Sunday, November 1, 2009
Another Beautiful Disaster
All road trips begin with a fair amount of distress for me, where I roam laps around the house, looking around for things I may need, not yet stuffed into the proper travel bags. This time it followed a bit of a stressful morning where I coaxed Spanish Mackerel and Wrecking Ball's bikes into compliance, and spending a modicum of time readying my own mount. Bolts tightened, derailleurs adjusted, brakes bled, and an A/C unit serviced, not by me, but by the technician I met down in Crawfordville, things look like they are coming together. I pack two bags, and feel good about the start. My wife and I had a nice Friday evening together before I was to be gone for the weekend. She even got up Saturday morning and hooked me up with a stellar breakfast burrito. My girl is one of the good ones, No doubt. She rattles off a list of items she's heard me forget in the past 20 years, and all were accounted for and packed. One last kiss, and I'm out the door.
We wrapped all of our gear bags in garbage bags, as the weather is being slightly less than cooperative. Rain chances for the Macon area were changing hourly for the two days prior. Last minute I even throw in a clip on rear fender. We head for Thomaston's Camp Thunder, the site of the most grueling XC race I've ever participated in. The rain starts falling about an hour out from the trail, but it's mostly spitting rain, nothing too heavy.
We arrive on site, and the rain has diminished to more of a mist. The road along the river is holding quite a bit of water, but the truth is, all the rain that has fallen on that side of the ridge is heading for the river, so the wet road is to be expected. I lead out the first big climb. Everyone has thoughts of cleaning this beast, but wet roots and switchbacks this steep don't mix well. I blow the 1st, and actually hardest, switchback and settle in for the best I can do, the pressure of perfection having already been lost. The competitive side of me was happy to see nobody else cleaned that 1st one either. The "I'm my brother's keeper" side, was disappointed to see their hopes dashed, too. I let Big Jim and Mackerel go around on a switchback and passed Mackerel back when he flopped over one switchback later. It went like this all the way to the top. We swapped places a few times as we overheated and stopped to peel clothes or fogged glasses. Aside from two dabs, I rode the entire climb. Not bad for a clydesdale and a quarter. After this we bombed the new downhill that was cut in for the last race. This thing is even scarier in the rainy weather. Everything is just that much more slippery, and that hill creates instant speed beyond the trails capabilities. I know, maybe it's my capabilities that should be in question, right? Go ride it. You'll see what I'm talking about.
At the marshy bottom, you begin a wet mattress climb that equals the first in length and difficulty, without the technical features. I'm immediately back in the granny gear, and as I finally shifted into that last big cog in the back, I heard a funny snap noise. I just assumed I'd gotten a twig in my spokes, but a little further up, the trail levels slightly, and I shifted to a bigger gear. No reaction from the drivetrain. I shifted another gear, and still nothing. Oh well. This hurts too bad to stop now, so I continue the climb. It sucks not being able to get bigger gears when I want them, but at least I'm stuck in a functional ratio. On the way up, I had plenty of time to ponder this annoyance. My one worry was a snapped return spring. I hoped for a stick crammed somewhere it shouldn't be. At the top, my fears were confirmed. The return spring had indeed broken, so I had only the big cog and my three front chainrings.
Honestly, I was thankful the problem was not worse. I could have snapped a cable, and been stuck in way too big of a gear. With my limited three speed, I could no longer go all that fast on the flats. Downhill was fine. Just turn the brakes loose, and let gravity and experience do the work. Uphill was doable, as long as I settled in and accepted that my max speed in my climbing gear was about 2 mph.
With only one minor "lost" moment, we finished out the loop with tired looks of satisfaction all around. This trail is tough. Old school tough. But, it's still one of my favorite systems in the southeast. I relish the difficulty of those types of climbs and am rewarded with fast long, difficult descents.
From here, the clock was ticking to find a replacement derailleur before all of the middle GA bike shops closed for the weekend. Apparently, no shops in Macon stock Sram parts. What the hell? These are found on a ton of bikes. Is the economy causing shops to reduce overhead in the form of inventory. This is a dangerous gamble. In this day and age of mail order and internet ordering, anybody can get anything faster and cheaper than a shop can. Without parts on site, you lose the impulse buyer, and the guys like me who are just plain in need. A guy down in Warner Robbins had a derailleur that would work, though not one I really wanted. He was super cool, and agreed to stay late so I could come get it. Within seconds of getting on I-475 south, one of the Macon shops called us back. A shop employee had a used unit, in the model that I really wanted anyway, that he was willing to part with. Another call to thank the Warner Robbins guy for trying to help, but tell him he could go ahead and head home to his family, and we were in mid u-turn.
That night, bike repaired, and a belly full of entirely too much Mexican food, I marveled at the fact that the minor crisis had not dampened my spirits. All I could think about was the trails we would be riding the next day.
Morning came early by default. Despite the Daylight Savings time change, my body is still programmed. I was wide awake at 5:30, now 4:30. I managed to doze off again for another hour, but that was all I could coax. I threw in the towel and headed to breakfast. I walked out to be greeted by blue skies and 46 degree weather. Stoked does not do my mood justice. I love fall weather.
At Dauset, everyone suits up, and I decided to use that fender, since this trail is prone to holding a little more water than Camp Thunder. Sure enough, the trail is slick, but in a fun way. Corners were an adventure, and I settled into seeing how far I could push my luck and pull it off. We stopped to make multiple attempts at sections not cleaned first try, and stopped to allow photo sessions for those so inclined. This vacation style of riding is quite enjoyable, I must say. It reminds me more of our early days of mountain biking, where we would dare each other to try things until our skills progressed to a point where it was just expected that we ride everything. This was refreshing. Sections that were normally a given became quite a bit more of an exercise in patience and control. Too fun!
About 45 minutes into this ride, I got taken out by GA black ice, style mud, all hidden beneath the pretty fall foliage that had fallen in yesterdays weather. In a complete flook of luck, I missed my first attempt at catching myself before I landed on a pile of logs next to the trail. My second attempt, being substantially more desperate, and equally less coordinated, I landed entirely too much weight on the nose of my saddle, and snapped both seat rails right in front of the seat clamp! I looked down in horror, and could not believe my bad luck. Two mechanicals in two days of an out of town trip, and neither of them in any way predictable or preventable. I rigged the seat as best I could, and rolled out to lead the remainder of the ride. It was working fine until I went down again. This round completely broke the plastic frame of the saddle, so now seated riding was like sitting on a padded baseball bat tip. Less than stellar, I assure you.
I lead the boys to a point of reference, where I knew that tougher trail began, and certainly more than I wanted to tackle with a failing bike. I handed over the map, showed them where they were and where they wanted to go, and split from the group. That was bitter sweet. I was bummed to not be riding with the guys, but no longer stressed about keeping up with a broken bike. I still thoroughly enjoyed the remainder of the trail that I did get to ride, en route to the truck. After all, there were still Dunkin Donuts leftovers in that truck!
I took full notice of the fact that I was still extremely happy with the trip. Something is going on in my head these days. It was good to see that my spirit was not to be broken like my derailleur and saddle. Despite the expensive tally of broken bike parts, the more important experience aspects of the trip reigned supreme, and I, for one, am thankful for yet another beautiful disaster.
When the boys arrived, Wrecking Ball looked like he was toast. Apparently the last few miles found a bonk he wasn't so much looking to find. Mackerel looked like his usual playful puppy self. He always looks like he just got into something he shouldn't have. Big Jim was all smiles, mostly I think, about Wrecking Ball's distress. I was bummed to have missed out on that small chapter, but glad I was there to see the final page.
Traveling with friends always leads to more stories and experiences that outweigh the cost of doing business. All the way home, we broke down previously held assumptions about each other, as we required each in turn to play the most embarrassing songs on their ipods through the truck's system. Wow! It's funny what you can learn about someone in their musical selections. I have a sneaking suspicion that playlists may be padded with embarrassing material for the next trip. Even in embarrassing ourselves, we're competitive, or maybe just a little off balance. I'll have to get back with you on that.