Mountain Biking

South Sister Ski Descent

I ran into my new landlord at 6:30 am this morning as I was unloading my Uhaul trailer in the rain. “Damn”, he muttered, “I was hoping you’d be lazier and I would have time to take photos of the place before you moved in”. I laughed. “Brian”, I said, “I don’t have time to be lazy”.

It’s true. As a medical student, the primary obligation of my time is to my studies, and they fill sixty hours of my week at a minimum. That means that if I can’t stay focused at school, or if I don’t use my time wisely to tackle errands in my spare time, then I have little left for the other things that I love to do. To be able to spend waking time with Taylor, run around in the mountains, cook good food, and write this blog, I have to be ruthless. There’s no time to be lazy.

If I want this kind of time, I have to make the time.

If I want this kind of time, I have to make the time.

Last week, the pace was different– it was one of those rare weeks after a week of final exams when the demands of school totaled closer to six hours than to sixty. I needed to move from one apartment to another, a daunting task that would consume much of the week. Still, I had three days all to myself, an embarrassment of riches.

Saturday: Taylor and I rallied up to Mt Hood to explore new trails with our man Eric, who lives up in Government Camp. With quorum for a shuttle, we dropped a car at the highway and drove to the apex of the ridge just East of Mt Hood. From there, twenty miles of singletrack wound down a few thousand vertical feet through changing forest. The view from the top of Lookout Mountain, a side mission through some snowdrifts and muddy road, was well worth the trip.

Taylor on Lookout Mountain with Mt Hood and the Central Oregon Cascades beyond.

Taylor on Lookout Mountain with Mt Hood and the Central Oregon Cascades beyond.

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The Plains of Abraham

It has been hard to break the silence on Mountain lessons ever since Taylor and I returned from our epic two-month road trip through the American West and British Columbia. After weeks upon weeks of world-class adventures on America’s best mountain bike trails, returning home to Portland couldn’t feel anything but mundane. One day you’re redlining it on Whistler’s rocky, rooty Comfortably Numb epic, and the next you’re sorting through two months of mail and figuring out how to turn your utilities back on.

Mundane, everyday tasks just can't compete.

Mundane, everyday tasks just can’t compete. The author on Windy Ridge (Photo: @tschef).

The best cure for the end-of-adventure blues is just to have more adventures. These days, that means either trail running or mountain biking, and with hundreds of miles on the mountain bike legs this summer, taking advantage of that fitness is pretty fun.

Taylor on Windy Ridge

Taylor on Windy Ridge, with Mt Adams in the background.

Yesterday, to settle the adventure jonesing, Taylor and I went to ride the IMBA Epic ‘Plains of Abraham’ ride on Mt St Helens outside of Cougar. Washington. The ride climbs for five miles through large timber until breaking out into a world of pumice and eroded canyons. The Plains of Abraham themselves are a relatively flat zone at the base of the mountain which was devastated by the explosion of Mt St Helens. It’s a moonscape nearly devoid of plant life, and while it’s far from a good surface for mountain biking, it’s a really cool romp through a wacky landscape.

The ride itself can be either an out-and-back (21 mi) from the Ape Canyon trailhead, or it can be made into a loop with the truly backcountry Smith Creek trail for a true epic (26 mi). Taylor and I parked at the Smith Creek trailhead planning to do the big loop, and facing either a 5 mi gravel road climb or a 2 mi trail ride (at least, that’s what the map showed) to get to the Ape Canyon trailhead, we opted to ride on trail.

About a mile into the Lava Canyon trail towards Ape Canyon, there’s a sign that says “Mountain bikers use Road 8322, no mountain bikes on Lava Canyon trail”. Never one to let the forest service restrict my access to non-wilderness public lands, we ignored the sign and plowed on.

Ladder on Lava Cayon trail

Nearing the top of the ladder on the Lava Canyon trail

Some signs are there for a reason. The Lava Canyon trail climbs 1800′  in 2.5 miles, switchbacking up steep rock staircases, narrowly hugging the side of precipitous canyon walls, and ultimately leading to a 40′ steel ladder. But what is adventure without a good measure of considered stupidity? Up we went.

Climbing the Lava Canyon ladder with a bike.

Climbing the Lava Canyon ladder with a bike.  For the second time. (Photo: @tschef)

Finally onto real trail, we climbed through the woods and out onto the Plains of Abraham. There I decided that whomever had deemed the ride an Epic was an idiot. The surface on the plains is similar to dry Fruit Loops, and offers just as much traction. Riding into a headwind there and across Windy Ridge to our turn-around point I was pretty grumpy. Scenic though it might be, it’s no epic mountain bike ride.

Taylor on the Plains of Abraham

Taylor on the Plains of Abraham, with Mt Rainier on the horizon.

With limited water an energy, we opted to avoid the Smith Creek descent, which is, I’m told, some pretty atrocious mountain biking. Instead we opted for an out-and-back, and found the way back to be much more fun– with deflated tubeless tires, a headwind, and a slight downhill edge, the Fruit Loops made for a fun, drifty enduro downhill, and the buff trail through the timber rode fast and clean. Two-and-a-half hours up, one-and-a-half down.

Taylor, returning from Windy Ridge

Taylor, returning from Windy Ridge.

With now 760 miles of mountain biking under the belt this year, I hope to crack 1000 before skiing steals away my attention. And with school quickly approaching, no doubt there will be more posts here, as writing becomes not a duty but a joy and a distraction. Stay tuned!

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Shake Your Etch-A-Sketch

You know the feeling when you alarm goes off and it hits you just the wrong way? You startle awake, and, for a few seconds, you don’t remember where you are, what’s happening, or how you got there?

Now, imagine that you’re standing at the back of your open car holding a cracked bike helmet in your hands and you feel just like your alarm has gone off.  But, no matter how hard you try, the confusion doesn’t lift. What happened? How did I get back here? Am I going to be ok? You know that something bad has happened, but you can’t remember, for the life of you, what.

This is where I found myself on Friday morning; I’m sitting in the passenger seat of my parked car, looking at my reflection in the little makeup mirror. More specifically, I’m shining a headlamp into each of my eyes and watching my pupils. I’m pushing on my forehead, eyebrows, and scalp, looking for soft spots. I’m walking aimless circles around my car. I call at least three friends before I decide that has to stop. Eventually, I decide that there’s one reasonable thing to do, and I dial 911.

Still loopy.

Still loopy.

Read on →

How to Ride a Mountain Bike

Santa Cruz Mountain Bike at Black Rock Bike Park

A tool for self-improvement


At home, pay attention to your bike. Or don’t. Groom it well: Inspect and smooth its sore joints and strong stanchions. It has many ailments, always one thing after another, but that’s the price of admission. They’re strange beasts, mountain bikes; They don’t care if you neglect them, but they will tell you when you’ve been remiss.

You don’t want to be remiss.

Wake up early, hopefully on a weekday. Food is optional, though recommended. Coffee, black, is mandatory. After steaming your face and mind with the fresh brew, stow all necessaries in you car or truck. The shoes, jersey, backpack, water, tube, pump, patch kit, tire irons, chain break, snacks, goggles or glasses, helmet, gloves, shock pump, chain grease, these have to come along. A hassle, you’d think, but this game is all about rhythm and with each ride the packing becomes a ritual of preparation. Are you ready?

Close the hatch, hit the road, and savor the anticipation. Read on →