During the cool and soggy weekend, I darted between the rain showers to finish yard work and exercise the dogs. The sun was able to shake free of clouds for limited periods and during those times I made sure I was either atop the mower, or sprawled in an Adirondack chair, face turned upward, soaking up my RDA of vitamin D.
Sunday morning was moist and silent, with dark clouds shouldered against the mountains. Feeling guilty because I hadn’t done anything even remotely physical during the weekend, I decided on a heart-pounding climb up McCormick Creek on the mountain bike. I mentally marked my turn around point and figured that a few hours of low-gear pumping up a dirt road would count as a solid workout.
I’d already had the dogs outside to exorcize their penned-up sassies and deflate the animal energy that builds overnight to a mid-morning apex. They’d chased tennis balls, circled the property with noses to the ground, found special and perfect places to poop, and generally convinced themselves that yes, all overnight marauders had vacated the premises. The world was safe; they were ready to nap.
I was ready to ride.
When I’m on the mountain bike, I ride commando. My thinking is that there’s no traffic, so despite rocks, escarpments, logs and backcountry mayhem – I don’t need no stinkin’ helmet. I also sweat ungodly and unnatural amounts and headgear is just plain hot. Me no likey.
Pedaling up McCormick Creek, the dirt road was damp but not quite muddy. I pushed past my neighbor’s old gates, over the two rusted cattle guards and onto Forest Service land. I continued up the creek, detouring around the abandoned gold mine and circling up and behind it to check a hidden clearing – a past party location for local teenagers. Stepping off the bike to wander the meadow, I scanned the ground for errant bottles and cans. The area was surprisingly clean – so I continued on my way, rolling along an overgrown trail that eventually dumped me into the upper reaches of the mining zone. From here, I carefully pedaled over gopher holes and through tall weeds back down to McCormick Creek Road.
I continued up the drainage, through the mist, climbing quietly in the stillness. Sweat slid down my temples and dropped off my chin. My hair was matted, my shirt soaked but I actually felt strong. At a hairpin turn in the road, I slid off the saddle for a drink.
As my heart slowed, so did my thoughts. I was embraced by utter stillness. The gray mist softened the vibrant wildflower hues…the lupine and Indian paintbrush and glacier lilies and bear grass were understated in the flat light, complementing the grasses and bushes and pines. The forest smelled alive and new. I listened…an errant whir of an insect, the twitter of calling birds. In the proverbial now, I relished the freshness of the moment. What a gift, I knew, to live among these mountains and so near to this silence.
Back on the bike, my climb continued, slowly rounding corners and breaking through the trees to the occasional valley overlook. The Bitterroot Mountains were hidden today by the enveloping dampness, so my focus wasn’t on far vistas but instead on the pockets of reachable beauty that I was passing…the rain-soaked stumps, the emerging mushrooms, the critter prints left in the wet spoil.
The rain began so gently and so slowly that I didn’t notice the change until I reached my turn-around spot: a brief, level interlude where the road ceases climbing and starts a downward swoop that eventually crosses into the adjacent drainage. The drops fell steadily now, and I wheeled the bike around for the grand downhill coast back to the house.
I picked up speed quickly, and the drops turned insistent and sharp. I chilled, the combination of sweat, rain and cool temperatures stiffening my grip on the brakes and numbing the soles of my feet. Slowing to a gritty stop, I slipped into a wind breaker, shoved my useless sunglasses in my pocket and continued downward. The road was now truly muddy, my tires kicking up roostertails of brown water that coated my legs and sprayed onto my face. Shivering, I tapped the brakes as much to control my speed as to keep my numb hands operational. Grit splashed into an eye, and squinting like a pirate, I continued to coast downhill.
The last road section before the house is a rocky, bumpy mess that will rattle the fillings right out of your teeth. The mud in this section was manageable, but by now I was coated in filth, shaking uncontrollably and absolutely drenched.
Finally, I veered into the driveway, put the bike into the shed and stepped onto the deck. I let the dogs out of the house, their tails slapping my bare legs like whips and their butts wriggling with pure delight. There, in full view of whoever wanted to look, I stripped naked before heading into the house with my armful of filthy cycling clothes.
It was a great ride. A fine muddy mess of a time.
I can’t wait to go again.