Sunday, August 19, 2007

Are we having fun yet?

Fireweed along the Johnson Pass trail.

This weekend, I biked the Johnson Pass trail with my friends Heidi, Dan, Tim and Chris.

We got off to a bad start when it poured on us at the campground Friday night. Needless to say, it is always embarrassing as a meteorologist when you tell your friends it’s going to be sunny and dry this weekend, but instead it turns into a torrential downpour. Fortunately, Saturday morning we woke up to cloudy but rain free skies.

We started out on the trail, and for a while everything went smoothly. We got a little wet biking through the grass, but no big deal. Then we hit the big hill, where we had to push our bikes, laden with 40 to 50 lbs of gear, up a steep incline. I told Heidi "You know how you go on a tough trip with someone, and in the middle you kind of hate them, but by the end you're much closer to them? Well, that's how I feel about my bike right now." As the bike seemingly got heavier and heavier, the meaner I got. "You need to lose some weight!" I snarled at my bike. Later, "C'mon bike! You're not even trying!"

Fortunately, at the top of the hill there was this amazing waterfall. I couldn’t believe it! What a reward!

We thought we’d made it through the tough part. We only had 3 or 4 miles to go until the campsite. Little did we know that they would be the most grueling miles of all. Now, the problem with Alaska in August is that it can be a little brushy. Or a lot brushy. Or a total fucking jungle, which is what this trail turned out to be. There was so much brush, we could barely see the trail, which is really bad when there are hidden rocks and steep drop offs to the side. Not to mention all the mud, which gives you absolutely no purchase, either from bike tires or from sneakers when you’re pushing your bike up the hill. There were 5 to 6 foot tall plants of cow parsnip and false hellbore, which hit you in the face without breaking – they simply snap back to snag the next unsuspecting rider. There were clusters of grass and fireweed, which catch on your bike bags and pull your bike backwards. There were also mysterious stinging weeds that you wouldn't even know you hit until little welts started appearing. So, we ended up pushing our bikes a lot. My arms were hurting. My legs were hurting. My shins were hurting because the weeds would push my pedals around until the pedal on the side of the bike closest to me nailed my leg again and again. It was a total nightmare.

Finally, we got to the campsite and crashed out. Check out my legs! No, that’s not a sock tan – that’s mud.

Here are Tim, Heidi and Dan the next morning, looking less than enthusiastic at doing another 13 miles of fun in the AK jungle.

Fortunately, Sunday went a little better. There were a couple miles of that brushy muddy stuff, but it was downhill, so we could sort of ride through it. Then we got into a spruce forest and things cleared out. It was actually pretty nice!

We came upon a stream that had some salmon in it. All around were dead fish carcasses. Just as I was thinking “hmm, I wonder where these came from” Dan told me he had just seen bear prints up ahead on the trail – on top of prints from a hiker we had passed. I asked him where it was headed, and he pointed to where we had come from, which meant that we had passed the bear. Thank goodness, although I was nervous enough to sing for the next couple miles.

So now I’m back home, grateful to be done with the trip. Just in case it all seemed like a bad dream, here are a few bruises for me to remember it by:

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