Rocks, Roots, Ice, Snow, Swamp, Muskeg, Gravel and Sand: Ride Report – Esker loop '09

I started writing up a big ride report and it was about 2 pages long and I was not even up the esker yet and I realized that this would be a really boring read.

I will just pare it down to the basics and highlights.

Trail: what I call the Esker Loop: Start at Caribou Creek/Upper Fishing Lake, take 208J south, Right onto TC208A (Trans Canada Snowmobile trail), Left onto an unnamed trail (not on snowmobile map), Left on 208I (Stewart Creek trail), left onto 208H (Esker trail), Then the road back.

I was going to add in a bit by Perrson lake doing K -> A -> L or maybe even K-> A -> C -> J but decided I did not have time (and my knee hurt)

Distance 41km (25.5mi), with 100m (310ft) elevation change.

Terrain: Crusty snow 4-7cm deep over rocks, roots, loam soil, sandy soil, loose sand, course gravely trails. Icy creek and swamp crossings, and some slippery roads. Predominantly black spruce in the low lands, jack pine in the sandy areas, and white spruce and trembling aspen in the higher/raised areas.

November 17th 2009. ~3pm to ~9pm

Temperature: -5˚ to -10˚C

There was a fun rockgarden with a decent downhill slope about 1km in This is where I started to think about what I could do to increase sidewall stability while keeping the low pressure that is nice in winter.

At km 5 there was a peat bog and under the snow was this weird foam of frozen mud, you would step through about 20cm and I could not ride through it.

Around km 15 I had my first fall. I was cruising along at a good clip on the nice clear sand trail admiring the vivid colors in the sky when I found myself doing a superman which turned into a roll. It was a really beautiful sky: Orange with yellow in the west, red with purple in the east and purple with pink strait up. I love our 360˚ sunsets.

By km 20 it is pretty much dark and I can only really see the trail because the snow makes it look like a glowing line going through the dark bush. I meet a couple hunters on a quad, offer me a ride since it is pertnear full dark. They ask why I don’t use a headlamp, I say that I prefer to use night vision for as long as possible. We talk for a while then go our separate ways.

I get to the Esker trail and have to pull out the flashlight since there is no snow on the trail and therefore I cannot see it. Around km 25 I am Just about at the warm-up shelter on top of the esker and all of a sudden my legs both cramp up. I take two ibuprophen and try stretching out the muscles in my legs. My right knee is sort of hurting as well. This is when I decide not to do the extra loop around Perrson and just take the regular road back. I experiment the the flashlights a bit and eventually end up with one mounted just under my saddle with a bit to plastic on the lens to diffuse the light and one that makes a distinct beam strapped to my head. My lighting system worked quite well and cost under $20 (one on my head about $6 and the one under my seat about $12, both cheep LED fights)

Around km 31 the trail turns into a wide sandy road which is really loose and a pain to ride in the summer. It was covered in icy snow and packed really well this time though and it was nice and fast although I had one more fairly spectacular wipeout on a downhill when the wheel slipped sideways out from under me. After that it was sort of sketchy trying to ride fast without really being able to tell where it is icy.

Around km 38 I saw a set of headlights coming at me that looked familiar, It was my friend Robert and Lucy (my boss) going out for a drive and seeing how I was doing. Robert was supposed to go look for me if I did not show up by 10:00 it was only 8:30.

I was glad they came out though since I was not sure if I would make it back before the kitchen closed so I gave them a message for the cook to cook me a Bronto burger (like a big mac but with 1/3 lb homemade patties) and ribs for supper. It was waiting for me when I got back at 5 to 9. I added some onion rings and two beer and it was an awesome meal after a 6 hour ride which was mostly in the dark.

I guess that ended up being pretty long anyway. I hope you enjoyed reading it.

Forgot the Maps

Snowmobile map with most of the trails

Satellite image with my ride drawn on it

edit: and a link to the map my ride map that you can play with if you want

Wow, you covered 41km in three hours, (averaging 8.5 mph in my English-unit-speaking head), over terrain you describe thus: Crusty snow 4-7cm deep over rocks, roots, loam soil, sandy soil, loose sand, course gravely trails. Icy creek and swamp crossings, and some slippery roads

I’m impressed!

I had to look up the word muskeg. If you rode over/through that I am even more impressed. By the way there is a city in Michigan with muskeg in its name, makes me wonder if there are or were muskegs in Michigan.

[edit: ooops, I misread the time frame, so you averaged 4.25 mph - not 8.5. Still impressive in my mind, thanks for the nice write-up!]

Thanx for posting a write up. To me, that sounds like a perfect muni outing. Trying to video anything in that short of time span would have ruined it for you. But a still photo would have been nice. I’m one of the worse ones for not taking along a cheap camera.

I’ve done only a little night riding and found that holding a flashlight at arm’s length and low provided the best shadows on the rocks and roots in the rough areas.

Thanks guys.

and Muskeg is not so bad when it is frozen.

I am going on another trip right away. Doing a loop that I know hits more swamps than last time. I am doing this specifically because I can not ride them in the summer time.

Unfortunately I do not even have a cheep camera. Whenever I have money I could spend on a camera I either buy some unicycle parts/gear or go traveling.

Nice, thats a long ride! Was it on a 26"?

Nice ride! I’m jealous. I’ve done a few night trail rides myself and, for me, the best light configuration has been a combination of head lamp and a 2nd headlamp which I loosen the straps as far as they go and then wear around my chest. So the chest lamp gives me enough lighting in the immediate area and the head lamp is good for looking further ahead. I tried the saddle/frame mounting but it never seemed to work out just right; my legs would cross the beam and create flickering shadows… Anyhow great fun I’m sure; I need to get out and do another night ride soon!

Nice ride - thanks for posting that. I’m not much of a night-riding fan (I’ll do it to get home from work in the winter or in a 24-hour race, but not really out of choice) - did you plan it to be so much in the dark or was it just the time you had available for riding? I know some people actually LIKE it dark though.

Sounds really flat - hard to imagine what the landscape’s like (apart from the rocks, roots, ice, snow, swamp…!) - I’ve got an image of featureless tundra in my mind, but you mention “dark bush” and spruce trees, so it can’t be that bare. Take a camera next time :slight_smile:


Awesome ride man,
Now I see why you want a fatbike! I’m assuming this was on your 26er w/ echo rim? How much difference do you think a fat tyre/rim combo would have made on a uni?

Went for another loop yesterday. It was not as far but it was way rougher on less used trails. Once again I cut it short, not for time reasons this time but because I was cold and tired.

Basically this ride was doing the section of trail that I was hopping to end the last ride with combined with going through a swamp to get there and an option to extend the ride at the end.

The weather was colder this time about -15˚ to -20˚C

Left Caribou a bit later this time as well as I did not get off work an hour early like last time. This time I was gone from ~4pm to ~8pm.

Distance: 23km (14mi)

The first 4km were mostly the same as last time but considerably easier because a group of quaders drove on the trail the day before packing down the snow. I took a slightly different route once I got to the highway taking a disused trail instead of riding in the ditch like I did last time.

I got to the intersection with the TC snowmobile trail and this time took a left going into the swamp.

Here is where I eat my words “muskeg is not so bad when it is frozen” It sucked, big time

3km of riding a bit, walking a bit, getting on, falling off, stepping through the ground, braking through layers of suspended ice. I thought it would not be so bad, sort of like the summer time but with nice solid frozen ground and nice hard flat surfaces to ride on where mud-holes usually are. I guess I was wrong.

I could not ride the frozen puddles, which made up a good chunk of the really swampy part, as it was just to slick without my studded tire. I tried and failed.

There were also areas where a layer of ice formed, then the water underneath drained leaving air pockets and then more layers of ice or the ground underneath. You are riding or walking and all of a sudden you break through to the under-layer of ice. The strangest thing is actually stepping through the ground. You step on some frozen peat that looks just like all the other peat and without ice to support it, it eats your foot to the ankle. Water levels are always fluctuating here so things freeze in unpredictable ways. I had some “wheel falling in hole” UPDs.

I got to an intersection with a trial I completely forgot about (not on most maps) which goes to (and across) Heiberg lake but decided not to take it. Heiberg has springs which erode the ice from the bottom and it is well away from my intended route, if I did not get back they might not think to look there.

I continued on getting to the Esker road (208H) and rode till I found the turnoff which brings me to Perrson. I had a hell of a time trying to ride that trail. Reminiscent of California, it would have been a pretty fun trial if I was not already tired from getting through that swamp. I was also getting just a little bit cold. I guess a long undershirt and a light T was a bit lightweight for the weather.

I stopped at Perrson Lake and made a fire. I walked out onto the lake and listened to the ice forming for a while. Ate a chocolate bar and roasted a stick of pepperoni over the fire. Mot much but hot food tastes better than cold food when you yourself are cold.

I got going again and when I turned left onto the 208K I once again was on a trail that I had not been on before.

I had been led to believe that the trail was really swampy after Perrson Lake and impassable in the summer, that turned out to be false. It was a really cool trail full of short steep rolling hills with either a rocky or sandy base. I could tell that I was close to the edge of a swamp but definitely not in it. I will have to do this part of the trail again in the summer. And suggest it as an alternate way to get to the esker for the bike trips that go out of a nearby summer camp (which I happened to have ran a couple years ago)

Hit the TC trail again took a right and soon after got the old 120 (abandoned gravel road)

I turned off my headlamp and rode back to Caribou on the roads.

It felt nice to ride on the “smooth” surfaces of a gravel road again and when I was taking the windy shortcut from the 120 to Caribou I surprised myself by not falling on a banked turn when my wheel slipped out from me. I calmly pushed the unicycle out from under me and slid on both feet effortlessly gliding on the glair ice I did not realize was on the road.

Picked up the unicycle, turned my headlamp back on and finished the ride.

Snowmobile map

My route (light colored areas are swamp)

If I work a morning I get off work at 3, usually stick around a bit longer though. This time of year the sun sets around 5 and we get full dark by 6 so there is not too much time to ride in the day if it is going to be after work.

I would rather do the rides in daylight but night riding does make the long boring sections (taking the road back) more interesting.

I would love to take a camera, one day I will go out and buy one.

This landscape is all carved out by the glaciers. What I refer to as"the esker" is not actually an esker at all but a large push moraine. It actually formes part of the continental divide between the hudson bay and arctic ocean watersheds. Generally the highlands are full of short but steepish rolling hills and the lowlands are muskegs and swamps. Everything but the more open areas in the swamps is covered in trees.

I am not sure how much difference going fatter would really help with a unicycle, it is never going to have the float of a fatbike. I do think I am going to get a wider rim though.

My light with the plastic over the lens throws light almost 180˚ my legs do block some light on the sides as I ride but leave about 90˚ of light that is not affected. My leg shadows were distracting at first but I quickly got used to them.

missed the edit

Fixed the map (I don’t think it worked, at least it does not show on my computer)

Nice rides and write ups saska. So what does a freezing lake sound like?


It is sort of hard to explain the sound of ice forming on a lake. It is mostly a groaning cracking sound that tends to echo and reverberate around the lake. Every lake sounds different, this one reminded me of someone shaking a sheet of metal roofing in the distance.

Upper fishing lake (where I am living right now) seems to make lower pitched booming and grumbling.

Holy smokes Saskwachawanian… I hope you carry something, like, at least .30 calibre or larger, in case you run into some big furry hungry white guy. :astonished:

It can sound like a massive explosion. I used to live on a small lake and it would boom like a cannon as it froze and unfroze. I now live on a large lake, and when it cracks it can be like tectonic plates shifting. There have been times when the massive thud has left me thinking the local dynamite factory has blown sky high. When it gets cold enough (eg. -35C) even the wood frame of the house or deck will crack with a report like a rifle shot. You have to experience it to believe it.

I serve most of the big furry hungry white guys their lunch. Usually pretty generous helpings so they should be happy.

I was supposed to get a .38 Special when my grandpa died but somehow it went to my uncle instead. If I had it I would probably bring it on rides like this. I have had bears charge at me on that trail and the wolves are getting more aggressive around here lately.

Baldy loop December 17, 2009

The weather finally warmed up and I decided to test out the lighter weight Continental Gravity 2.3 tire on my relatively wide 46mm Echo rim.

I decided to do what I am going to call the Baldy loop since it brings me relitivily close to Baldy Lake. The planned route was 208L -> C -> J which I mostly stuck to but ended up taking a trail that came off 208J to the gravel road that goes back to Caribou.

Changes to my unicycle since last ride include removing the Gazz 3.0 with downhill tube and putting on the very lightweight Continental Gravity 2.3. I also added a new handle and did switched my saddle (my old one developed a crack and was starting to get flimsy) I also changed the cranks from my Echo 160s to the lightweight Qu-Ax 145s. the 160s just felt way to long with the light tire. Oh and I also replaced my old snafu pedals with new snafu pedals (I got 4 pair 2 years ago from a Christmas sale)

The handle was made of the back T from a T7 the boom from my old road handle, some cheep bar ends which I have setup backwards to what I normally see with them angled out and with the ends drooped downwards. I did this to allow enough thumb room when wearing large mitts. Cheep foam bar ends and a flashlight taped at an angle below the handle.

I guess I should give the stats for the ride

Distance: 17km (10.5mi)
Temperature: -14 to -18˚C (7 to -4˚F)
Elapsed time: 2:20 – 5:20 pertnear exactly 3 hours

I started off the ride heading down the road towards Lower fishing and head up the old 120 (208L) I stop to add a bit more air to my tire since it lost a lot of pressure after bringing it outside and noticed someone walking their dog about 1 km behind me so I turn around and went to see who it was. It was Richard’s wife who’s name escapes me at the moment and it is really cool to see how dogs act when you are on a unicycle versus when you are not. The dog was obviously nervous/scared when I rode up but was clam and friendly as soon as I dismounted. She warned me that there was some wolf crap near the turnoff for the trail and quite large tracks.

A few km later I tried to take a drink from my water bladder but not surprisingly the head was frozen. I took it off and found there was ice in the insulated tube as well. I spent a while melting it and eventually blew the ice back into the bladder and got fresh water through the tube. I got the idea to try wearing the backpack under my jacket so I removed my fleece layer and pulled my jacket from my backpack. I left the fleece on the side of the trail because I did not have much room in the backpack and I had another insulating layer in my backpack just incase it got cold.

So far the wheel has felt great. It rolled much quicker on the road and the 145s felt pretty good but I have not done any real trail yet. I was really liking the handle setup. I turned down the 208C and the real test began. The trail was under 2-6cm of snow which was nice and light for the most part. The tire cut through the snow and seemed to track well in the ruts etc. I had it break traction on some downhills and was pleasantly surprised as to how predictable it was in a slide and I recovered almost every single time.

I came upon a place where a wolf of group of wolves killed a deer and ate it. They must of dragged off what they did not finish as there were just tracks and blood. About a km later I came upon the largest wolf tracks I have ever seen. If I spread my hand out they were the size of my palm plus my fingers and thumb to the first knuckles. I later found a large chunk of moose hair along with tracks where a moose obviously had a close encounter of the wolf kind. Sure there are a lot of wolves around right now but at least they are well fed.

I got to a section where there was deep loose sand under the snow and the tire, as you would predict, just did not have the same hold and float as a 3” and it really suffered.

I was worried that 145mm might be a bit short for steep rolling hills on the 26” but I ended up loosing traction before loosing torque almost every time whether it be on the up or down. I don’t think I would want to go any shorter though for those particular trails or conditions though.

I got into some crunchier snow and here is where the skinnier tire really suffered. I could not stay on top of the semi-packed snow and was forced to walk. I am pretty sure I would have been able to ride it with my Gazz.

I got to the warmup shelter (star on the map) and had a bit of food. My knee was starting to hurt so I looked for some ibuprofen but apparently I left it behind. Oh well.

I took the 208J which had really crunchy hard to ride snow but luckily it is Darlene’s trap line and she drove her Kabota down it fairly recently. It was a fun trail with lots of ups and downs and when I was cresting one hill I noticed how the sky was turning a bright yellow and the sun was starting to go down. It was 4:20 and depending on the trails and my knee I might end this ride in the dark like all my other ones. By 4:50 the sun had gone down and the sky was a brilliant pink-purple. I came to and intersection and decided to follow Darlene’s tracks taking the trail to the right which I figured would lead me to the gravel road to the west of where I was riding. I was right and took the road the rest of the way back to Caribou.

Snowmobile map:

Satellite map:

MapMyRide route

So in conclusion the wheel worked better than I had hoped. It really rolled a whole lot faster than my Gazz and the 145mm cranks were a good match with the lighter tire. I measured the pressure I ended up riding when I got back and it was right at 22psi. I ride the Gazz between 15 and 20 for comparison. Rocks and roots weren’t as much of a problem as I was anticipating so I think the wide rim light tire concept definitely has some promise. The handle setup was also a success but I need to change the aluminum shim I have between it and the seat post to prevent twisting.

The tire worked WAY better than the last time I tested it on my Alex DX32 rim and I am now fairly convinced I could go with a high volume lightweight tire if I had a wider rim. I have recently found out that the rim I was planning on getting will only be available in 32 hole this year which is a disappointment but I might get a 48 hole Qu-Ax hub and cranks from UDC since they are so cheep but I am concerned about the limited crank selection. 145s worked fine for this ride but will I like them with the larger rim and tire? Do I want to risk being stuck with one crank length to save some money on a hub/cranks? I do like to mix things up and experiment…

Cool, thanks for the great write up! How are the Echo 160’s holding up?

Great rides, Eric. You’re motivating me for a (very) cold muni today, I think.

They have a few rock dings and some scrapes from attempting to crankgrab with them but are still perfect other than that. according to echo’s website nobody have ever broke this model of crank. They are pretty heavy and beefier than I need (sort of like my rim)

Hope you had fun on your ride :slight_smile: