Saturday, October 07, 2006

BikeSwim

Date: Oct. 6
Total mileage: 11.5
October mileage: 123
Temperature upon departure: 46

I went mountain biking today. I didn't take my camera because I worried it would be swamped with water. I made a good choice.

We tried out the Dredge Lake trail system today. This area is actually a winter ski trail system, but where there's ski trails in the winter, there's bike trails in the summer, right? It was raining lightly and I expected standing water from heavy showers earlier this week, so I dressed to the nines - neoprene socks, neoprene booties, neoprene gloves, waterproof snow pants, waterproof (read: industrial plastic) shell. Also good choices.

What we found on the web of trails snaking across the rolling moraine beneath the Mendenhall Glacier was mountain biking unlike any I have experienced before. Both comfortable in its ease and confounding in its complexity, I don't know how to reconcile it into a comprehensive description. But I do know this: I like it. Love it. I'm drooling to go back.

We started on a narrow strip of sand separating the flood-level Mendenhall River from a thick wall of trees. The trail quickly disappeared beneath long puddles - nothing unusual, but there was something ominous surrounding these benign mudholes. "I feel like we're in the bayou, and water's just about to come rushing toward us," Geoff said. I laughed. I had no idea.

Less than half a mile from the trailhead, we rounded Dredge Lake and dropped into what appeared to be a small pond. But since we were such a short way into our ride, and since the rain was already finding its way through the armor anyway, we had nothing to lose. We took the plunge.

Held up by glacial gravel as smooth and hard as concrete, we splashed through the clear, cold water, pounded a few hard strokes up a large mound and rolled into the next pond - butts hanging over the rear wheel, lips and eyes pursed shut against the rush of water ... Splashdown. Pretty soon we were kicking against water up to our knees. And then our stems. A mile into the trail, the water level reached waist deep. With legs completely under water, we had to spin frantically against the deadly slowdown that that threatened to inundate us. I can only describe the sensation as kickboarding upstream, or bicycling in one of those dreams where you can't help but move in slow motion. If this kind of riding were its own sport, I would call it BikeSwim.

This ride has so much more going for it, too. We'd rise out of the swamp to hairpin singletrack carving through a canopy of trees so thick that the clearance on either side of my shoulders would have to be measured in centimeters. Then we'd drop back into the water, cross the swamped moraine, and hit the high, root-covered rollercoaster trail in a swirl of autumn leaves. At one point we were paddling (pedaling/paddling, what's the difference?) down the trail when a foot-long carp darted by. And any ride where you can bike through something the map calls Crystal Lake is a good ride.

I don't really mean to sound so giddy, but honestly, this is like discovering that somebody dropped Disneyland's Splash Mountain in my neighborhood, and I can go ride it anytime I want. Only this is even better, because unlike those creepy robots that play the banjo in the dark, this ride's bears are real (I know, I saw a pretty big black bear at close range today.) And you don't have to worry about being wet at the end because, well, that's the whole point.

Next time I go, I'll try to take one of those waterproof disposable cameras. I'd love to take pictures, because describing BikeSwim just doesn't do it justice.