I gasp for air and concentrate on pumping my legs quick enough to keep moving up the steep rough trail. If I slow down for a second I'll be forced to put my foot down. The trail here is too steep to get started again and I'll be forced to push.
I'm working my way up the lower slopes of Ward Mountain on my bike. An hour ago I was coding at my desk in Hamilton. Now I'm breathing hard as the trail snakes and switchbacks through pine forests and wild flowers.
Eventually I pump out. The trail gets steeper as I tire. I simply don't have the fitness or the skill to keep riding up. I push my bike for a few hundred feet but the trail shows no sign of relenting so I turn around and begin the fast, flowy descent. Someday I'll make it all the way up the 5,000 foot climb but not today.
I feel incredibly lucky to live in a place where I can ride trails like this. The Seattle area has amazing bike trails and great developed mountain bike parks but for me mountain biking has always been more about exploring than riding the same loops and jumps over and over. Seattle lacks the miles of non Wilderness wild lands where one can go out and ride trails just to see what is there. If Ward mountain were near Seattle it would be a popular after work hike; I see no one during my ride.
I also know that riding these trails is a privilege we need to preserve. Mountain bikers have a (usually undeserved) bad reputation for eroding trails and frightening other users and conflicts have lead to the closure of many trails. I'm so glad to be out on these trails I want it to last forever. I'm careful to stop and yield to other users (when there are any). I portage even small streams to avoid damaging the wet soil and I try to ride the entire descent without skidding my tires once.
Maybe tomorrow I'll ride up Blodget Canyon to the boundary of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness and scope lines for future climbs.