Friday, October 28, 2011

Running Up that Hill

My first ever guest blogger, submitted for your perusal, a testament to what my maniac cousins and friends do for kicks. Pete is one of my favorite people in Ligonier. He is super intense, highly educated and knows more music fun facts than anyone I have ever met. Oh yeah and the dude is fearless on a bike. Enjoy .....W.B.Z.N.

Winter would not go lightly. We were two weeks past the Vernal Equinox and it had snowed each of the past three days. Most of the locals were vexed about this. Our only question was: Mountain bikes or cross-country skis? Since the valley had no snow accumulation, we chose the former. Sunday afternoon, about 2:00…On the way up the mountain, the elevation rises about 1,500 feet. We started to see some light snow cover as Homer the Odyssean van strained to reach the summit. We passed into a conspicuously different scene just before we plateaued at the AT&T towers. Rat and I shot each other incredulous looks, as we observed the completely snow-covered land. “Oh, shit,” we either said or thought in unison. We’ve been riding together for 10 years now, on average two to three times a week from April through October. A little quick math tells me that we’ve made this trip over 500 times! As we rolled south on Summit Road we debated whether to turn back and get the skis. Once we arrived at the Warming Hut and saw ski tracks on the first trails, we resumed our deliberations. Rat said we should give the bikes a shot and I agreed. However, since the snow was confined to the mountaintop, the road had not been plowed. Homer is nearing its 10th birthday, approaching 180,000 miles, I have a symbiotic relationship with this vehicle that has gotten me through ice, snow, and mud countless times. Yeah, I’ve overestimated its capabilities more than once. But that’s what AAA is for, eh? We did a few fish tails as we headed for Wolf Rocks and pulled off twice to let oncoming vehicles pass. I was not about to slide off into a ditch and have to get towed on the third day of April. We continued to debate the merits of skiing vs. riding, but we agreed that under the enticing white layer of fresh snow lurked a wet mess, sure to adhere to our slats. The end of Summit Road forms a nexus with Linn Run Road. As we turned west I remember saying, “We could ski this easily.” Pulling into the Wolf Rocks parking lot, we saw two other vehicles. No bike racks. Hikers? Skiers? A Jeep Cherokee had Iraqi Freedom license plates. Homer sports bumper stickers that plead, “War is Not the Answer”, “Let There be Peace on Earth”, “Stay Human”, and “War doesn’t determine who is right – only who is left”. My bike helmet quotes King, “Wars are Poor Chisels for Carving Peaceful Tomorrows”. Later, we would encounter them on the trail, three guys in kilts (on a 38° day) and a woman. So off we went. The snow was 6-7” deep in the woods and somewhat less on the trail. We developed a “shoot for the rocks” riding strategy to keep from spinning our tires in the white stuff. Rat was far more adept at snow riding than me. At the intersection of the Wolf Rocks Loop and Spruce Flats, we stopped and I let some air out of the tires. Something about more surface area. It mattered little. I was tired already, and we had only been riding for 20 minutes. So, on we went to the Wolf Rocks Loop, a trail that has been my nemesis since I first rode it back in 2000. It careens and cavorts, stymies and stultifies. It is a glorious track whose vistas usually afford its visitors late afternoon sun. On this day, it afforded more snow. And I scuffled, like an old man with all his worldly belongings on his back. Rat, bastard that he is, seemed to revel in the challenge. I seemed to spend as much time pushing my bike as I did riding it. I’d start getting squirrelly in a snow pile and veer left off the trail. When I tried to saddle up again, the rear tire would spin in futility, and I’d have to push my steed to the next rock, where I could get a fresh start. And I kept hitting the inside of my left calf on the pedal, resulting in a nasty hematoma (of sorts). Shortly thereafter, I’d veer left again and repeat the frustration. At one point, I grabbed the frame of my beloved bike and considered the unthinkable: I wanted to throw it in disgust. I have never, ever had such a thought through all the rides that featured endos where I landed on my head, got torn up by briar's all too happy to sample my blood, broke my wrist trying a trick on a log reserved for far younger and more capable riders, knocked my wind out by failing to land a jump properly, yada, yada, yada…But this had become too much. After ascending a really rocky hill, I got the hang of it and rode for a couple of minutes unimpeded. Then, rolling down a hill that sports a large plastic drain pipe at the bottom, I imagined that I would crash…and crash I did, but in a wondrously soft pile of snow to the left of the trail. I picked up the perfectly wet Spring snow, fashioned a softball-sized snowball, and hurled it up the hill at Rat. I missed. He just looked at me as if to say, “C’mon, ride your bike.” So I did. And we made it to the top of the Loop, where we always rest our tired carcasses against the wooden trail signs. Then off we went on the easier (imagine having ridden from 6 to 12 on a clock face, then descending 12 to 6) side of the Wolf. Somehow, it got harder. When, at last we reach the crossroads, I had very little left in the tank and told Rat this. He says, “Maybe that’s your problem,” pointing to my flat back tire. We’ll never know when it went flat, but it must have exacerbated my toils. So down in the snow we knelt with CO2 cylinders – the first one spat gas and failed to fill the tube. The next three that we produced from our CamelPaks were spent. We tried the hand pump. Much effort with little inflation. I reluctantly agreed that I’d have to walk the bike back – the same section that took 20 minutes (normally 10 at most) on the way out. So, I run with the bike, holding the handlebars, lifting the front tire over pointy rocks and roots, very nearly approximating the riding experience, but cognizant of the fact that I’m completely drenched in sweat from the ride/push of the last 90 minutes and if I don’t haul ass my body temp is going to continue to plunge. I actually stay ahead of Rat for most of the hyper-hike, and we reach Home(r) at last. The kilted warriors offer Rat some kind of elixir in a plastic water bottle. Turns out to be Balmore 12 year old Scotch. I marvel at our turn of fortune. Several minutes ago, all I could think was that fate had soured on me. Now, I swig a dram lustily. This is kickass Scotch and all is right with the world. I take my pack off and see that the outer pouch is unzipped. Oh, fuck. I frantically search the outer perimeter of the van and abruptly announce, “Uh, I don’t have my keys.” Rat queries me about where I put them and I counter, “Where I always put them, but they’re not there.” All is wrong with the world. So, off I went, back to the spot where we (tried to) changed the tube. I leave my pack (and water source) behind, wearing only a short sleeve wick away shirt, a long-sleeve synthetic shirt, and a nylon vest. I have my phone, but no hat and my hair is soaked. I run my hand thru my hair to rid it of moisture. I negotiate the rocks, roots, and, oh yeah, the freaking snow. My shoes have rubber soles with a metal clip in the middle, but I manage not to crash as I approach the crossroads: No keys. Then it dawns on me. You must have lost them when you crashed on that hill. Now, this was a desperate man’s gambit. I knew that I would have to run/hike another 15-20 minutes to find keys that may have been jettisoned from my pack. And, if I were extraordinarily fortunate to find the lost item, I would still have a 30 minute hike back. So, I proceeded to alternately encourage myself and fairly scourge my sorry 52.7 year old person. “This is crazy,” I said to myself. “But you don’t want to call Barbara and tell her to bring the spare keys, you shithead.” And on and on. It was hard. Really hard. I felt like it might be a really pointless physical effort and then it would really suck having to hump it back on the rocks, roots, and snow and, yeah, I was probably going to get hurt. But on I trod. Though, contrary to all earlier reportage, I was not alone. I pleaded my case to Jesus, Mary, The Holy Spirit, and, of course, St. Anthony. I qualified all these prayers by saying, “I know I’ll be alright, the keys are not THAT important,” sort of a way of hedging my bet. I didn’t want the Gods/angels to think that my concerns were of a high priority. But I believed. And, miraculously, the keys were on that hillside, just above a big indentation in the snow. I whooped for joy, picked them up, and held them in my hands the whole way back, paranoid that if I put them in the pocket of my shorts they’d find a way to escape again. The run/hike back was exhilarating in a way. I experienced runner’s high (endorphin release) for the 2nd time that day, what I would later refer to as a “double orgasm ride”. I employed a strategy that has worked for me when climbing really gnarly hills. I looked only just beyond my feet as I clambered o’er the trail. This has served me well when ascending Laurel Mountain on Route 30, when climbing Rt. 271 above Waterford to the 2,743’ mark, and even the hellacious Donegal hill on Rt. 711 south. You just focus on the next part of the climb, rather than scoping the all-too-daunting massiveness of your challenge. It worked. I made it back to the lot, but not without summoning pretty much every molecule of intestinal fortitude and something else that I’ll call “Murphy Jam”. Rat was rubbing his hands together above a fire that he conjured up, using the glue from his patch kit and some kindling he found under the pines. We would live to ride again. As we drove back across Summit Road I slumped over the wheel, exhausted, diminished, depleted, but somehow incredibly proud that I had summoned not only physical reserves, but spiritual reserves, to overcome a heavy weight. I learned that I know my body well and I trusted my gut, which has always served me well. I now clip my keys onto my pack, and ride with the knowledge that if things go badly, I’ve always got Samaritan spirits on the trail of life to lead me back to Home(r)… “My weariness amazes me, I’m branded on my feet…” – Robt. Dylan


BIGWORM said...

I enjoyed that. Somehow I was cold, wet, sweating, and aggravated, right along with the participants.

Human Wrecking Ball said...

Just another day in "The Lig" these guy ride with a way different mission statement.
Rain? We are riding on non stop moss covered rock, so ya rain is no prob. Mud? Always! Line? Shut your candy cake hole and pedal.
BTW Ratso (making the fire) is my cuz.