One of the joys I’ve experienced over the years has been sharing the trails of the Kenai with other riders who have never ridden them themselves, or perhaps have not ridden them for many years.
I spend a lot of time on these trails, and I really can’t get enough of them, but I know too that it changes my perspective, and forget the magic they hold as a result.
Nothing better illustrates this magic than watching someone’s facial expressions as they ride any one of these trails for the first time.
What you’ll see, are expressions of sheer joy, fear, slips toward exhaustion, and a sense of awe.
That’s pretty much what riding on the Kenai is, in a few words.
This was a goofy weekend.
The game plan for Friday was to do the 90-mile Resurrecting the Devil’s Johnson loop. The weather looked sketchy for Saturday and Sunday, but ideal for Friday. I would be riding solo again, and would have to depart Anchorage pretty early.
I woke up at 6 and wondered two things: why was there a tooth pick lodged in my throat, and who poured adhesive on my eyes?
My throat was scratchy and my head felt like it weighed 100 pounds; I struggled to eat.
Driving down Turnagain Arm, the bright sun and gorgeous mountains failed to inspire my droopy eyelids to liven up, and I pulled off in Girdwood for caffeine reinforcements. It was pretty obvious something was wrong.
I got to Braun’s cabin and unloaded. At this point, I was 90% decided to bail. Braun and his oldest, Mathias were headed to Russian Lakes to do a bike.
I told Braun I would probably just do Johnson out-and-back.
I packed enough food to do the RDJ, and pedaled down the road from the cabin, feeling like garbage. It took several miles of riding along the south side of Johnson before my senses cleared. It was still obvious something wasn’t right, but I felt progressively better, and by the time I reached the descent to Johnson Creek, everything seemed to be firing. My pace wasn’t ultra strong, but I knew I was doing well, and the long climb to the pass slipped beneath me effortlessly.
|The nameless valley west of Bench Lake.|
|More bike porn.|
The trail was blowing my mind. Johnson has been brushed out from end-to-end. Two trail workers were clearing the final saplings near Johnson Lake as I rode by. Trail work on the north end has smoothed out a few problem spots, and while some of the drainage ditches are a bit harsh there right now, I understand that the Forest Service tends to hit the trails hard so their investments pay off.
The north end felt like knee deep powder skiing: between the lack of veg and bone dry trail, I can safely say, Johnson is as good right now as it has been in 5 years, and may be for the next 5 years.
While my legs and head told me I could swing the RDJ, the trail was so good, I knew that doing the out and back and getting it again was a must.
I shot into the north end TH expecting to snack and tail whip it back south.
A familiar face greeted me: Clint.
Clint and Laura were finishing a pre-ride bev. We chatted, and they said they weren’t sure what the plan was, probably to the Pass and back.
When I learned that neither had ridden Johnson, and knowing how good a shape the trail was in, I realized, I had to get them to ride it end-to-end; it almost felt like a mountain biker’s honor, or some such business.
|Clint banks off the Center Creek Bridge.|
|Crossing over Bench Creek.|
|Laura riding across Ohio Creek with Anderson Peak and a camo'd waterfall.|
|I know I've take this picture before, but it's a pretty awesome view.|
The ride back to Moose Pass was awesome, you could not ask for a better day for riding. Laura and Clint even brought an adult energy bev for the Pass, although I had to pass on all such drinks for the weekend as I was pretty confident they would be of no help to the creeping disease.
We swung into the cabin for grub and bevs with Braun and Mathias before shuttling back to the north end.
Based on the weather forecast for Saturday – 100% chance of precipitation – I was mentally planning to pack it up and head back to Anchorage.
When I awoke, and it was merely high clouds and a lot of wind, I started investing in rain insurance.
I headed for Russian Lake TH, and brought along running shoes just in case I got to Cooper Landing and was greeted by falling liquid.
For the ride, even though we were stirring up dust the day prior on Johnson, I slapped on the rear fender, and secured the rain jacket to the pack…insurance
My plan was to try and ride to the Snug Harbor TH, out and back. I would have a clear line of sight into weather approaching from the south, and could retreat at anytime.
The plan worked. It started to sprinkle near the Upper Lake, and as I began the climb up the bench above the Upper Lake, the rain turned to a nearly steady drizzle.
At the Res River Junction I debated pushing the last 5 miles. It was raining in a way that in many places body heat and motion kept the moisture evaporating, but the skies showed a poker face. It could stay the same, let up, or unleash a torrent, there was no telling.
That was the last insurance policy, turn back when the weather says so, or says just enough.
The rain did let up by the time I was back down at Upper Lake, and the rest of the ride was dry and gray.
My head was not in a good place for most of the ride, and I felt pretty stuffed up, but I was glad to be out. The highlight was following a young bull moose just below the Upper Lake for nearly a mile. I don’t typically see moose in broad daylight in the Russian River Valley, and while it might be his home, I wonder if he was pushed there by the burn.
|Waiting by the door, ready to play.|
Back at the cabin, I passed out incredibly early to the sounds of a crackling fire in the wood stove and the occasional patter of rain drops on the roof.
The long sleep was much needed. I didn’t cure the cold, but I beat it back.
Blue sky peaked through holes above when I awoke, and I headed back to Cooper to meet Adam, where the sky was further broken apart.
We set off, bound for the Snug Harbor TH of Russian from Cooper Landing to do the out and back. I was glad I had not completed the full ride the day before.
We drove our pedals downward, and killed the ride up, shaving 10 minutes off the pace, still chatting most of the way, and scaring a black bear and cub near the Upper Lake.
We pulled into the Snug Harbor TH and met Adam’s friends Chris and Leslie, up visiting from Colorado.
The two had a lot of nice things to say about the riding in Anchorage, and their praises were extended to the Russian as well as we headed back toward Cooper Landing. It was again, so great to share a favorite trail with folks whom had never before ridden it, and watch their expression as they took it all in.
|Adam, stopped for a photo op at Echo Pond.|
|Leslie in the forest near Upper Lake.|
Chris and Leslie have seen a lot of the riding scene in the Lower first hand, and getting their perspective on what we have going on here was really refreshing, and uplifiting.
We also lucked out big time on the weather. Storm clouds seemed to have parked in almost every valley, and when we went to get the car at the top of Snug, it was 48 and raining there, though we rode in the sun most of the day.
Is it next weekend yet?