Josh’s Jabber: Winter Wonderland

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Words by Josh Carlson | Images by Josh Carlson

In Australia, we mountain bikers are lucky enough to be able to ride and race our bikes year round. Sure, the high country of Victoria and the likes of Thredbo are covered in snow and out-of-bounds for some of the year, but for the remainder of Australia temperatures and conditions allow us to enjoy our sport with joy and relative warmth 365 days a year.

So didn’t I get the shock of my life when I relocated to Canada to permanently focus on Enduro racing and build my mountain bike racing career!

As much as North America is known for its epic mountain biking, trails, races and summer awesomeness, it is equally, if not outweighed by, snow covered days and freezing cold rain. Up here in Vancouver, British Columbia, the latter has been part of my life for the past 3 months. You see, it rains A LOT!  It would be far easier to count the few days of sunshine we’ve had, as opposed to the daily grey drizzle that consumes our winter months from November to April.

Just part of life. Cleaning the bike and trying to get the shoes dry for the next ride.

I have been lucky enough that the last winter I trained through was back home in Australia in 2009. I was in my 3rd year of my landscaping apprenticeship and I was getting up and training at 4am so I could start work at 6am – enabling me to get two sessions a day (in around work). Temps at 4am in the middle of winter in Wollongong would usually be around the 7-10°C mark, with the odd super cold morning of 5°C to really send some bone chilling wind through the wind vest and long sleeve jersey I would wear. In 2010 I travelled to Europe to race a few cross country World Cups, and missed the winter. Then in April 2011 I moved to Colorado, for their summer, and in April 2012 I relocated to Vancouver and spent the summer racing through the US in the hot, sunny North American trails.

I have missed this stuff for years by avoiding winter.

So you see, I hadn’t actually had a winter since 2009.  Until now.  While others headed south to warmer climates to train and prepare for the next season, I stayed north, in the cold and wet.

The winter of Vancouver was definitely something I was worried about and I really didn’t know what to expect. The common and frequent questions I asked were, ‘So how cold do the winters really get here?’, ‘Are they as wet as they say?’ And the answers would vary, depending if you asked a British Columbia pure breed or Vancouver newbie!

Me, I was the Vancouver newbie and now well into February of 2013, I can say it was a long adjustment period with plenty of ridiculously cold days and clothing fails.  In hindsight, it didn’t matter how many questions I asked, some of this could only be learned from experience.

Riding with mates and shredding on the wicked trails of the north shore in the pissing rain and freezing snow is kind of cool and fun when you’re amongst a rad crew and everyone is freezing together. However, this only happens once, maybe twice a week.  These days, being a professional mountain biker, my job is to train and ride my bike every day of the week so when the race season rolls around I am fit and ready to race.  So while the motivation is high when I’m with a rad crew, the solo days in the 0°C pissing rain/snow/sleet for the other 6 days of the week require extreme portions of motivation and determination to get the job done.

For the past two months this has been my daily dress routine (in order) for riding outside in the wet and cold:

  • 1 pair of thermal wool socks
  • 1 set of plastic bags
  • 1 set of merino wool knee high socks
  • 1 set of fleeced leg warmers
  • Knicks
  • FOX MTB shorts (even on the really cold wet days on the roadie i would still wear my baggies to stay warm)
  • Heart rate strap
  • Long sleeve undershirt
  • Short sleeve jersey
  • Long sleeve jersey
  • Long sleeve thermal jersey
  • Long sleeve rain jacket (on a clear sunny day I can get away with only a vest over my jacket)
  • GIRO road/MTB shoes
  • 1 set of plastic bags over my shoes
  • Thermal socks (on clear days)/bootie covers over my shoes
  • 1 pair of full fingered gloves
  • 1 pair of waterproof full fingered gloves
  • Cycling hat/beanie/thermal cycling hat
  • Helmet
  • SPY glasses/Goggles
  • READY!

And 15 minutes later I’m dressed and ready to head out the door.  The local lads totally give me, and other foreigners, shit about being so cold but they are wearing the same amount of clothes as well so I can’t be that crazy.

Just part of the daily routine. Clothes and layers.

Getting used to hours and hours in the rain and cold on the roadie never gets easier, or enjoyable, which is why I spent alot of my winter on my mountain bike. Heading out on the road gets you absolutely filthy dirty and it is pretty dangerous with the traffic and the wet roads. ‘Why waste getting dirty on the road when I could get just as dirty and have way more fun on the wild trails of the shore?’, was my reasoning for more time on the trails.

This is what I have to do to my road bike. Cover it with custom extended ugly mud guards.

This was my plan, and was working out sweet, but then came the snow.  That’s yet a whole different ball game.  Each morning I’d see how much snow fell on the mountain and how much black ice was on the roads before I rolled out the door for training.  Add to this, the days were getting really short and it would be dark by 3.30pm.

Now, I had to deal with wet, cold, snow and very short days.  Good choice I made to stay north!

I do love it though. Something different that’s for sure.

Out of the 3 local mountains I frequent on my GIANT Reign shred wagon, generally only one isn’t totally frozen over and covered in snow. And, most of the trails that are still open, are either covered in a couple of inches of snow, or the water on the trails has frozen over, which turns them into an ice rink littered with rocks, ramps, bridges and gnar.  Fun hey.

So sometimes it’s indoors I have to go.  The indoor trainer and I have had our issues in the past and more often than not, we have not been on speaking terms.  However, I have no choice but to reconcile and make friends with the unassuming man crusher! It is a vital piece of my routine, as well as the gym, to try and get some structured training in when more often than not it is pissing rain and/or snowing outside.

We still don’t communicate too well.

I must say though it has actually been better than I was expecting for training and all the bad things have been equalled by good. I have settled in with a rad bunch of lads that ride year round, I have a close knit bunch of blokes that get out for a solid few hours in a road bunch on a weekend, and I ride with some mad frothers on the DH rigs for shuttles on the lower mountains that aren’t snowed in. Plus, all this riding on the wet slippery terrain has been mad for my skills.

Only time will tell, come Bike Buller in March and the Round 1 of the Enduro World Series in Italy in May, as to whether the hard yards and hardening the f#[email protected] up through my debut north American winter has been enough to bring on some good form!

I think it has.  See you in Ausland frothers.

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