Rolling up 5.2 and 1200With a light October chill in the air, it seemed sensible to put on three layers of clothing for an estimated two hour ride to the top of the local ski area. Snugged beneath a wicker tank top, a long sleeve polypro, and a riding jersey, my core temperature quickly rose beyond bearable. Crotch rot soon followed as I doubled up 3/4 length spandex under mtn biking shorts. Pit stink trickled into my nostrils from the riding jersey which had obviously been worn to many times without making it in the laundry basket. All these problems became apparent before I had even made it a kilometer up the road. The unfortunate truth was that it was a bit warmer at sea level than first suspected.
Fall dominated the landscape though. Berry bushes and alder trees lie bare now from the high winds that rolled through the area over the last week and seem to be on the way, as well. Smaller shrubbery and grasses glow in autumn reds, oranges, and golds below the continual greens of the spruce and hemlock forest. The continual pitter patter of big mtn bike tires on pavement was the only sound I could hear beneath the roaring breezes finding their way up under my hat and into my ears.
The Eaglecrest road is a 5.2 mile climb that consists primarily of four hills tied between short downhill respites and straightaways that pass over Fish Creek as the stream winds its way down the valley. The first hill begins after a gentle roll through rolling bogs and meadows. It is a brutal 1200 meter, 11% grade that beats the crap out of fresh legs and strong lungs. The other hills are fail in comparison and are either shorter or less inclined to induce the lactose tolerance threshold in such a pronounced way as its predecessor.
Running enthusiasts love to train here on Juneau's longest hill, but several road bike races take place here each summer drawing cyclist here on a regular basis, if not, at least on the weekends. The race course shaves the length of the climb from 5.2 to 4.5 miles and although I have fared no better then the twenty minute mark, a fair number of elites fall between 16 and 18 minutes!! But this past August organizers upped themselves one with the inaugural Eaglecrest Sea to Summit Road/Mtnbike combo race. Since I was running the Douglas Marathon on that day, it seemed like I better give this challenge a go before winter reaches out and grabs us by the heaters.
If I thought I was slow on a road bike, I was proved to be about as slow as a young porcupine on the full suspension mountain bike. Still, I was content with this notion due to the fact that the course did not end at the ski area but began again, fresh.
With a kilometer to go before the ski area, riders can duck off the pavement and ride the cross country ski trail that is covered by number 2 gravel. This trail connects alpine muskegs and meadows and follows the much smaller Fish Creek up to the parking lot to the ski lodge proper. At this altitude, the trees are not so tall, nor are they as thick, rather they are grouped in thickets and not in groves.
12 to 28 HundredBelow the lodge the gray gravel road drops down and crosses Fish Creek for the last time before heading up to the Ptarmigan lift shack. From there it winds around a bit, meandering underneath two of the three areas chairlifts. The road gains five to six hundred feet before attaining the loading area of Eaglecrest's newest chairlift. Numerous gurgling, crystalline streams pass under the route and a couple of them enticed me enough to drink from their fast moving waters. The mountainous climb began to reveal craggy escarpments as the road moved steadily up the landscape. The Chilkat Range as well as the Juneau Icefield came into view, as well, when looking back from where the road began.
Winter-like winds whipped stronger and I knew the triple layered core coverage would be well worth its use up high. A centimeter of crusty snow covered the last section of the 18% graded road that led to the top of the Black Bear lift. I speedily descended the 100 meters to the fork and stayed left to work my way up back up to the top of the Ptarmigan lift. The ski patrol lodge, the lift's large off ramp, and a weather station punctuated the end of the road. The low sun was smeared behind clouds as I topped out. This was the kind of road that makes a person want to go ride on a regular basis! Fantastically hard, a continual work horse like grind with a scatter braining descent. Why the heck I have put this off until now, I do not know. Geez, I can't wait to get back out and do it again. Care to join me?
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