Do Sake and Mountain Biking Go Together?

Posted by bmountain | Posted in Sake, Sake & Sports | Posted on 27-09-2009

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Cold sake and mountain biking are two of my favorite things to do.  On the surface they seem like total opposite ends of the leisure spectrum.  Sake is best consumed in a relaxed environment with food and friends.  It’s very social and the high alcohol content means you don’t generally want to be moving at high speeds after you’ve been enjoying it for a while.  Mountain biking on the other hand is an activity that I enjoy alone and remotely, the faster and further away from traffic and civilization the better.  So can you enjoy them at the same time?  I thought I’d give it a try recently just to see how it would go.

McLean Hospital, Belmont Massachusetts, Arial View

McLean Hospital, Belmont Massachusetts, Arial View

The first challenge is how to pack the sake.  No self-respecting mountain biker would put a pannier on his bike and my Trek is no exception.  I considered putting it in my water bottle but figured the plastic would ruin the flavor and let it warm up too quickly.  I settled on a small day pack with a small ceramic sake cup and a couple of gel packs out of the freezer.  This of course had the added benefit of letting me fill my water bottle with water which is usually a good thing on a long ride.

Small tangent – gel packs keep sake cold but if you’re into extreme sports they are a lifesaver.  I keep several of them in my freezer along with velcro sleeves that you can use to hold the cold gel packs onto various parts of your body after you’ve done your best to annihilate yourself.  For me it’s knees, Achilles tendons, and lower back.  CVS could double the price and I’d still buy them every year.

With backpack fully loaded I hopped on The Trek for a nice ride on a warm fall Sunday morning.  My path takes me from my house to the town center where I make my obligatory stop at Starbucks.  Mornings there I often run into friends who road cycle but sake at 6:00AM is a bit early for me so I started a bit later .  From Starbucks I then head up Belmont Hill which is a hell of a thing to hit at the beginning of a ride.  With an elevation of 320 feet and a vertical drop of over 200 feet over a very short distance it gets your heart rate going and you’re sweating bullets before you hit the trails.

Leaving Belmont Hill you enter the grounds of McLean’s Hospital.   McLean’s is a fascinating place.  Founded in Charlestown Massachusetts in 1811 as McLean’s Hospital for the Mentally Insane, McLean’s moved to Belmont in the 1870’s on a wooded plot of 107 acres.  Frederick Law Olmstead was involved in selecting the land and designing much of the landscaping for the grounds.  Recently the hospital agreed to preserve over 100 acres of land in perpetuity as green space for the town of Belmont.  That was good news but equally impressive was their recent finding that sustained use of Peyote causes no long-term damage in human brains.  Not sure how I missed out on that clinical trial.  McLean’s treats rock stars and other celebrities in their elite program at $25,000 per week.  I guess if you’re going to have issues there are worse places to sort them out.

My normal ride takes me through park of the McLean’s grounds and then into a section called Rock Meadow.  Rock Meadow is a large parcel of meadowlands, wetlands, woodlands and community gardens on about 70 acres of conservation land in the northwest corner of Belmont.  It has existed as open space for as long as records are available.  Rock Meadow was for many years owned by McLean’s and was used as a working farm.  There are still foundations from the farm buildings scattered about.  The riding there is very flat with a nice trail network throughout.  Following it to the other side takes you into the town of Waltham and the Beaver Brook preservation area where the riding gets more interesting.

Beaver Brook is a very wooded and rugged area.  There are fire roads crisscrossing it with trails shooting off the roads and merging back again.  I’ve found myself lost in this area many a time before I finally figured out a route where I could enjoy myself and ride hard without trying to figure out where I was going.  The trails have all the usual fun including fallen trees, huge mud puddles after a rain, and trails passing through partial gaps in rock walls requiring jumping and bouncing.  Last weekend the Trek needed a new $70 front derailleur as a result of one of those.

Beaver Brook connects with the long-closed Metropolitan State Hospital grounds in Waltham.  The place has some fascinating abandoned old buildings but the Karma is off-the-charts bad there and I ride fast to get out of that part of the route.

Heading back through Beaver Brook, I stopped at one of my favorite spots for part two of the mission.  There’s a stone foundation from an ancient old house in a nice shaded area.  I pulled the Trek over and sat on a nice flat rock and unpacked my sake.  Fortunately it was still cold, my CVS gel packs having done their job yet again.  I picked a Junmai Genshu from Ichishima for the ride.  Genshu means “Raw” and Genshu Sake is pasteurized and then bottled without adding water to reduce the alcohol content.  Genshu sake is usually about 20% alcohol rather than the 14-17% of normal sake.  The texture and flavor of Genshu sake is quite unique, I generally notice a much higher level of acidity.  The extra alcohol definitely delivers a  kick too so you need to be careful and pace yourself depending on the situation.

The Ichishima Shuzo brewery is located in the Nigata, a mountainous region on the west coast of the Japanese island of Honshu.  Skiing was first introduced to Japan in Honshu.  Ichishima was founded in 1790 and has been in operation and managed by the same family ever since.  Ichishima was one of the first breweries to allow female workers into the workplace and is a perennial gold medal winner at National New Sake Competitions in Japan.  This sake uses the Gohyakumangoku and Koshibuki strains of rice and has a sake meter value of +4 meaning it’s medium dry.

I poured some sake into the small sake cup that I had brought and savored the moment.  I feel very lucky to be so close to Boston yet to have miles of uninterpreted biking trails connected to my town.  In this spot I’m 8 miles from Boston’s financial district yet all I can hear are birds.  Very cool.

The sake really started to open up nicely after a few minutes.  Genshu’s taste “big” and they usually need a bit of time to find themselves, the initial taste often feels a bit harsh.  My Genshu was coming around well and it just kept getting better as I poured a second cup.  A woman walked by with her dog and laughed when she saw what I was doing.    I was definitely wishing I had some nice cheese to go with it but that might have to wait until next fall.

The interesting thing about combining mountain biking and sake is that after a great workout the sake tends to get absorbed into your system pretty quickly so I passed on  a third cup and packed my things for the ride home.  The ride home was considerably slower than the ride in and this leg was the slowest since I’ve discovered this route.

Do Mountain Biking and sake go together?  Most definitely, but save the sake for the downhill leg on the way home!


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