i guess it all started last week when i was talking to dave at work. i told him i was thinking about doing some epic mountain bike ride around north boulder/lyons/longmont. it was one of those rides that are made-up as it comes out of your mouth. “yeah… i’m going to ride heil ranch down to picture rock, and hook up with hall ranch go up the rock garden….” yeah, i was so full of enthusiasm back then, poor dave just shook his head in disbelief.
his only words, “dude, that’s gonna be tough.”
to which i replied,” wanna go???”
i don’t remember how it happened or what he said, but basically it was a no go. i think i even lost a little bit of steam on this one. don’t get me wrong, it’s fun as hell being “epic” alone… but twice as fun when you have someone to be epic with, and even better if you have someone to share your story with.
by thursday morning i was thinking about everything but my big ride. there was the turkey trot in the morning, then there was the actual turkey for dinner… followed by food coma and late night pie. i’m not much of a shopper, but all i could hear on tv/radio were “black friday” commercials, “black friday” emails…etc. i was pretty content with not going shopping on friday, and I was pretty content with not doing any kind of a workout. after all i had just run a 5k turkey trot!
friday morning, on the way home i decided to stop at the bike shop so I could return some shit that i bought last week in another failed bike restoration project. i handed the guy my returned items in a bag and told him i was going to “look around”. This was actually one of those times when i kind of stood in the middle of the store and spun around till i found something that caught my eye … and there they were, bib shorts! i had wanted bib shorts since 2001, but have not been able to spend the money, or have not been interested in bike clothes…or whatever. i had no intention of buying bib shorts, but they were marked down to an unbelievable price. i just had to buy two… right next to them were a couple sweet jerseys that i also could not pass up.
one hundred bucks later i’m walking out of the store with a couple new jerseys and some sweet ass bib shorts. i’m not exaggerating about these bib shorts either. the anti-bacterial padding is so thick and nice, it’s like having a bike seat sewed on your ass (actually i’m not too sure about that analogy).
a funny thing happened as i was driving home, my epic bike ride plan, came back to life!
11 am start time. i know what you’re thinking… “for and ‘epic’ ride, you sure are starting late.” there was a good reason for the late start, but it mostly had to do with poor planning and a cavalier sense of urgency because i never stopped to do the time math. i just wanted to do 40 miles… everything else should come together. :)
i started out at the heil ranch trail head. the temperature was in the high 20’s, but the trail is quite shady so it felt a bit colder. this trail is about 9 miles long and known for its rocky mojo-killing terrain. the first three miles were all uphill and my arms were already burning from the vibrations. this was going to be a long day. i looped around the top and before i knew it, i was 6 miles into the ride as i approached my junction.
the next leg was down picture rock. 5 and a half miles … all down hill. the first three of those were get-off-your-seat kind of bumpy. these are the kinds of trails that make me so happy i ride a 29er. not so happy that i have a hard tail… and kind of pissed that i over filled my front shock with air. by the time i got to the bottom i was 12 miles into the day, and 28 miles from utopia.
hall ranch is a completely different trail. it has lots of buffed out single track with a few sections of very hard technical leg-blowing rock faces. although the trail is mostly sunny, it still felt pretty cold. i think maybe it was just the wind chill on my sweat covered clothes making me “feel” cold. anyway, my plan was to just take my time and get through it. unfortunately my plan didn’t account for two guys with matching kits just ahead of me. i chased, like any good ex-cyclist would.
as i rode up the rock garden that makes hall ranch famous, i lost traction on some loose gravel and fell forward. my handle bars twisted and the back of my right hand came crashing down on a pointy rock. unfortunately the back of my glove has no protection. have you ever noticed that when it’s really cold outside and you get injured, that no matter how small the injury, something feels broken?? well that’s what it felt like, something was broken! i yelled out the work “FUCK” which seemed to help a bit, but it was by no means a long term solution. i felt my hand bleeding inside my glove, but i was too afraid to take it off to check. i soon realized that despite my pain, i could still move everything and actually hold on to the handle bars. ok, enough wallowing in my pain…. i had some guys to catch!
i chased and chased but the gap was not closing. finally i saw them stop up ahead. i caught them and passed with a “friendly” oxygen-debt “hello”. i guess they didn’t want to get passed by this fred with the generic “black kit”, so they started up right behind me and started chasing ME …. fuck! i held them off on the hill, but when we got to the flatter stuff, my single speed gearing was just too spinny to catch them. i tried to keep them in sight and managed to get back to their wheel on some super fast gnarly descent. it was SO much fun.
it didn’t look like i was going to pass them, so i stopped to eat lunch. 20 miles into my day, and about 14 miles back to the car. as i sat there eating my lunch, i kept contemplating my options. 1. do i just go back and make it a 34 mile day… or 2. do i continue on to rabbit mountain? actually the first option was just a facade of my rationale peaking through. i HAD to do rabbit mountain. I had been wanting to link all three of these trails since the early 2000’s. i didn’t have a clue as to how many miles it would be, but my roadside math told me it was going to be close to 50 when I got back to the car.
the ride out to rabbit mountain was about 6 miles of pavement. not a big deal, unless you are riding a single speed with low speed gearing. so there i was riding down highway 66, at about 14 miles per hour with my RPMs at about a buck ten – a buck fifteen. i couldn’t wait for the merciless spinning to end. It seemed like forever, but when i finally got to the trail head, i stopped and ate the remainder of my lunch.
there were lots of people and dogs out on this trail. i had to stop every now and again just to let them pass. as i was riding around the top loop, i stopped to take a picture of the lowered sun. then it finally hit me… i’m not going to have enough time to get back…. shit! at this point my arms and legs were nothing but jello, but i had to hurry. i had no choice but to fly down this bumpy ass trail, with my legs screaming and my arms trying to hang on. i was about 34 miles into the ride and everything was going downhill quickly … figuratively. one positive note that i’d like to share: my ass was so comfortable in my new bib shorts! :)
i spun back down the highway not much faster than my ride up. by this time, the cars were starting to put on their head lights. it was starting to get noticeably darker by the minute. i was starting to worry but then i had a brief moment of elation when i remembered that i still had my sun glasses on!!! woo hoo another 10 minutes and my elation was gone, it was really getting dark.
when i got to the bottom trail head of picture rock, i had about 6 miles of continuous uphill and 4 miles of downhill back to the car. there was no sunshine and i was riding on the east facing slopes in the trees…it was going to be super dark. i passed by several riders on their way down, and the last ones were at mile 8. they gave me a look like, “you’re seriously going up, right now?” i removed my shades and kept going.
it was getting very dark at this point but i was still riding. i don’t know why i kept riding, i think i was just determined to get up the hill. i should have stopped 2 miles earlier but I didn’t. i had to trust everything i knew about mountain biking at this point. i could barely make out the trail and the rocks were just two dimensional dark spots on the ground. i knew i had two big wheels that could ride over just about anything… and i also knew that i’m very decent technical rider…. so leaned way back to prevent any endos from happening, knees out, fingers on brakes and heart on the trail.
delirium and fear set in.
so with 4 miles to go i finally called it. it was getting too dangerous, i couldn’t see anything. i was cold, tired, under dressed, and for the moment 90% blind. i could see the dark trunks of the lodge poll pines and i could see the stars. that last item couldn’t help me but it gave me something to focus on when i got nervous. this area is known for it’s mountain lions and recently there have been lots of sightings in boulder county. i became obsessed with that fact over the next couple miles. there were several moments when i could have sworn i saw a big beige blob flash in front of me. i had no light to see anything just a bunch of dim shapes in the darkness. staying on the trail was becoming increasingly difficult. it’s not like there was a single track trail with tall grass bordering the edges. it was the contrast of rocks with rocks bordering the edges. using the trees as guides and the discoloration from the loose dirt i could kind of see my way. it was so subtle that if i looked down and focused on the ground beneath me, i couldn’t see the trail. i had to look far enough ahead and slightly blur my focus to “see” anything. i marched along taking high vertical steps to avoid tripping.
i began to think about stopping and waiting till the light of morning to make my way out of here. morning seemed like a really long time from now. i thought that if i just stopped to rest, things would be more clear… mentally. i didn’t want to panic and get lost. most of my thoughts at that time involved stopping, waiting, or calling for help. i did end up stopping for a moment just to get some gu drops, and i put on my nice warm ski hat.
suddenly everything felt alright. i felt under control. i could still see the stars, my head was warm enough.. and there seemed to be no urgency to get back…i had all night! i marched along, carefully picking off landmarks along the trail. it wasn’t long before the last landmark appeared… the parking lot with my car. nothing says “welcome back” like a bottle of gatorade and some malt vinegar chips, waiting in the car!!!
walking: 4 miles
road riding: 12 miles
mountain biking: 31 miles
total: 47.25 miles
gatorade and chips: priceless!