Frozen world.

We’ve had a streak of extra cold temps lately, with daytime highs in the 10-15 degree Fahrenheit range and lows at night regularly dipping below zero. In fact, I can’t remember the last time it was above freezing. Before Christmas, I guess.

When it comes to getting outside for my usual outdoor activities, the uber-freezing temperatures have presented challenges but have no means been a deterrent. Over the past few weeks, especially with time off work for the holidays, I’ve accumulated a host of interesting experiences in the frozen winter world.

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I’ve explored a couple new areas – Sproul State Forest via fat bike and Tubb Run near Altoona via foot. I’ve still gotten outside for a hike, run or bike ride almost every single day. I’ve done a fair number of longer rides (at least 3 hours) in temperatures below 15 degrees.

Weeks on end of subfreezing temperatures also means frozen lakes and streams, and one of my favorite fat bike adventures – the ice ride. In past years, riding on the frozen Raystown Lake has been the highlight, but recently we discovered the gem that is Bald Eagle State Park and Foster Joseph Sayers Lake.

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Before the deep freeze, Evan, Shannon and I explored the lake’s shoreline. Much like Raystown in the past, the level of Sayers Lake is drawn down to help with flood control in the spring, leaving exposed shoreline that is normally underwater most months of the year. On our recon mission, the three of us discovered a lot of beautifully rideable shoreline, as well as a few very unrideable mud bogs. Below freezing temps eliminated the mud bog problem and added another element of intrigue to the locale – a 1700-acre fully frozen lake covered with a thin layer of snow.

The upcoming week’s weather forecast shows temperatures rising far above freezing for a few days, so with the maximum number of super cold days behind us and the impending melt, it was the perfect chance to do an ice ride.

Our original trio plus one (Allison) returned to Bald Eagle yesterday to claim tracks on the frozen lake surface. When we started out, the sun was beating down and there was very little wind. Though temps were well below 20 degrees, the sun felt warm and conditions were pleasant.

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The snow squeaked like styrofoam under our massive tires, telltale signs of a low Mercury reading. The snow on the surface of the ice was wind-whipped, some of it drifted into areas that were several inches deep, while other areas of ice were completely devoid of snow. Much of the lake had frozen clear and we could very clearly see bubbles and cracks below the surface, reassuring us that the ice was more than thick enough to be supporting the weight of our small group.

Dozens of pop-up fishing huts littered the coves close to access points. Ice fishermen sat bundled on buckets, staring into holes. A few waved at us but most simply stared. We were an unfamiliar sight, I gathered.

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We ventured into the cove that had once been choked with sticky mud, for old times sake. I laughed as I rolled across the now-frozen surface and saw our tracks from a few weeks before, remembering getting stuck in the mud and Evan having to come help me drag my much-weightened bike out.

“I think you still owe me a few foot rubs from that day, ” he chuckled. Eye roll.

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Mud Bog on December 22.
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Frozen Mud Bog on January 7.

As we headed the other direction, past where we parked, towards the southern end of the lake, the wind picked up and the sun went behind the clouds. The temperature easily dropped 10 degrees, not factoring in the windchill. The wind on my face made every part of exposed skin ache. I pulled my buff up to my eyes and put my head down. The strip of skin on my forehead between my hat and my sunglasses burned.

Moving closer to the shore offered a respite from the brutal wind and after we turned around to head back towards the cars, the warm sun returned. But the chill wasn’t so quick to leave our bodies on an open, flat lake with no hills to climb to warm us up, so nobody complained about bringing the ride to a close. We’d been out nearly 3 hours, after all.

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A mostly-frozen stream offered one last fascination before the end of the ride. Water flowed on top of a slushy layer that sat on top of frozen ice, resulting in a much-less-sketchy-than-it-looked stream crossing. Evan rode out onto the ice upstream of the small riffle where we crossed, and the result of his weight displacing frozen chunks of ice was the displacement of water that was trapped under that ice. We watched the water level downstream rise slightly before settling back into its natural rhythm.

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Today, the temperature is 15 degrees warmer and it’s supposed to go up to 50 degrees this week. I’m excited to have a short break from the frigid temps but hope that we have plenty of winter weather yet to come. Bring on the snow; I want to cross-country and backcountry ski!

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