After plenty of time exploring the local roads, I’ve got a good feeling for the Inntal (Innsbruck valley). Each road ride fills another blank area of my map; the empty contours fill themselves with mental images of churches, bridges, rock faces and small villages. When I get home, the anonymous lines on maps now have character; they have been animated by my previous ride, and I can live them from the comfort of my house. Each progressive exploration gets easier to assemble. Alternatives can be cerebrally perused before I even set off.
But, the road bike has limits. Even for me, foolhardy as I may be, the road bike cannot tackle all terrain. Each pedal turned up a beautiful mountain valley is another opportunity to look in the direction of where the pavement ends, where Google maps stops drawing the squiggly lines, and where exploration must happen blindly, without the digital reassurance of a pre-scouted route.
So it is now that the snow blanketed ground is disappearing. The quagmire of run-off is beginning to firm up, and Mountain Biking is becoming a real possibility. If road biking is my way of filling the map with details and memories, mountain biking is the colour of those details, the smell of the alpine air, the feel of the mountain stream as the water splashes your shins.
The area explored is smaller; the detail is greater. You travel shorter distances, and it takes longer.
There are rules for exploring on a mountain bike. Rules to ensure that you don’t leave a trail untracked. For the first half of the ride, you take every turn that points away from home. If the trail runs out, or turns into thick forest, go back and try again. If you’ve been somewhere before, you take the other turn, the one you didn’t take last time. No matter if you know there’s some good single-track waiting for you, go find some new stuff; there is a better trail you haven’t found yet, and you’ll never find it if you don’t keep looking for it.