Story last updated at 4:14 p.m. Thursday, July 25, 2002

Pedal power reveals both sides of bay
by Sepp Jannotta
Staff Writer

photo: outdoors
  Photo by Sepp Jannotta, Homer News
Aaron Ulmer, above, maneuvers his mountain bike over a bridge on the popular Powerline Trail in the East Hill Road area.  
When you think of outdoors activities in Homer, certain options, like fishing and beach combing, jump to mind.

But mountain biking?

Sure.

With mountains across the bay and a 1,000-foot ridge above town, a little investigation reveals this traditional seafaring burg is surrounded by bike rides.

Oddly enough, the first consideration in your itinerary is, do you feel like a boat trip to start your mountain bike ride?

If the answer is yes, then you simply need a seaworthy skiff or $50-$100 for the round-trip water taxi. There are two great rides across the bay, one on either side of Kachemak Bay State Park, where biking is prohibited.

If the answer is no, or perhaps a search of the pockets reveals nothing but lint, then there are several excellent rides on the road-accessible side of the bay, including the area's most hair-raising downhill.

That particular ride, known locally as the Powerline Trail, can only be taken in one direction -- down. It starts from the small spur in the shadow of the powerline across Fireweed Avenue near the top of East Hill Road.

One of the best pieces of single track in the area, this short trail is not for beginners. There are several very steep sections and the more adventurous are invited to test their balance on a series of wooden ladder and bridge structures that end with drop-offs. You may not want to try this if you don't have a full-suspension bike.

"The downhill scene has just blown up in the past few years," said Aaron Ulmer, 21, who works at Chain Reaction bike shop and rides the trail several times a week.

photo: outdoors
  Photo by Sepp Jannotta, Homer News
The Rocky River Road takes mountain bikers up toward the Red Mountain Valley above Jakolof Bay.  
Most of the kids who dominate this trail carry their bikes back to the top, but the trail ultimately deposits you back on the pavement in town and the ride can be done as a loop by pedaling up East Hill.

Another popular route is located at the head of the bay, where a ride from the end of East End Road takes you down the switchback, past the village of Kachemak Selo and out onto the Fox River Flats.

There is also a nice tour on the opposite side of Homer, following a four wheeler-maintained homesteader trail into the country above the village of Nikolaevsk.

In the near future, mountain bikers will have a new option that will open up the Kenai Peninsula's interior, as the Caribou Lake Trail gets an overhaul that will reroute much of its length out of wetland areas through a cooperative effort from the Homer Soil and Water District, Snomads Snow-machine Club, the National Park Service, Cook Inlet Keeper and local landowners. Ultimately, mountain bikers should be able to ride trails from East End Road to Ninilchik.

While most of the trails on the Homer side of the bay can become impossibly muddy in the event of heavy rain, the two beautiful rides across the bay stay in good shape in wet weather. Both of these rides, Red Mountain toward Seldovia, and Bradley Lake near the head of the bay, take bikers into the Kenai Mountains by gravel road.

To get to Kachemak Bay's most renowned mountain bike tour, a trip into the alpine country at the foot of Red Mountain, you will need to travel by boat to the Jakolof Bay public dock. From there, the six- to eight-mile ride to the interior of Red Mountain Valley takes you south past the head of Jakolof Bay into the heart of the Kenai Mountains.

If an extra 20-mile round trip doesn't faze you, try heading out from Seldovia, where a cold beer at the Linwood Bar can be the trip's reward.

The total elevation gain is roughly 1,200 feet to the bridge below the old mining area. Bring an extra layer and a snack because you'll want to hang out and admire the view. The road past Jakolof Bay runs on Seldovia Native Association land, and riders are asked to respect private property and stick to the gravel.

The climb has two relatively steep sections, the first of which gains the divide between Kachemak Bay and the Gulf of Alaska. The second climb begins immediately after the fork in the road. The left fork follows what's left of the Rocky River Road, where encroaching alders and washed-out bridges offer significant challenges to a once-classic trip to the outer coast. The right fork takes you up the Windy River drainage to Red Mountain.

When Mike Cooper of Anchorage stopped to catch his breath on a recent mountain bike ride to Red Mountain, he remarked that he was amazed by the unique alpine setting, which echoed with cascading waterfalls and gathering waters of the Windy River.

photo: outdoors
  Photo by Sepp Jannotta, Homer News
Melissa Roberts rides near the head of Jakolof Bay.  
The reddish rock from which the once-active mining area gets its name supports little of the lush alpine vegetation that blankets the neighboring peaks. The boulder-strewn valley and the 3,500-foot namesake peak look as though they were removed by jigsaw from Colorado's continental divide and dropped onto the tip of the Kenai Peninsula.

After a short break, Cooper turned his bike around and bombed out of the valley, through stands of cottonwood and Sitka spruce and back to Jakolof Bay nearly 1,500 feet below. Two hours up. One hour down.

The Bradley Lake ride is tougher to reach as access is tide-dependent. Water taxi fees are likely to be close to $100 roundtrip.

Despite the difficult access, the reward of this spectacular six-mile, 1,000-foot climb is an alpine lake in a very quiet corner of Kachemak Bay.

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