Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Pugsley's first sun ride

Date: Nov. 6
Mileage: 21.9
November mileage: 142.2
Temperature upon departure: 33
Rainfall: 0.0"

A perfect bike ride is a lot like a well-crafted chocolate chip cookie. Alone, the ingredients range from bland to intolerable: Tuesday morning, clear skies, light breeze, several inches of new snow, 33 degrees, early season inexperience, untested iPod mix and some tempered enthusiasm. But throw them all together, mix vigorously and bake in the rare November sun, and you have a bike ride that’s so rich, so sweet and so satisfying that you swear you could consume 100 of the same and never tire.

These rides are so delicious, in fact, that they inevitably stir up guilt from depths of pleasure. You question the wisdom of your line through the buttery snow; you wonder if its seemingly weightless airiness may suddenly turn on you, kick you sideways, send you sliding uncontrollably into a tree. You look up to a stream of snow tearing off mountain peaks in distant wind that hardly touches you; you feel the chill of ice water running down your neck. You ponder the tingling in your toes, and you think, “This can’t possibly be healthy.” And yet you crave more.

Three to four inches of new snow made the climb up Perseverance Trail extra tricky today - it was just enough snow to cover the rocks and roots to the point I couldn’t see them, but not enough to cushion the force of a direct hit. Luckily, Pugsley was more up to the monster trucking task than I ever anticipated, as I was completely consumed with staying ahead of the back wheel as it spun out atop the slippery surface.

Coming down the canyon was a passionate dance with terror and empowerment. My snow-riding skills are rusty, but my enthusiasm is as fresh as the day I first put a wheel to powder. Both are magnified by the sheer unpredictability of powder snow - I can lose control, quickly, sometimes for no discernable reason. My victories today gave way to horror, which in turn fed further victories. But after carving frantic cursive in the singletrack, skirting the steep edge of oblivion and swerving back to safety, my lingering impression told me I could do no wrong.

The final mile of descent, atop frozen gravel infused with soft patches of snow, was the most otherworldly experience of all. Sharp fragments of sunlight filtered through the trees; their bare branches were coated in snow, completely black and white except for yellow slashes of light. My iPod that had been playing really mellow Neko Case for the past half hour switched over the Jimmy Eat World’s latest. In a bombardment of amped-up rock, my speed increased to 25, 30 mph. The cold air tore at my face and tears filled my eyes as the wintry world blurred by. It reminded me of the time I rode the Slingshot - an amusement park ride that straps people in a large circular cage, pulls back on a fixed line and catapults them into the air. In the G-force rush, there is no up and down, no ground and sky, no real and imagined. There is only shadow and light, spinning and spinning to the end of the universe.

I rode to Salmon Creek afterward just to extend the fun, but by then my ride had consumed more than three hours, and it was time to go to work. These perfect rides are hard to come down from, and like a person sinking into the aftermath of a cookie binge, I feel a tinge of regret. Not because I overindulged, but because I was forced to stop.