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Outdoors/Adventure

Ignore those bruises. Just an Alaska mountain-biking trip gone bad.

  • Author: Alli Harvey
  • Updated: September 14
  • Published September 14

Erin Gleason pauses as she pushes her bike up Summit Creek Trail on Saturday Sept. 9, 2017. (Alli Harvey)

To anyone who witnessed me limping on Monday morning, my ankle is going to be OK. It’s just a little nicked up. Also, you couldn’t see my shins because they were obscured by my rain boots, but that scary-looking bruise on my right leg will go away eventually, too. The deep purple amoeba on my calf will heal in time.

Just in case anyone wondered, though, there is a reason there are no mountain biking reviews of the Summit Creek Trail on Turnagain Pass. It's not bikeable, at least not by my friends and me.

I didn’t know that on Saturday morning. I woke up in the back of my truck, excited. My legs lacked bruises (relatively — navigating daily life, with all of its tables and chairs, takes its toll). The weather forecast called for rain, but looking out across Cook Inlet from Hope I saw the shimmering reflections of daylight. The day seemed to share my enthusiasm for our big plans.

My friend and I brushed our teeth at the campground, threw our bikes in her car, and set out. In selecting our route, we figured that Resurrection Pass and Devil's Pass are highly popular for mountain biking. Why not take the trail less traveled?

Good-looking loop

We found what seemed like a great loop — a roughly 20-mile round trip starting at Summit Creek Trail to where it met the Resurrection Trail. After a couple of miles, we'd reach the Devil's Pass Trail and ride it down the rest of the way. The Devil's Pass and Summit Creek trailheads are only 3 miles apart on the highway, so we wouldn't even need to do a car drop.

We met up with my friend's roommate, a relatively new mountain biker. After taking some time in the parking lot eating salami, as one does, we set off.

We had ridden approximately 30 glorious seconds before we hopped off our bikes. The trail was suddenly too steep and full of roots to ride. We started pushing our bikes. I mentioned that according to the trail description I'd read (which, in retrospect, was all about hiking), the conditions would soon improve.

The sun warmed the foliage in that strange way that makes the forest feel humid. After 15 minutes of steadily pushing our bikes uphill, we stopped to shed layers. Our GPS told us we'd only been going for a tenth of a mile, which didn't seem correct. I pegged us at about a half mile. The distance was difficult to gauge because we were pushing our bikes uphill (in case you missed that part).

During this early break, we assessed our situation, and what I like to refer to as the seesaw effect presented itself.

My friend was the admirable optimist. Happy to be with her bike, even though she'd spent probably all of one minute actually riding it, she declared that if we could only make it the 8.5 miles to Resurrection Pass, it would be worth it.

Her roommate was also optimistic, but perhaps more cautious. While he didn't convey the same level of joy and commitment to simply being outside in nature with one's bicycle, he seemed game. He also noticed rain clouds up ahead toward the pass.

Turning grumpy

My feelings could best be described as grim. I like being outside. Actually, I love being outside. The trail itself was beautiful. The day was, too. But I like being with my bicycle so I can ride it. I was not riding it. I was pushing it up a beautiful hiking trail into clouds. What's worse, my friends seemed OK with the situation in a way I was not, which plunged me further into grumpiness.

I decided to make what was happening in my brain not match what came out of my mouth. I delicately stated that while this was not enjoyable for me, I would keep pushing. I carefully suggested we reassess our situation in 90 minutes. They agreed.

After 30 more minutes, someone remarked that this was like doing a plank that also involved pushing uphill. Sweat dripped off my face onto my handlebars.

Fun, right?

I admit there was a brief stretch where I did have fun. This was when I was able to ride my bike, even on the narrow trail and through the tall grasses. I was going, happily hollering R. Kelly's "Ignition (Remix)" to ward bears away, when I encountered one stretch of trail that made me nervous and WHOMP, just like that, I was over. My bike lay flat on the trail and I toppled off the steep shoulder. I skidded 5 feet down before catching myself on a tree branch and yelling, "I'm OK!"

After a second, similar fall — coupled with the rainy forecast finally panning out and dumping sleet-cold water on us — we turned around. Now the trail was muddy, and there was no riding back. Our pedals kept on biting the back of our calves as our bikes attempted to pass us.

Finally, we were all in agreement that this was, in fact, the worst.

Three hours later, we realized we’d pedaled little more five minutes and walked 3 or 4 miles. We realized the GPS was right after all. When it read 0.1 miles, it was measuring actual distance biked, not hiked.

My takeaway? Sometimes the trail less traveled is that way for a reason. I'll try Summit Creek again with a backpack; and hit Resurrection Pass on a bike on my next free weekend.

Alli Harvey lives in Palmer and plays throughout Southcentral. 

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