We had a busy weekend up here in the Bike Loft. As always, Tri-the-Kenai energizes the community and brings athletes in from all over the state and the world. In the days leading up to the event, a buzz starts to build in the shop. We’re busy prepping rentals and giving bikes pre-race tune ups. Nervous athletes flutter in and out of the shop grabbing gels and agonizing over last minute gear choices. Perhaps my favorite part of Tri-the-Kenai is the way it attracts all kinds of community members. There are some high level athletes that show up to compete, and it is great to watch them push themselves, but the Tri is also a place for beginners and intermediate athletes too. As Saturday draws to a close we end up giving more encouragement than mechanical work. Night before nerves just need a little soothing and there is little left to be done on the bikes that come in besides giving them the Beemuns seal of approval.
Sunday morning finds Brian and I outside the transition area at the Tri. We have brought tires, tubes, and tools for any last minute catastrophes. In the past we have spot repaired some major problems and made sure participants bikes were ready for the event. Once the race begins, we’re not allowed to assist with any mechanical problems, so the lead up to the start is a flurry of pressure checks and minor adjustments. This year the bikes we saw were in good shape and for the first time we didn’t have to replace any tires or fix any flats. With the top twelve beginning their swims there wasn’t much left to do but settle down and cheer for the racers. We support all the athletes, but the ones who train with us, ride with us, and are known persons around the shop get slightly louder cheers.
With the top 12 Men and Women finished and the real rhythm of the event taking off, it was time for Brian and I to pack up. With the weather so nice, we knew we had to get out and ride. So we dropped the event supplies back at the store, grabbed our bikes, and headed up the road for our first Resurrection ride of the year.
The Cooper Landing Parking lot was mostly full when we arrived around 1 o’clock. There was a couple loading up some packs for what looked like an overnighter and even some people having a picnic. Starting up the trail we immediately encountered a group coming down on fatbikes. They were loaded up with panniers and excited to be done with the ride so we didn’t get a chance to stop and chat. The climb went very smoothly for being the first ride of the year. I’ve been pounding the pavement and hitting the hills at Tsalteshi on the weekends, and all the miles helped the climb easier. The climb out of the parking lot up to the falls is steep, but we managed to make good time despite stopping for several bikers coming down.
Strava told me I was the fourth fastest to the bridge this year, despite the fact that we stopped at the falls for fifteen minutes to take photos and eat some early nutrition. This was when I first began to regret not applying bug dope. Despite the rocky and rooty trail, I managed to distance Brian a little bit on the climb sections. My bike, being fully rigid, is a bit of a mountain goat. However on any flatter or downhill sections his full suspension 29er outpaced me and he closed the gaps quickly.
It was about this time that I first began to crave Mexican food. I began to wish I hadn’t been lazy and packed a cooler with cold liquid refreshment for when we got back to the car. After peeling out from the falls the trail stops gaining elevation so quickly and is more of a rolling climb. Overall the trail was very firm but it was above the falls that we encountered the most puddles. Most could be ridden through, and I stayed mostly dry up to the lake. We made good time here, and I began to get towards the end of my first water bottle and I finished my first pack of Shot Bloks.
The ride from the Trout Lake junction to Juneau Lake was fast and easy. The heat really started to pick up, but the trail was mostly smooth and we only encountered a few hikers. My bug bites from the first stop started to itch, but at least when you’re cruising the skeeters leave you alone. Reaching the lake the temperature dropped a little and we rolled along the lakes edge. This doubletrack is some of the most beautiful riding on the whole trail as you skirt the waters edge on the eastern side of the lake. We made it a little past the cabin when we encountered a very muddy section of the trail and elected to turn around.
We stopped for a food break at the small beach underneath the cabin. The wind died down and the bugs really came out to feast on me. Brian appears to be invisible to the critters. The lake was very placid and I spent my time dipping a bandana in the water and using it to cool off. Brian ate a sandwich. We whiled away a half hour talking about the right of way hierarchy on trails and why folks yield when they have the right away. Then I took this selfie, grateful for the cooling bandana.
It had taken us an hour and a half to the Juneau Lake Cabin, and as we turned to head out we wondered how much faster the descent would be. After riding back along the glorious lake edge trail together, Brian began to pull away from me as the trail turned downwards and rocky. Any concentrated section of rocks or roots and his bike would just float away from me.
Around the Trout Lake junction we met a momma Spruce Hen who dutifully waddled down the trail ahead of us, leading us away from her children. Up the trail two hikers with three dogs that we had passed on our way up caught sight of the Hen and chased her into the trees for us. They were staying at the cabin for the night, and one of their dogs had an pack on carrying the food and bedding for the dogs. I thought that was a rather smart way to do it. We picked up speed as we cruised down toward the falls through all the mud puddles. What was previously traversed with caution was taken at speed, and our bikes and legs became muddy for it.
During this time I really had to chase Brian. I had stopped to walk a particularly tricky uphill section covered in rocks that he had ridden right over. When I reached the top I decided to eat a gel and deplenish my water a little more. By the time I got back on my bike he was far ahead and gaining ground. I caught back up to him right after the falls, when he had finally looked behind to see I was no longer there. After the falls the trail really drops down, and as it wound through the trees the fallen pine needles smoothed out the trail allowing me to pick up speed. Brian had to stop for a dropped chain and I caught up and passed him before speeding ahead to the parking lot.
Hot and tired we loaded our bikes and tried to stretch out in the parking lot. My nethers were tender and I knew sitting on a bike seat would be difficult for a couple days. A kind fellow traveler offered us a cold one before shuttling over to Bean Creek. I stopped my Strava, and we had ridden 19.4 miles in 2:29:21. We had made it down from the lake in an hour. Tired and soon to be sore we headed home, where I washed off my bike before filling the kiddie pool and soaking my legs, relaxing after a great day.