Painfully Rewarding

Warmer weather and dry roads have spawned a rash of mountain biking in these parts. I pulled mine out of the tack room, blew off the dust and filled the tires before pushing my physical envelope into the heart attack zone. After a vertical drop of about seven hundred feet, the dirt road that leads along the river to McPhee dam stretches about 15 miles, but who’s counting.

Descending the canyon rim to the river corridor is hairy; I carry so much speed I wear out a pair of break shoes. The river greets me like an old friend, her turbulent waters commanding the overture of spring. I pump and glide past swollen tributaries of obstreperous white water that tumbles down from the glade. Ageless slabs of monolithic rock rise up around me towering over my head in soft hues of rose, blush, and taupe as they skirt the assure sky.

Familiar pools, eddies, and riffle water hold the allure of big trout, fishing memories of the one that got away, float down stream as I wheel on by. I have the whole place to myself, not a human in sight. After hours of peddling, I think facetiously, this sucks. This would be great if there wasn’t so damn many people down here! The road way is littered with tracks from hundreds of elk that wintered here, only now do they follow the receding snow line toward summer pastures in the high country. Reaching the dam I pause on the bridge over the river to suck down some well deserved ice tea. The spillway roars with 800 cu ft of water per second. The swift swell is laden with moss. Like gossamer souls they wander. After a brief pause I turn around and head for home. At the Ferrous Canyon tributary I encounter my first human; he’s dressed in waders, fly pole in hand.

“Mister if you can catch fish in this river, you can catch fish anywhere,” I say coasting to a stop.
He laughs. “Is the water any clearer up towards the dam?”
“No there’s too much water and debris coming down— wade at your own peril.”
When we part company, I peddle off thinking; this fella isn’t from around here.

Climbing the steep grade to the top of the rim almost kills me. I have to stop half way up and finish my bottle of tea. The final stretch back to the ranch is painfully rewarding. I climb off the bike in the circle drive and almost topple over; my legs feel like tree stumps, my prostate is numb, I’m panting like a coon dog, and all I can think about is doing it again tomorrow.


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