Sunday, October 19, 2014

Summer Flashback Part 4: The Icing on the Cake

Funds were running low.  The pending return to the arid climates was still hours of driving away though, and at this point I hadn't been on my bike in at least three premier western states.  Unacceptable.  I headed inland, bound for the finest singletrack known to man.  Oakridge, Oregon, here I come.  I arrived later than I had hoped for a proper ride, but did have the light so was not hindered by daylight running out.  I decided to self shuttle the Middle Fork of the Willamette Trail and abandon my car.  My friend and local sponsor Eugene offered up his place to stay in town as well as a ride (and a lift) the next day.  Tough offer to decline.  With a ride back to town approaching 40 miles of mostly singletrack, I was more than a little dismayed to discover the wrong turn and 20 mile detour I had taken in getting to the start.  So it goes.  I'll have to forego that break by the river I guess.  Pedal on from now till dark.  

Now I've had a bit of a hard time motivating to ride by myself of late, and with the late start was doubting my effort this day even in my surroundings of the best trails in the world.  I keep thinking that there are more productive things to do with my time, forgetting that the ride is what brings me to that spot in my head where ideas are born and visions become clear.  When I hit the first turn in that soft hemlock needle cast that grips your tires harder than you ever thought possible, my doubts instantly vanished into a grin ear to ear and a single thought on repeat in the space between:  "ITS SO GOOD!  ITS SO GOOD!  ITS SO GOOD!"  Perhaps I had forgotten.

In its upper reaches the Middle Fork Trail crosses the cold but humble beginnings of one of the most major waterways in Oregon.  The trail is steep and tight with pinning corners that berm in sideways in the ongoing decomposition, defying gravity as knees approach ground level and brakes are completely forgotten.  Trunks of monster firs and cedars and hemlocks block the reflecting green light of the ferns and undergrowth in a shadow that only the rocks can trump.  I feel small.  My bike feels right at home.  It was these trails that prompted his creation almost three years ago.  Now Shrek rides his second return here, and all the fun still remains.

Proceeding downstream the trail mellows out into the valley that by the end of the ride will have me riding around the first of a series of reservoirs.  The undulations of the higher contours diminish into a more pedally flow, but the downward trend remains.  I pass through a burn scar and the light that now passes through where once blocked by canopy provides an opportunity for a swim, or rather a warm up afterward.  I strip down in anticipation of enjoying one of the great pleasures of the Cascades.  I get in up to my knees, but can go no further.  That Willamette is COLD.  I turn back, content with a bird bath in late August.  Another opportunity to chicken out was provided with a nice wreck of a log bridge across one of the tributaries.  A flood had pushed a tree trunk down and slammed this bridge, shaking its very foundation and cracking its spine, but leaving its body intact making for quite the off camber obstacle.  You could plainly see the line where all the locals ride across, but on this day alone I was convinced to pay my respects and hoof it.  

With the increasing flatness of the valley came surprising microclimates more reminiscent of Arizona than of Oregon.  I was surprised to see grass and a meadow with large Ponderosa Pines at this elevation west of the Cascade Divide.  It was a refreshing taste of home between the recurring thought bought on by the 10 foot trees and the sea of green below:  ITS SO GOOD! 

The hours passed and the light began to dwindle.  I was finally spit out on the road for my long pedal back to town.  I picked up my stash of warm clothes just as dusk had filled the valley.  A parade of fire apparatus passed by in procession as the road curved on by.  Pretty glad not to be in one of those vehicles and instead on board my mountain bike out in the air as the smoke set into the valley.  I made my way to Eugene's for a late dinner and a night of bike geekery.  

We were set to meet up with Luther, the crazy one-eyed Native Canadian, for a ride in the high Cascades, but delayed trying to fabricate parts onto a roof rack for Eugene's Civic.  We finally arrived back at the spot where I had left the space cruiser and began our ride.  Today we climbed.  And climbed.  It was blustery and overcast which made the climbing, well, somewhat more comfortable.  The climbing here is steep, and the granny gear is definitely still in fashion.  I was wishing I had one.  Hell, I was wishing for any sort of relief, but on a road trip whose initial destination was Single Speed USA, well, its what you got.  Though suffering, I managed to ride more that I had imagined of this relentless mountain range.  

We quickly climbed into a vast expanse of fir, both white fir and grand fir, and would remain in this forest for most of the day, though the level would span several thousand vertical feet.  Ground cover was more indicative of snowy climates as the trees two to three feet in diameter had an almost uniform hook to the base, growing sideways out of the slope before turning upward.  It was as if the ground that held their roots would try to tumble off the mountain, leaving the trees to hang on for dear life.  

We climbed.  And just as it seemed that we might get a break and go down just for a minute, we climbed some more.  We climbed past all the trees.  We climbed up and over the whole Willamette forest and into the next one, the Umpqua.  We went down for a minute and the we climbed back.  The clouds were breaking up, but the air was still cool.  Now it was time for the reward.  6000 feet of unprecedented anywhere else heroic, steep, carving, roosting, vein popping, drop your seat cascade descending.  Oh yeah, then a little more climbing of course!

You see there are no pictures of the downhill because there is no stopping to be had on the downhill.  Its just one controlled fist pump of a slide all the way back down to the headwaters.  You couldn't stop if you wanted to, and if you wanted to you'd be a fool.  Its not like you'd be fast enough with that camera to catch your buddy in a roosting corner anyway, so why bother trying.  Just get back to that thought playing on and on between your ears and think of nothing else because there is nothing else to think.

We got to the first spot in the descent where it had leveled off enough to regroup.  To the right was climb to a lake which we opted to take.  It was worth it for a breath, though we were again chasing daylight, now seven hours into our ride.  Who ever minded an extension of the downhill anyway?  Spandex monkey-drunkey single speeders in Michigan, that's who.  Our final downhill and downhill extension brought us back into the wet forests of the river valley and the uppermost sections of the Middle Fork Trail which I had passed by the day before on the hunch that this might happen.  The steepness through the hemlocks and their thick gravity-defying decomposition below brought new levels of speed and demanded quickness through the bobsled run.  It was alot to ask of a tired soul grinning ear to ear after 30 more of the sweetest miles ever dreamt.  But ask the trail did, and response was given from goat souls within, without hesitation from glazed eyes or frozen faces. 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Summer Flashback Part 3: The Left Side of the Map

Not the coast so much, but I did see it.  I don't often go to the beach, but swimming everyday means with certainty that you are on summer vacation.  The states on the leftern half of those united were the final leg of driving, which of course meant getting there.  The northland segment across Montana was the hottest of any in 6300 miles.  Why would anyone drive that sort of distance in this day and age?  Well in our race in Michigan was 500 miles from the nearest transportation hub of any means.  At least one segment was made in company.  The solo legs that followed were interrupted as best as possible with town stops, car slumber, and worthy rides where I could.  I had about four days to make it to Seattle before the festivities of the Wenger wedding.  That meant two lane roads and slow speeds to keep the mileage up.

I made a two day push to Helena on a whim and found a town full of good beer and mountain bikes locked all over the downtown.  My bartender that evening was friendly and pointed me in the direction of some good trails and free camping.  I found myself at a trailhead the next morning with loaded riders passing me by en masse.  Most were not Americans, four of five that I talked to were from other countries and were southbound on the Continental Divide trail.  How brilliant that folks from other countries ride our most stunning landscapes, while most transcontinental Americans opt for the hot summer plains and a headwind!  My ride was bound for the lower ridges outside of town, but in the distance lurked inviting backcountry adventure.  In my former days living in Montana, I had never really found the great riding of the north country.  There were plenty of adventurous dirt roads, but the singletracks favored hikers and were often overgrown and hard to follow.  Helena proved a bit different, with great trail access from town, and the promise of extended opportunities in the horizon of less rugged mountains.

The evening found my recovery in a hot spring along the Lochsa River, and quickly passing out in a valley smog after a rain had passed through.  This part of the world is spectacular with wild and its sad it has taken nearly a decade to return.  The alertness demanded of adventure in these parts is refreshing to the senses, though the chills to the spine are not so much.  


The wedding in Seattle was a blast from the past.  A quasi-reunion of fellow collegiate cyclists.  We were roadies.  None so much these days.  Mr. Wenger is an early supporter of my frame building efforts and less a cyclist these days than a cycler.  Our adventures have caused us each the gowth of much body hair, and the loss of that upon our scalps.  Chasing sunlight in freezing temperatures and snow aboard our steeds, long efforts, long efforts, followed by long efforts.  We aim for these festivities every few years, but have fallen off a bit of late.  I had never met Mrs. Wenger to be, but was promised an interpretation of a traditional Jewish wedding.  It did not disappoint.  My date flew in from Flagstaff, as did some very important Georgians with whom we stayed.  The spectacle drug on for three days, and in that time we managed to taste wine, and tell tales, swim in Lake Washington, and live the good life as one can only do on vacation.  Lets just say the theme here was "value oriented", as it was uttered a number of times.  That Chuppah is constructed out of the finest in harvested free range bamboo and duct tape.  Promotional flip-flops were offered by Hawaiian Tropic to assist ladies in high heels to the top of the grassy knoll for the ceremony, free of charge.  Table gifts from various sponsors were encouraged upon guests for the taking.  Someone even danced the worm in a dance off.  It went unanswered.  

Mazel tov!

I headed south for Oregon.  I was running low on funds, but had to eek out some rides.  There is nowhere more spectacular than the cascades, but the entice of some recently relocated friends brought the space cruiser and its contents first to the coast.  The hobo known best as Aqua fired up his grill and skills and put on a proper performance for an unannounced guest.  Hospitality is a prideful sentiment amongst the hobos.  And the perpetual rainy season of the coast Oregon is all the more reason to take in a guest from world's past.  From bums in yuppieville to yuppies in bumville, not much has changed but the zip code.  Thanks for the stay in Depoe Bay dear friends.

There was one last stop on the tour.  5000 miles and counting to this point.  I needed out of the car.  The driving had relentlessly mocked the time spent in the saddle.  The events of the two subsequent weekends demanded this, but my body and mind needed redemption.  I headed east to Oakridge.  It will get its own post. 

Monday, October 06, 2014

Summer Flashback Part Two: The Upper Peninsula

It was heard that people from Michigan travelled over 10 hours in state to get to the Upper Peninsula's northern most upward pointed thumb.  Makes 30 hours from Arizona not seem so bad, especially considering two rides in Colorado for training.  All race associated events will be mentioned only in text for lack of photographic evidence.  No one is sure this really happened.  The Single Speed race was laced with shenanigans from the start.  As expected really.  However those not expecting this behavior were the citizens of Copper Harbor.  The town is nearly all summer resort at this point and has no police, so when an officer in a ride reminiscent of Starsky & Hutch era enforcement showed up the people of the town were uneasy.  He did little to curb the drunken behavior and prolific lawn wrestling; he just walked around and made his presence.

The race brought out the costumes and flair associated with such a gathering, from both racers and spectators alike.  I had never formally raced a single speed race before, and couldn't imagine too well before hand how a pack of riders presumably with similar speed capabilities would pan out.  A long road separated the group and I found myself amidst the group I would be riding with.  This spot on Lake Superior is surprisingly rich in topography and the trails feature numerous wooden planks and intermixed rock gardens.  The riding was way better than expected.  We got to a downhill section known as Downtown and to my dismay I was forced to a stop aboard a wooden plank structure with no room to pass.  This is completely unacceptable.  When the dirt resumed I found myself more off the trail than on passing people in the foliage as it brushed by.  People walking, braking, and doing anything but handling their bike.  It was as thought the competition had flashed back to the '80s and were taking the Tom Ritchey approach to down hilling.  At one point near the bottom people were actually marching in a line like ants with their bikes on their shoulders.....DOWN A HILL!!  I looked to the right down a steeper line that cleared through what I would consider a moderate move and never thought twice.  Nine ants squashed....until the work of climbing the next hill is to be done.  Apart from a mostly fun course, some bacon and whiskey as per tradition, there's really not much else to say about the race.  My Flagstaff contingent shared sentiments about the Downtown section.  We all made the line to the right and were proud to be goats.  Most notably Judy who surely gave plenty of dudes a bad day and encouraged at least one teenage heartthrob from an on-looker.  Moustache Rides...others walk. Judy takes third on the ladies podium.  Second place was a dude!  Shame on all you who think of yourselves as mountain bikers and walked a downhill in Michigan.

We had really come to the race for the in hosting rights, and were looking forward to the late day competition.  The afternoon brought a water race beer chug relay with a shootout....well until the canadians complained that they don't have guns and the coloradans were too lousy of a shot to warrant another round of BB gun range.  We goats faced off against North Carolina and defeated them easily...we do pride ourselves in the chug.  And onto the second round.  That night showed us an event unbeknownst to anyone in the audience save for Mr. Reno himself, bringer of the train tramp game of Bucket Wrestling.  Opponents faced off hands and knees locked sitting on adjacent buckets.  As I understood the first to lose seat on the bucket loses the match.  Maybe it was the first to the ground, but we'll never know.  A series of no shows set us in good position for winning.  Much chaos ensued.  Commotion.  People feeling left out.  Missouri even had two teams.  We defeated one of them and found ourselves in the final against a very drunken Wisconsin.  Well it turns out that goats are not the best of bucket wrestlers in the end, but the Shindaggers do put on a hell of a show, enough to draw out three Starsky & Hutch police cars.  

Turns out that the after party the following day was the real reason for coming to Michigan.  Great times with friends from a time past.  Bike rides.  Porch Sitting. Bike rides to lakes.  Bike rides on trails; real fun trails.  Porch Sitting.  Sponsorship Beers.  Fly Swatting.  Shootouts.  Bike rides to badminton and berries.  Swimming.  The weekend spent in Copper Harbor, Michigan can best be summed up with the pictures below.  All told, our host EP put on a hell of an event, but trumped himself with the afterparty.  Thanks Eric and Alicia!