Why Not? Bike to Ski Madness in the East
By Nate Trachte, FOW
It only took 200 miles of human-powered suffering for this smile! White Mountains, NH. FOW: Nate Trachte // Photo: Nick Zachara (@niklas_zach)
I had just woken up. Alex and Nick were looking at me like they had seen a ghost, and asked if I was feeling alright. Unbeknownst to me, my left eye was bloodshot due to ruptured blood vessels while vomiting the night before. We had over 50 miles of riding to do that day before we would reach our final camp, but I could barely swing my leg over the bike. Even so, I never thought about quitting, but I wasn’t sure my body would make it. Somehow in the midst of this suffering, we were still having fun.
Skiing is not supposed to be easy. I have nothing against the plush family ski vacation, but for me that does not capture the essence of skiing and why I love it. I once heard a rumour that a popular ski resort will valet your boots for you, taking them off your feet after a long day of skiing groomers and then slide your feet into a pair of slippers to walk away in. When I think about a ski vacation I think about something a little closer to the soul of skiing, more rough around the edges. I love to ski and I’m always stoked for an adventure, especially if it is a little uncomfortable or a full on hair brained sufferfest. This propensity to seek out type two fun is how I found myself bikepacking 200 miles to go ski an east coast classic, Tuckerman Ravine on Mount Washington, colloquially known as Tucks.
Alex and Nate on the long road to Tucks. White Mountains, NH. FOW: Nate Trachte // Photo: Nick Zachara (@niklas_zach)
Prior to this trip, I had never skied Tucks. Growing up as an alpine ski racer, I would travel all over the East chasing gates. From time to time, I would catch a glimpse of Mt. Washington from the backseat of a crowded 16 passenger van and mindsurf Tucks, imagining myself effortlessly arcing turns down various faces. Learning about Tuckerman Ravine for the first time helped me realize that you didn’t need to go to a ski resort to ski, which opened up a whole new world of possibilities. Little did I know, backcountry skiing culture on the East Coast revolves around Mt. Washington and you can’t avoid its gravity if you grow up skiing the East. Hillman’s Highway, Left Gully, The Chute, Icefall, The Lip - the ski lines on Mt. Washington are baked into the fabric of skiing. Everyone has listened to their elders tell heroic exaggerated stories of how they were supposedly the best skier in the ravine on a bluebird day in the ‘90s with a couple thousand people there bearing witness. Tucks felt important to who I am.
I always knew I would circle back and ski Mt. Washington at some point. When I moved home in 2019 I began thinking about the ways that would best honor the experience. Each spring, skiers looking to break free from the resort and test their skills in the backcountry watch the weather, waiting for the perfect spring day to find out for themselves what Tucks is all about. It would have been simple enough to do the same, watch the weather, time it just right, and jump in the car speeding through small towns to score the perfect day in the ravine. The overwhelming traffic on the skin track followed by a party in the bowl on a perfect spring day just didn’t feel right for my first trip there.
Skiing offers me a chance to slow down and focus on one singular thing while connecting with the land and people in my crew. Over the years, it has become more of a spiritual experience than a sport. My intention was to stretch that feeling out and make it last for a few days. I wanted to adventure to Tucks in a way that was a little more meaningful than the average experience, and a hell of a lot more fun. As the bike-to-ski phenomenon has grown in popularity over the last few years with projects like Cody Townsend and Michelle Parker’s The Mountain Why and Andy Cochrane's Rise & Grind, at some point the thought of biking from my home in the Adirondacks to Mt. Washington to ski entered my head as something I wanted to do. Traveling by bike would allow me to savor the experience, we could pull over wherever. We would never miss an opportunity along the roadside. We might stop and have a snack along the banks of a river, chat with a local, or drink in a farmland view. Once that idea worked its way into my brain I couldn’t shake it.
Departure from New York. FOW: Nate Trachte // Photo: Nick Zachara (@niklas_zach)
Biking from my cabin in the Adirondack Park in upstate New York to the Pinkham Notch Trailhead on the East slope of Mount Washington would take 3 days covering roughly 200 miles and climbing 6,500 feet with a hundred pound rig loaded down with all of our ski and camping gear. I have only met a few people who like suffering more than I do, my partner for this trip is one of them. When I proposed the idea to Alex on the skin track one day he didn’t even think to ask about the details. He instantly committed. This dude breathes adventure, particularly heinous ski and bike focused adventures. He has an incredible motor, his stunning fitness and the enthusiasm with which he dives into things made him an ideal partner for this trip. Alex and I chose a route that would maximize our time off of the major roads. We sought out gravel, singletrack, and snowmobile trails that would connect the small New England towns between us and our mecca.
I was up early on day one. I can never sleep well the night before a big trip. Too much to think about, a great combination of excitement and anxiety. I was ready to pedal by seven-thirty, but Alex showed up casually late in his pajamas at nine with our friend, photographer, and emotional support guru Nick. After unpacking and repacking his homemade trailer a few times, I threw a cutoff floral button up shirt over my rain jacket, and we headed out slightly behind schedule at around noon. After a bit of a shaky start adjusting to the weight on our trailers, an overwhelming amount of joy overtook us as this dream felt real for the first time. Anxiety about my own underpreparedness evaporated before we left my neighborhood. My trusty expedition mantra kicked in - if I don't have it, I don’t need it. As we settled into our saddles, Alex and I started chatting about the miles we had ahead. We joked about the weight dragging behind us making the slightest incline feel like a massive mountain pass climb. Growing close with a friend happens faster in a boundary pushing expedition than seems possible in our “real lives.”
Setting off with excitement and ambition. Adirondack Range, NY. FOW: Nate Trachte // Photo: Nick Zachara (@niklas_zach)
The first dozen miles of familiar roads melted away. We kept a quick pace through an afternoon headwind that could have been avoided with a less leisurely departure. We exited the Adirondack Park in the first hour, and soon after left New York aboard the ferry, crossing Lake Champlain and landing on Grand Isle in Vermont. The first day was inevitably going to be a bit hectic, but the traffic around Burlington was totally unsettling. We experienced more than one near miss on narrow shoulders with drivers only half paying attention to their surroundings. Once we made it out of the unique dangers posed by the commuters of a sprawling city, our first taste of gravel and singletrack were a blessing and a more than welcome sign of things to come.
Crossing Lake Champlain. FOW: Nate Trachte // Photo: Nick Zachara (@niklas_zach)
That first night we parked our steeds on the iconic grassy slopes of Cochran’s Ski Area. Settling down in the fading twilight, we weren’t sure how copacetic our impromptu campsite would be received, but we couldn’t have pedaled another mile that day. Exhausted, I fell asleep as soon as I crawled into my sleeping bag. Unexpectedly, we awoke to a smiling face who set the tone for what would be a great day of biking. A young guy who I could only assume was one of the Cochrans that run the family operated non-profit ski hill, greeted us cheerfully as we fessed up to our squatting on the property last night. We barely had time to explain ourselves before he offered up the facilities in the lodge and gave us our first overwhelming measure of support. He was psyched to hear about our plan and emphatically reassured us that we were on a worthy mission. We spent a few minutes stretching out our tired muscles and left camp with high spirits feeling like the east coast ski community had our backs.
Green Mountains, VT. FOW: Nate Trachte // Photo: Nick Zachara (@niklas_zach)
Our second day out we spent seven hours in the saddle. We followed gravel roads along the contours of the Winooski River Valley beyond the Vermont state capitol. Climbing on an old railroad bed away from Montpelier we ran into some knee deep muddy ruts and washed out sections of the path that took us by surprise. I felt my body withering as the day wore on. My knees were screaming and despite liberal applications of chamois cream the chafing was getting real. After crawling all day, reaching the marshy highpoint of the ride above Lake Groton was a big win. We flew downhill following some stellar gravel toward the Connecticut River and the New Hampshire border. The moment I stepped off the bike I began to feel nauseous. The combination of dehydration, all day vibration, and a calorie deficit had apparently taken a toll. That evening was when the violent vomiting ensued, resulting in my bloodshot eye.
Pushing forward to our destination. White Mountains, NH. FOW: Nate Trachte // Photo: Nick Zachara (@niklas_zach)
Our last big bike day was a blur for me, my aching knees, soreness and overall exhaustion was subdued knowing I’d be skiing by this time tomorrow. When we caught our first glimpse of the Presidential Range I felt like I was hallucinating. It was a big morale boost to say the least, I was psyched out of my mind, and I felt like we hardly stopped after that. As we climbed into the White Mountain National Forest toward our final camp we were completely fried, but Alex kept telling me we were going to rip the sh*t out of Tucks in the morning. Despite feeling like I would barely be able to walk tomorrow I believed him.
One pedalstroke at a time. White Mountains, NH. FOW: Nate Trachte // Photo: Nick Zachara (@niklas_zach)
Two rad women of the Adirondacks, Caitlin and Maddie, joined us for the final camp and our ski day in Tucks. Those two were critical in keeping the vibes right and helped us make solid decisions in the mountains. In classic east coast fashion just as we made it to Hermit Lake, it had started raining lightly and clouds were rolling in. With the forecast calling for a chance of afternoon thunderstorms and feeling like our weather window may be closing, we moved with purpose up Hillman’s.
As we were beginning our boot up we ran into a father son duo on their way down. I chatted with the young boy for a minute about the line. I could tell he was pushing himself slightly beyond his comfort zone, testing his own limits just like I had been, and having fun. It’s always inspiring to see people pushing themselves on an adventure and accomplishing big things. Ultimately that's what it's all about, getting out there in the world and experiencing new things. We are able to grow and learn as we pursue our passions and push ourselves into new terrain.
The rhythmic kicking in of steps with the front points of my crampons, navigating the variable spring surface, and stepping up into the steeper sections of the line, brought the heightened focus I am always chasing. The act of booting up a line is meditative, it requires your full attention and deep, present thought. A wandering mind is not useful. Consistent check-ins and collective reassessment kept us together. We communicated well on that day, holding up one another with words of encouragement and exalting the rad experience. Reaching the top of the line was euphoric, taking in the view of the valley below I thought about the multi day effort it took to reach the height of land we stood on. I was proud of what we had done, proud of myself for persevering and proud of each of my friends.
Elation grew as we headed up the bootpack. White Mountains, NH. FOW: Nate Trachte // Photo: Nick Zachara (@niklas_zach)
Clicking into my bindings and pushing off the top everything melted away. Learning the snow under my feet, I began playing with the varied textures, slashing the softer spots, arcing up the walls through the firm refrozen corn, and bopping through the moguled gut. Moving with speed through the walled choke required the sort of aggressive and committed turns that I love to make. This wasn’t the perfect predictable spring corn surface that we know and love, but that would have been too easy. All things considered it is one of the more fun lines I have skied to date. Running out the apron and stopping above the exposed rock pile at the bottom of the line I collapsed with a big grin and a case of the giggles. My legs were dead and I was breathing heavily, gasping as if at altitude.
It was all worth it in the end. White Mountains, NH. FOW: Nate Trachte // Photo: Nick Zachara (@niklas_zach)
We made our way down the Sherb, dodged rocks, and eventually gave up on sliding and walked our way out. When we hit the parking lot Alex and I shared a big hug, I dropped my pack and used it as a pillow as I lay in the middle of the parking lot sipping cold beer. I bathed in the sense of satisfaction that only comes from a long adventure full of ups and downs. We celebrated for a while as strangers passed by to congratulate us, it seemed word about our insanity had spread around the mountain. I felt good about what we had done, my cup was full. The suffering was worth it. I had the immense privilege of spending four days in a lucid state with a singular focus. Big expeditions are a funny contradiction, it's all about your objective, but in order to accomplish that one big goal, you have to set it aside and give your full attention to the next stroke of the pedal, or the next step down the trail. Living fully in that headspace is a unique gift. At the end of the day, I just want to do what I love with the people I care about, as we support one another through the highs and lows to accomplish great things.
- Nate Trachte, FOW
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