Wednesday, May 07, 2008

No country for new trails

Date: May 6
Mileage: 42.0
May mileage: 210.2
Temperature: 47

One of the perks of using my mountain bike for the regular tempo ride out North Douglas is hitting the Rainforest Trail near the end of the road. It's not your typical mountain bike trail. The loop in its entirety is about 1.5 miles, and not exactly technical, per say. But it's fun to try to hit a flow down the narrow, smooth gravel. It descends and then quickly climbs a steep hill with some crazy tight hairpin turns, and the raised nature of the gravel doesn't allow for mistakes - if you drop off the trail, you launch off the bike. It's a good early season ride for me because it allows me to become more comfortable with my bike handling without a lot of obstacles. Plus, the destination is kinda pretty ...

So I put in three good laps on the Rainforest Trail, but the entire ride out there plus my eventual commute to work meant I barely had time for even that, less than five miles of trail riding, in 3+ hours of cycling. In this town, there's almost always a heavy pavement price to pay for a little trail time - emphasis on little.

Juneau has a lot of amazing trails near town, but none of them were built with cyclists in mind. Any mountain trails go straight up the mountain - emphasis on straight, with 60 percent+ grades that utilize tree roots as handholds. As for our coastal trails, they're either so primitive or in such advanced disrepair that they make for tough and technical trail runs ... or they're so overbuilt that a skilled rider on a road bike could coast large stretches of them. Since I moved to Juneau, our local trail advocacy group, Trail Mix, has completed a number of projects geared toward hikers - the kind of hikers who show up fresh from the cruise ships wearing Crocs and twirling umbrellas. Last fall, Trail Mix spent about $900,000 to blast a few wider sections and repair bridges on the Perserverence Trail. Their latest endeavour is a $1.2 million project to build a 1.1-mile trail along Auke Lake.

I'm not about to criticize Trail Mix ... they do a lot of good work. But when these projects budget hundreds of thousands of dollars to build short highways of trails, I can't help but wonder: What could mountain bikers do with $1.2 million? We could improve the 20-mile-long Treadwell Ditch Trail so it's actually rideable with something other than a Pugsley for the first four miles and a good pair of rubber boots for the rest. We could improve and expand the Dupont Trail way up the Taku Inlet. Heck, for $1.2 million, we could build a Lemon Creek trail to the icefield! Snow biking year round! But we don't have the money. We probably don't even have the interest. I would volunteer a lot of time to improving the Ditch, but I'm not about to initiate such a project. So I guess I'm part of the problem.

I'm not sure if any Juneau mountain bikers will read this. Actually, I'm not really sure there are any other mountain bikers in Juneau (Just kidding! I know you're out there. I see your tracks.) But, if you are out there, what do you think? Do we have the numbers? Can we build our very own trail?