Dawn approached and I stuffed myself with blueberry scones and coffee. One of my favorite “off season” things to do. It was cloudier then the day before and that meant a storm was fast approaching. I made a decision to head out as early as possible to get in a 5 hour adventure before it started to rain. Its hard to plan for a 5 hour adventure as apposed to a 8 to 12 hour adventure. I know plenty of stuff that is big. But for a tiny session of 5 hours it is tough. My current training plan had me down for a relaxing recovery day so big things must wait. For now I would just head out and see what kind of trouble I could get myself into.
A good place to start is up Grant Creek. As I rode up towards the Snow Bowl Ski Area I was pleased to find the roads in good condition. I paused several times to get some photos where I always seem to stop. My enthusiasm started to turn into dread as the roads began to deteriorate. As I gained ground into the upper reaches of the valley past the Snow Bowl road the entire surface resembled a frozen riverbed. I struggled to stay upright. Sometimes just sheer concentration was the only thing keeping me moving along without smacking the ground. After what seemed to be hours I reached the Ravine Trail head.
Finally a trail. A place where I was sure to have traction on packed snow. My tires really hook up well on hard pack and as I climbed up the initial “right of way” it seemed I was in store for a great day of riding. I reached the first switchback and successfully navigated around the turn and pedaled smoothly towards the next. The Ravine Trail starts out with a dozen or so switch backs and the first two went pretty well. Then things started to fall apart.
At first I didn’t mind it. A little icy patch that I seemed to go over with no problem. The screws in my tires had worn down with excessive commuting this winter and I was afraid that they would not be adequate on a real icy test. But the first set of icy patches proved to be no problem. Then I slid off one. Then on another I lost nerve and dismounted before to walk around. Big mistake. Walking proved to be seriously dangerous. I slid off the trail and continued to “boot ski” down the hill and crash into the trail below. I took an internal self note to wear screw shoes on the next big adventure.
“Screw this”, I blurted out to any animal or tree that would listen. And with that I climbed straight up the ridge kicking foot holds into the ice incrusted snow. I kicked and climbed for about 30 minutes. Finally I reached the top tier of the switchbacks on the ridge. I was past the ice and now in large amounts of snow.
I was able to ride for the next half mile until the sides of the trail closed in and the track just got too loose for traction. No worries, I would just start walking. It was refreshing to at least have good footing. I hated the ice down below and wondered how much Ice I would have to deal with on the other side (Rattlesnake Valley). It was relatively easy going and even broke out into the sunshine a couple times. Ahh yes, the sun. I had to stop and just let it soak in. This gave me new energy and optimism.
I walked and walked. I tried walking on both sides of the bike. My friend Jill walks on the drivetrain side and is one of the ways I have found to indentify her tracks in the snow. Like there is many people in Missoula that walk their bikes in the wilderness … right? Anyway I was interested in which side was the best side to walk on. I soon just settled on on my usual no-drivetrain side. This is where I usually dismounted and a habit just to hard to break. All this thinking passed the time and it is only here that I get to wonder and contemplate these pressing issues.
Now with the serious issues of which side to walk a bike from out of the way I was free to tackle a trail that seemed to be getting harder to push said bike on. The remnants of traffic started to seem to be vanishing. After a while the trail was nothing but a small ditch like indention in deep powdery snow. With the bike getting hard to push I realized that I didn’t need to do my “core workout” that I had planned for later in the day. My arms started to burn and my shoulder that I had injured last Thursday was really bothering me. Grouchiness set in and by the time I reached the top of the Ravine Trail I was so ready to ride again.
That was not meant to be. The other side which is now the Rattlesnake drainage seemed to have a larger stash of snow. Still though, I expected to see slider (people that ski) tracks. I trudged for a half hour, twittered my location, and trudged for another. It wasn’t really a pain but I was kind of wanting to ride. Plus all this walking was really putting a dent into my mileage goals. If I didn’t get on the bike soon I wouldn’t get my planned loop in before night fall.
I finally reached a trail I call the “Idaho Surprise”. I called it this because the route is generally done coming up from the valley floor and includes some open switchbacks that reminded me of Sun Valley Idaho. I named it accordingly. I am sure it is called something else by other bike groups. Funny thing … the names of our trails and how they came to be. And idea for a book indeed. I wondered if my friend Julie would be interested in this project since she is the unofficial guardian of the area trail names.
Soon I no longer needed to entertain myself because I was able to jump back on the bike and ride. It was not a quick transition though. At first I got on and rode about 3 feet until I stuffed the front tire and vaulted over the bars. Then on down the trails a bit I could go for at least a hundred yards before I was launched … I really need to learn to get back more. Soon though I was on the bike permanently but it was not all that speedy coming down because of the layer of ice on everything. The snowy trails glistened with a frozen layer of a recent storm. I couldn’t catch a break. I just wanted to go like hell. Like in the summer time.
As I squinted to overcome the extreme glare of the ice something caught my eye. Black tents dotted the hillside down below. Were we being invaded by enemy forces or was it a special black ops training camp below? Stupid to use black tents on a white landscape I thought. But then again what if those were alien pods that landed overnight. In any case I descended quietly and as stealthy as I could get. As I emerged on the valley floor I discovered that they were brush piles covered by a strange plastic covering.
I continued to ride to the beginning of the Rattlesnake but icy roads made things so treacherous I couldn’t mentally handle it any more. It was more butt cheek clinching then I had done in the morning. By the time I reached the US West trail I was mentally fried. My plans were to ride over to East Missoula and finally Turah was not as tantalizing as before. Then I felt the rear of my bike go soft. I was actually relieved to watch my back tire loose it’s air right at the base of a icy climb. I quickly pumped it up and scrambled home. Too much relaxing for the day.