Sunday, January 17, 2016

A real fatbike overnighter

It feels like I've almost manically been pursuing outdoor activities since the winter temperatures arrived just before New Year. I guess two miserable winters in a row causes that. I've been riding my fatbike, I was on a chilly overnighter (-22C) in Paimio and I did a good amount of Nordic skating before the snow came. When it became clear that the snow prevented skating this weekend, the plans to go on an overnighter came naturally. At first I was quite sure that the mires of Kurjenrahka would be rideable, with the mire being frozen solid and the amount of snow suitable, but the snowfall continued and my preference then turned to skis. However, JJ still wanted to do it by bike and on Saturday afternoon, just after sunset at 16:00, we met at the Rantapiha parking to see what actually would be possible to ride.

The scenery was great.

We tried to ride the first open mire section, but sooned turned back, since the grassy section had collected too much snow. Barely rideable and very hard work.

We followed the trail for a while, which was easier, since people had walked there and there was less snow in the forest. When we found a snowmobile trail, we started to follow it. It was partially rideable and went in the direction we wanted.

The snowmobile trail soon turned back, but we had only a short bit to more open mire, which was rideable, though the amount of snow made it hard work. The snow did however have the advantage that there would not be any damage to the ground underneath, which in my opinion is an important aspect, especially in a national park. The snowshoes probably caused more damage, though not a problem in these circumstances.

The going was very hard and it was only possible to ride on open and very wet (now frozen) mire, and such a route was not available. We decided to get back on the forest trail at the bird watching tower, but we couldn't find it in the darkness, and had to ride to a place where the trail crosses the mire on duckboards. The forest trail was a lot easier to ride, but the occasional sections on poor duckboards were demanding.

The final section was crossing the Vajosuo mire, which always poses a navigational challenge in the darkness. We arrived at the Rettu shelter after almost four hours of very hard work. The first thing to do was to start a fire. The temperature had now sunk to a chilly -20 C.

JJ noted that a beard is not a clear advantage in the cold.

I didn't bring any beer, since I don't think it tastes that great when it is cold outside. JJ had however bought a sixpack, which was too much for him and it would have frozen solid if left in the car, so I got two cans. It tasted good when heated to something clearly above freezing. The 1 kg steak was a little too much for two persons.

At some point a cloud cover came in and the temperature quickly rose to -16C, something which could be clearly sensed by the body. We stayed up for quite long, but eventually had to go to sleep before Toni arrived a little over three in the morning.

I got up at eight and immediately started a fire and had something warm to drink.

I gave JJ and Toni one more hour of sleep, before waking them at nine in the morning.

During the winter you have to make water the hard way.

It got lighter...

... and lighter.

Though we had a fire going, Toni wanted to practice with his liquid fuel stove.

I could have been ready to go at nine in the morning, but I still thought it was acceptable to start at ten. Time, however, went by and not much happened.

We eventually got going at 11:15, a new record for me. I've never been this slow in the morning. I guess we have to decide on a starting time the next time we are out...

The late start meant we had to skip some interesting sections and we rode straight to the cars, with a short visit to the mire. We rode around one hour only.


Toni still had several hours to ride, so we gave him the last of our water.

My bike still works great, but the new wheelset with 100 mm wide Clownshoe rims, which should be built next week, would certainly have given me an advantage this time.

That's it. A real winter overnighter this time.

Check out JJ's excellent pictures from the outing here and Toni's blog report here.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

The Nordic skating season is upon us

The weather took a turn for the better during Christmas and got colder. No snow, but the forest trails soon froze, making for excellent fatbiking. The continuing low temperatures combined with no snow also made way for something not often easily possible: skating on lakes and the sea, so called Nordic skating. During a cold winter the skating season continues further out on the sea, but the ice closer to land gets too much snow. The closest lake (a little over 1 km away), Littoistenjärvi, is a shallow lake which is one of the first to get ice and hence the first skating trip took place on December 30th, just two days before my kayaking season ended.

Most of the lake had 8-9 cm ice, which is quite safe. The ice was smooth and nice.

The entire lake was still not safe and in places the ice thickness was clearly less than 5 cm, which is generally considered a good limit, below which you shouldn't usually go.

The skating was great on almost perfect ice.

After this we had two days of warmer weather and a light snowfall, but the skating season continued. I went to Raseborg for some lake skating in a nice landscape, on lakes I had skied on as a kid.

The cold weather continued and got even colder with temperatures down to -26C, so the sea ice also started to get better. On Saturday January 9th we decided to check it out. The plan was to do an almost 30 km long route around the Kakskerta island, but it turned out that the ice wasn't good enough for that, Closer to land the ice was generally 7-9 cm, but there were enough surprises to keep the speed down (checking the ice thickness takes some time, even though my ice pike is good enough to allow me to do it in one blow). Further out the ice was thinner and at one point we had to return and choose another route, since the ice started to be clearly under 5cm everywhere around us. Still, the skating was great and it was a beautiful day.

Though I do ride my bikes (I even was on a chilly overnighter a few days ago), currently the number one activity is skating. The skating season is generally quite short (at least nearby) and ends when the snow comes, which could possibly be next week, depending on the amount of snow that actually falls.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Zegul Arrow Play first impressions

While I've been quite satisfied with the Aquarius Sea Lion, in some situations it has occurred to me that a little more stability would not be a bad thing. I would even be ready to trade a little speed for it. Now, for someone my size the offering of performance kayaks (as opposed to just basic ones) is quite limited. My long legs usually just don't fit. The Sea Lion is an extraordinary kayak in that sense, I fit very well and even someone 30 cm shorter than me can paddle it without any problems. Based on specifications and tests found on the internet  I had a (short) list of possible kayaks, of which several were dismissed the second I tried to get into the cockpit. There are still a few of them I haven't tested. but I could get into the Zegul Arrow Play HV easily enough to have a test paddling arranged.

I tested it for an hour in September, measuring speed capabilities, testing how it behaved in the available wind (about 8 m/s), checking out maneuverability and rolling and liked it very much. The waves were too small to be of interest, but everything I read said it would be an excellent and fun kayak in bigger waves. 

A week before Christmas I got one from Melontapiste in Turku. I couldn't resist going out for a little night paddle up the Aura river. Not much to say about the kayak in such a situation, though.

The weekend before Christmas saw excellent weather and I went for a little day trip from Nagu with it. My impressions from the test paddling were confirmed, though I didn't try the wet stuff (rolling etc) this time. The Arrow Play HV is a little slower and does not glide quite as easily as the Sea Lion, but it does ordinary cruising speed (up to 8 km/h) quite well. And I have enough power to paddle shorter sprints faster, which also sometimes is necessary when moving within a group. The maneuverability is about the same, i.e excellent. The stability of the Arrow Play HV is clearly better, both the primary and secondary stability.

The Zegul Arrow Play is 11 cm shorter and 2 cm wider than the Aquarius Sea Lion. At 54 cm width it still isn't very wide, but the width is distributed on more length and with the sharp chines running through most of the boat, there is definitely a lot more width in water. The cockpit opening is both wider and longer and now I can actually get in and out rear first and legs later, which does have some significance.

The last paddling session of the season was the Kayakers New Year Party in Hanko, called together by Elba Adventures. The weather was refreshening with -4C and a wind of 9-10 m/s, which would mean cold hands. In addition to the surf zone, there were some waves further out, which gave me a good chance the test the kayak in these circumstances. Photo by Eva-Lotta Backman.

The Arrow Play HV seems to do pretty well without using the skeg. The skeg does of course help in some situations, but it is totally possible to paddle even without it.

The Arrow Play HV is supposed to be a good surfer, but I don't think it actually is better than the Sea Lion. Both surf well, though. In the surf zone the added stability is a definite plus. Side surfs are easy, though I need more practice in getting support from the Greenland paddle. I even capsized once, but it was all fun. Photo by Eva-Lotta Backman.

All-in-all, the kayak seem to be the tradeoff I was looking for. More stability for less speed, while the rest of the features being pretty similar.