Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Downhill freestylin

Date: Dec. 18
Mileage: 15.1
Hours: 2:30
December mileage: 429.0
Temperature upon departure: 25
Snowfall: 1"

I had four miles to lose nearly 2,000 feet of elevation. I was standing thigh-deep in a posthole I accidentally punched through a thick bank of powder. Ahead of me, a faint snowmobile trail rolled across the otherwise pristine snow of a mountain meadow before plummeting over a horizon line into certain oblivion.

If somebody had informed me right then that within 20 minutes I would be back at sea level, spitting gravel off my back wheel and making a turn toward Sandy Beach, I would have never believed them. It had taken me well over an hour just to push to that point, mostly on foot. Despite the hike, I was amazed how much terrain I was able to ride. It was the first time I had taken Pugsley on a real snow ride - not just a ride on a trail covered in snow, but a ride on a trail made of snow. At the trailhead, I deflated the tires to 10 psi and was soon floating over packed powder at a breathless clip (6 mph!). I even caught up to Geoff on his backcountry skis while he was applying his skins to better fight the trail's relentless moguls and icy overflow holes. This was about the spot where the trail took a sharp line upward. The wimpy tread of Pugsley's tires could not find traction on the steep slope, and most of the "riding" I did from that point consisted of spinning and spinning the back wheel over a single, unmoving space until I lost my balance.

I walked nearly two miles before I decided to call it good and return to a place where I could actually ride my bike. As I turned to face the disappearing downhill line, I could feel a warm lump of dread gurgling up from my gut. When did this trail become so steep? I leaned over the handlebars for a better view of what lay beyond the slope's horizon, but I could see only sky. So I took a deep breath, put my boot on one pedal, and kicked off.

Pugsley launched into a gravity-fueled explosion of snow with all the enthusiasm of a puppy that just broke its leash. The rear wheel fishtailed wildly until it found traction in the deep track down the middle of the trail, and together we plummeted. Waves of moguls lifted and dropped us with increasing violence, and I applied the brakes ever-so-gently against a jackhammer of momentum. My butt hung inches above the rear rack. As I shimmied the handlebars I felt like a real DH freerider, half-crashing my rigid bicycle down a mountain without fear - if only because snow forgives so much.

Snow forgives much, but not all. Against the flat light of the darkening sky, I failed to notice the mother of all moguls near an opening in the trees that led to a small meadow. I was braced for a tight turn several yards ahead when the back wheel suddenly dropped into a deep hole with a loud clunk, and then the front wheel shot off the small mountain of snow in front of it. The immediate sensation was a feeling that I was coasting over the softest powder imaginable. In fact, I was flying through the air.

In my initial failure to realize this, I actually stuck the landing ... for a fraction of a second. But the sudden shock of what had just happened led me to inexplicably wrench the handlebars to the left, leading Pugsley into the soft, deep powder of the meadow. Our momentum kept us afloat for another fraction of a second, long enough to begin fishtailing wildly, before the front wheel finally planted itself and threw me into the snow, face first, like an Arctic ostrich.

After I fought my way upright, I turned to see Pugsley completely flipped over. Melting snow dripped off my chin, and I could taste a small amount of blood in my mouth. Pugsley's rear wheel was still spinning, like a wagging tail. I had to laugh, too.

It should be against the law to have this much fun on a Tuesday morning.


  1. I hope all this pays off for you. Or maybe it is with all the fun you seem to be having. I thoroughly enjoy your writing and pictures. Wishing you and Geoff a very Merry Christmas.

  2. Yes you are having way too much fun for a Tuesday morning. Glad your ok and enjoyed the article. Love the photos. The scenery would be way too distracting to me and because of this distraction I would most likely spend the majority of my commute in some snow drift

  3. Another entertaining post... great pics and story! I've must get my wife to read soon.
    Cheers, Donald
    The Daily Draft

  4. Jill,

    What a hoot! Gravity can make for a very playful partner eh?

    Everyone should experience the joy of a well executed Face Plant. Nothing else in the world can compare and a huge-honking-smile is provided at no extra charge.

    Continued Happy trails (and smiles) with the "Pugster". Life is good : )

  5. Don't you think your bike needs a name?

    Love your posts!

    Lander Wyoming

  6. surly needs to grab that post for their front page, and post a better pugley pick with it, and sell that bike as the bike that is really too much for most people. "all the enthusiasm of a puppy that just broke its leash", beautiful image, just beautiful!
    I think i have to send those guys an email so they are sure to bounce over here and read that post, Merry Christmas Jill.

    I LOVE the personificiation of your "enthusiastic Pugsly. "
    Yesterday, I drooled over a Pugsly, with it's Surly Endomorphs, at the sport store here in Fairbanks. You know, you're right--I think it was "wagging it's tail" implying me to him home with me!
    Have fun, Jill!

  8. Downhill snow riding is THE BEST!!!! God how I miss it.

    Love the "all the enthusiasm of a puppy that just broke its leash", too. It describes the ride perfectly.

  9. I enjoyed the read was with you all the way.


  10. This reminds me of Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back on the ice planet Hoth....could it be his sister?


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