Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Coach Whipped! -Part 3 The Final Push!

I know, three parts to this story, your probably bored to tears right now, my epic ride has become a saga. Let's continue. Where were we? Oh yes the crew was just settling down for the night and everything was good. I awoke a couple of times only to find out that our nice clear night had turned incredibly foggy, I could now barely see more than 20 feet and upon sticking a hand out of my warm cocoon I realized everything was soaking wet. I choose to ignore it and went back to sleep. I would deal with that crap later. Early morning came, I wanted to keep sleeping but the constant drip, drip, drip was making it hard, I had turned over on my side just in time for a single well placed water droplet to detach from it's high tree perch and descend down and into my ear canal with a wet splook sound. Fine, whatever, I'm up, lets go. We quickly started shoving wet gear into bags and beat a hasty retreat from our nights accommodations.

We made our way towards Lake Hodges and familiar territory for me. Another rider joined us briefly then disappeared into the fog just as quickly. Quietly and effectively we moved up the valley, we were now moving as a unit, where one went the others followed. A quick stop for breakfast and a fuel up as more well wishers came by for a chat and 'atta-boys. The fog had dissipated and the sun shone down on us once again. We took the opportunity to dry our gear out at the base of Raptor Ridge, looked like a garage sale and as we baked ourselves in the sun like a lizard on a cold day we answered more queries from various trail users. It was fine I knew as soon as we left this spot there would be no one left to ask questions we would again be on our own.

Ghosts in the trees. 

We settled in for the climb out of San Pasqual Valley followed by Upper and Lower Santa Ysabel truck trails and lastly Black Canyon. The sun beat down us once again and I thought back to the coolness and wetness of just a few hours before. What a strange play in weather, I guess the longer you stay out here, the more you get to experience. I zig-zagged my way up the canyon, not necessarily because the terrain was hard but to seek the shade of any tree or structure that would afford me such a luxury. The more I rode the more I kept seeing the footprints of the lonely midnight marchers that wanted to get back to Idyllwild that much faster. It didn't matter, there was no reason nor want to chase, I applauded their effort, hit the chill gear and steadily climbed. We reached the top and took in the views of the valleys on both sides, from here it would be a downhill plunge towards the resort of Lake Henshaw. It was a quick ride down Mesa Grande grade and before we knew it we had rooms for the night and an hour left before the restaurant closed. We talked and drank into the night and I fell asleep excited and hesitant at the same time, I was now having fun and did not necessarily want it to end.

We woke up early-ish to get started, loaded up on the remaining supplies we would need to get back to Idy and set off retracing our steps to get back on course. It was a nice brisk morning kinda like the one we had started with soooo long ago. It was only day five but it had felt like a month since I left Idyllwild, at one point I even forgot what day it was, nice! I felt good and pulled most of the way into Warner Springs. There was once again rumor of hot coffee and breakfast at a PCT stop in the area so of coarse we stopped to investigate but again we were denied. How's that song go "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad". The box of chicken noodle soup I had just bought at Lake Hensaw would have to suffice for now.

Towards Lost Valley and the land of false summits we climbed, with the weather being nicer than expected we made quick work of a lot of sections we thought were gonna be tough. Everyone was in good spirits and my bike even seemed a bit lighter. That last part was bullshit, my bike was still as heavy as ever I think I had just gotten use to it somehow. Brendan lead the push through the valley of the lost and beyond, I happily followed his pace and before I knew it we had closed the lollipop loop and we were now on the final push home. 

We revisited Sunshine Market, got a quick snack, a beer and an extra tall boy for celebrating at the top of Jim Truck trail. We crept our way up trail, unfortunately it had seen a lot of horse action since we had passed through a few days earlier so riding up any of it was out of the question. One last push and we were over and into the mountains again. The pine smells, cool air and of course that tall boy of coors was just the right motivation to keep on keepin on.

With less than 20 miles to go I wondered if I really even wanted to get back. I mean I had been on this journey for five days now and was just starting to feel acclimated to the whole process. I asked the group if we should just keep rolling on to some other destination, maybe camp out another night, keep the feeling going. Alas it was not to be, the last two climbs into Idy were upon us as we went back to the task at hand and easily motored up and over. We decided to jump on some kind Idy single track to heighten our stoke level that much more before we entered into town. There was not much fan fair as we rode ourselves through town, all the hoopla had died down since all the front runners of this so called race had finished days before. Brendan's wife Mary was on hand with a nice ice chest of cold beers and an order of pizza was in to the local pizzeria. All in all it was a most excellent adventure. Will I do it again next year, who knows, I didn't even fully commit to doing the ride this time around but it happened. If I do I would probably change a few things as it pertains to the bike. Although the Surly ECR is an excellent platform to go bike packing with it does not necessarily play nice over the long haul. A front shock might help for starters, less weight maybe. But that's for another time and another day on another adventure. Huge shout out to Brendan and his lunatic brain for coming up with such a fun bike packing event and for keep me on the straight and narrow, and to Tyrel for being a great riding partner and all around good guy. This is definitely one trip that I can call EPIC! Till next time Team Keeping It Real!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Coach Whipped! Part 2 -It's just over that next hill!

We rolled, slowly out of Agua Caliente in the cool morning air of the desert, it was refreshing. As the body slowly started to wake I begin to feel the aches and pangs of the previous nights fits. I adjusted in the saddle continuously as we snaked our way down the desert highway towards the first real climbing of the trip. Down to the Butterfield Ranch for some coffee, maybe breakfast, again sounded good, again we got their too early. I grudgingly followed on towards Oriflame Canyon, I had never had the privileged of meeting the canyon before so I really didn't know what was in store. I started to follow Brendan up the canyon, it wasn't so bad, legs felt ok, continued climbing things were getting pretty technical now. Switched down to my bail out gear and continued on and on and on and on. The heat slowly crept back and soon I was walking, pushing, sweating and cursing again. This sucked my mind kept shouting at me, but the body kept on, it was going to be a long day.

The battle between mind and body ensued. We broke out of the canyon and hid in the bushes for shade. At this point my food consisted of  granola, dried fruit, some trail butter, gu's and some random cinnamon bears. I would save those as rewards. Besides the gummy bears nothing really seemed that appealing. I was depleted and forced myself to eat. Off to the next hill, all I could really do at this point was to follow someones wheel and I desperately hung on. The mind truly checked out, it looked for escape strategies, and saw demons behind every false summit. At one point those demons conspired to pull me off the trail and have their way with me. They reached out at me with long thin branch like fingers, grabbed my front tire, yanked on my bars flashed bright lights in my eyes. Where the hell was I, the body was now on full auto pilot while the mind watched for demons, good places to bail out and was fascinated by the occasional wild flower.

I got really quiet, I thanked the people around me for their effort and strength. I found energy in their perseverance. The hills started to blend and the mind continued to wander. I looked back over my shoulder down towards the desert and could see the vast distance we had traveled, I found energy in that. After what seemed like days we came to the Oakzanita camp ground to refuel with snacks and water. Much to my surprise the owners were watching us all on the computer via Spot Tracker and had prepared soup for the riders coming thru. BONUS, that soup was the best ever soup I ever had in my life ever. I had both the chicken with matza balls and the beef. Nothing better to get you motivated than salty, fatty soup with chunks of meat in it. I was a new man, well almost, there was still plenty of work to be done. Alpine = bed, food, beer and it was just over the ridge.

Food changed everything and my mind slowly started to reengage. The last miles into Alpine flew by as I anticipated the icy cold beer and much needed rest. I stayed at Alpine Apartments/Hotel a funky situation were you call a guy, give your cc and he texts you back with a code to room. I was tired, it worked and the bonus was Alpine Brewery was LITERALLY a stone throw away. We regrouped in the arms of the brewery and we ate and we drank and life was good. I headed back to the room with a little buzz only to find a stick lodged in my back tire. Upon removal a torrent of Stans erupted from the tire. Late night repair while buzzed, fun! Eventually I slept.

The next morning I felt great hopped on the steel stead and set out to meet up with my riding partners. Their hotel apparently had breakfast, today we would finally cash that check. Sausage gravy never tasted so good. We again rolled out in the cool morning air. It was great and I was able to actually enjoy the ride.
View down to the Ocean.
The ride down towards the ocean was great, all the trails we came across were new to me and I embraced the sights and sounds. Sloan Canyon, Sweetwater, Bonita all fun. The hills were full of wild flowers and magnificent. Most of the focus was on calorie replacement, every chance we got we ate, a sandwich here, pizza slices there, cokes, candy and so it went.

As we popped out of the trail systems and onto road we begin to open it up and put miles down. A one point as we were turning towards the Silver Strand we found ourselves in the midst of a sea of fixie hipsters out for a Sunday ride. They rode with us awhile asking the various questions one would ask someone on a 400 mile ride then they were gone. The Surly was a big hit with them. The ocean air hit our senses full on as we rode towards the ferry. We were almost there when crossing the street my front tire let out a hiss followed by Stans that would again not be able to seal the puncture. I had no more 29x3" tubes as I had used the spare the night before. I'll admit I had a little panic attack until someone on the sidewalk said "There's a bike shop right there." there was Hollands Bike Shop, but before I had a chance to go in Brendan produces a tube of super glue and goes to work. It held enough to enable the Stans to do it's magic. After a quick air up I quickly bought a regular 29er as a back up just in case. From this point on I would worry about my tires.

We were finally on the ferry and on our way into downtown San Diego. The ferry was hot and stuffy but an interesting addition to the route. Working our way back up the coast the game plan was to push on until we saw fit not to and that was about the size of it. Various groups of people that had been stalking I mean watching us on Spot Tracker came out and joined our caravan as we turned from the coast to start our return ascent back to Idy. While I appreciated the company it kinda freaked me out a bit. Sure they were friends, but after almost 3 days on the trail I almost didn't want the interaction. My mind became incapable of holding or relating any meaning of the conversation that was going on around me. It was explained to me later that it was a symptom of what was termed "Trail Brain".

Darkness set in as we made our way back onto the trails. It was decided that a beer stop was in order, upon finding a location to drink said beer we would determine a sleeping spot for the night. Turned out the drinking spot would be our sleeping spot. We set up camp under a nice moonlit night and I fell asleep looking into the vortex of infinite stars.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Coach Whipped! Part 1 -Get past the desert at all costs!

Was it 4:30, 4:45 I couldn't remember what time I set my alarm for it felt like I had been waiting for it all night. I stirred then laid there for a moment and thought, "400 miles, argh" then headed towards the bathroom. The cabin was cozy but I could tell that wasn't the case outside so a warm shower set things off right and the preparations began. As I begin to wake and think about the coffee and scone I would soon have I looked over at my bike. We had become good friends, I had the notion that a steel fully rigid bike with 3" tires was the way to go for my first 400 mile bike-pack trip, so I spent a lot of time riding it to prove myself right. Every time I picked it up it seemed really heavy, I had convinced myself that it was normal but cringed every time someone went to handle it for fear they would call me out and say "That things a pig your never gonna make it!" or something to the sort. There it sat waiting to be brought to life by the energy stored in my legs or so I hoped.

I set out towards the intended start spot early enough to get coffee before the intended start time. I made just in time to find out the coffee shop would not be open before our grand departure, oh well, this pattern would repeat itself. A quick adjustment and the intended hot caffeinated liquids were found and all was right. What was I doing? Oh yeah 400 mile ride with 70 other like minded individuals. Still sounded like fun. Small talk was prevalent then a hush as Grand Master Brendan explained the rules. Follow the course, self supported, you're on your own, don't call us, high fives and smiles when you get back and maybe beer. Then we were off somewhere around the intended time headed in the intended the direction.

The banter out of town was nice I knew before long it would cease and all men would be on their own. The air was cool and crisp as we zipped through the mountains, I relished in it's sting as we headed out of Idyllwild towards what we all knew was gonna be a HOT day in the desert. The news had reported all week that their would be record temps around the county and especially in the desert. Hell awaited with open arms and intoxicating views ready to pounce on the unwary traveler with fits of body cramps and nausea.

So we went, I was in good spirits as we entered Coyote Canyon the first of the desert sections. The bike handled well in the sand and I was having fun, friendly rivalry ensued on the washes out of the canyon and candles were burned too early.

I made it to Borrego Springs in not too bad of shape but the heat was present and it was climbing in centigrade by the minute. I had told myself I was too "try and eat healthy, don't load up on crap". I had done well up to this point and was convinced I could make a go of it. Unfortunately or not so unfortunately depending on whom you ask tacos was the easiest thing in town. So tacos it was followed by horchata and a red bull. Fueled??? and hydrated I set off towards the second desert section Fish Creek.

The wind and heat on the road to Fish Creek started to do its damage on me and my pace slowed, I caught up with some over riders along the road all had the same look. IT WAS HOT!! So hot that one rider was overcome by it and the desert heaves set in, I felt bad for him and quickly assessed my odds. They were still good I had plenty of energy despite the repressive heat.

The turn into Fish Creek was an eye opener, well over a 100 and the wind decided it was done for the day. I rode on and on cursing the sun asking for release, I passed riders in the dusk, we stopped, nobody spoke, no words could be mustered forth. I saw shadows of bodies in the sand I secretly envied them but I forced myself forward. Mecca aka Agua Calinte waited and it was only miles away. The desert spat me out onto the highway and wearily I made my way.

I saw a purple lights dance on the hill interrupted with some intermittent green ones in another area, I was close or about to be abducted by aliens, either one was preferable to my recent condition. My condition on the approach was not good, muscles fired randomly in my legs and I was on the verge of seizing up. I had gone to hard in the heat and I was about to pay the fee. I stumbled into Mecca noticed some familiar faces, gave a random high five, walked in the store, couldn't comprehend what I was doing, walked back out of the store and over to a picnic table were I gingerly tried to stretch out and rest. Cramps ensued and I tried to mute my pain from the others around. Riders came and went some stayed, some dropped out, electric dance music played in the distance and yes purple lasers caressed the plateaus of the surrounding desert hillsides. It was surreal and calming, I gained enough energy to try and find supplies for the next day. I at least needed water, the store would not be open early enough to re-supply before departure. It was still my plan to depart in the morning despite what my body was telling me. The night was nice, warm and occasionally interrupted by cramps.

I awoke early with sore legs but no more cramping. Ran into Brendan again on the way out of the head and commented on his dapper PJ's, he had obviously had a better night than I. He was also on the same flight plan so I decided to hook up with him and some others. I needed help to get me through day two. Alpine was the goal but over 7,000 feet of mountainous terrain stood in the way. It would be a pivotal point in my ride.