Thursday, November 02, 2006

Terra Firma

Date: Nov. 1 and 2
Total mileage: 45.2
November mileage: 45.2
Temperature upon departure: 30

Oh man. I love winter mountainbiking.

Seriously. I wouldn't have guessed it a year ago, when the idea was just starting to drift into my realm of understanding. There's a lot of winter cycling enthusiasts here in Alaska, but I used to think it was just a form of survival rather than an actual hobby. After all, we have a lot of winter here. And not everyone wants to spend six months stuck to skis.

But there's a lot of ways that biking in the winter is - well - better.

Don't get me wrong. Summer is always amazing. It's beautiful, challenging ... and boggy. Especially here in the southeast, but the Kenai Peninsula isn't exactly Moab. The singletrack trails are often a maze of wet roots, puddles and tire-swallowing mudholes. There's gravel river beds, but there's also long stretches of moss that are best compared to cycling across a field of wet pillows. Like I said - it's beautiful. It can be colorful too - especially if you're someone like me, prone to bruising.

But then comes the freeze-up. Geoff and I planned to ride the single track trails in the Mendenhall area today. Almost as an afterthought, he talked me into installing my studded tires first, and the transformation was amazing. Suddenly, I was gripping to the web of wheel-throwing roots with all the ease of a skilled ice climber. We flew over frost-dusted gravel and clenched our teeth across lightly frozen puddles, with the stomach-squeezing crackling inturrupting our prayers to 'just let the ice hold me this one time through.' It always did. And it was a great ride. No wet feet. No mud caked to the drivetrain. No slipping out on wet wooden planks. If you ask me, ice can be a cyclist's best friend. But studded tires are what make or break such a relationship.

We stayed out a little later than planned - and three hours into the ride, we watched the 4 p.m. sunset engulf the Mendenhall Glacier in soft pink light. In deepening shades of red, the twilight set in. We pulled frost-covered masks over our faces and hunched into the tear-inducing race against the dark. Weaving through the blind shadows of hoarfrost-coated spruce trees, I felt complete faith that the ground beneath me would hold me up.


I love winter mountainbiking.