Mountain Mumbles

Even though mountain biking occupies time in the dog days of summer, Cy still dreams of cruising fresh powder.

I was mowing the lawn when the longing hit me to get out my skis and wax them.

Mowing the lawn is usually one of my favorite relaxing activities. I turn on a podcast and putter about, reveling in the simplicity of my task. But for some reason, this time, my mind wandered to winter, that long, dreary season when — for all intents and purposes — I don’t have a lawn.

It started out innocent enough. “I wonder if I remembered to throw storage wax on my touring skis before I put them away last year?” But then, as many innocent thoughts are wont to do, it escalated. “Maybe I ought to put that fancy new waxless coating on now, maybe I ought to check my bindings, I wonder if my boots still fit? Do I know where my liner gloves are?”

Soon after I finished mowing I found myself sitting in the middle of a pile of ski gear, making sure it was all still functional. I was cleaning the spare low-light lens to my goggles when I got a text from a friend, “Mountain biking?” Suddenly I snapped back into reality. It’s August in the Tetons, that fleeting season where days actually can be uncomfortably hot. It’s a magical time really: Local bodies of water have warmed enough to be worth swimming in, afternoon thunderstorms keep the dust down on local trails and I’ve finally ridden enough days in a row to feel I’ve reached some semblance of bike fitness. These are the prime days of summer! Get out and enjoy them! But instead I was sitting in the middle of a pile of ski gear, performing maintenance so minor that I’d never gotten around to it when I was using this gear daily.

I snapped out of my powdery dreams and loaded my bike on the car. As I hefted it into the rack, I couldn’t help but feel a tinge of jealousy, though. “My skis weigh so much less. Remember how easy it is to load them up?” And as I cleaned and oiled my creaky drivetrain it hit again. “Remember how little maintenance ski gear requires?” That afternoon we rode downhill trails up at Targhee and I couldn’t help eying the mountain with a snow-hazed gaze. “Drop that cliff just to the left of the tree, shut it down before you hit the moguls, remember that time a snowboarder crashed so hard his helmet fell off right there?”

I find myself trying to break the bike loose in bermed corners, trying to spray a little dust in the air, summer face shots. Cold beer tastes better after mountain biking though, and that night I barely dreamed about skiing at all.

The next day we pedaled up a drainage I often ski. We spun a steady cadence up the road cut, the climb smooth enough to let my mind wander. In the summer everything looks steeper, more jagged, too perilous to imagine skiing. But in a few months it will be soft and smooth again. Huge cliffs will be buried to the point that they’re small enough to drop without a second thought. The jams of stumps and logs will become pillows, begging to be popped and slashed. That impassable drainage will fill in, and a skin track will appear down it. I try to snap myself out of it, focusing on my bike. But there’s a creaking popping sound that I’ve been trying to diagnose for weeks and I just can’t get it to shut up. It’s a harsh contrast to the winter months, skinning silently, breaking trail in a forest so still that I can imagine the sound of individual snowflakes accumulating on the brim of my hat.

A few last gasping pedal strokes and we’re at the ridge. A sea of wildflowers stretches before us and we’re in that magical no-brake, no-pedal zone, just cruising, carving small turns to keep on the tiny ribbon of trail. It’s overgrown with flowers, my pedals and handlebars slash continuously through them, and the pulpy spray tangles in my beard. If I half close my eyes I can imagine them as tiny snow crystals, sprayed up as I traverse the slope.

We drop into the true descent of the trail and the imagined winter wonderland fades away. Pop the first root ball, enter this loose corner wide, then try to cut tight, slap this rock with the front tire, pop over it, and slash the loamy section. Each feature snaps me further back into mountain bike mode. This is why I long for summer every spring, this is why I oil my chain and wash my bike and keep putting that sweaty helmet back on. Ski season will come soon enough. Till then, we ride.

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

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