Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Swan Crest

Since I missed the last time Warwick invited us up to the Flathead for some riding  (was it really four years ago?) I was online trying to dig up some beta on the trails we would be on, when I came across the website for a group called the SwanRange.org. I'm sure many of them are decent sorts, but reading some of their stuff, I just kept thinking, "what a pretentious group of gasbags."  What really annoyed me was their "Code of Responsible Recreation for America's Backcountry."

Code of Responsible Recreation for America’s Backcountry
The wild is being driven out of America’s backcountry by ultra-marathon foot races, biking, motorized vehicles, and other frontcounty sports run amok.

We therefore offer the following code of conduct:
Responsible backcountry recreation remains rooted in quality, not quantity.
It is measured by depth of appreciation, not by fastest speed or longest distance.
It minimizes haste, hardware, competition, and intrusion.
It engages people in conservation through mindful practice of minimal impact.
It reserves the backcountry for traditional, contemplative recreation that can’t be had in the frontcountry.
Conservation of fish, wildlife and America’s backcountry requires people acting more responsibly, not more people pursuing cheap thrills and extreme sports.
—By Swan View Coalition and Others

Think just maybe they might be a little holier than thou elitists? I find the whole code to be condescending clap, but what rankles me most is this idea of "traditional contemplative recreation." I was shocked to learn that the whole time I have been outdoors, whether climbing technical routes , floating rivers, skiing, or out backpacking I've been irresponsible.  I wasn't supposed to be having fun, I wasn't supposed to be pushing it, I wasn't supposed to be challenging myself. All I can say in reply is, well there are a lot of things I could say, but I'm trying to minimized the profanity today.

No doubt there have been people who have wandered into the wilderness for prayer and contemplation.  Jesus had his 40 days in the desert, Native Americans have had vision quests, certain earlier Americans like John Muir and Henry David Thoreau tended towards contemplation.   Still the people who stick in my mind are people like Lewis and Clark, John Wesley Powell, that Everest climbing kiwi dude Sir Edmund Hillary and Sir Edward Shackleton. Then there were the trappers and the hunters.  Even more recently people like Edward Abbey who while thinking their deep thought were not adverse to a little excitement.

I can't help but think that when Powell floated the Green and Colorado river for the first time in wooden dories, with only one arm, that he was perhaps after some thrills, and that repeating that trip in those same boats today would be considered pretty extreme.

To claim that contemplative recreation is the sole traditional use of the backcountry doesn't seem to be supported by the evidence. They seem to me missing half, if not more of the story, and that the backcountry is for adventure. A place to challenge yourself and your skills, and hopefully that adventure will be thrilling and never cheap.

So we managed to drag six of us up to the Swans for two days of high alpine riding. Three of from the Bitterroot (Warwick, Buhl, and myself), one from Missoula (Bret) and two from Helena (Aaron and John). Although everyone had Bitterroot roots of some sort.

We had hoped that together we would be enough chum to attract the smoke out of the valley, and while some of the smoke took the bait and followed us it appears that most of the smoke decided to call the Red Barn home.

Some how plans to turn in early on Friday night were waylaid by a couple of growlers of Helena's finest.  Little did we know that our campsite had been designated a no camping zone.  Who really reads those signs at the trailhead?  Luckily for us the forest rangers don't go patrolling after five or before eight. Regardless we were up early for a good hearty cafe breakfast in Swan Lake.  If only Swan Lake had a cafe. Luckily they do have a small grocery store with hot coffee.  The sign outside claimed biscuits and gravy on the weekend. The sign was mistaken.  A few spare containers of oatmeal and some hot water saved the morning.

After connecting with our stellar shuttle driver, Stephanie who not only shuttled rigs, but dogs too. We headed off to Napa Ridge for start of what would be nearly nine hours of riding. As long as the definition of riding is generous enough to include pushing and carrying your bike. Were we after quantity or quality? Both, of course.

Through the haze we brought with us were hints of the beauty surrounding us;  distant peaks and remnants of snow fields.  The Missions were hidden, but the second day we received glimpses of the heart of Glacier.

Long stretches above near timberline.  The undergrowth glowing in its fall colors. In one regard I agree with the above mention code of misconduct, I don't think the fastest in the group had any greater appreciation that the slowest. We weren't racing, there was no haste, and our only intrusion was yelling "Hey Bear," or "Caw Caw."

John had a headbanger half way through the ride that left him tentative on the remainder of the ride and talking about this being a retirement ride. Say it ain't so.

On the final downhill past Bond and Trinkus Lakes I thanked Chad and the rest of the Wednesday night crew for all the practice I received being dragged me down Sleeping Child, Weasel and all the other nasty overgrown trails with hidden rocks and roots. I'm not sure I would have had as much fun on the previous expedition,  when my skills were a mere fraction of my now marginal skills.

After the ride a quick dip in Lake Blaine to rinse off before chowing down on the pizza, picked up by our shuttle driver, again going way beyond the call of duty. Warwick, you might have a keeper there. Although, I might not be the best judge of that.  Right now,  for me, a keeper is someone who doesn't ask for you credit card number before talking to you.

Without Shrek and Jamison's we were left to our own device to keep ourselves entertained around the fire ring which somehow devolved into a discussion on low T,  alien anal probes and sounding.  I'm relieved to report that I did not raise any of these topics and had no personal experiences to share.

After a breakfast, this time made by our shuttle driver going well beyond the duty, we headed back our for more of the same. This time just north of Jewel basin from Trail 37, back along the alpine trail down to Strawberry Lake and then the fast flowy downhill back to the truck.

If Saturday's downhill was a technical overgrown challenge, the descent from Strawberry Lake was closer to a wide buffed high speed playground.

During the course of the weekend we managed to keep to Grizzlies away,  even without Amanda singing.

We ran into dirt bikes, hikers, and horses. Everyone was pleasant and somehow we all managed to share the trails without ruining anyone's day.

For those curious my pit stop in Polson on the way home did not result in the Trifecta, rather a strikeout to mix my number three sports metaphors.

This doesn't have anything to do with the ride, but there aren't many blog posts left for the season, and the whole bike condom has to seen.

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