Mountain Mumbles

New trails offer unexpected scenery and also a chance to ride a route on which you don’t know every bump and dip, wiggle and jump before you get to it.

I came into the roller hot and blind. All I could see when I came out of the corner before it was the lip.

No landing, no idea if there even was a landing or if this was a lip to a rock garden, or another creek crossing or maybe a tiger pit, gaping to devour my bike. I went for it anyway, got a look at the landing as I crested the lip, too late to brake or do anything but commit.

It was a little flat, a couple of rocks poking out, but nothing catastrophic, I hoped. My wheels bit, just a second to compose myself before I dove into the next blind corner. I was riding slower than I would on my home trails, taking fewer chances, not opting for all the optional tech lines, and that’s why the grin on my face was so huge, because riding new trails is the best.

I grew up mountain biking on the one downhill trail close to my house, sessioning it over and over and over again, memorizing each corner, each root, each jump, each sneaky rock until I could (and did) draw maps of the track during slow classes.

When I moved to the Tetons I fell into the same routine, riding the same handful of trails until I knew which rock to boost off of to clear the stump, which corner has a perfect berm and which one has a water bar. It took a new, more uphill-capable bike, and more importantly, a new riding partner, to break that routine, but once it was broken, now that my eyes have been opened to the magic of chasing new trails, I think I’d have a hard time going back.

Mountain biking is by its very nature aesthetic, especially here in the Tetons. There’s nothing like cresting a long climb only to pop out to a perfect view of the range. But once you’ve ridden a trail a few times, once you know that view is coming, it’s easy to take it for granted, to stop to slurp a Gu instead of dropping your jaw and taking in the mountains. I know it happened to me last summer. I made it to June before the novelty of riding was gone and I put my head down and pedaled instead of reveling in each new vista.

This spring, though, we’ve ridden more new trails than I’ve probably ridden in the rest of my life combined, and it turns out the Tetons aren’t the only range that looks good when you pop onto a ridge line. In fact the Caribous have some pretty nice vistas, too, and the Elkhorns, and the Beaverheads, and Tallac, and a multitude of other mountain ranges. It turns out that most of the places that have mountain biking also have pretty views of mountains, and they’re a lot more striking the first time you see them. Chasing new trails makes that possible.

It also makes less challenging trails more exciting. This spring I’ve ridden a few trails, that, if they were right out my back door, I’d get bored of quickly. Not steep enough, not enough tech, not enough jumps, whatever the complaints may have been if I were riding them for the 50th time, instead of the first, they’re all washed away when you drop into that first blind corner.

Who knows if there will be a jump around the bend? Who knows if we’re going to have to climb 8 miles back up to get to the car? That lip might have a perfectly sculpted landing, or there might be an aspen across the trail right where I want to put my front wheel. That makes even nontechnical trails fun and challenging.

Riding new trails blind is a fine line to walk, but it’s oh so rewarding when the landing’s there, when the berm is fresh and clean, and when that boost works and you just clear the rock garden. And as your freewheel buzzes back into the parking lot it’s hard not to love riding new trails.

In our fervor to ride new trails I neglected the ones I already knew, rode only about 4 miles of familiar trail this spring, lost that feeling of knowing every turn, every feature.

But then I visited my parents, in the town that I grew up in, and I brought my bike along with me. I climbed new singletrack to the top of the downhill trail I’d memorized in high school and dropped in blind. The first lip was eroded but I still cleared it. Farther down some of the wood features had broken, fallen apart, but the loam was still there, the roots and the log rolls and the huck to flat, just a little unfamiliar, a little different than the trail I’d memorized years ago.

I skidded out of the last loamy compression and I realized that I was faster than I’d ever been when I had this whole trail memorized, and I was stronger and more confident on the bike. I’d spent my spring chasing new rides, only to realize that made me better able to appreciate the old ones. And that is the magic of new trails.

Cy Whitling writes every other week on living and playing in the mountains. Contact him via columnists@jhnewsandguide.com.

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