By Dante Petri, for the Redoubt Reporter
This is my favorite part of the ride.
It’s raining, barely 50 degrees out, 8 p.m., and I’ve been on this bike for the last 9 hours and 30 minutes. Yup. Been here a few times, all right.
My co-adventurer today, Brian, and I started this morning in Hope, and rode up and over Resurrection Pass to Cooper Landing. The trip south to Cooper saw the skies break apart, the sun come out and the mercury rise to 65. On the south-facing benches above Swan Lake, wildflowers bloomed vibrantly and the trail was in the best shape I believe I have ever seen it. Lots of people were out, doing different legs of Resurrection and Devil’s Pass trails or various out-and-backs. It felt social, in the most remote sense.
Sometime on the way back to Hope, though, high stratus clouds moved in, and with surprising speed, a thick and angry bank of clouds rolled over Russian Mountain by the time we left the northerly shores of Juneau Lake. As we began to climb the benches above Swan Lake, the first spitting raindrops started to fall and as they came down with more intensity, so did the temperature.
To compound the gloom, the long distances and a mechanical glitch had caught up with Brian, who soldiered upward nonetheless. Knowing conditions were going to get worse, but not knowing exactly what that meant, I nervously told Brian I had to keep moving as we entered the alpine, or I risked getting hypothermic. Leaving a buddy behind in the backcountry is never good, but the cold was catching up with me every time I stopped. Brian understood, as he devoured a sandwich. I think. Either way, he found a second gear and a remedy for a derailing rear derailleur, as every time I looked over my shoulder and back into the enveloping fog, he was never far behind.
We were miles from the pass and closer to the car, beer and pizza than to the inhospitable environment above and behind us. A green canopy protected us from the wind and rain.
Up to this point I’d been feeling really good — surprisingly good, actually — but when Brian stopped before crossing the bridge over Resurrection Creek, I was relieved.
We had just less than seven miles to go on a pretty mellow stretch of trail, but two good climbs and a few smaller ones still stood between, and I know my legs were ready to be done.
In a few bites, what was left of an energy bar I started eating a few miles back was gone. This far into the ride, I’m wasn’t sure what, exactly, my digestive tract was doing, but it’s damn efficient at getting sugars and protein to the muscles that need it. Still, the nutty, whole-grain, hippy, feel-good bar wasn’t going to kick in quick enough. Maybe if I was lucky it would fuel the last mile or two, but I was hovering right on the edge of bonking.
That’s “E-GU time” — time to dig down to the bottom of the pack and find that packet of gelatinous energy gunk I put there, not sure when, and definitely not look at the expiration date while squeezing it back.
I hate this gross-looking, synthesized, chemically fortified … sweet, delicious, cake frosting. Man, I love cake frosting. … Wait, what was I saying?
The words “double-shot caffeine” crossed my peripheral vision as I folded up the foil.
Brian turned around for the first time since we stopped, finished from downing a snack of his own for the final push.
“You won’t see me going after one of these that often,” I say, sheepishly, as I shove the neatly pressed and completely empty Gu back into my pack.
Brian rolls on, and a minute later I’m headed down the trail, too. The impending bonk, momentarily deferred by the taste of sugars across my taste buds, is back knocking on the door and I ride steadily along.
Around a corner the first big climb starts, and I catch sight of Brian. Some slimy rocks slow him down and in a minute I catch up with him. We climb upward steadily on this grinder, but with little fanfare the bonk had stopped knocking. We hit the top of the climb and flatten out.
That’s the sound I hear somewhere in my head. A couple grams of sugar and caffeine just came online, and paired with a heap of endorphins, adrenaline and who knows what else, my brain just turned into a rager of a psycho-chemical nightclub.
I pull up past Brian with a hoot and tear down the awaiting descent.
When the trail flattens back out, it’s go time.
Each pedal stroke slams downward.
I reach down and flip up the valving on my rear shock to tighten it up so I lose less energy into suspension compression.
Reaching forward, I do the same to the fork.
There’s nothing too technical from here on out, and with this much speed, what there is could probably be cleared with enough speed … .
“Snap, click-click-click, kerthunk,” is the sound of my chain climbing up the third ring on my crank and dropping down a few gear levels in the back to level out.
I’m nearing cruising speed and hauling.
The world around me is a flash of green and a sky of gray, but the trail in front of me is in intense focus.
When a grouse flushes in front of me, I can see each of the feathers on its beating wings, so long as it’s in my line of sight.
How does this work? Shouldn’t I be done? Up at the pass this was survival riding. Now, miles later, when I should be crawling, everything is running at full speed.
A few short climbs threaten to kill my momentum, but if I just squeeze my eyes shut for a half second, the pain goes away and the power keeps rolling through the wheels.
This is my favorite part of the ride.
Dante Petri is a former Sterling resident now living in Anchorage who still considers the peninsula his playground.