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The parking lot at Newport State Park was empty on this grey late January afternoon. With the temperature hovering around 20 degrees and a lightly falling snow decorating the still air I was struck by two thoughts. The first was a sense of discovery – seeing as the previous five days of my life were dominated by grading final exams and trying to get my son to sleep past 4:30 a.m., finding myself alone and surrounded by quiet was an unbelievably welcome change. Second, and just as important, was the thrill that this was the perfect day to do one thing. And that one thing, of course, was to fat bike.
For those unfamiliar with fat bikes, the history of these wonderful instruments goes back a few decades to individuals who wanted to ride in sand and snow. Their solution was to construct a bicycle frame capable of rolling tires about four inches wide (hence: fat bike). By only inflating the tires to around 10 psi, one is able to overcome just about obstacle in just about any terrain. This originally unconventional idea has caught fire in the snowy Midwest in recent years, and now major bicycle manufacturers have gotten into the market of selling fat bikes.
The fat bike trail at Newport meanders through a rolling meadow and skirts along dense forest. One can hear the wind howling off Lake Michigan as the tires stay glued to a trail covered in a few inches of snow. The designated loop is a couple miles long, and I don’t see another soul on my multiple circuits around and around. So, I simply absorb the odd dichotomy of tearing through the frozen landscape while being surrounded by silence. The ride is absolutely beautiful and wondrous, and offers a cathartic escape as I am able to exercise away the accumulated mental and physical stress from the week.
As parents, we get caught between the two worlds – the one full of responsibility and the one we like to think exists (though, we’ve never been there, and it might be an illusion). And while nothing compares to the love you feel for your child, a brief respite atop a fat bike in a snow-draped quiet wilderness will cause a permanent grin. Experiences like this, be it a hike, ski, run, or ride, are moments to savor. And perhaps I’m biased, but it seems as if the supply of opportunities to savor in Door County is abundant. Vacation with a two year old is tough – a new environment throws a hitch into the routine and sleep is in even shorter supply. However, rejuvenation exists for those willing to explore a bit. My wife knows this, and she knows I will be a better husband and father when a ride is part of my day. The beauty of marriage is having someone help you keep your balance.
While my rides at Newport have been in isolation, I commonly come across the distinctive tracks left by fat bike riders in Peninsula State Park. This is likely due to the ease of renting one in Fish Creek and then literally crossing the street and being greeted by miles of riding. As is the case with all state parks, bikes trails are open to fat biking as long as they are not groomed for cross-country skiing. Snowmobile trails on public land also present an option for riding, and this winter Peninsula has done a nice job of clearly marking where fat bikers can journey within the park. At bare minimum, simply bundling up and hopping on one of these creations for a casual ride to grab a coffee is something everyone should experience.
The ride on this afternoon was nothing short of a meditative cleanse. I cannot wait for the next one.
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