Sometimes it takes more than excessive climbing, mileage and hours spent in the saddle to classify a ride as an epic. Some rides need events "above and beyond" the norm to help push a ride into true "epic" status. This ride would prove to have the necessary elements to make it one I won't forget anytime soon.
I thought my hands and feet were cold at the start of the ride. I was wrong. They were cold starting out, but within' the first hour we did a nice climb in the sun that brought all my extremities back to a level of warmth leaving me with normal feeling in my feet and fingers that could operate zippers, shifters and other small details of dexterity one usually finds necessary and comforting on a bike ride.
For the majority of the ride we had it made. Sunny skies. Warm temps. For the most part, we were wearing shorts and t-shirts. The trail was in good shape and we were having about as good of time as you'd expect on a ride.
No, it was later.... much later in the ride when things would start to get desperate. I first realized I was a bit "under gunned" with gear while attempting the simple act of applying lube to my chain after climbing the Alpha road. The Alpha road is a fairly stout climb gaining 2,000ft in 4 miles ascending from the quaint little town of Washington to Skillman Campground on Hwy 20. Once at the top of the climb I took off my pack and put on every piece of clothing I'd brought with me. I dug a little deeper in my pack and grabbed a bottle of chain lube. My grunts, groans and other miscellaneous sounds of desperation would leave one to believe that I had just broken my leg, been shot or had some other serious issue requiring emergency help. The simple fact of the matter was that I was having some serious trouble getting my fingers to squeeze the bottle of lube hard enough to get anything to come out! I would eventually "win the war" with the bottle of lube but it would require the use of both hands.
Soooo. It was almost 4:00. We had 16 miles to go with only about an hour of daylight left.
The trail looses 2,000ft of elevation in those 16 miles and, aside from a few small climbs, rolls nicely with good flow. With that being the case it's conceivable to cover the distance in about an hour but the fact that we'd just rode 37 miles and climbed 8,000ft left us with legs that felt anything but spunky. The only option, really, was to GO!
Instantly my hands were frozen as we descended through Skillman Campground. Even more so than when I was trying to lube my chain! Sure. I could've stopped and swung my arms around in an attempt to force blood into my finger tips or put my hands in my armpits but this would use up precious daylight. Nothing to do but push on. Within a few miles my feet would also feel the effects of the setting sun eventually feeling like blocks of ice. For the next 45 minutes we raced daylight but were barely keeping up.
We hit Miners Trail in a possessed state with juuuussst enough daylight to be dangerous. This is a high speed trail with most of its sections in a heavy canopy of trees. Had we gotten to the trailhead 10 minutes later we would've surely had to descend down hwy 20 in the dark to the car. The amount that this would've sucked is beyond comprehension. It would've been a cold, dangerous, dark 2 mile blast on pavement which, as any mountain biker will surely agree, is a really shitty way to end a ride... especially knowing that you're paralleling a ripping piece of singletrack above you in the relative safety of the woods.
Fortunately we made it down Miners without incident. All that we had left to do was ride a short-ish piece of flume trail to the car. By this point it was pretty much dark. I'm glad to have countless trips down this trail. It's fairly straight forward but has its hazards that include water along its entire right side and a couple of spots requiring the portaging of your bike. By the end of this trail it was definitely dark as we blindly negotiated the final piece of pavement to the car.
Changing out of riding gear with cold fingers is always a challenge. The only comforting part of doing it this time around was that it was totally dark as I scrambled partially naked around the freezing parking lot along hwy 20 feeling around for cotton layers that never felt so good.
Shortly after loading up bikes and gear we sat at a nearby bar and waited on our food. I had on every piece of clothing I'd brought with me that didn't accompany me on the ride. The gal behind the bar slid a nice hoppy beverage in front of me referring to me an Eskimo or something to that effect. Meh. Whatever.
As the warmth settled in my thoughts turned to what the next adventure might be. How long? How far? How cold? How hot? Who? What? When? Where?