It's not an adventure until something goes wrong.
Today I planned on taking my old mountain bike out for a ride. It's been 6 months since I last rode a mountain bike and longer since I've ridden mine. It's old, the geometry is such that it plows, which means the front tire digs into the ground instead of rolling when turning causing loss of stability. I was certain to become reacquainted with emergency dismounting procedures.
But, I'm learning to run when planned...I wanted to run today, but I'll "stay the course." Yesterday's run hammered my knees "real good." They felt pretty good this morning, if not a touch tender. After riding for a half hour, all of the junk was flushed out they felt fine.
My route today was largely exploratory. I knew the first three miles of the route and the end of the route, but the middle 6 or 7 miles was unknown! I knew a trail existed, but the park service website says it's sparsely marked. In addition, it's a single track trail that is heavily trafficked by livestock. Their trails often look identical to the real trail. You only discover the difference after a quarter mile when the cow trail abruptly stops.
I passed through the first gate, climbed on the bike and clipped in. I had a hard time clipping in! I hoped I wouldn't have a tough time unclipping later! One way to find out I guess. Onward we go. I reached the next gate which is a truck gate for a field that is bounded by the trail and it's shut! This gate has never been shut. What gives? I dismounted and then noticed a beautiful scene, save the 5 dead cows lined up in a row!
I slipped through the gate and hoped this wasn't an omen!
The trail and day were beautiful, though it would get warm. Yesterday was 108 and today was supposed to be hotter. I brought a 3 liter camelbak and a large gatorade, plus snacks. I knew that in addition to the heat and unknown route, there would be two problems: deep, soft sand, and mesquite trees reclaiming the trails in places.
The sand caused me to dismount much more than I had hoped. But not before discovering a new equation. Here it is. Me + Mountain Bike + Sand + 1 rock + Shrub = crash. I was cruising along in the sand and decided I wanted to change my route. I was headed to the right of a shrub and wanted to be on the left. There was one rounded stone, not much bigger than a softball between me and my chosen direction. I turned around it and the front plowed at the same time the rear tire hit the rock. I went over. I landed on my palms and slammed my thigh into the handle bar. DOH! Less than graceful. Luckily, that was the only accident.
Riding along I sliced through mesquite branches and ducked under elms and cottonwoods. I enjoyed twisting and turning along the leaf littered trail. Then I saw something amazing. A literal thorn grenade. I'm not sure what this plant is, but would be instant death to my tire had I hit it!
I saw a group of these about 4 miles down the trail. About this point there are huge old black walnut trees. They're actually indigenous to the area and the nuts are delicious. Last time, when running, I ate one. Not today though.
Soon, after 5 miles the trail became impassible by bike. But, the trail was easy to follow and walk. The trail climbed up a short 25 foot cliff and paralleled the train tracks. From up there I could really see how past floods washed debris, garbage and logs into large piles. Little did I know, I'd end up climbing over some later that day!
The floods here are intense. Supposedly, this region is the only part of the United States that has a true monsoon season. Some may argue, definitions change, but whatever. We get intense rain for about 2 months of the year and very little the other 10. The floods do crazy things...like put underwear on logs.
The trail was still easy to follow and markers were visible. Once I took the wrong route, just as I had running my last time out, but caught my mistake soon enough and backtracked to find the trail.
I stopped to eat some breakfast and drink some gatorade. I popped some sunflower seeds in my mouth and hit the trail again. I passed through a gate and into an irrigated field. The mud stunk and stuck to everything. There were deep ruts everywhere, dug by stuck truck tires. I avoided them as best I could while maintaining appropriate speed. The whole time I thought of Mike Rowe. He once discussed how there are times when keeping your mouth shut is the best policy, and not to prevent misspeaking. This was one of those times.
The water used to irrigate comes from the Santa Cruz River. This time of year the river only flows because of a water treatment facility 6 miles upstream. Gross! If that wasn't enough, the dozens of cows were amply fertilizing the field.
I made it through without incident. Then, I saw this:
After this I had to cross a road and luckily, right across the road and through another gate was a marker! Yes! This was the area I was most concerned about. I was worried the trail disappeared for all practical purposes and I wanted to make it a running route!
This is good, I thought. I had to walk a lot, but the trail was beautiful. I had to do some trail side maintenance and repair on my old bike, but all things being equal, it was a great day. I began to day dream and sure enough, I lost the trail. I knew I wasn't lost, on my left was the river, beyond that the freeway. On my right were the train tracks and then some ranches. I knew where I was, but I lost the trail. Ugh. STUPID!
I had no idea how long it had been since I lost the route. There are huge stretches where no signs exist and you just chose the path that looks most humanized. I got lost in a large open field lined on each side by cottonwoods. There was a beautiful hawk I disturbed that flew to a close by tree, then before I could get a picture, it flew out of sight and screamed off and on for quite a while.
This picture is NOT the trail, even though it is well worn. Can you spot the deer in the picture? There are two.
It quickly became apparent that I was on the NOT trail. The shrubs became very thick and I had to walk, dragging my bike beside me. I crossed a wash, I knew it was Josephine Wash, so I knew exactly where I was. In the wash, I saw a hay-feeder that had been washed away in a flood. I can only imagine that some teenaged kid got in trouble by his father for misplacing it.
For the next hour I climbed over piles of logs and debris hoping not to crash through and hurt myself. I knew I had to head to the river to rediscover the trail. I also knew that I needed to find it soon as the trail crossed it. I hoped there was a bridge. I still hope there is, for the next time I try this route. Today, I did not find it.
Making my way to the water was difficult. It would've been trying without dragging an old heavy bike behind me. But I did see a very curious thing. A deer's skull, antlers in tact, sitting under a large cow pie! I though about removing the antlers, but decided not to. I did my best, with my foot, to clean it off for a picture.
When I got the water I found a very narrow spot where the stream split. I lay a log across and walk to the island, then lay the log across to the opposite shore. If the ground wasn't so soft and sticky and I didn't have a bike I could've easily jumped across. But as it stood, I needed to grab a log and build a bridge. I didn't want to get in this water!
As I picked up a log I noticed I had a supervisor. A beautiful black calf stood watching me the whole time. He was on the east side, the river to the west. On the opposite side of the river was his mother who was scolding him for getting into such a predicament, I think. I don't speak cow, so I'm anthropomorphizing here.
The "bridge" worked well, until I got right over the deepest spot. The log rolled and in went my right foot. GREAT! Not really a great deterioration of my condition. The swampy mud stunk and clung to everything. I already had it everywhere.
After crossing the river I had another 20 minutes or so of climbing over debris before finally relocating the trail. Apparently the crossing was farther upstream, as I'd feared. Oh well.
The trail spit out onto a dirt road with this cool sign. When I saw the sign, I called my wife. It had been 3 hours and I had only gone 10 miles. A mile further down the trail I'd be at my desired destination. I had plans for the rest of the day and my appetite for exploration was satisfied.
And when I mentioned an old heavy bike, I meant it. My mountain bike is a 2002 Specialized Hard Rock Uno. I've upgraded it as much as possible, adding disc brakes, changing the wheels and components, and also swapping out the front fork. But, it's a tank.
I felt great, I wasn't tired, had food and water left. I just didn't want to spend another 2 hours, if I hurried and nothing went wrong, to get back. Plus, it was already 102 degrees outside.
When I got in the car my wife says, "Whoa, I can smell you and it's NOT sweat." That mud was stinky, trust me!
All in all, a great ride with a little adventure. I am looking forward to running the route next time. And I am very happy to be in shape enough to have an adventure like that without being exhausted.