Ah Winter, one day it's 73 degrees, the next it's 15. Don't you love it? This little story concerns the SIUE trails, but could just as easily be about any of the other trails in our area.
Day 1. Two weeks ago, a group was out reviewing the location of the proposed new trail at SIUE. It had been very cold for the previous week without any precipitation and the ground was thoroughly frozen. The temperature was around freezing when we started, but the forecast was for temps in the upper 50's that day. Now, several of these people in attendance were some of the most experienced trailbuilders in GORC (I'm not including myself here). Not one brought their mountain bike, thinking that with such warm temperatures, the trails would be thawed by afternoon. Well, to everyone's surprise, by the time we were done, even though it was in the 50's, the trails were firm and dry, perfect riding conditions...
Fast forward to Day 2. Yesterday, Kirby and I headed out to SIUE in the early afternoon. Temperature was 19. To our surprise the top layer of soil was a gooey mess. Apparently, with there being so much moisture in the soil from the recent rains, the ground was completely saturated, and the strong sunlight was enough to melt away the top layer even at that temperature. Also, it had only been below freezing for one night. We walked down the trail a bit and could see where someone who was riding had been sliding across the surface at every curve and riding off the trail to avoid muddy spots.
So, what's the moral of this story? Well, it's that even if you think you understand how trails react to certain weather conditions, in Winter, all bets are off. Here in MO/SW IL we're lucky to be able to do some riding year round. Just be aware that in Winter and early Spring, there are more things to consider before you decide to go out and ride. Sure, it may not be a big deal to leave a few tracks on a trail, but when you multiply that by hundreds, or thousands, it's easy to see how real damage can be done.
It's not GORC's place to tell you when you can or can't ride, only the land manager of a particular trail can do that, but you can use your head and the info that's provided on our website to make decisions that will minimize the impact you have on the trails. We'd all much rather be building new trail, instead of having to fix damage to what's already there.