The first practice of the year is on Saturday morning. We all stand in a circle and I gape at the number of kids. Unmanageable, amazing. Fortunately we have enough coaches to break into small groups. Instead of getting to know new kids, I just want to ride with the fast gang, the veterans that I’ve watched progress over the last two years. I take the lead on the singletrack and they doggedly hold my wheel as their noisy drivetrains grind out a cadence.
|This gang of speed demons made me work hard to stay in front.|
After practice Cy and I pack up, marveling at the absence of stuff. Bikepacking requires so much less than car camping.
It is hot, finally, blessedly hot. I coat myself in sunscreen. Not bug spray though, unfortunately. My skin is now a patchwork of red bumps that I’m trying so hard to resist.
|That's a one-of-a-kind dry bag right there.|
I have only a vague idea of the trails I want to hit, no map, only an untrustworthy phone app. We have a day and a half to poke around the Caribous and no plan.
|Wet feet, wet chain, wet butt.|
Start on gravel, turn off on two track, mellow climb through greenest meadows under a heavy sun, sit in a creek, purify water, start a smooth singletrack climb off the edge of the mental map, relish having a granny ring and a bulldozer of a bike, gain a ridge, make a decision knowing that to drop into another unknown drainage means inevitably climbing back out, navigate erosion ditches and moto ruts, meander along a creek on a brown ribbon of dirt through overpowering greenery, encounter a familiar trail, recall with little fondness its swamps and bushwhacking, find a grassy flat spot next to a stream unadulterated by beavers, perform little camp tasks, drink a single warm beer, eat Indian food, burn sage and stand directly in the smoke to hide from mosquitoes, retreat to the safety of the tent before the sun sets.
|Oh, Bear Creek, I didn't miss you.|
Wake up, do camp chores, eat oatmeal, attend to mud encrusted chains, don used chamois, pack up quickly, the systems already growing rote, mentally prepare for the climb out of the Bear Creek drainage, pedal and push slowly, pouring sweat, wiping away the minor irritants of cobwebs, hair, mosquitoes, and sunscreen, muddy gloves leaving streaks, then summit, surprised at the ease, see other mountain bikers for the first time and they are valley friends, descend smooth trail through the woods, entirely content, seatbag only occasionally buzzing tire, sit in the same creek, polish off the last of the salami, purify water, climb more doubletrack, clean steep sections only because the surface is dry and tacky, watch butterflies glance off hands and leaves and bags, top out on a beautiful ridge with views and wildflowers, prepare to go downhill, swoop down roller coaster doubletrack with wall rides and whoops, and finish on gravel.
|Gratuitous posing with the extremely capable Half Chub.|
Remove wet socks, gloves. Leave piles of detritus around car.
Dangle feet in the Snake River.