Sunday, August 31, 2008

Portal to Porcupine

Last Sunday I went with 3 buddies, Ben , Dan, and Jeff, and did a shuttle ride up Portal Creek trail in the Gallatin Range, across Eagle Head Mtn, and down Porcupine Creek Trail. It was a 4 hour adventure which included some of the most epic single track and views this area has to offer.

We drove all the way to Big Sky and dropped a car at the Porcupine Creek trailhead and then headed back up the canyon to Portal. After bumping up the dirt road for a good 20 minutes we got out, geared up, and hit the trail. After a deceptive downhill and flat part, the trail goes up, steeply and covered in roots and rocks. I did a lot of pushing of the bike through the forested hillside. After about two miles you emerge from the woods and the steepness onto the Gallatin Crest Trail, which runs all the way down the range. This is near Windy Pass.

On top of the ridge it is open meadows, flowers, and huge mountain vistas in all directions. On the left you can see over to the Absarokas, and on the right the Spanish Peaks. It was a perfect day.

Stopping for a break before the final uphill section we surveyed our surroundings, and almost everyone commented, between labored breaths, about how awesome it is to live here and have easy access to such superlative riding. Shortly after our stopping spot is the final ascent to Eagle Head Mtn. It is totally unrideable and you have to push or carry your bike up what seems like a near vertical trail. It's kind of like hiking the ridge at Bridger Bowl, except with a bike instead of a board or skis. I managed about two minute intervals of pushing and then stopping to breath. Its about 9000 ft of elevation here. My legs were killing me, not used to all this hiking! A lot of people don't do this ride because of all the hike-a-bike, but it is totally worth it.

Once on top we again admired views, talked shit, ate clif bars and gu, and finally dropped in for our reward: 10+ miles of Grade A downhill technical singletrack! Woohoo! This downhill is unreal. The trail is so good for so long, and as you get toward the bottom it gets smoother and smoother as it enters sagebrush meadows. This is good because after two thirds of the trail, you are pretty tired. We stopped for some horse folks who had 3 corgis in tow, and claimed they were good trail dogs!! Their legs were like 4 inches long! It was pretty funny. Saw a guy on a XR400 too, who stopped right in the trail at the runout from a really good DH section. Doh! Didn't have any wildlife sightings even though it was prime griz country(did see a bear print in the trail). I ran out of water about halfway down and an hour from the end.

Near the end we hit a Y in the trail and I thought it was right. After going UPHILL a bunch more I realized I went the wrong way, and boy was I pissed! We met another biker who said if we kept going up another half mile, we had a really good downhill section all the way back to the car. We toughed it out and grunted up it, and were rewarded with a good flowy smooth section through the sagebrush all the way down.

Amazingly we made it to the bottom with no mechanicals. Bails are listed here:
Me: running off trail into a tree due to excessive corner entry speed
Jeff: High speed Faceplant to sagebrush-slide. Also mid-creek tipover due to too tight cleats!?!?
Dan: over the bars runout. nice save. also a too fast for corner bail.
Ben: no crash! he must not be going fast enough.....

After loading up the bikes we hit the Half-Moon Saloon for recovery drinks: $1 happy hour PBRs! and many cups of water. Satisfied, we headed back up to Portal Creek to get the other car, and then drove home.

Mission accomplished. Another day in beautiful Southwest Montana. Cheers!

Rainy Lake Trip Part 2

Steph is exuberant upon stepping onto the dock at her cabin! We unloaded the boat, put everything in the cabin, and then got right down to business...The shot below illustrated the Maine-ness of the area. It was quite comforting for me.

After a good round of swimming and sunning on the dock, we geared up and hopped in the boat for a trip to Sha-Sha Resort, which was about 20 min. away. Sha-Sha is pronounced SHAY-SHAY by the way. It was a funny touristy place with a bar and food and huge decks on the waterfront. It was fun pulling up in the boat for dinner! We met up with a whole tableful of Stephs girlfriends who were all having a pretty good time already. I wasn't too talkative as I was pretty tired from travelling still. After lots of trading of stories and a huge burger and some locally important potent drink called a "tea" we got back in the boat and cruised home as the sun was setting.
Going to sleep was wonderful, with almost total silence apart from the lapping of the water at the shore. ...

Monday, August 25, 2008

Rainy Lake Trip Part 1

Thought from Wednesday the 13th at the office:
"Ahh! I can't take it anymore! Must leave work NOW and hit the road! I wish my boss would stop calling me! I gotta get out of here!"

At 1pm I had to leave even though I was supposed to stay till 3. Once home, there were a few last minute calls from the boss and finally it was done. Steph arrived at 330pm and we loaded my stuff into the trunk and both our road bikes into the back seat of the Sunfire, which I quickly dubbed Funfire for the trip. At 410pm we were rolling out of Bozangeles, a mere 10 min. behind schedule!

In the gold Funfire we blasted east on I-90 at 80mph with AC cranked and the tunes cranked from the ipod and ye olde I-trip. The plan was to get to Bismarck ND before midnight and sleep in our reserved hotel room and then hit International Falls, MN the next day around 2pm. I suggested 2 hour shifts at the wheel to break the monotony of Eastern Montana and NoDak interstate droning. It worked well and was a very tolerable interval.

After about 8 hours we made it to Bismarck around midnight and promptly drove right through it past all two exits!!! I thought it was bigger and we were a bit tired and confused. After a quick recon of the mornings route about 15 miles down the highway, we turned around in the Authorized Vehicle Only turnout and went back, found the hotel, and went to bed.

Now, imagine flashing strobe lights and an insanely loud siren. Okay. Next, imagine almost going into cardiac arrest as these two phenomenon erupted simultaneously from the fire alarm on the wall above your bed at 3 am causing you to sit bolt upright believing that the world was ending! This is what happened to us in the middle of "i am really tired from driving for 8 hours" type of sleep.

It was bad.

After a few minutes of this sensory armageddon, someone turned it off and apparently it was a false alarm. Probably some idiot smoking in their room or something....

Back to sleep a bit shaken up. I got up at 6ish and began preparing for leg two of the journey. We were on the road again I think around 7 after loading up plates of free breakfast goodies in the hotel lobby. Just keep the car moving when you can is my philosophy. So over english muffins and peanut butter we continued East in the trusty Funfire.

After navigating through NoDak to Fargo, we crossed into Minnesota which was exciting as it was our Destination State. We still had a lot of hours left though. We headed northeast towards Bemidji and finally there were trees and little hills and lots of lakes and ponds. It actually looked a lot like parts of Maine, and I got excited with the similarity. We were also off the interstate which yielded much more interesting driving.

In Bemidji we found a Village Foods supermarket, and stumbled upon perhaps the best grocery store deli section I have ever seen! We were trying to eat well on the road, with a Subway stop for dinner the night before. After finding good wraps and some other tasty treats the Funfire was steered northward for the last leg of the driving. Bemidji to Int'l Falls was almost totally straight through flat terrain with lots of fields and forests. All young forests mind you, most trees being pretty small around on average. There was evidence of major logging in the past and minor logging at present, with pulp trucks and sawmills every now and then.

Finally at around 2 or 3pm we hit IF with great joy! The funfire stopped at the liquor store (no alcohol sold elsewhere) for some beverages. Steph had told me she knew everyone in town, and after both young men at counter said "Hey Steph!" I realized she was serious! We headed straight for Rainy Lake at this point, driving through International Falls which was very much small town America. Older stores, a Main Street area of a few blocks, and the gigantic Boise Cascade paper mill looming behind it. I think the mill is as big as the town! We drove out of town and down the road to the lake. After a turn down small road, I was reminded intensely of backwoods Maine. Small little roads, trees right to the edge, it was really great. We rolled up to a funny old yellow log cabin type house on the lakeshore, with a houseboat parked nearby, a few cars in the grass, and a dock setup for about a dozen boats. "We're here!" proclaimed Steph with a big smile. We unloaded the car into a Gardenway cart and wheeled it down the dock to the SS Johnson, a 16' Lund Adventurer with a shiny new Suzuki outboard, a trolling motor on the bow and 3 swivel chairs down the middle. There were similar boats docked nearby.

Steph was just about bursting with excitement by this point, running around all smiles and cheery comments about the lake and the whole situation, as she stowed everything on board and got us ready to cast off. She fired up the motor, and we untied and I hopped in. Pulling away from the dock area we came out of a small cove surrounded by rock ledge rolling into the water topped with spiky pine and fir trees. It looked so much like Maine coastline and Maine lakeshores I was astonished. Steph soon cracked the throttle and we zoomed out into the lake along some big islands. There were lake houses along the shore, and other boats here and there. All the other boaters waved, and we waved back as we passed, the same as motorcyclists often do. It was 80 degrees, clear skies, light breeze, and us cruising along the water going what I felt was really fast! I was super happy already. After a few minutes, we came around another island and turned in towards a cove with a long weathered dock and little red house type building on the dock. There was a long low red building hiding in the trees up from the water's edge. This was it! The Amidon family cabin on Stop Island in Rainy Lake Minnesota. And it was ours for the next 3 wonderful days!