Mountain Mumbles

Mud season means feeling between seasons, reminiscing on dusty summer mountain bike trails and chomping at the bit for turns on fresh snow in just a few weeks.

The garage workbench is a mess of tools right now. There’s a big pile of old bike parts, along with a new set of brakes for some touring bindings, and the normal clutter of woodworking tools.

It’s mud season, and we have projects.

When it comes time to write my columns this time of year I’m always tempted to eulogize, to wax lyrical about the summer gone by, and do my best to paint tawdry word pictures of the winter to come. It’s an easy crutch to lean on. This is a time of mixed reflection and anticipation for many. There’s not that much happening to write about. I haven’t gone on any real adventures in weeks. I don’t have any epic stories of exploration, no epiphanies from the trail. Instead I’ve been checking off projects around the house, and really only recreating to keep the dog from going completely crazy.

Sure, the diehards are still grabbing mountain bike rides early in the morning, and another breed of diehards is scratching out low-tide turns on skis, but for most of us average Teton dwellers this is the time to winterize and repair. Sure, some folks have already high-tailed it for the desert, stealing a last few weeks of summer, but for those of us with more average employment situations, ’tis the season to repair and prepare.

That’s why I have to wipe the bike drivetrain grease off of my hands before I can figure out the jig to mount my partner’s new touring bindings. And it’s also why a bike multitool is close at hand when I need an oddly sized Allen wrench to swap out the heel springs.

I’m streaming a mountain bike contest as I adjust forward pressure, watching riders go big in the desert as I try to dial everything in so my partner won’t blow a knee when she goes big in the mountains.

Once I get these bindings mounted, snow tires need to be swapped on, I need to figure out where we put the snow shovels last spring, and how many of them are broken from overly enthusiastic driveway clearing. The porch needs traction tape, the garden hoses need to be rolled up and put away, and I need to fill my avalanche airbag canister.

But, as I replace the canister’s seal in the garage vice, I can’t help stealing glances at my mountain bike. It’s pretty new, and I’ve been injured since I got it this fall, so it hasn’t really been ridden yet. I can hear it whispering to me, begging me to take it out for a quick spin before I lube the drivetrain for the last time and rack it for the winter.

My fat bike still stands neglected, missing myriad pieces that were cannibalized to keep my mountain bike running as I broke and wore out components this summer. That’s OK though, it’s the one outdoor toy in the garage that I’m never really that eager to take out for a spin, and I don’t mourn the end of its season of usefulness like I do some others.

The dog doesn’t understand mud season. All she knows is that it’s cold in the mornings now, so instead of heading to the tall grass like she does all summer, she poops right by the porch, doing her best to spend as little time on the frosty lawn as she can. She’s as in-shape as she gets, square and chunky is a shape after all, and she wants to run. Lately she’s been stealing my bike shoes and running around the house with them. Dogs don’t understand trail etiquette, they don’t care that their people would be rutting up the trails if we rode through the fall. She just wants to go chase grouse and maybe find some horse droppings to roll in.

With the ski bindings mounted, I turn to the problem of the slippery winter porch. But the dog is still antsy, she’s running circles around the house with one of my bike gloves now. And the afternoon is warming up, there’s a hint of sun in the aspens, and I’m overheating in my overalls. So I relent.

The porch can wait for tomorrow, we’ll get to switching over the snow tires soon enough. We’ve got months ahead of us to just focus on skiing. For now there’s a few miles of dry trail not too far from the house. So we spin through the crisped leaves, when we get home I can really put the bike away for the last time, and finally clean up that workbench so there’s only one season’s worth of tools out.

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

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