I finally rode Kitsuma after hearing about the trail maintenance, and it wasn’t as bad as I expected, and I’m certain it saved the trail from being trampled to death.
The switchbacks are definitely easier – even though I watched a guy topple over backward trying to get around them. They’re still the same steep and tight, they just don’t have roots or rocks to triumph over in the rare event that all/most of them are cleaned. Of course that means the cardio factor is a little harder since there’s no excuse to get off of the bike.
The first, short descent remains a steep grade requiring the saddle in your belly, but it’s no longer an uneven crevasse to navigate with rocks to hop while trying not to grab too much brake.
Actually, it’s still a really freaking scary trail according to my standards. I base that on the death-plunging grade that drops away from the foot-wide trail that undulates you into top-speed. I realize that I’m a chicken-shit and ride only half as fast than I would if there were actual forest floor next to the trail. I remind myself of that the whole time and try to breathe and relax so that I stay smooth, knowing full well that the last thing you want to do is look where you don’t want to land.
The trail is well-sculpted despite the series of dips that will definitely create opportunity for face plants should you be caught going too fast. They’re not something that can be jumped due to the immediate incline once you land. Then there’s that plunge into nothingness off to the right.
It reminds me of an interview with Erik Weihenmayer, a blind dude who raced the Leadville 100 (maybe the country’s hardest mountain bike race) on the back of a tandem. His buddy, John Lemon, who led them, said, “Hang on! I think we can do this, but if we fall, just don’t fall right.”
One thing I always loved about that descent off of Kitsuma is the last bits where it was still fast and rolling, but the trails were wide and there were options to do jumps and berms. That seems to be gone. In fact, the trail seems to just quickly end now at a place in the forest that I find most beautiful. I missed the comfort of riding the last few minutes without white-knuckling the handlebars and instead catching air while breathing in the musky scent of thick moss and wet rocks.
I guess the beauty of the forest is that it’s never the same. Maybe I need to relish the fact that I was one of the lucky to see and ride it in its pristine glory.