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Star-Crossed Lovers

{ Monday June 10th, 2002 }

I think there are some trails a person isn’t meant to ride. I’m not talking about trails that are on sensitive land, or that are too difficult. I am talking about trails that the fates have decided that a particular person should never ride. This does not mean that no one should ride them, just me. I think this is the problem I have been having with the Stone Creek trail in Bozeman MT. Like two star-crossed lovers we want to be together but something always keeps us apart.

The first time I tried to ride this trail was six years ago. I got about a half mile into the singletrack when explosive diarrhea forced me to stop. Considering that I didn’t know how long the trail was and I already had a ten-mile ride back into town ahead of me, I turned back. That put me off that trail for some time. The next time I was on the trail was four years later. My friend Nik, who had been on the trail before, and I did the uphill section and connected it to another trail (Grassy Mountain if anybody knows the area). That trip was successful, but I still had never tasted the downhill.

Last week I tried again. I climbed and climbed and climbed up the logging road but I couldn’t find the turn off for the trail. Finally after two hours and the growling in my stomach growing louder, I decided to head home, Near the end of my ride I spotted the missed turn off but I was too hungry to ride it.
The next day I was back. The ride started pleasantly and this time I found the singletrack with no difficulty. I love riding in Montana in June. The temperature is cool, the mountain flowers are blooming, and the streams and rivers swell with icy cold water that was snow not long ago, The area in which the trail resides has been logged aggressively this year and the trail had been sliced and diced in a couple of places, but each time I lost the trail I found it again with little trouble. As I climbed the switchbacks through the evergreen forest, the clouds rolled in and obscured the sun. Soon it started to sprinkle. “No problem.” I thought as I donned my fleece. I enjoy riding in the rain; it has always been the heat that bothers me. Besides these spring showers are usually short.

The higher I climbed the more it rained. This was not destined to be a short shower, but a full on storm. I broke out of the trees into a clear-cut section and was rewarded with views of wispy clouds in the valley. It spurred me to keep going and I followed the trail back into the trees. It always amazes me how loud falling rain can be when there are not other sounds. Patches of snow began appearing around the trail. The patches kept growing bigger and bigger. I broke into a rhythm, pedaling a couple of strokes between the patches, jumping off and pushing through the snow. Pedal, pedal, pedal, push, push, push . . . The ground fog rising from the snow and the lichen that was an almost unnatural green and orange, made the forest seem mystical. Eventually the snow obscured the trail. I picked my way through the trees, trying to take the path of least resistance, i.e. the path with the least snow. There was no underbrush and the incline had all but disappeared so travel was easy. I broke out of trees onto a plateau just under the ridgeline. I followed something that resembled a trail until I found myself under the rock outcropping that Nik and I had sat on two years before. I stopped for a moment to watch the clouds swirl around the snowcapped Bridger Range. So far this sounds like an ideal ride, and except for the cold that was creeping in, it was.

The downhill started well. The trail weaved in and out of trees and across mountain meadows for about a mile. Then unexpectedly the trail morphed into a logging road. It didn’t feel right, so I searched for another trail but I couldn’t find one. I followed the road, scouring the edge of the road for the elusive trail, when I came into an area that was being actively logged. I was starting to get a little pissed. I knew that either the singletrack had been destroyed or I had missed the turn somewhere. Both scenarios were unpleasant. I had ridden up a beautiful singletrack and here I was descending a shitty, muddy and trashed logging road. I was too tired and wet to think about climbing back up the road to look for the correct turn. I wasn’t even convinced that a correct turn existed. I could feel my already thrashed drivetrain disintegrating beneath me with each pedal stroke as I rode past the giant yellow Caterpillar cranes. By this time I had given up hope of finding the trail again. It looked like the road was going to drop me into a valley that I didn’t want to be in so I decided it was time to lewis-and-clark-it. I dropped off the road into a field that I figured was above the road I had ridden in on. My front tire slid on hidden logs submerged in the grass, tossing me to the ground occasionally, as I picked my way through trees and rocks, briefly getting stuck on a cliff. My cross-country effort deposited me on the road once again. Only two miles left.

At this point I hadn’t marked the ride as a complete disaster. Sure the downhill had sucked, but I had a great time on the climb and had enjoyed some beautiful views. I started pedaling for the car. I made it about a hundred feet before there was too much mud on the bike for the wheels to turn. The smooth dirt road with a layer of dust on top I had ridden in on turned into a smooth road with a thick layer of clay on it. The mud collected between my spokes, between the stanchions on my fork and in the rear triangle. Even if I had been able to pedal I couldn’t have shifted because the there was so much mud encasing the derailleur. I considered ditching the bike but instead dragged it a couple of hundred yards to a stream. I threw the bike in and washed off most of the mud. Rather than going back to the road I picked my way through the brush next too it. Sometimes I was forced back onto the road because the brush became too thick or the hill became too steep. A two-mile effort that should have taken less than five minutes to complete took over an hour. When I got to the car, the bike and I were covered in mud. I washed all my gear in the stream and loaded it into the car. Luckily the road the car was on didn’t have the same problems so I wasn’t forced to test the all wheel drive capabilities of the Subie.

It turns out that the turn I missed was at one of the switchbacks on the logging road I descended on, probably hidden behind debris from the logging operation. Also I made the mistake of hosing off the bike while it was still on the roof of my car. Not only did it make the car filthy, but muddy water collected in the trough of the bike rack and each time I accelerated or slowed down, muddy water would cover the windshield or the back window.

I’m not giving up on this trail yet. We may have been damned by the fates, but we will be together! Although next time I’m bringing someone who knows where the @$!# they are going. I am talking about trails that the fates have decided that a particular person should never ride. This does not mean that no one should ride them, just me. I think this is the problem I have been having with the Stone Creek trail in Bozeman MT. Like two star-crossed lovers we want to be together but something always keeps us apart.

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