SHORT VERSION: It was long, hard, and satisfying...
I started mountain biking to get fit. I love being outside with my wife. Rolling through the landscape, for hours on end, on fat tires. Nothing else feels quite the same.
At times I gaze around me and try to take mental snapshots of the incredible scenery, the beauty of it all, the joy of the adventure. Other times it is very different. My head hanging low between my shoulders, my mouth agape gasping for air, sweat dripping from my head coats my presecription lenses and stings my eyes, a long string of spit and snot hanging from my face, trying desperately to keep pace.
Saturday I ranged through those extremes and others.
At 6AM we rolled out of the campsite near Hurkey Creek. The temperature indicator on the mirror in the truck had blinked "ICE" just before departing, warning us of what we were in for.
The roll out was uneventful, I tried to suppress the shivering enough to hold my position in the group. It would suck to crash, to cause a pileup before the sun came up. My hands were completely numb as was my face. My light was useless and Allison's had stopped working just yards from the truck.
When we hit the dirt the faster participants accelerated off the front. I stuck to my game plan and kept a steady pace. Luckily there was at least one guy that had a light, I didn't ever get a chance to thank him for it but I definitely appreciated his presence!
The sunrise was spectacular. At one point Allison said something to the effect of, "I want to remember this, the pink light dancing on the rugged mountains."
It was quite a sight! We were warming up quickly due to the effort too which was a welcome change!
When we turned onto the Rouse Ridge fire road I stopped. I took off my trusty Specialized Deflect jacket, got out my Rx Oakley sunglasses, switched from my PI Cyclone winter gloves to my Specialized half finger gloves, and peed in the bushes. Steph caught up to us, but Dan was still a ways back. I put a mark on the road and expected him to catch up.
On one of the climbs my RD overshifted and the chain fell between the cassette and spokes. I told the girls to continue on and that I would catch up. I have learned a trick, if you run a SRAM Quick Link you can quickly break the chain and then remove it easily from between the cassette and spokes without damaging anything. Once rolling again I made quick time and caught back up with the girls. The rest of Rouse went quickly despite the fact that I was limping along with a very near flat rear tire.
Once at Cranston Ranger Station I aired up the tire, took off my wool base layer, refilled my empty water bottle, peed on a bush, and fired up my Ipod in preparation for the climb back up to Idyllwild.
I took off up 74 a bit behind Allison. She was putting in a very solid pace and I didn't catch her 'till the 5S06 turnoff. At this point someone turned up the heat in the kitchen and we were moving at a solid pace up the 10% grade. When Allison is turning a solid pace on a climb we all know that it is time for me to drool on my top tube. Things were going well untill my RD overshifted into the spokes AGAIN. This time it took me a little longer to fix. I had sweat pouring into my eyes as I was hunched over fixing it. It stung like all hell. During the repair I used one side of the quick link to adjust the limit screw on the RD in the hopes of not having it happen again. Once back on the bike I put my head down. I wanted to catch Allison before reaching any navigation points. More drool on the top tube...
Reaching the asphalt at the top of the fire road was reassuring, and we picked up two other riders to make a foursome. I knew that there would soon be awesome single track which eased the pain of the steep paved roads to get there.
The single track in Idyllwild is really great stuff. One of the main reasons that I didn't object to participating in this event. It didn't let me down this day either. Our little group of four snaked our way through the sweet twisty, turny, techy, single track with me out front grinning from ear to ear.
Before long the single track was over and we were back at the truck preparing to go out on "Lap 2". The word on the street was that the second portion of the event was tough. I still felt okay since I had kept up with my nutrition and hydration to this point.
The new to us double track and fire road was not very challenging, except that we already had well over 50 off road miles in us. I started to slip on my nutrition and hydration schedule as it felt like my stomach was full, and I was having difficulty with anything sweet. Even plain water from my Wingnut pack tasted horribly sweet for some reason.
After a rocky descent back into the valley I remembered that I had a bag of un-sugary trailmix in the pocket of my Wingnut. I immediately dug it out and risked crashing on the sandy, post holed, double track in order to stuff some in my mouth. I knew we had another mountain to climb and descend and I needed some fuel.
The climb up Thomas Mtn. was grinding. I would slip into a labored state and pedal squares, then realize that I was wasting energy and force myself to smooth out, eventually slipping back to squares, and repeat. Around the half way mark my RD once again overshifted. I was too tired to be angry and fumbled with the repair. This time I didn't send Allison ahead!
We were both at our limits for the day and luckily only had 3 more miles of climbing. I felt rejuevenated on the descent down Ramona Trail but Allison was not feeling it. I waited up to make sure she made it down.
The final section was mostly flat double track and then some flat road riding. I motored along on the front, pulling for Allison, in the wind. I wonder what a non-biking passerby would think at what they saw. Two dirty looking people on bikes, the guy on the front tucked into an aero position with his elbows on his grips and a salt covered face twisted and screwed up from the effort, then the skinny little boy, or is that a girl, tucked in behind him equally dirty and sweaty and obviously uncomfortable. No number plates so they aren't racing... :)
At the last little rise to Hurkey Creek I was toasted. Allison stood on the pedals and zipped past me. I felt furious and chased. As we coasted down the hill I spread my arms knowing that soon I would be off my bike. It was more than just stretching the muscles and joints, it was a victory salute of sorts. I had conquered the challenge of the day and felt jubilant and free.