Showing posts from October, 2010

Riding to snow

"22 degrees!" Bill called out, as though a temperature rise of 1 degree was the best news of the night. His headlight beam cast a streaming glow on the whitewashed forest, starkly framed against the black sky. Trees wore new snow like children in oversized dresses, bewildered by the heavy formality of winter. I clenched my numb fingers inside my mittens and pressed my palms against the handlebars. A fountain of fine powder streamed from Bill's rear wheel. I shifted my shoulders in an attempt to follow his line. Once powder is six inches deep or more, you don't so much ride a bike as surf with it, feathering the handlebars and gently shifting your weight as the wheels slice through the swift current. The rear wheel was swept sideways and my mountain bike fishtailed wildly through the snow. I pressed the brakes and righted it, then veered away from Bill, who was fishtailing himself. I blinked against the weight of ice frozen to my eyelashes. City lights sparkled in a …

California streaming

I'm consistently amazed by the almost metaphysical transition of a mundane plane ride. There's something strangely enticing about entering a small metal cylinder that essentially serves as a sensory deprivation chamber, sipping a tiny cup of Diet Coke and reading a guilty pleasure magazine like Outside while the world disappears below me, and emerging hours later in another place entirely. Car and bicycle travel just doesn't have the same sudden impact. I find myself stepping out of the airport and grappling to take in the rush of new sensations — the warm moist air, the rich urban smells, the city lights stretching over the horizon. I'm in awe. How did I get here?

I flew out to California this weekend to visit Beat. I landed in San Jose, which is not really the kind of city I ever envisioned as a destination, but that's just part of the surprising way life works out sometimes. Beat took me to see his place of employment, which is the world headquarters of Google. I…

New camera!

I walked into Costco Monday evening with a simple list: Strawberries, lettuce, cottage cheese, AAA batteries, cereal. I wheeled my cart into the glaring florescent lights and it was the first thing I saw: A big display of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS6. My eyes widened with a compelling mixture of lust and necessity. It wasn't particularly glamorous or excessive — it was a $270 point-and-shoot camera. But it represented dissatisfaction that had been simmering for a long time. My camera, an Olympus Stylus Tough, was more than two years old — ancient for a digital camera that's been used nearly daily. It's fallen off boulders, been flung off a moving bicycle, carried through drenching rain and minus-25 deep freezes, buried in snow, dropped in puddles and coated in ice. The viewing screen was so scuffed that I could no longer frame any of my shots properly. The lens was so scratched that I could no longer take a photo that wasn't either blurry, misfocused or covered in white…


Beat's hunched figure cut a spooky silhouette against the city lights. With a mountain bike dangling from his shoulders, he emerged from the steep curve of the summit like a sea monster slowly rearing its long body from a sparkling ocean. I stood up and tried to stem the rising tide of guilt. It wouldn't wash away. Because what I had done is trick another person into carrying a mountain bike 2,000 feet straight up Mount Sentinel for me.

It made me look like a monster, but I swear it started so innocently. Beat and I did a trail run on Saturday that aggravated my probable case of plantar faciitis, and I was mildly gimpy. Conversely, I guided him on an after-dark mountain bike ride Friday night that was several notches above his comfort zone. So I suggested the Sunday moonlight hike up Sentinel. Beat argued that I should avoid the downhill running/hiking that seems to aggravate my foot injury the most, lest I draw out my slow recovery indefinitely, so he suggested I bring my mo…

Into the night

Thursday Night Ride: A diverse group of longtime Missoulians and newcomers, young professionals and working parents, college students and 68-year-old college professors, have been gathering for years to pedal local trails on long summer Thursday nights. Years back, they used to call it quits for the season when the dark and cold crept too close for comfort. But every year the group grows, the dynamic shifts, and ambitions spread. I showed up on a good year, when ambitions have resulted in four-hour assaults of big mountains, or a sunset ice cream run in mid-October.

Six mountain bikes rolled into the Turah store just as the last pink light of Thursday slipped below the Sapphire Mountains. We peeled off thick gloves, then peeled off the wrappers of ice cream sandwiches. We stood in the parking lot to watch the light fade, applied the remainder of our layers as the chill set in, switched on our lights, and returned to the canyon.
Just a few miles from our destination, Bill wordlessly veer…

Clinging to summer

The bank sign read 59 degrees just after 5:30 p.m. Monday.

"Ah, it's still warm," I thought. Golden sunlight cast long shadows on the streets. "And it's a beautiful evening."

I put on a long-sleeved jersey, shorts, and a thin pair of gloves, and set out toward the mountains. The subtle warmth of the low sun caressed my skin, and sweat began to bead on my forehead as I climbed Pattee Canyon. I felt particularly strong, perhaps because it had been several days since I had ridden a bicycle, or perhaps because I was finally getting into singlespeed shape. I ramped up the pace, veered right on a narrow logging road and churned up the steep gravel as twilight descended. I crested a saddle and continued climbing toward the Miller Creek Divide, as night opened the sky to an expanding spread of stars and a sliver of the moon. I felt amazing. I love to climb and climb. I'd climb into eternity if there was a mountain high enough. But the Miller Creek Divide eventual…

Lima Peak

The squelch of soft mud beneath my shoes was suddenly eclipsed by a loud "humph."

I stopped in my tracks and strained to see through misty curtains of rain. "Humph," the grunt increased in volume as a moose emerged from the brush less than 10 yards in front of me. My breathing stopped and my eyes froze open as the moose lowered its ears and took a couple of steps toward me. Instinctively I took several quick steps backward and stopped near a tree. I couldn't take my eyes off the moose long enough to observe the tree, but I contemplated the possibility of climbing it.

"Humph," the moose grunted again, and out of the woods stepped its nearly full-grown calf. I thought the moose must be a female, but she confused me because she had one antler, only one, twisted and deformed on the right side of her brow. On the left was a crazy eye, cloudy and bright at the same time, and it struck me that I was actually close enough to see the eye of an angry moose.