Ever since beginning to do mountain bike trail work and seeing the effect of a heavy storm on trails I’d wanted to see this first hand. Today I saw this, and no longer wish to. JD Harvey and I were part-way through the more remote parts of some single track at Stony Creek when a hail storm arrived. Trees fell around us, an inch or two of 1-2cm hail fell in minutes, and we had to ride rough single track near-blinded to get out. This makes for a good story, but something that I do not wish to repeat.
Today’s weather was quite excellent, and after plans with Joy and Mark there was a bit of time, so I decided to go for a first-ride-of-the-season at Stony Creek on the El Mariachi Ti with the CroMoto Grande rigid fork. Not long after beginning the 6/12 Hour route I ran into JD riding his new fatbike, so he and I began riding together. After completing one lap we decided to start another, planning to part ways at the Swamp Cutout of the Roller Coaster so he could ride home to Rochester and me to the car. Not long after starting it seemed to be getting dark quickly, but we pressed on as we normally would have been out of the trails within fifteen minutes. Just before reaching the end of the Saturday/Sunday Reroute, within the span of 30 seconds a bit of rain spat, then the wind kicked up and hail began.
Unlike my usual experiences with hail and thunderstorms — where it lasts for a few moments before changing to torrential rain — this didn’t let up.
As we made our way to the climb to the Rest Area I called for us to stop and walk up the hill to save time, something which seemed to be over in a flash. Descending from the Rest Area to the Swamp Cutout was a haze as riding instinct took over. Whenever I’d look up from the trail I’d see branches and whole trees falling in what appeared to be a fog of painful ice. I fell briefly when rounding a small drop/corner (same places as here, five years earlier) due to my wheels rolling out from under me on the ball bearing-like ice, but save for interrupting our escape this was uneventful. Once getting down to the Swamp Cutout we found that the entire forest was covered in 1-2″ deep balls of quickly melting hail.
The usual route back to the parking lot, straight from marker 29 to 2 was blocked with an immense tree, so we turned back, detoured along the single track by marker 3. Between that point and the parking lot we had to climb over at least three more trees, and make a last-minute duck to avoid the neck-height wire which had fallen across the trail. I’m very fortunate this wasn’t a live power line, as I saw it just in time to duck, glancing my helmet off of it.
Once back at the car I quickly packed my bike inside, put JD’s on the rack, then got us both in the car with the heat turned on high. The photo above (and this one) were taken near the exit of the West Branch parking, as the hail began to melt. The river-like washes through the hail were exactly that: places where water was flowing down the pavement channeled through the ice. While packing the car this was flowing over my feet, something which I paid no mind as I was just happy to be out of the woods.
While this was quite an adventure, the worst storm I’ve been caught in, a good experience, a fulfilled wish, and something for good stories, I do not want to repeat it. We both were very fortunate that we didn’t get caught up in any of the falling trees, didn’t crash in a serious way, nor encounter any other catastrophe. Simply having wet/dirty bikes, some welts (I’ve got a large one on each forearm and a sore finger), and a story to tell show just how fortunate nature was with us. This shouldn’t be pushed a second time.