There has been lots of discussion about buying bikes, but so far not much about riding bikes. SSK2 and I finally got out together for a mountain bike ride this weekend. With snow falling this morning, it may not happen again this coming weekend, so the memories will have to serve me for a few days.
We live near the bottom of the bluff that makes up the trails along the edge of Spokane's South Hill. We normally access the trails by riding across the bridge onto the Qualchan Golf Course, but the golf course isn't open yet and they leave the gates closed and locked. They want to limit the abuse the course takes from the reckless disregard of cross-country skiers, sledders and high school kids with half-racks of cheap beer, but it does make it a lot less convenient to get onto the surrounding hillsides when you start on the wrong side of the creek.
So, instead of riding up the paved road, along the service road and directly into the woods, we have to ride along the highway and then across the golf course itself to get onto the bluff. Now, I'm sure that this discourages most high school kids with half-racks, but most of the time I would prefer the "gate-open" route. This weekend, however, we had a reason to get onto the course itself. Last fall/early winter, the course had a series of dump trucks and large vehicles doing work along the area that encompasses the 1st, 2nd and 18th holes. They created a churned-up, dirt road across the 2nd hole fairway, along the right side of the 1st fairway, and then along the creek and back up the right side of the 18th fairway. Driving along Highway 195 it wasn't obvious where they were working or what they were doing, so I was curious and finally took the time to go check it out.
The first thing we discovered is that the dirt road they created was more like a super-deep mud bog created with special wheel-sucking capabilities. In the road world, wheel-sucking is done when a rider in a race gets on the wheel of someone in front and refuses to take a turn in the wind, saving strength to win the sprint at the end. In mountain biking, it is when the earth monsters grab hold of your wheel and starting pulling into the depths of Mordor. That is what we experienced. We shifted into our lowest gears and tried to pedal fast enough to maintain some amount of forward momentum but not pedal too fast so that there was no traction. It was an interesting balancing act that resulted in a heart-pounding, multi-minute ride that literally would have been a few seconds on hard ground. It also pointed out the benefit of having mountain bike shoes, rather than the multi-purpose sneakers that SSK2 had donned prior to our ride.
The next thing we discovered is that, as we suspected, they were strengthening the creek bank in places. It appears they are putting down giant sand-filled green tubes along the banks. Don't know the why or how of this process, but I will be interested in keeping an eye on it, just not after trenching a 6" deep tunnel through gloppy sticky mud.
From there, continuing to be respectful of the course by only riding where trucks have gone and on the paths, we made our way eventually to the driving range and entered the trails from there. My thought was to go up the path a ways, find the flatter trails under the power lines, loop back towards home and come down off the trails behind the 10th green/11th tee box area. I thought this would be a little stretch of the legs, we could find out how ride-able or not the trails were and get back home before the light gave out on us.
Good plan. Poor execution.
Instead the ride as a whole turned into the hardest 6-10 miles and 90 minutes of riding I can remember outside of a cyclocross race.
What we found was that I didn't remember the trail connections as well as I should, couldn't recall just which trails lead to which other trails, and couldn't recall which trails had some of the steep pitches and which didn't. Interestingly, on the same day that the Dean of Spokane Cycle Blogging deemed the upper trails exceedingly ride-able, we found the lower trails very soggy and ice-covered in places. In order to maintain the good spirits of SSK2, who had been dragged along with less intention than mine, I took turns helping to push his bike up some of the gnarliest trail sections, but that involved me getting my bike up the pitches and then running down, getting SSK2's bike and then running up the section with his bike.
He was a good sport all along, but I was getting worried as it was getting darker and I knew that we had to ride somewhere between a 1/4 and 1/2 mile along the highway to get home and neither of us had lights.
It was interesting to think about the sense of responsibility when you drag a 13 year old into the woods for a ride versus meeting "the guys" for a ride. I do feel bad when a guy crashes, has a bad day or something. It's not that I lack empathy; it's just that I don't feel responsible. On this ride, I was feeling distinctly responsible as the light dimmed and the riding got harder. I almost held my breath along the highway just willing us past this distinctly stupid bit of cycling. The kind where drivers look at us and make comments to passengers about what dumb-asses cyclists are. I try to not be that guy, but sure was last weekend.
Anyway, we accomplished a few goals. We got outside to ride our bikes; we checked out the work we had spotted from the highway but couldn't see without closer inspection; we checked out the lower bluff trails; and most importantly, after having some fun we got home safely. Makes me look forward to more.
Single Speed Dad