I felt the need to ride my bike for a long time today for fitness reasons. I cast about for riding partners and, as is typical for weekends in July in Alaska, there were none to be found – all were spoken for. So I girded my loins – literally, if you consider the chamois-lube combo necessary to ride a bike – for a long ride on my own, with no car shuttles or long drives or tightly-coupled scheduling issues. Despite the ordinariness of riding in the Anchorage area, I was fairly stoked for a big ride that didn’t have to take up the rest of my day with driving.
When I’m riding for fitness instead of fun I usually go for a long, brutish type of climb, so I created a plan in the back of my head as I left the house: I wanted to ride from my house to the lake near the top of Powerline Pass and back. In order to understand this scheme, you need to know a) where my house is and b) where Powerline Pass is. In short, it’s about 18 miles (conservatively) steeply uphill on single- and double-track and then 18 miles mostly downhill. All of the miles are on trail and some of it is really steep climbing. Most of it is just pretty persistent climbing, up, up, up, and it looks really daunting from my house. Nobody rides there from town; you can just drive up to the parking lot and ride the 7 miles to the pass. But I didn’t feel like driving when I could just ride.
I had some doubts that I could do it, but I thought I’d just kind of, you know, try. So I left my house in July sunshine, which in Alaska means pretty decent weather with high clouds, the ones that could go either way. I was a few miles up the trail before realizing that I’d forgotten my bear spray for the first time ever. It was just not the kind of day that allowed for returning home to fetch it, though, so I decided to take my chances, and spent a few miles considering the wisdom of this decision and wondering what they’d say about me in the comments section of the local paper if I got mauled by a bear. “Mountain Biker Carried No Bear Spray” the headline would blare, with the sub-headline “Rider knew she should have gone home to get it but SHE DIDN’T.” The commenters (who, seriously, seem to have nothing better to do than sit in front of their computers hitting “refresh” on the ADN.com web site and posting web comments with fervor on every happening in Southcentral Alaska, would have a field day with poor, bear-chewed, no-pepper-spray, not-even-a-firearm, foolish mountain biker me.
Despite my lack of protection, I carried on with my plan which included climbing one section via windy, heavily vegetated singletrack. By the time I’d wound my way to the top of the singletrack, I was feeling okay but still did not expect to reach my goal. After all, the hard part was next and I was still tired from a long hike yesterday. I headed up a very steep climb and was pleased to find that I didn’t have much trouble with it, though the herd of bikers who haven’t heard that trail etiquette dictates yielding to the uphill rider – especially the one completing a seemingly impossible feat of mountain biking endurance – did pique me a bit. Since they were headed down, they were gone soon and I slipped back into my trance of cranking.
I started grinding up the Powerline, which at the bottom is a steep doubletrack with lots of big loose rocks, just the thing for making it hard to climb. I did have to walk a time or two at this bottom section, but it was over surprisingly quickly. I encountered a man walking a happy looking Norfolk terrier who asked me about my 29er and said that he’d heard they were good “on the uphill.” Stressing the “uphill” as if to imply that the downhill was rumored to be sheer misery on this 29 inch wheeled abomination. I really don’t know where this erroneous information comes from but I feel bad for beginner mountain bikers, or shoppers who are turned off on 29ers by people who say dumb stuff like that. Oh well, not my problem, I’ve already got MY 29er! On I went.
The trail kept climbing but at a much more reasonable pitch, so I was at the top before I knew it. Well, by “top” I mean “end of steep climbing” because I still had six miles to go, albeit over easier ground. I still was not convinced I’d get to my goal of the lake at the end of the valley. “I want to get farther than THIS” I told myself, putting on my wind jacket in deference to the looming rain clouds and easier pedaling. As I headed up the valley I realized this was the first bike ride I’d done in months that wasn’t accompanied by background stress about tasks undone, unpleasant looming deadlines, and unresolved issues. I was just out on a ride and would take my time, and when I got home I’d just…chill.
By the time I was three miles back from that point, I realized that I wasn’t tired and wasn’t hungry, and since I was feeling so good I may as well get to my goal. I was feeling really proud of my trip and was hoping that someone, anyone, would ask me where I’d ridden from, but no one did. When I was passed during a scenery break by a spandexed racer-type, I smugly thought to myself “he rode from the parking lot” which meant he’d not done any of the hard climbing. I have no clue of this is true, note; it just made me feel good.
As I rode along I noticed the vegetation is starting to turn already. It seems early, but I guess it’s not; it’s just that I haven’t been in Alaska all that long so I guess I missed part of the summer. It’s OK though; soon the vegetation will die back and some of the bigger and more epic rides will open up again. There is still almost 10 weeks of dirt season left before it is certain to turn snowy, so I’m not perturbed. I love fall in Alaska so I’m mostly looking forward to seeing the colors.
I got to the lake, took another scenery break, and enjoyed a few moments of solitude before some hikers intruded. Taking my cue, I headed back, knowing that it was mostly downhill the 18 miles back to my house. I did have to do a fair bit of pedaling which of course is always a bitter pill when you expect to be going downhill.
When I crested the top of the steep descent, I cracked up when two obviously urban hikers saw me coming, stepped to the side, and precluded the “thank you!” I was going to call out by sticking their thumbs out at me, hitchhiker-style. I cracked up and shot downhill, enduring almost three miles of a bone-jarring descent that left my bad (previously 2x broken AND 1x dislocated) hand painful in some spots and numb in others. I threw caution to the wind (unless you count my nervous whooping and whistling to let the wild animals know I was coming) and headed back down the overgrown singletrack descent, shot down a cut-through that paralleled the road, and arrived back at my house in a drizzling rain, four hours after I’d started.
I’m really pleased with myself for sticking to my goal and actually doing it. Arriving at the lake was super cool because I had doubts from the start that I’d actually be able to get there without wussing out and turning back. It was really a fun day and the salmon burger at home, followed by the Moose Pie and Raspberry Wheat/Prince William’s Porter combo at Moose’s Tooth, was a great way to reward myself for a job well done.
So, no big lessons learned today, no wildlife encounters or terribly deep thoughts, no bike breakdowns or gear disasters, no weather epics and no unpleasant surprises; just me enjoying my bike and my hometown and my own company. May you all have similar days in your near future as the summer wanes and we turn our thoughts to the subzero season and all it has to offer.