Thursday, February 17, 2011

Desperation Ride

I couldn't resist.  The thermometer cracked 40 yesterday and I went out on the mountain bike.  Yeah, I remember I groused a whole blog post about the cold and hating it so much but I'm also about done with being a houseplant.  So sue me...

The plan was to drag out one of my old battleships...a two-wheeled, double-sprung, much-abused steel monstrosity from a big-box that weighs almost as much as my truck.  Heavy, slow, expendable, this is the tool most suitable for a ride in the salt and slush; I knew I kept it around the shed for some reason.

In another winter, I destroyed a similar big lug (actually, dissolved is a better word) cruising on salty winter roads.  Everything on it rusted solid in one season and no amount of WD-40 could bring it back.  Even the freewheel developed a nasty little suprise once the rust reached inside the became common for it to lock up at random moments; a pesky inconvenience which made the bike into the worlds most dangerously unpredictable fixie.  You never knew when the ratchet would catch while coasting and at the very least, fling your feet off the pedals and bang your knees on the bars or at worst, toss your feet off and then jam the pedal against your calf.  This would lead to some 'epic' elephant skids and usually wad up the whole works in a roadside pile.  I'm really happy I hadn't discovered clipless pedals back then.  The idea of being locked onto cranks rotating like a washer on spin gives me visions of ambulance rides and knee replacements.  It was all thrilling for sure but not especially enjoyable.

I foresaw a similar fate for the current corrodable occupant of the garage.  A quick twist of the front derailleur shot down 'Plan A' though as the cable instantly parted at the bottom of the guide loop that 'Excitor' cleverly designed to retain any and all moisture where it can do the most damage.  That left the Trek up to bat.  I hated the idea of taking aluminum out in the crud but figured I'd stick to the trails if I could and avoid as much salt as possible.  Lucky for me, the snowmobiles have packed the paths as hard as a sidewalk and a couple of above-freezing days followed by clear, cold nights have iced everything solid on top.  Following the posted trails over the hill behind my house worked out pretty well except for an occasional drop into a soft spot that brought me down to a crawl.  Oh, how out of shape I am.  The climb up the hill damn near killed me and those stretches of softer snow just about buried me.  Who's idea was this anyway?
Eventually, I crested on the hilltop and stopped long enough for the fire to go out in my legs and my heart to quit pounding all the way up to the back of my eyeballs.  Whoever said it was cold out is a liar, I'm sweating like a galley slave.  As a side observation: You know, the world looks really strange when seen with a fuzzy purple fringe around the edge of your vision, the one you see right before you pass out from lack of oxygen.  No, I didn't pass out...yes, I wanted to.  Kids, I'm telling you true...I'm REALLY out of shape.

Once my breathing slowed a little and my heart settled to the point of no longer feeling like I needed a pacemaker, I collected myself, looked around and remembered one of the reasons why I started doing this in the first place...the view from the top:

I wound up in an open field on top of a hill with a view over the whole hometown valley.  Once again, I'd stumbled onto a place within a couple miles of home that I've never seen before.  If one thing hadn't led to another, I would have missed it again.  Makes me think I probably won't live long enough to see all the horizons, hidden little wonders and small mysteries to be found right in my own back yard...but it'll be worth a try.

A bit of R&R and now it's back down the other side of the hill.  This was all new to me but I know every marked trail has to come out somewhere so damn the torpedoes and down we go.  This piece of trail wisdom (or lack of) has led to some unplanned adventures before.  It is true that sooner or later, you'll pop out of the woods someplace so it's pretty hard to get lost, the catch is that you never know what might be lurking in between where you are and where you'll pop.  There's some really steep and deep places around here that are sucker traps for the unwary.  Routes that are designed for vehicles burning dead dinosaurs are particularly risky as the trail blazers don't worry too much about long, steep climbs when all they have to do is push a little harder with their right thumb to get out.  Wide, cleated tracks turned by big engines are one thing, I on the other hand have skinny, mostly worn out tires powered by very low octane old legs.  I've had to accept defeat and walk out more than once.
This time, I got lucky and no 'portage' was involved.  It was all descent...and steeper descent...and switchbacks...and ice...and soft snow...then a drop like a cliff followed by the sudden stop of the front wheel in a rut without proper notification to the rear.  I clearly remember watching Doc smacking himself in the back of the head with his own rear tire on a downhill once and now I know how it's done.  His classic endo tossed him in the pricker bushes though while I only fluffed to a landing upside down and half-unclipped in a Kama Sutra position, spitting dead leaves and tangled in bike, brush and a snowbank.  There's times like this when it's better to be riding alone as no one is there to laugh out loud while trying to sound sympathetic when you embarrass your silly self so blatantly.  Unless you happen to fracture your skull on the landing it's better.  Some things I'd rather not think about.
Unwinding from the contortions, I found no harm done but to pride so I got off easy.  I guess you have to pay somehow when you wander blindly around the woods in the dead of winter and this one was cheap.

Now being soaked from shoulders to chamois from rolling in wet snow, I concluded that that was about the end of trail riding for the day.  I tiptoed down the rest of the sled path and found myself on a familiar dirt road.  I decided against any more bushwhacking unless something presented itself that I couldn't refuse.  As things were warming up, the trails were getting more and more sloppy anyway and the burning legs weren't having anything to do with climbs in two inches of mush.  I say to myself, "Self, it's a mountain bike, not a snow machine stupid, you're ridiculously weak right now and the next crash-landing might not be so easy...ride the back roads home and stay out of the drifts. Duh."  I'll go with that.

Concluding that it'll be a couple more rides before I'm ready for the big time again, I tucked tail and headed up the frozen dirt trying not to hit the salty mud puddles any more than I had to.  Save the bike at least.

Yeah, it's still winter out there but there's at least hope for spring I think.  Doesn't look like it in my last shot of the afternoon taken somewhere along one of those half-frozen dirt roads but I have faith.
After one more go at a trail which failed spectacularly, I managed to slog back into my driveway with the light fading and the temp. dropping.  Only 12 miles and change for the outing so not really a prizewinner or record-setter by any means but with luck, yesterdays little soiree in the snow is only the start of a really good year in the hills.  I have faith.

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