WASILLA - The network of rural trails throughout the Matanuska-Susitna Borough makes for great off-road, wheeled riding.
Some people only consider motorized riding, but the enormous borough - it's as large as West Virginia - boasts many excellent trails for mountain biking too.
From the tree-lined single track in Kepler-Bradley Lakes State Recreation Area, to the history-laced trails among rocky peaks in Hatcher Pass, the Mat-Su has plenty of interesting and thigh-burning terrain for all abilities.
Start with Kepler-Bradley, unquestionably the best riding but also the best known.
Tony Berberich of Palmer remembers when the winding trails in Kepler-Bradley received so little use he had to start cutting trees back himself if he wanted to continue riding on them.
That was in the mid 1990s. Now Berberich runs into plenty of bikers challenging themselves on the undulating single track.
Quite a few get lost in the maze of trails.
"They say, 'I have no idea where I'm going,"' said Berberich, owner of Alaska Backcountry Bike Tours as well as a new shop in Palmer called Backcountry Bicycles. "I say, 'Follow us."'
Berberich sells maps of Kepler-Bradley at his Palmer shop. They were made in 2004 by a member of the International Mountain Bicycling Association.
Kepler-Bradley is popular because it contains more single track than any other area in the Valley and is a nonmotorized area.
Single-track trail is to mountain biking what powder is to downhill skiing. Challenging and often exhilarating, single-track riding involves whisking by trees on a narrow trail in the woods and ducking to avoid branches. It's making minute steering adjustments to avoid a root or leaning into a turn as the bike swoops around a banked corner.
Though Kepler-Bradley's trail system is not huge, it features great variety. Openings among birch, aspen and cottonwood trees reveal lakes, most of which contain rainbow trout and other species.
After riding through the trees, the rider may suddenly pop out onto large fields - the experimental farms run by UAF - exposing magnificent views of the Chugach.
Remember to stick to the trails when riding through or along the fields; these are active farms and not part of the state park.
Kepler-Bradley also connects with the Crevasse-Moraine trail system, which features wider and steeper trails.
Crevasse-Moraine also has some beautifully designed single track - the 2-mile-long Mooseberry Mesa Trail. Mark Gronewald, owner of Wildfire Designs Bicycles in Wasilla and a co-founder of Valley Mountain Bikers and Hikers Association, designed the trail.
"It's a real fun trail," said 57-year-old Pat Owens of Sutton, a board member with the association. "It's narrow, it winds through the trees. It's a swooping trail, fun to ride. Anybody can do it."
And the best part of riding Kepler-Bradley on a hot summer day?
"You ride real hard, then you can go jump in a lake," Berberich said.
Beyond Kepler-Bradley, some of the best Mat-Su riding is in Hatcher Pass, thanks to old mining roads.
Archangel Road is an old mining road that gently climbs into spectacular rocky country. Trucks, and the occasional car with clearance, share this road, but it is closed to summer ATV use (snowmachines use it in winter).
In August and September, much of the traffic will be blueberry pickers.
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