First Single track

Keith and the ECRJanuary 24, 2016 – I asked my friend Todd Shank to take me out for some off pavement riding, my first ride as such on my Surly ECR.

11:15 – We made the trail head out near Larch mountain. As we took the bikes off the rack the sun was trying to beat it’s way through the cloud cover but was beaten back by a light sprinkle. We jumped right in by heading uphill on single track through a clearcut area. Immediately my legs started feeling it as my eyes searched desperately for clean lines in the slippery clay-like soil, dodging various size rocks embedded in the trail. The rocks all appeared to have their sharp sides up to tear angrily at my treads. Thank goodness I have decent balance on the bike – my mind was in overdrive keeping the front tire on the chosen line, thinking also about where the rear tire was going as I veered around obstacles and tight corners. Uphill, breath laboring, all the coolness of getting ready a distant memory. Pedal strikes! Constantly keeping awareness of the crank rotation as the pedals flirted with smashing every other rock. Todd said there wouldn’t be any “rock gardens.” After this I can only imagine coming down one of those scree slopes by a highway cut as being the meaning of rock garden.

The terrain leveled out. All that was only the first 500yds. Then I was dodging rounder rocks and more tree roots interspersed with flat spots where puddles form. We came gradually down to the forest service road and crossed. More of the rolly level-ish land splashing through some longer puddles – keep the speed up – don’t get mired down!

Bells MtnWe came upon another gravel road crossing, this time we take it to the left and quickly come to a giant log blocking the road. Todd hefted his bike over and then politely takes mine as I heft it over. I look ahead to a stream crossing, which we cross easily, then up the berm and over the log blocking vehicles from the other direction. We take a right and start descending. Up and over a small ridge and around to our first bridge. We were then on the Bells mountain trail and charged up ridges and down to cross little bridge after little bridge over the rivulets running down to Cold creek. Cold creek rushed along with us to our right and we appeared to be chase its surging course. The routine was set, Todd charged ahead knowing these trails like the back of his hand. Once he out paced me I slow, not wanting to bash around corners when I didn’t know what was around them.

The light sprinkles we had at the start are gone. Climb, descend, climb, descend. My subconscious was tapping me on the shoulder – “Ahem, logically the farther we follow the creek downhill, the longer the ride uphill later.” I know, I know. I caught up to the reposed, patiently waiting Todd for the umpteenth time. He must have heard my subconscious too because he said, “we’ll go a bit farther to a clear cut and then turn back there.” The first words out of my mouth were “and we can take a break.” He’s had one every couple hundred yards while I spin, slip and bump my way along. We continued over couple of climbs and a short section optioning a bunch of boulders or a deep rut – I take the rut and somehow clear the sides.


We got to the clear cut and I laid down my steed and started taking off layers. There was no more rain but I thought I was going to be soaked from the inside if that kept up. Nutrition bars and water satiated us a bit. Todd let more air out of my tires to give more traction. I had cooled down by then. We mounted our steeds and Todd disappeared around some Doug firs like a deer, leaving only tracks and gently waving sword ferns. First up was the boulder-rut section. I dismounted immediately, there was just no way.

Todd instructed me that sometimes you don’t want to be in the lowest gear because you can’t really stand up. I acknowledged that, yet inside I thought about my searing thighs.

We continued on. I tried to not gear down and stay standing for the challenging climbs. It felt easier to keep the front wheel going where you want it to. Traction feels better too. I still had difficulty determining how low I should gear for any climb, frustratingly losing traction, momentum, or more likely both. Todd was riding on 2.5″ wide tires and he’s got way more rubber meeting the trail than the 1.9″ tires I was rolling.

Bells Mountain Trail Sign

There was one longer ascent that wasn’t too technical yet needed some careful riding to not lose traction. I stuck it all the way to the top. My breathing was labored like a pit bull in the Iditarod sled race. I was still overheating despite taking off my rain jacket. We bombed around corners and hopped roots, crossed bridges and made the Cold creek campground. We ground up its steep entry road. My quads were worn out back on the single track, now it was time for some searing hamstrings. I was keeping up with Todd on this road but my energy was fading fast. Since I didn’t know where we were I had no understanding of how much further we had to go. I was just about to downshift and let Todd walk away from me when I recognized our parking lot at the top of the rise. This spurred me on to keep up that last bit.

We covered seven miles, six of which were single track. Not bad for a first outing. Now I have my baseline.