I am looking out the window of City Brew towards Blue Mountain here in Missoula Montana. The big warm up has started and all things white are turning grey and lumpy. Soon the bare ground may appear. No big adventure awaits me today and I must save my injury story for another blog. This blog is about last weekend. Last weekend when it was a slight warm up but only into the 30s as apposed to the 50s of today. A weekend of getting out and adventuring. One blog has been posted and now I have save the best day for the second. Sunday I headed up to the 9 mile valley.
I was running late as per usual for me. I was looking to park just off the interstate in Soudan and then riding up the West Ninemile Creek Road. When I arrived, again way too late, there were signs everywhere NOT to park for extended periods of time. I mean really folks … if you want to attract business, and by that I mean tourists and recreationalists, would you want to accommodate people parking in your huge parking lot. I may have wanted a big burger after my ride. So I drive up the East Ninemile Creek Road to the ranger station. I tried to drive up towards the interpretative center but got turned around by a lack of places for a VW Beetle to park. Finally I settled by parking on the bridge as the two roads, West and East, come together.
Now really late I began my ride North West right up the 9 Mile Valley. It was treacherous and icy but managed to make it 10 miles until the road turned to double track truck trail. In the summer this is a major dirt road. Right now it was near the end of vehicle traffic for the winter season. As I neared the end I found a parking area with about ten trucks parked and a group of people tending to a large bonfire.
“How far did you ride?”
“From the bridge where the pavement ends”
“Holy SHIT! Dude you should ride that thing up the snowmobile trail. It froze last night and it is good and solid. You could go for like 12 miles no problem.”
The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. Oh how I wished I had a snow bike. “Cool … I’ll try it on my skinny”, gesturing to my Leader mountain bike. Funny … I was calling my mountain bike a skinny when we all know skinny refers to a road bike.
I headed up the trail and at first it was easy going. Soon enough however I glanced down at my heart rate monitor and realized that I was going way to hard for today’s plan. I was only planning on 5 hours of light pedaling. I was now now hopped up on excitement and tempo-ing into the wilderness. I couldn’t go easy because my skinny tires were digging in just enough to provide friction against my dreams of winning the 2011 Iditarod invitational. So I had to abandon the race and go back to exploring the roads. I really need to get a fatty.
The place was beautiful in the winter and the snow way more abundant then even snowy Missoula. I popped back out at the group surrounding the big fire and announced that I got up to the second bridge.
“Way cool dude. Hey everyone this guy just rode THAT bike up past Big Blue”
“Well … I could of went all the way if I had a snow bike”, I added as they all gave my bike a quick glance. Shoot now I have to explain what I meant by “snow bike”. I was, however, with like minded souls and they seemed to understand. We were out here, far from a couch enjoying the wilderness. I left the group to continue my quest just as a sled flew over the road and into a field. A teen stood up and proclaimed that he had the new distance record. A part of me wanted to stay, hang out at the fire, and take my turn on the big hill. I knew I could beat that record.
Coming back down the valley I was flying at around 25 miles an hour on glare ice. The bad part of this fun ice cruise was that the wind chill started to creep into my many layers and soon I found myself gathering my fingers into the main compartment of my gloves in a fist to try and regain some feeling. I was making great time and realized I needed to explore some of the roads that branched off the main corridor or else I would return to the car without fulfilling my obligation to my plan of 5 hours.
I headed up Barrette Creek but found myself running into private property. On a topo map this route shows up as a possibility to travel up towards the back side of Stark Mountain but as with most places in Montana now it is lost to someone’s greed. The signs gave me a clear message that I was not welcome. I headed back to the main road.
Soon I found McCormick Creek Road to the East side but soon found the same private property style signs and had to turn around. I was getting pretty disgusted with all these signs in such great country to explore. I headed up Kennedy Creek … same thing.
Finally I found a road up Butler Creek and that kept going and going. This was looking promising as I passed a trail head that had lots of slider (skiers) tracks. As I approached a intersection I was happy to have found a possible lengthy route but at the same time my body temperature was getting low. I glanced at my bike computer and saw that the temps were now in the single digits. Wow, no wonder. I headed up
the road to the left which petered out to private land after climbing 300 feet. I bombed back to the intersection and was feeling quite cold.
Just as I headed up the other road, which looking back was just a continuation of the road I was on, I realized that I had run out of time. And just like always I kept going until I got the familiar feeling that I was way to far out to get back to my car before I ran out of water and daylight.
In the end I made it back to the car even though it was later then I had hoped. But this is normal for me. I always try to find out what is around that next bend. I always find myself struggling in the dark to see. Always find myself so cold I can no longer hold onto the handlebars. I always step off the bike to discover I cant feel my legs. I always find myself with a huge grin from ear to ear as I head back home.