I had quite the ordeal yesterday. It was one of those experiences that you think in the middle of it, “This is massively unpleasant,” but then when you slowly start to believe you’re going to survive after all, you think, “Hey! I have an adventure to write about!”
Three years ago, I discovered mountain biking; well, I knew it existed. But I discovered that year that I could actually do it. My first outing was on a trail grossly mischaracterized by a trail guidebook as a difficulty of 2/5 — from which I assume the author considered a 5 biking around the rim of an active volcano. My god was it hard, and a wonder I didn’t just pack it in then and there.
But I didn’t; I kept at it, found easier trails, and gradually became more confident. That summer found me in the mountains every single weekend, on new trails and new adventures. I loved the solitude, the exploring, but most of all, my new skill on the bike. By the fall, I was breezing over huge rocks and tree roots like a champ.
The following summer I went a little less, and last year hardly at all. I was disappointed in myself, but when you have only one day off a week, the temptation to just relax on the couch and say, “I’ll go next week” is overwhelming.
I’ve been in that rut this year as well, until this past weekend when my old friend Gerry suggested a trip. I jumped at the chance, and pushed for my favorite trail that I found two years ago, Little Scraggy.
Little Scraggy, in my opinion, is the perfect trail. Doesn’t it sound cute and fun? It starts out fairly simple (though not boringly so) through beautiful pine forest, cool and lovely. Then, if you’re feeling energetic, you can keep going through a large burned out section that’s downhill the whole way, and feels like a rollercoaster. The only problem is you then have to go back up, which isn’t quite as fun. Out and back is about eight miles, and makes for a nice afternoon.
Gerry wasn’t happy with that plan though. Gerry evidently considers the day a failure if you aren’t praying for death by the end of it. He devised a route that would put the uphill at the beginning, but was also nineteen miles long. That’s one-nine. I told him right out he was crazy. I mean, I go 20+ miles on the road bike 3-4 times a week, but a road mile and a mountain trail mile are VASTLY different animals. I told him all this, but he wouldn’t be swayed. My only hope was that he would tire and decide to turn back early.
Things were shaky from the start; I hadn’t been on the mountain bike for a year, and I always forget how radically different it is from the road bike. Well, kind of like going from a Maserati (or maybe a mid range Mazda) to an SUV. But I think starting with the uphill might have been a huge mistake. Fifteen minutes into it and I felt like turning back.
Uphill is hard, especially with no oxygen. My legs felt peculiarly weak, when I know they aren’t — if there’s one thing 20+ miles on a bike is good for, it’s setting you up with a powerful set of getaway sticks. But our real enemy was the sand; it’s been an unusually rainy year, and the whole trail was nothing but loose, gravelly sand, deep and mushy as beach. A nightmare for bike tires. I never thought I’d seek out rocks and roots just to have a solid surface.
So, I spent a lot of time walking and pushing my bike, which really cuts into the fun factor quite a bit. Gerry, being very manly, pedaled as much as he could, but in some spots went so slowly that I actually kept up with him walking. Not fun, for either of us. However, most of the time I would lose sight of him and eventually come upon him waiting for me — having been sitting for ten minutes already and ready to move, while I was ready to pass out. Not fun.
Like a dummy I left my phone in the car, forgetting it’s also my camera. But who needs a camera when you’re an artiste? Which I am, remember. So here was my view for most of my painfully plodding day:
I couldn’t breathe enough. I couldn’t drink enough; Gerry mocked how much water I packed, but I needed almost every drop of it. We brought snacks too but I wasn’t remotely hungry, just wanted to drink and drink forever. He noticed near the end that neither of us needed to pee, which was true and completely unlike me. Dehydration is an insidious foe, to be sure.
Hours had passed and we were still climbing, with far too few stretches where we could actually ride. We had a map, but the terrain ahead was impossible to predict based on a few printed lines. We also had a guidebook writeup of each option, which proved almost immediately as reliable as Mr. 2/5. The day was taking a Blair Witch Project turn as we agonized over turning back or hoping it eventually got easier (I would have settled for slightly less hellish).
Did I mention I worked the night before? I did, and it was way past my nap time. I don’t think I’ve been this tired since my last RGlS January (inventory job, and Januarys were our insanely busy month). Putting one foot in front of the other felt like an insurmountable challenge. I had alternate daydreams of Little Scraggy or selling my bike and sticking to the road, in all seriousness.
We had reached a point where we were fairly certain we had looped around and were heading back, but it was STILL uphill and I was unravelling. I had removed my glasses (easier depth perception), so when we stopped at a crossroads and considered our options, Gerry could see the edge of crazy in my eyes. I said, ”I want the shortest, quickest way back.” He answered, “I understand,” in a subdued, “yes, dear” way (but later admitted the day was taking its toll on him too).
It didn’t help matters that I had to work at 8. I never thought time would be a worry, but I had signed on for Little Scraggy, which only took two hours, not this damn marathon.
Shortly after that, praise Allah! (or whoever you prefer), we reached the big two-lane highway (relatively speaking) called Strawberry Jack (I’ll bet naming trails is terrific fun), our ticket home. This was essentially a straight shot down the mountain and back to our car; where, sadly, I discovered I had lost my love of downhill biking. PURE TERROR. Every muscle in my body was clenched, and l spent half of it ”dabbing” with one foot hanging off the pedal to kick off rocks.
Part of it was I literally couldn’t see straight from exhaustion, and downhill biking requires making split second decisions again and again as to the safest place for your tire. Part of it was the beach sand hadn’t gone away, and was twelve times less fun at speed (I literally fishtailed in more than one spot). Part of it was where there weren’t sand pits, there were eroded gullies just wide enough to suck in your tire. It was in one of these I got caught and fell (the only fall, incredibly), but I’ve had much, much worse so I jumped up and kept barreling down; I wanted OFF that mountain and l had my fill of walking.
We made it. Back to the car, with the sun setting and the previously full lot long emptied. We had gone 18 miles in about five hours, and I never wanted to see a mountain bike again.
On the way home, I was somewhat relieved to hear Gerry thought it about as enjoyable as I did. He thought I was bitching on the trail, but I wasn’t saying a fraction of what I was thinking. He called it the Bataan death march, I called it the Trail of Tears, because I tell you what, I’ve hurt myself many times on the bike, sometimes fairly seriously. NEVER have I felt like crying like I did this day. And not since that first disastrous ”2/5” trail have I spent the day pushing my bike rather than riding it.
I made it home in the nick of time for my shift. I still didn’t feel hungry but Tery had cooked a big juicy steak, and man did that hit the spot.
I still don’t know the future of the bike. Three years ago I was immortal. Now the fear is back. If only I could do Little Scraggy again…