Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Times, They Are A Changin'

As the countdown to TransRockies begins, I'm feeling a little (lot) underprepared. I knew it was absolutely necessary for me to get out for a big ride in the mountains this weekend. Several people 'in the know' made suggestions to me of a good ride that linked together several shorter rides, including Jewell Pass, Heart something or other, and some other pass. Not being a seasoned mountain biker, their descriptions and instructions made little sense to me and didn't resonate - but, I did know of Jewell Pass. Erik took me there shortly after we started dating. It was probably my first real mountain bike ride. I remember the spectacular views at the lookout. I also remember having no suspension on my bike, no gloves, open blisters on the palms of my hands for most of the descent, and no first aid kit. There were a lot of tears. This time it would be different. I would have better equipment, gloves and, hopefully, some better skills and fitness.

I was naively considering doing the loop on my own. Not because I think I'm tough, but because I don't have a lot of riding friends yet. I figured I might buy one of those mountain biking books (I'm sure we have one at home, but I couldn't find it). Or, maybe the trail would be marked well enough that I could figure it out on my own. Fortunately, my friend Pat (Not Doyle) from the Deadgoats (my biker gang) was looking for someone to ride with this weekend. Being relatively new to the sport himself, he was also not familiar with the loop that I had in mind. But, he was prepared and bought a map. Thank god.

We started at Heart Creek and headed up toward Jewell Pass. The terrain was a nice combination of swoopy single track and lung searing double track ascent. This was exactly what I was looking for. We inadvertently missed the turn to the 'spectacular views' - as I really had no recollection of where that was, other than 'at the top'. We bombed down Jewell Pass and I was blown away to think of the difference between this ride and my first experience here a decade ago. We were blazing through the trail faster than expected and, at one point, I wondered if I might come back and do it again on Sunday.

We rode some fast quad burning double track on Stoney Trail toward Skogan Pass. I determined that more water would be a good idea if I wanted to make it back to the vehicle with a smile (or, alive). The map came in really handy for this purpose. We tried a detour up to the Day Lodge at Nakiska, but found that it was closed. Fortunately, it turned out that there was a hostel only a short ride away, and I filled up there. From there, we continued up Skokum Pass. We approached a family of bikers and Pat explained to me that it was our Deadgoat duty to 'blow right past them'. That's the Deadgoat way.

We climbed and climbed in the heat. We were not moving as fast as before, but kept plugging away at it. This was great training and a fun adventure. Having the map was really handy, as we could gauge remaining vertical and progress. Fatigue was beginning to set in and we found ourselves chatting less. But, we could see that we were almost through the tough stuff and, soon, it would be all down hill.

Descending Skogan was a blast. Fast, moderately technical double track. When we got to the bottom, we felt we still had the energy to take the single track back to Heart Creek (as opposed to the highway). This is where our fun adventure began to turn into a crazy adventure (to steal a phrase from Sarah Marchildon). The path was so overgrown in some areas that it was difficult to see where it went. Thankfully, Pat was breaking the trail for us, so I didn't have to worry about it - but I could have done without the rose bushes scratching against my shins. There were some sections that I would describe as unridable (unless you are, say, Jon Nutbrown). Walking, pushing, and carrying our bikes through these sections quickly grew tired in the mosquito infested jungle. I began to rethink my ambitions of riding this again on Sunday. I'm not sure this is really considered a bike trail. We both ran out of water. Pat's GPS was acting up, so we had no idea how far we were along the seven kilometre stretch of single track. Then Pat's chain broke.

Our attention eventually focused exclusively on getting back to the vehicle. If we felt we could have cut through the trees to the highway, we probably would have. We reached a point on the trail that appeared to have been washed out. The downside was that we couldn't see how we could continue moving in the right direction on the trail. The bright side was that we could see the highway. Getting there would require carefully manouvering down a steep dirt hill with our bikes, but it beat back tracking. Obviously, since I am writing this, we made it down the cliff of insanity alive. But, I can tell you that it's not the kind of thing one would do voluntarily.
Notwithstanding the final moments of the ride, I think we both saw the day's ride as a success. Physically challenging, but also character building. I'm glad I was able to share the experience with someone. Pat is a really interesting guy. I know we only scratched the surface of his experience in this world, but he's got some amazing stories. If I've ever met someone whose life should be chronicled in a book, it's Pat's.

After I got home, I found the mountain biking book in my library. I flipped to the page on Jewell Pass and saw that Erik had actually made a little note for each time he was there. One note read "Aug. 30, 1998. Tori and Erik. This is not a beginner trail. Bring a first aid kit". I guess I'm not a beginner anymore.


Blogger Poyote said...

It was an excellent ride a most definately a character builder.

July 22, 2007 at 8:17:00 PM MDT  

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