Monday, February 15, 2010

Something to be Jealous Of

Depending on how effusive I'm feeling when you ask me about it, I'll often say that I love mountain biking, or that off-road cycling is my first love in cycling or something like that. When I was in college, in Santa Cruz, it was easy to love mountain biking. Like a girl I saw every day, the Santa Cruz mountains were there whenever I had a moment to hop on my little red Schwinn and throw some dirt around. I had no idea how lucky I was.

Here in Seattle, I can ride mountain bikes fairly easily if I'm willing to drive for a while. But I can also walk out my front door and ride my road bike, so it's a lot harder to love mountain biking than it was when I was at Santa Cruz. I don't do it nearly as often as I probably would if I could ride my bike for a few minutes and hit some trails and I didn't feel I needed to ride for a certain amount of time to make it worth the trouble. So my love for mountain biking is a little more theoretical than concrete lately, and certainly no threat to any of the humans I care about.

Yesterday was different. I've been trying to get some sort of group ride going for a while, and that's meant that my teammates are hearing, probably more often than they'd care to, that I'm looking for people to ride with me. So two of them invited me on one of their rides. We did the Grand Ridge trail to the Duthie Hill bike park and back. Grand Ridge has about 1100' of climbing over about 7 miles of trail (according to the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance web site.) I'm not quite sure how they're counting, but it's a steep climb in, over a ridgeline, down into a valley, and out to Duthie Hill. It's a net gain, but the descents turn into climbs on the way out, and it's a physically very demanding route. I've done it a few times in the past, but I haven't had time to do the whole thing since the very first time I rode it, later in the spring when the ground was dryer. It was a lot harder yesterday. In the northbound direction, the trailhead is on a gravel service road. The first half mile or so climbs about 500', and that's the easier option. Last time I rode it, it was almost like riding a sidewalk because of all the gravel that's gone into hardening the surface on that part of the lower loop, but all that's been buried under a layer of autumn leaves and then rained on - now it's mud, with slick rocks and roots sprinkled in for variety.

After that, the trail rolls but trends upwards and has frequent small stream crossings and erosion bars. It's not too technical but does require some attention. Steep mud climbs are difficult because it's easier for me to maintain the power output to do a steep climb if I'm out of the saddle, depending on the climb, but it takes a lot of finesse to keep the rear wheel hooked up that way and it's usually easier to climb seated if the traction's poor. Anyway, it took me a while to find my rhythm. After it crosses a road at about 1000', the forest gets a little less dense and becomes very beautiful. There's a new bridge and a boardwalk in one of the two bogs, but the other still has hub-deep mud puddles and requires a lot of hiking. After my first time doing that system, I didn't bother to work my way through it until today, but since Duthie Hill is on the other side and that's where we were going, we picked our way through.

Duthie Hill is new and under construction by local mountain bike groups. It's really quite inspirational - it doesn't have a ton of elevation change, but there's enough for some flowlines and to make the cross-country trails tricky. There are lots of very well-banked turns, log rides, and stunts for those inclined. My friends and I took a lap around the cross-country trails there, which are deceptively long given the size of the park, and then headed back to Grand Ridge.

I felt like a million bucks before we started the climb out of the larger bog, and then discovered that actually I was quite tired and it's really hard to ride mud tired. I caught up with my friends again at the bottom of Grand Ridge, where one of them was changing a flat, after guessing (correctly) that they'd take the difficult option at one of the forks. Once we were on the service road I felt pretty good again, but I think I was several gears lower than I had been in the morning. The rest of the day was spent on lunch, a nap, hosing down my bike, and deciding that I was too tired to figure out how to fix my front shifter. This coming weekend is my first race, but if the world is designed for my pleasure, I'll fit in another ride like yesterday's on the 27th...


The other AT said...

Dude - Did you go to UC Santa Cruz?
The other AT

Andrew said...

Yeah, I was in the class of 2003. I used to ride Wilder Ranch, Star Wars, Dead Campers, and sometimes just follow the river or the railroad tracks north.