Monday, January 04, 2010

Alaska slickrock

The temperature was 11 degrees with a light breeze when I pedaled down my driveway at 10:04 a.m. The back end of my snow bike bounced dramatically because I had been too lazy to pump my tires up from 6 psi. I labored along the ice-slicked pavement and veered onto the Auke Lake trail, which wove through tall hemlock trees as my frosted eyelashes blinked rapidly in a strobelight of shadow and bright sun. I crossed Back Loop Road and veered onto the Lake Creek Trail, a treacherous drainage route with a solid inch of glare ice masked by a half inch of fresh snow. I pedaled tentatively across the slick surface and stopped to cinch up my studded boots for the 1,800-foot climb. I doubted I'd be able to ride any of the steep uphill trail under those conditions, but I had this hunch that the climb would be worth it, just the same.

I stomped hard with every step to plant my boot bolts into the hard ice before skittering the bike up yet another short pitch. It was slow, and I was sweating hard — a stream of fallen droplets was frozen to the front of my fleece jacket. I hoisted my behemoth of a bike over a couple of deadfalls as a group of skiers, who were carrying their skis on their backs and wearing creepers for the hike up, caught up to me.

"Did you ride up this trail?" a friendly man asked me.

"No," I said.

"Do you think you'll be able to ride down?" a woman chimed in.

"Not without killing myself," I said.

The man looked justifiably confused. "So, um, what are you doing with the bike?"

"I'm hoping there's crust in the meadows," I said.

The man shook his head. "It's too high," he said. "There's probably still powder up top."

"Possibly," I said. "But I figured it was worth a look."

"Well, good luck," the man said. "If nothing else, it looks like a great workout getting that thing up here."

I nodded and followed behind, continuing to chat with the skiers through the final minutes of the climb. At the meadow, they stopped to put on their skis and I sheepishly wheeled my bike onto the untrammeled snow, braced for sinking failure. I sat on the seat and started pedaling. The rubber gripped nicely to the hardpack and I started pedaling harder. Suddenly, I was moving faster. And faster. Until the treacherous icy trail faded into the background and the whole unhindered freedom of Spaulding Meadow opened up wide. I carved playful figure 8s, plummeted into drainages and mashed the pedals until I was free again. I closed my eyes and dreamed of sand and redrock and desert sun, in a frozen world so similar that I almost forgot where I was.

Until I opened my eyes and remembered. And smiled.

It was a fantastic ride:

Alaska Slickrock from Jill Homer on Vimeo.