“I’m not sure you’re good luck for me,” joked Todd, pulling the third tube off his rear tire, “I’ve been with you for the three biggest bike breakdown days I’ve ever had.”

Not exactly the thing a girl wants to be known for.

I hadn’t seen my buddy Todd since I started my job-induced walkabout over 18 months ago, so I was stoked when he said he’d rally and ride out to Rabbit Lake with me. It seems like since the walkabout, lots has changed and then again, nothing has changed. One of the things that DID change is that some of my friends had kids, and Todd is one of them – and he and his wife are expecting another! So time DID pass and new humans are the evidence.

Anyway, Rabbit Lake is a bit of a grind, but has amazing scenery and is a great workout with a fun, rewarding downhill. The fall colors here are giving a good show so I wanted to get up into that valley before the snow comes (any day now, really).

I used to have a hard time riding to Rabbit Valley when I was new to riding. The grind is really, really a grind and there are some challenging rock gardens and techy steep parts, too. The descent is a blast but can be nasty; huge loose rocks line the trail from start to finish. I’ve had the worst wreck of my life on that downhill, hitting the ground so hard and fast that I was afraid to wipe the dirt off my knee lest my entire knee come off with it. Incredibly I wasn’t too hurt but I’ve had a healthy respect for that trail ever since.

I was pleased to find that the uphill, though still grindy, was much easier for me with a few more skill-building years under my belt. Todd is a fit rider; a big, strong dude, and sometimes he isn’t that easy to keep up with, but today we were able to find a comfortable pace for us both and maintain a steady conversation on the way up. I love those concrete indicators of sports-ability improvement, don’t you?

We saw a few bears up higher on the slope, stuffing themselves with late-season berries in preparation for their imminent yearly bedtime. A half-mile is a comfortable distance from which to view bears, we agreed. We stopped behind a small stand of hemlocks to get a break from the wind, but the revolting stench of human excrement emanating from the area pushed us out of there quickly. “We are a dirty, dirty species,” observed Todd as we pushed off. Yeah, we’re dirty, but we also have thumbs that can handle a shovel to dig a hole. Seriously. Nothing grosses me out more than human shit and lately, it’s everywhere around here thanks to the enormous glut of clueless newbies and inconsiderate yahoos who invade wild spaces and seem to be shocked that there’s no indoor plumbing, leaving their deposits behind rocks, on the sides of trails, in PARKING LOTS for the love of pete (for real – Mt. Baker, Washington parking lot. TP and everything. Nice, people. Just after I saw that, I saw a mother let her kid puke on the ground and just leave it there) – do they really think it just goes away when they walk off? Really? Aside from emergencies, this is disgustingly inexcuseable. Billy Finley just wrote about this, too. BURY YOUR SHIT, people. Better yet, just hold it until you get home. Thanks.

The farther back in the valley we rode, the more biting the headwind and the harder the rain. Looking back over my shoulder and seeing sunny blue skies over Anchorage was a tad surreal, but hardly anything is as beautiful as the Chugach in autumn so we kept on going until we crested the last rise and looked down on the lake, our chilled bare legs breaking out into gooseflesh and our conversation stilted by the roar of the wind.

Turning around was awesome, because not only am I better at going up, but much better at descending (I was going to say I’m better at going down, but I am SURE someone will misconstrue that), so what used to be kind of a sketchy, scary experience was a total blast. I did dial it back, though, because I remember how badly it hurts to crash on that rock-strewn trail. I was going about the same speed as the wind so I was duped into thinking the wind had died down, until I stopped for a moment. The chill made us push on rather quickly to return to the car, and luckily for Todd we were only ten minutes’ hikeabike from the truck when he got his flat, which ultimately took less time than the trailside repair attempt.

On our first ride together ever, oh, maybe 4 years ago (?) Todd had ripped the cleat out of his shoe. On another ride, he broke his chain – four times. He had to scooter the bike back to the car, on that one. This time, it was a normal-seeming flat tire, compounded by a flat spare, a second hole in the first spare after it was patched, a Presta valve that ripped off in the pump, and a third spare that had a Schraeder valve, rendering it useless. What are the odds of carrying two spare tires and having all of them be faulty? After a bit of work on Todd’s part and a lot of shivering on my part – it was cold – we gave up and Todd opted to jog back to the car, bike on his shoulders. I got a little more downhill out of the ride, but my wind-induced chill and an influx of uphill hikers kind of wrecked the flow, not that two minutes of flow is all that big of a deal..

Sweet ride though. WAY better than the cyclocross race I was going to force myself to do if no one was available for a mountain ride. We all know that I’m not really into racing, but I REALLY don’t get why people would rather ride around in circles in the city when it’s a beautiful day, it hasn’t snowed yet, and the conditions are great in the mountains. To each his own (is there Latin for that?) I suppose.

It was great to get back up into the front range with the fall colors yawping and the weather not-below-freezing (it’s going to go that way and stay that way for about 6 months, pretty soon). Naturally though I brought my camera with me, I haven’t yet disciplined myself to take pictures so I recommend you go over to Finley’s blog and look at his pictures of the valley which are way better than anything I’d take anyway. In his summit pics, you can see the trail we rode today. Now I’m off to pump up and inspect all my spare tubes, just in case.