

Softer and narrower but still pretty good riding

Usually, I can ride almost all this trail, but between the soft snow, the narrow trail, and my legs feeling fatigued (either from being out of shape or from carrying more weight), I had to walk the uphills. But that was OK. It was a beautiful day, warm (10-20F depending on the elevation) with just a light breeze. I could easily stop and take photos without getting chilled. I was having fun despite really having to concentrate just to stay upright when riding my bike.

Rougher section of trail

Decision Point

But then I came to that spot, 11.5 miles in, where the snowmachiner turned around. The trail going forward was unpacked. It was already 3 PM. The sun would set in another hour, but I had lights. What to do? More than 11 miles back on mostly mediocre trail, or just over 4 miles forward on uncertain trail? It didn’t take long to decide. Going forward was shorter, and I really wanted to spend a night at the cabin, one of my favorites in the Whites.

It looked like snowmachiners had been on the trail before the last snowfall of 2-4 inches, so there was some sort of base, albeit soft. I was able to mostly ride the downhills, but my tires kept washing out and I would end up on the ground in the snow. Argh! After about the umpteenth time of doing this, I ended up mostly walking. It took me 2.5 hours to go the last 4.5 miles! I wondered if I should have brought my skis instead.

One of many splats I made in the snow

It seemed to take forever to get up the last hill, but finally I was there. Yay! But since I was by myself, I also had to do all the chores. Boo! There was plenty of firewood, so I was able to start the fire and start melting snow for water. I suppose I could have just used some of the wood and left, but I always like to replace what I use. So, I got a few spindly dead black spruce trees and sawed them up as my water was heating for dinner. Finally with the chores done and dinner eaten, I could relax and read before heading to bed.

Writing in the logbook after dinner

The Return Trip – More Problems

The next morning, I didn’t linger. I knew the trip out would take a while. I was out the door just as it was getting light. I thought things might be better, or at least not worse, than the day before, but I seemed to have a harder time staying upright on my bike. I had to tripod on the downhills, and I even walked some of the flats. The trail seemed even more squirrelly with my bike and boot tracks on it. I was glad there was no one around to see me flounder in the snow. Why am I such a poor snow biker? Why can’t I keep my bike going in a straight line? And my body felt so tired, despite having a good night’s sleep. I felt as if I had biked 60 miles, not 16. My arms and back were exhausted pushing my bike up all those hills. My legs were exhausted, too. I can’t be in that bad of shape, can I? At least there would be no need for a strength workout this weekend!

Despite my negative self-talk, I still had a great time on the way out. The light was incredible as it always is this time of year. The weather was warm. I stopped a lot to take photos or just rest. It didn’t matter that I was so slow. I was outdoors doing what I love to do. I’ll probably never be great at the technical aspects of biking, but I can still enjoy being out on the trail.

I was happy to get back to Lee’s and the better trail. Then it was a relatively quick bike out the last few miles. It felt good to be riding my bike fairly easily. I saw a few bike tracks and ski tracks but didn’t see anybody. In fact, I did not see a single person until I got back to the parking lot. A couple was loading up their car after a trip. That proved to be fortunate!

Happy to be riding again on better trails

When I got to my car, the battery was totally dead. I’m usually good about making sure all doors are shut, so I’m not sure what happened. The couple had a cool jumpstarting device that quickly started my car, so I didn’t have to call Eric to come get me. Disaster averted. 

Thanks to this couple for jump starting my car!

Always Better in Retrospect

If I had known the trail wasn’t packed past 11.5 miles, I’m not sure I would have gone on this cabin trip. But I’m glad I did. Even though it was a bit of a slog, the trip was a great overnight in a beautiful wilderness area that is so close to home. 

Now, everyone needs to do a snow dance so there is enough snow to get the trails in shape for more winter adventures. We have a couple more cabin trips planned between now and Christmas.

And you snowmachiners, make sure you go all the way to the cabins. Please?!

Bike out from Moose Creek Cabin