Into the unknown

I’m coming out of a deep sleep and semiconscious. I’m aware of my deep sleep breathing and my legs feel extremely heavy, almost immovable and foreign. I’m not asleep nor awake. I can hear Barb’s bathwater running in the background. It is June 12th, 2017- 15:45 and the room has heated from the afternoon sun. The fog has cleared in my head and have a good feeling about this morning’s solo fat tire bike ride in Riverside State Park. I rode into new territory on trail # 25.

I switched out my pedals at the car from clip in on both sides of the pedal to clip in on one side and flat on the other so that I could be clip free in tight spots.  I knew that I was in for some rough terrain because of the color-coded profile on the MTB project App Map. There were several areas in red indicating steep grade and little squares on the trail line with exclamation points.

As I pedaled away from the Wilber Street Trailhead alone, I felt a small amount of apprehension but also felt like I could handle whatever the exclamation points were warning about.

A short distance into the NW bound trail, I came to the first steep climb. I geared down and lowered my shoulders almost to handle bar level and pointed my elbows out as I was taught in a class that I took a couple of years ago. The idea is to spread out the weight so that the front wheel doesn’t come off the ground and the back wheel has enough traction to keep from spinning out. I gave it all that I had but had to stop and hike a bike about a third of the way up. After reaching the top and recovering my breath, I took out my phone to see where I was on the profile. To my astonishment, the section that I had just climbed wasn’t even a blip on the map’s elevation profile. Yikes.

I was in familiar territory for the next mile or so until I crossed the dirt road adjacent to deep creek. I stopped at the trail marker to access the situation. The trail was narrow and lined with tall bushes with a slight bend and I couldn’t tell what I was getting into until I was on the bike and committed.

The trail followed the steep deep creek contour nearly straight down with no switchbacks. The trail is dusty with basalt rocks poking through like mountain tops mysteriously popping through the clouds as your plane glides toward to Seattle over the North Cascades on a cloudy day. The difference is that it isn’t eerily silent. The four inch tires groan as they pass over and from one rock tip to another. The hydraulic powered disc brakes are doing their job and stopping the wheel rotation as requested but I must release and engage repeatedly to keep from going over the handlebars. As I near the bottom, there is a ninety degree turn and my momentum has slowed enough that I could unclip and dismount to walk the bike the rest of the way. Unfortunately, the grade and momentum didn’t allow me to get control even though I was off the bike. I let go of the bike as I fell to my left onto the rocky trail and felt a thud on my helmit. No injuries, only a few scrapes on the elbow and knees. As I was descending, my conscious self-seemed to be watching objectively in slow motion and heard me say, “holy shit, that was steep.”

As I emerged from the trail into a nearly dry creek bed, I felt like I had emerged into another world like in Jurassic Park. I looked around in awe and couldn’t find a continuation of trail #25. I laid my bike down and wandered up and down the creek until I saw the familiar “25” on a signpost and a nearly hidden trail back up the canyon wall. This was without a doubt, hike a bike for me and it was a long time before I could attempt to ride, even for short distances. Pushing my 37-pound bike up a narrow rocky trail was humbling. I was glad that I was riding solo.

Forty-five minutes later, I descended onto West Carlson Rd near a parking lot and outdoor restroom. I tried to orient my map and find the continuation (back towards the beginning) but couldn’t find it on the map or physically. I decided that I must have missed a turn back up the trail so set off in that direction. (up a steep incline, of course). The trail looked familiar for a short time but then looked unfamiliar. I decided that I must have accidentally gotten back on the right trail and pressed on over rough terrain and frequent hike a bike circumstances. After about an eternity, I came to a sign, “interpretive trail ->”. I remembered seeing it earlier and immediately realized that I had, indeed, backtracked on the trail and was about to re-enter the Deep Creed Canyon.

I had previously noticed a trail on the ground and on the map indicating a way to traverse down the ridge to the Aubrey White Trail (paved). I rode (and walked) back to that point and was soon descending a steep and winding trail back to the paved road. Twenty minutes later (on dirt trails), I arrived at the car.

Once home, I studied the maps and figured out just where I had been and how much of trail #25 that I still need to do. I had a good feeling about the experience.

I’m grateful, at age 70,  to be able to get out on the trail and experience the unencumbered terrain of Eastern Washington. I’m also grateful that I can still mountain bike with my kids, their spouses and grandkids (this does require some patients on their part).

What else is going on? I’m doing a dirt rails to trail in Idaho next week: https://www.traillink.com/trail/weiser-river-national-recreation-trail/ with a friend. This will be an overnight self-supported Bikepacking experience. It is a trial run in anticipation of doing the cross-state Washington rail to trail (named: John Wayne Pioneer Trail. https://www.traillink.com/trail/john-wayne-pioneer-trail/) )this September. Stay tuned.

Life is good.

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Strategy for resumption of activity

The Arthrogram showed a small tear in the labrum, compressed disc at L5 (previously known) and an inflamed tendon where the thigh muscle joins the hip.

Next step is an injection of steroids to reduce the pain enough for effective physical therapy.

Fortunately, getting an appointment for the injection was quick. I have an appointment on Monday, February 8th. A week or so later PT will begin.

If that doesn’t work, we will talk to a surgeon in six weeks.

I’m looking forward to getting some exercise and am reasonably optimistic.

Updates to follow

Garry

Epilogue

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The Doctor said, “describe your pain on a scale of one to ten, ten being almost unbearable.” I didn’t hesitate, “nine”, I said.

It didn’t start out that way. In late November 2015, I noticed a twitch in the upper part of my thigh as I walked. By late December, it was unbearable to put weight on my left leg. The sports doctor has predicted that I might have a tear in my labrum. An Arthrogram has been ordered for February 3rd. After that, we will have a clearer idea of what to expect.

August 7th, the day we finished GDMBR seems like ages ago. My recent bout with hip pain has colored my view of the GDMBR. I am exceedingly grateful for having completed it in 2015. It was, almost certainly, my last opportunity for such a challenging tour.

As I look back over the photos and video of the 50 days, I see them with fresh eyes. I no longer feel the pain that accompanied most day’s ride but I do now feel joy as I look them over; especially the videos where I tried to capture the feeling of the day or week.

Thoughts of The Three Amigos and the 50 days we shared on the Great Divide bring good feelings of camaraderie and a deep sense of gratitude. We did amazingly well together.

What is my favorite memory? I think it is the day between Selida and Hartsel, Colorado. The day was so varied; starting with a nice peaceful three and half hour climb and ending in a wild thunderstorm as we pedaled madly into Hartsel. Hartsel welcomed us with buffalo burgers, beer and a lodge, just down the road. That day was our first encounter with bike stopping mud.

Now what? I’ve been humbled with the back and leg pain, knowing that the level of fitness and endurance that I can achieve in 2016 is in question. I will be starting from near zero as I try to make a comeback. What I do know is that part of the solution is setting a big goal. How big? We will just have to see after the diagnosis. If there is not surgery and I can begin crawling back on March 1st, it might be another cross state ride or a mountain bike ride across the state on the John Wayne Trail or maybe something a little more aggressive.

My hope is to dodge this bullet and have a great year in 2016. If not, I will be content. It was a fabulous season culminating with an adventure of a lifetime in 2015: GDMBR.

Stay tuned…

The unexpected

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GDMBR. July 27. 2015

It’s 12:45 PM and I’m in my sleeping bag. I can see my breath as I exhale. My fifteen degree bag is barely ahead of the chill.

On the morning of Monday, July 27, 2015, we leave the motel in Lima at 6:00 AM. The forecast is not favorable; calling for winds out of the north and 94% chance of rain. We say goodbye to Barbara and Paula, pass under the freeway and head into the wind on the frontage road adjacent to I-15.

Seven plus miles later we turn left onto Big Sheep Creek Road. Big Sheep Creek has cut a deep canyon into the divide. Within the canyon, the wind is negated and the road grade is minimal. We enjoy the ride up the canyon; often stopping to marvel at the canon walls and the beauty of the creek and to take pictures.

Twenty five miles into the ride the canyon widens, the wind picks up and the forecasted rain arrives. My hands are freezing so I stop to get my winter gloves. My numb hands barely function and it takes ages for me to get my mittens on because I cannot grip the mitton edges and my lifeless fingers won’t cooperate by wiggling into position.

At mile 35, all three of us have trouble negotiating the mud that is now gobbing up on our wheels and drive train. Paul is pushing his bike because the mud has rendered his rear dérailleur inoperative. Jamie spots an abandoned barn a hundred yards off to the left of the soupy two track road and checks it out. We all agree that this is an opportunity too good to pass up.

The barn is primitive and obviously hasn’t been used for some time. The barn was made of raw timber. Barn Swallows and their characteristic mud nests have taken up residence. The tin roof kept rain off and the raw cut sideboards kept the wind at bay. We set up our tents on the dirt (dried cow dung) and put the rain fly on for insulation.

Once inside the barn, Jamie does triage on the dérailleur with the confidence and focus of an emergency room doctor and has it up in running again in about fifteen minutes; much to the astonishment of Paul and me.

I crawled into my down bag to try to get warm. We were wet and cold. Paul and Jamie set about to start a fire to dry out our clothes. The snow level was about 100 vertical feet above our current elevation.

The big question was: will the roads be rideable in the morning?

Tuesday, July 28
As we closed the gate behind us, Paul proclaimed, “I think this is rideable mud.” Twenty yards later we were all pushing our bikes through the grass and sage brush off road. The mud was sticky and adhered to the tires. Forward movement in the mud was limited to about 1/3 wheel rotation per clean out of the front and rear wheel.

We pushed the bikes five miles to the divide pass. The last couple of hundred yards up to the summit were especially bad. We had to carry / drag our bikes through the mud a few yards at a time. It was excruciating. It took us two hours to get to the top.

It was decision time. Do we wait hours in the cold wind for the mud to (hopefully) become rideable or do we press on with pushing our bikes off road? Jamie said firmly, “our goal today is to get to the paved road thirty miles away.” Paul agreed. I was uncertain, thinking of how difficult it was dragging our bikes a few yards at a time and couldn’t imagine doing so for thirty miles.
It was push-a-bike through the sage brush- which is much harder than one would imagine- for a few hundred yards down the backside of the divide. Then, unexpectedly, the mud became less sticky and we could actually ride the downward trending dual track.

We arrived at the paved road about noon and decided to proceed another twenty miles and camp at Bannock State Park, the sight of the former gold rush town and capital of Montana Territory. We had a lovely place to camp and enjoyed touring Bannock.

In hindsight, if we had known how difficult crossing the divide at Big Sheep Creek would be in the rain, we might have waited out the rain in Lima or stayed an extra day in the barn. Certainly, we might not have set out walking / pushing the bike the five difficult miles to cross the divide and we could have tried waiting out the sticky mud at the divide crossing.

Fortunately, we did press on and at the end of Tuesday we were in Bannock and still on schedule to be in Wise River in three days. Sometimes it’s best to just move forward and hope for the best.

Today, Thursday, July 30, we are in Butte, Montana…on schedule.

Out of Wyoming, through Idaho and into Montana

GDMBR. July 26, 2015. Lima, MT. image GDMBR. July 20, 2015. Wild camped at 9,200 feet in the Bridger National Forest The alarm jars me from a dream filled slumber. Foggy, I feel for the phone tucked in the tent pocket. As I press the various buttons to silence the alarm, my mind clears.

I unzip my mummy bag and my body recoils from the frigid air. “It must be near freezing”, I say to myself. I hastily don my headlamp. My cold weather clothes are laid out at the foot of the tent. I dress hurriedly and feel my body heat begin to offset the chill. As I leave the tent, I notice that I can see my breath. Overview Total miles: 1,668 Total elevation gained: 120,000 feet Current location: Lima, Montana Miles since last posting (Pinedale, Wyoming): 312 In the last six days I have been aware of contrasts.

Last week was dominated by the barrenness of the Divide Basin. This week, each day brought contrasts. Sunday morning brought Wyoming ranches. Video By mid afternoon we were in high country wilderness. The next afternoon we were climbing Togwottee pass on highway 287 and shortly found ourselves in tourist land USA: The Great Teton National Forest. Thirty miles later, we were back in remote mountain dirt roads with very little traffic.

What did remain constant was the weather (clear mornings, T storms in the afternoon) and daily crossings of the divide. My new mantra is: “I’ve got the power and endurance to meet today’s challenge. I’m enjoying the ride.” I’m doing much better.

I notice that I’m spending most of my time in the middle chainring, even on climbs of up to 10%. I’m working on enjoying the ride as it develops and not being consumed by what’s to come.

Riding at sunrise is still the favorite time of day. The soft light, emerging long shadows and a landscape flooded by sunlight consistently leave us in awe.

Daily record. Sunday, July 19th. Leaving Pinedale, Wyoming after a rest day. After a rest day I am always renewed physically and in good spirits. The early morning ride out of Pinedale is pristine. I notice the many artful western scenes atop the archways on the entryway to ranches as we ride northwest toward the divide. The rivers are flowing freely and the lush grasses wave back and forth in a the light breeze. Such a contrast to the barren high desert we just left behind. It all feels so civilized.. Mid morning we crest a ridge and glide down the paved road and anticipate a second breakfast at the restaurant annotated on our ACA map.

Unfortunately, it is closed. Why it is closed is a story for another time. We continue downhill until we see the sign: “Pavement Ends.” The joy of riding on pavement is replaced by bone jarring washboard with a heavy dose of three quarter inch crushed rock. “Back to the real world,” I say to myself. Shortly we enter the National Forest. The green river flows alongside the road. These road conditions- washboard and a layer of rock, I’ve noticed, accompany heavy traffic for a dirt road. In this case, campers and pickups pulling trailers hauling ATV four wheelers; all good stuff.

Fortunately, after a few miles, our route takes us off the heavy traffic road onto a two track clay road that looks like it goes nowhere but in fact will take us up to the mountain wilderness area on the Wyoming Divide.

After a couple of miles I can see a ribbon of this jeep trail two track snaking up the mountain. “Oh shit”, escapes my lips as I stop to look the situation over. As we granny up the track amongst open range cattle, I notice bear tracks pressed into the clay road. I stop to study them and take pictures. I’ve never seen real bear tracks before. The five toe impression looks similar to a human footprint except it is wider and there is a pin prick for each toe from the claw.

In a way, this wildness is what we were seeking when we decided to embark on the GDMBR. Well now we have it. I take stock in the congruent relationship amongst bears and cows and think to myself, “if they leave the cows alone, they probably aren’t that interested in me; unless of course, I startle one.” I find myself “coughing” as I climb into blind turns.

After gaining an elevation of 9,200 feet, we wild camp near mosquito lake. We take extra care to tie our food bags ten feet off the ground and four feet from the trunk of the tree. I’m on alert as I nestle into my tent but I’m excited.

Monday, July 20 Rode 25 miles at 9,000 feet plus. Good dirt roads. Dropped nearly 3,000 feet to Warm Springs for lunch. Joined 287 and climbed 10 miles to Lava Mountain Lodge.

Tuesday, July 21 Left Lava Mountain Lodge at 6:40. Ten mile climb to Togwottee Pass. Seventeen miles down to Moran Junction. Breakfast at Togwottee Lodge. Camped at Colter Bay Hiker, Biker campsite.

Wednesday, July 22 Fifteen miles on busy tourist highway to Flagg Ranch then turned west on a dirt road and climb. Ended the day at Squirrel Creek RV. Last ten miles were tough due to rock and washboard roadway. RV park is perfect.

Thursday, July 23 Squirrel Creek RV to Marks Inn, Idaho. Took alternate route on paved road to avoid thirty miles of trail described as “awful” by south bound riders. Opted for a motel vs planned camping due to heavy rain in the forecast. The forecast proved to be accurate.

Friday, July 24 Advised that the route ahead to Lima, MT was impassable under rainy conditions. Three miles into day’s ride, the route turned off the paved road onto muddy two track. Jamie said, “today could be interesting.”; translation: if we maintain the current speed of 4.3 mph, it’s going to be a long day. As has been the case from the beginning, the current situation always changes. Projecting, thankfully, doesn’t pan out.

A few miles into the muddy tract, we noticed a number of campers scattered throughout the woods. I said, “I wonder how they got the campers in here?”, knowing full well that a camper couldn’t have made it through what we had just ridden. Sure enough, a hundred yards down the trail, we turned left onto a paved road. That road turned into a good quality dirt road in a short while but far better than the mud trail that we started with.

After 51.6 miles, we found a stretch of BLM land and set up a wild camp amongst some tall bushes. It rained much of the afternoon and evening but we were tucked safely (and dryly) into our tents. Saturday, 25 July Twenty six miles to Lima, MT where we are meeting Barbara and Paula. Day off on Sunday. I’m anticipating that this will be our last day off before arriving at Rooseville, MT. I will give brief updates between now and then but will not post a full update until after the ride is complete. We have about 630 miles to go.

Pinedale, Wyoming. July 18th. Day 31

Overview:

image

Total Miles: 1,356

Total Elevation gained: 100,000 feet Plus

Miles since Steamboat Springs: 302

The big feature for the last five days has been the Great Divide Basin. Link The Basin is 4,000 square miles of high desert. Rainfall in the basin stays in the basin and doesn’t flow into either ocean.

We were warned by mentors and by GDMBR blogs about high temperatures, limited water and headwinds. We were advised to ride at night.

The three amigos left Wamsutter, Wyoming and rode into the heart of the basin on the morning of Wednesday, July 15th. The wind, initially, was from the south (tailwind) and the day time temperatures were a comfortable 70 degrees. We were each carrying from five to seven liters of water which was more than adequate on cool days. The road is well maintained and free, for the most part, of the dreaded washboard effect.

At mile 50, the GDMBR route took us off of the remote road and onto a barely detectable rocky jeep road to the top of the Great Divide. Although challenging, it proved to be very interesting. Near the top of the ridge the headwind was blowing at twenty plus miles per hour and T storms were threatening. We stopped for a break and sat on the leeward side of the ridge for a snack and a chance to recover. The wind picked up and the rain started just as Alex (a rider from Austria) joined us. We sought protection from the wind, rain and lightening in a drainage just off the hilltop.

The rain passed and we continued up the ridge on the rocky trail. Soon we were in hike-a-bike terrain and intermittently rode and pushed our bikes for the next three or four miles. It was exhilarating. After cresting the Great Divide for the third time, we had a downward trend and at mile sixty we decided it was time to set up camp. We camped in the Alkali Creek area just off of the road. There were cows in the area but very little cover. We were on BLM grassland.

The second day in the basin proved to be quite challenging with stiff headwinds. The last ten miles before arriving at Atlantic City took nearly three hours. After a big climb, the road took a steep decline into Atlantic City where we had a great lunch and a nice recovery break; now to climb back out of the hole. The grade was extreme and the climb seemed to never end only to drop us into another hole (defunct town of South Pass City, a boom and bust mining town). Immediately upon gaining high ground, the road turned directly into a tiring headwind.

The route took us off the county road where we were riding directly into the wind to state highway 28 (paved) which made a ninety degree left turn before, once again turning into the wind about five miles down the road. At the base of the Sweetwater river, there is a rest stop . We decided to wait out the wind and try to get in another ten miles or so before camping for the night. Video

The wind didn’t die down as it usually does about 6:00 PM so we decided to camp near the rest stop on the river amongst some tall shrubs which provided excellent cover.

At 5:00 A.M. of day three in the basin, we climbed out of the Sweetwater drainage toward even more Great Divide Crossings. As the night turned to day, we say T storms heading our way. A couple of hours into the ride, we decided to stop in a protected area and let the storm pass. I set up my tent to get out of the wind and stay warm. Rains eventually came but passed quickly. Soon we were on our way to our destination of Pinedale, Wyoming.

The winds were not favorable and we were “spent” by the time we arrived in Boulder, Wyoming (One gas station with motel, bar and convenience store). We were short of our destination by twelve miles but decided to stay in the one motel available and get a good meal and rest. I was relieved because I don’ think I had another twelve miles in me.

On day 31 (today), we rode the 12 miles to Pinedale and checked into a motel. I definitely needed a recovery day after a challenging 302 miles in five days.

The next time I post, we will be in Montana. From Pinedale, we have a little less than one thousand miles left before arriving at Rooseville, MT.

All is well. The three Amigos continue to do well. Jamie and Paul are amazingly positive all the time. They are the best possible GDMBR companions.

Selfie video: Video

Both have excellent blogs. I recommend them highly.

Jamie’s Blog: Link

Paul’s Blog: Link