Sunday, June 04, 2006

Snow, Hope, Powerline

Date: June 2, 3
Mileage: 76.2
June mileage: 104.8
Temperature upon departure: 60s

Had something of a whirlwind weekend on the road. At three weeks to Kincaid, it really should have been a power-training weekend for me. But there are ways to bypass obligation without regret: enjoy a mud bath on wheels down an avalanche-torn section of the Johnson Pass trail; take a half-century joy ride to Hope, Alaska - still America's "most scenic" byway to nowhere; and read a couple of New Yorker magazines cover-to-cover by a roaring campfire as the midnight sun rests - momentarily - over the Kenai Mountains.

Geoff is working toward this "Alaska Mountain Runners Grand Prix," and today was his first race of the season - The Powerline Pass. We drove up a day early to camp nearby and do the aforementioned mountain bike ride - on a muddy, debris-clogged trail that became entirely unrideable after only four miles (thanks to long fields of soft, punchy snow.) We hiked up another mile and a half before we crossed paths with a runner who warned us of "hordes of bears" at the lake. She was followed by a lone backpacker with a rather large rifle slung over his shoulder and a pasty, wide-eyed expression. I don't know what's more scary - the bears, or the guy with the rifle. Either way, we were ready to turn around.

Later that afternoon, I saddled up my road bike and headed toward the Hope Road junction. If you start from the bike path at the Granite Creek Campground, you have what turns out to be almost exactly 50 miles of scenic, smooth, nearly traffic-free road riding. I must have looked pretty funny out there with my mud-splattered face and legs - as well as and a rather prominent chainring bruise I sustained in an unsuccessful stream crossing - but I felt like a real roadie out there, tucked against my flat handlebars and surging up to 30 mph on a cruise to the coast. The yin and yang of bicycling.

Today was Geoff's race. He was due to start at 10 a.m., so at 9 I took off up the trail with the hope that I'd beat him to the finish line (I did ... barely.) I had a brisk pace going at first ... the whole time thinking, "I could bike this." But then those powerlines just kept on climbing. And climbing. And pretty soon, I was stumbling up snowfields and clawing at loose gravel, on grades approaching 60 or even 70 percent at times. In all, the trail gains about 3,500 feet in 4 miles ... most of it in the last two. And I'm thinking "how could people possible run up this thing?" But somehow, they do. Geoff ended up placing fifth in the race with a time of 42 minutes. It took me an hour and that much, arriving just in time to turn around and snap a few quick pictures of the leaders before the jogging descent commenced.

Watching those guys come up the mountain, hunched over and gasping for more of that rich 3,500-feet-elevation air, made me so glad that I'm not a trail runner. Give me a face full of mud and a chain-ring bruise any day. I'll walk what I can't ride, thank you much.