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Friday, June 17, 2005

My SUV Has Pedals

After weeks and weeks of spring rains I was desperate to get out and ride my new mountain bike. The weather for the day called for partly cloudy with evening showers--about as good as it gets lately in the Pacific Northwest. I woke up and looked out through the shades and actually saw a few patches of blue sky. If I wanted better weather it could be a long wait this season. Anything other than riding in the rain would be just fine with me.

By the time I picked up my friend and got coffee it was after one o’clock—a bit of a late start for the central Washington trail we had in mind. We just got on I-90 and started driving into the mountains. I actually had to put on a pair of sunglasses for the drive across Lake Washington. I opened the sunroof and put a new MP3 mix in the player. After several weeks of being stranded in downtown Seattle in the rain, things were beginning to look good.

As we neared Snoqualmie Pass it was too cold to keep the sunroof open, it’s only June 12, after all. I stopped at the summit exit to get something to eat for the ride when it started raining. A long-distance cyclist in front of the store looked miserable as he changed a flat tire in the downpour. I wasn’t about to ride if it didn’t get better than this. As we drove to the east side of the Cascades patches of blue were appearing on the horizon.

Forest Service roads aren’t the most exciting places to ride a mountain bike, but most of them in these parts go way up the mountains. They are also dry. The area around Kachess Lake (elev. 2253 ft) has loads of FS roads and I have ridden quite a few of them. I knew that at the very least I could get in a great workout.

I gladly paid six bucks to drive into a state recreation area at the lake. I figured it was better than leaving my car on a deserted road and having someone turn it into a meth lab while we were out riding. We started pedaling up the first FS road just outside the entrance to the park.

We came across a sign a few hundred feet up the road that attempted to paint these FS roads and the entire area known as Box Canyon as a recreational area. I suppose there is a bit of truth to that assertion; I was out mountain biking after all. What this area, along with its huge network of roads paid for by taxpayers, really serves are the timber companies.

This entire valley in the Cascades has been logged several times over. The new growth trees ranged from brand new to perhaps 60 years old. Although this area is primarily wilderness, it has only a fraction of the bio-diversity of old growth forests. Soil erosion due to clear-cutting inflicts intense damage to the mountain tops. I don’t claim to be a scientist, but common sense dictates that it can’t be wise to clear-cut steep slopes all the way to the summit.

This certainly wasn’t the most interesting terrain I have ever pedaled through, but it was an extremely long and steep grind up. After about two hours we finally got to a point where we couldn’t get any higher. I have done this enough times to have the foresight to bring along a thermal sweatshirt. After two hours of sweating my ass off I quickly started to freeze it off at the summit. From here all we had to do was bomb back down the gravel road all the way to the car. I figured it had been about a nine mile climb.

As hard as it was going up, going down accentuates the steepness of some sections of the road. It is more like a controlled fall than riding downhill. The road becomes more intimate on the way down because you are forced to look at more of it. Riding up all you care about is the few feet in front of you. Going down you need to read the line several hundred feet in front of you the entire way.

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