Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Roads? I don't need no stinking roads!

My day off yesterday was all about mountain biking. That was the first time in four or five years that I've ridden off-road. I was a little afraid I wouldn't remember how to do it, but it turns out to be like riding a bicycle. Go figure.

Neither my native guide nor I own a mountain bike, so we needed to go somewhere with rental on-site. A lot of the ski resorts in the Adirondacks and Vermont have rentals, but they also do the lift-serviced downhill thing. I didn't really want to do that - the kind of mountain biking I learned was a more cross-country style, riding on a hardtail. Sooner or later, I'd like to try a full-suspension bike, but I wanted to ride something a little more familiar given how long it's been.

My friend and I chose Garnet Hill Lodge, a cross-country ski resort near Gore Mountain in the Adirondacks. It's a fairly long drive up, including country highways, two-lane blacktop, and even a little bit of grit. They have a fleet of about 30 Trek 4900s. Not sure which model year, but not this one. Which is fine - they have a smooth suspension fork, the brakes work, and the drivetrain is pretty good. A little heavy, perhaps, but I'm used to a boutique road bike at this point. The guy who owns the place likes mountain biking, so there's a network of singletrack mountain bike trails layed over the ski trail network. The idea is that you climb the ski trail, then descend on the singletrack.

Adirondack mountain biking is much trickier than riding in California. The soil is looser, a little wetter, and more fertile. On the ski trails, where it gets a lot of light, there's grass growing all over the trail. There's also more rock. The singletrack is a lot looser than I'm used to, which made descending the steep bits a lot more intimidating. On Dead Campers, my favorite descent at UCSC, there's a section that's hard to do mounted because the soil is so hard that the tires on my bike had trouble hooking up. In retrospect, I probably could have spent a bunch of money on some fancy tires with a stickier tread compound. Here, the problem was that there was so much loose soil on top that the tires just took it with them. I suppose they might have worked better if the tread pattern was deeper. Or if I was more comfortable on the bike. Whatever.

I think the biggest difference is just how much lusher the mountains are here than the place I learned in California. The singletrack sections are much harder to find than they were around Santa Cruz, and the plant life encroaches much further onto them. While there were more rocks, the fact that they were hidden by the grass had a greater effect than their presence. And the steepness of these mountains was probably about the same.

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