January 10, 2024

Winter Fat Bike

As night falls earlier and earlier, I have been struggling to keep pace and figure out how I’m going to take care of myself this winter. I am casting about. What’s worked before? What might be a worthwhile new experiment? So begins a story of bicycles, community and well-being.

In my thirties, I settled in rural Wyoming in the company of a 1970s Schwinn that I’d scored off Craigslist for $35. I rode it everywhere, but never felt the need to lock it up in Wind River Country—even after it was stolen from my front yard. The day it went missing, my heavily pregnant friend ordered her husband to pull over so she could give the kid riding my bike down Main Street a piece of her mind and escort him back to my house. I was relieved and delighted by the small-town miracle of the Schwinn’s return.

I was still in Wind River Country at the dawn of my forties, riding a friend’s old cruiser around town late in my third trimester because it accommodated my belly better than the Schwinn. After my baby was born, I discovered the wonders of fat biking and newborn slings for Thule trailers. My daily rounds on the Tomato Loop in Lander helped stave off the darkest elements of postpartum depression, but I struggled to maintain them when our child outgrew the sling.

Five years later, my child was capable of riding beside me, learning to signal with an outstretched arm and balance at stop signs before looking both ways and shouting, “Clear!” To ride with him to school and fill my bike panniers at the grocery store together was a desperately needed return to self, a reclaiming of rituals that sustained me, but had felt largely out of reach in those early years of parenthood.

As I looked for ways to extend biking into the darker months, I learned that the Lander Cycling Club has been, and continues to be, one of my fiercest allies and advocates. Their commitment to developing and maintaining local, accessible, multi-sport trails offers a lifeline as city streets are subsumed by ice, slush and snow.

For the last eight years, the Lander Cycling Club has groomed trails for multi-use in Sinks Canyon with permits granted by the Forest Service. In 2022, the Club invested in a snowmobile to expand the network of trails at Willow Creek, with convenient public access provided by the Rock Shop Inn.

Winter Biking

During the pummeling winter that followed, the club—drawing both labor and funding from its roughly 180 household memberships—worked tirelessly to keep multi-use trails open at Willow Creek and in Sinks Canyon. Lander Cycling Club representatives volunteered over 160 hours, grooming approximately 1,800 miles of trails, in order to establish and maintain trail access for recreationalists of all types.

This year, with support from the Wind River Visitors Council, the Lander Cycling Club will go even further to provide winter trail access. The club is currently working with the Forest Service to create a five-year partnership agreement that would ensure all-season trail maintenance in the Lander area. If past accomplishments like the Brewer’s trails and development at Johnny Behind the Rocks are any indication, the Lander Cycling Club has the passion and patience to deliver on this vision. Its success would have wide ranging impacts.

Some of us strap on snowshoes and follow big dogs built for winter as they bound through drifts with the energy of puppies. Some of us rely on backcountry skiing to raise our heart rates, each puff of breath into the winter air helping keep seasonal blues at bay. Some of us are artists, intent on recording the sounds of ice breaking up or photographing the imprint of an owl strike. Some of us seek the stillness and quiet of snow-blanketed forests as a respite from wind. Some of us are athletes looking to push our bodies and meet ambitious goals when we head to the trailhead. Some of us leave Yaktrax prints in our wake as we venture out with binoculars to catch sight of Bohemian Waxwings and Dusky Pine Grosbeaks. Some of us are on doctor’s orders to move our bodies but feel shy in gyms. Some of us are excited to deepen our sense of place by experiencing Wind River Country in every season.

For all of us, winter trail access matters.

I have always been attracted to activities that defy cool—the ones that can be executed on a stunning professional level by others, but offer me a playful way to engage with nature and enough inherent awkwardness to gently accommodate casual participation. I’ve discovered that fat biking is the winter sport for me.

Friends and community

I love that fat biking and the season both require a slower pace. I love that fat bikes and winter conditions ask us to remain centered rather than lean into curves and can offer forgiveness when we fall. It takes a lot of energy to stay warm and moving in cold temperatures on big tires, so snack breaks are a must. I love snacks. Fat bikes can also be a social vehicle—encouraging meet and greets along the trail, providing an accessible entry point for beginning riders, and giving them a fighting chance of keeping up with friends who might be miles ahead in summer.

Regardless of our mode of transportation, getting out on winter trails forces us to engage in rituals of community during a season that lends itself to isolation. Biologists tell us that an ecosystem’s health is determined by its levels of biodiversity and interconnection. Whether we define that ecosystem as a human body, a family, a county or the Wind River Mountains, we are served by connection and differences. The Lander Cycling Club embraces both of these values. The gloved hands of volunteers working to open trails in winter are one of the graces that populate our lives and lift us up in Wind River Country, one of the blessings of goodwill and effort by which we survive and thrive together.

Written by Anna Horn

Born and raised in San Francisco, Anna never thought she would end up happily nestled at the base of the Wind River Mountains in rural Wyoming. She spent decades teaching around the world in the fields of Wilderness Education and Wilderness Medicine. Since having a child, her pace has slowed and traditional work has taken a back seat to parenting.

Photos: Bekka Mongeau

Posted in Notes From the Field