When an aquaintance asked me the other day, ďSo, howís the biking going?Ē, I thought I should get back to writing my ride and race reports. So I sat down and wrote up a recent ride. This is my first ďRide Till You CryĒ report. The ďRide Till You PukeĒ was a few weeks earlier, but more on that another time.
Iíve been riding on Tuesdays and Thursdays with a group of very strong local riders. I canít quite make it up all the hills yet without pushing the last few yards, but Iím getting there. We leave the local coffee shop at 3:30 pm and take lights, as we donít get back before 6:00 pm. There are trails I never knew existed out here in my very own backyard...
Summary: East County trail ride. Breathtaking, beautiful, dangerous, and unforgiving. The guys mashed, I crashed, and in the end I'm totally thrashed. So, when are we going again?
The Friday before Christmas, Hoser, one of my riding buddies, calls me up to ask if I want to ride the following Wednesday out in East San Diego County with a few of the guys. Iím surprised he would ask me, because heís a very strong rider and I know Iíll probably be the slowest one in the group. I voice my concern. ďOh, no, weíre just going out there to have fun. Itís not like itís some hammer fest or anythingÖĒ he assures me. I ask how long the ride is. A couple of hours or so. HmmmÖ how far? Oh, about 23 miles. The incongruity between ďa couple of hoursĒ and ďabout 23 milesĒ doesnít sink in. I ask what Iíll need. Hoser tells me Iíll be fine with a 100 oz Camelbak and a Powerbar. I tell him Iím a water hog, but he insists that a Camelbak and a water bottle will be more than enough. Thus encouraged and reassured, I tell him Iíd love to go. Iím so excited about this ride I can almost taste the dirt and sweat. I look forward to it for the next 5 days.
Tuesday night I prep my bike. When I tell my husband Iím going riding, he asks where. I tell him I donít really know but itís somewhere east. He blinks. ďHoney, weíre in San Diego. Everything is east.Ē ďWell, then thatís where weíre going,Ē I offer. Truth is, I have no idea where weíre going. It didnít really seem important at the time. Iím going riding and thatís all that matters.
Wednesday morning I meet the guys at the coffee shop and the six of us load up in Hoserís van. We drive about an hour east to the undisclosed location, which leads to a trail prohibited to bikes. I have no idea where we are, and in this manner, maintain ignorance of any illegal activity. We mount up and ride the 3 miles on the road to the trailhead. Hoser tells us that once we turn off the road we need to ride quickly to the other side of the ridge so that we can put as much distance between ourselves and civilization in as short amount of time as possible. Translation: To elude the trail police, hammer to the top of the first long technical climb you come to.
As we enter the trail, Iím the second one in. I stay with the leader for the first Ĺ mile. I hear Hoser right behind me, ďGo! Go! Go!Ē My eyeballs bulge, I gasp for breath, stand on the pedals and mash my way to the top. We come to a steep climb with boulders on either side of the trail. I choose the wrong line, and get stopped by a rock. I pull to the side of the trail as the others ride past me. Iím now in the rear.
We reach the top of the first climb and regroup. Translation: The guys are already well rested by the time I manage to join them at the top of the climb. I swear under my breath and mutter, ďI have no business being on this ride,Ē noting that all of them are much stronger than me, as we mount up again and continue riding through the rock-strewn singletrack. Scrub brush, sage, boulders, an occasional cactus, and various barbed thorn bushes line the sides of the trail and keep you looking far ahead, spotting the place in the trail you want to be, knowing that mistakes on this ride will leave you bloody. Itís breathtaking, beautiful, dangerous, and unforgiving. Now that I think of it, this trail is somewhat like the one you had a crush on in college but were always too afraid to approach, lest you be reduced to a quivering mass of post-adolescent angst (or if you did have the temerity to throw caution to the wind, you still bear the scars of the encounter). Yes, this trail is just like that unforgettable, beautiful, delicious, deadly person. But I digress.
At last we make it to the first real descent. Finally, a chance for me to keep up with the men! Iím confident in my descending skills, and spot far ahead, keeping my speed under control and watching for frequent turns in the trail. The rocky singletrack is cut into the side of the mountain, so that on one side you have a wall of earth and rock and scrubby brown vegetation, and on the other side the earth falls away in a gentle slope, which is also covered in rock and scrubby brown and green vegetation. Iím doing my best to let Brad know that he wonít be able to shake me off his tail as we fly down the side of the mountain when the inevitable occurs; I round a corner, my front tire bites into the rock, and with a brief expletive I fly head-first over my bike and land in the scrub brush. I work for a bit to extricate myself from the local flora, heave my bike back onto the trail and continue. This is where the trail of blood begins.
I mean, no big deal, truth be told I crash every once in a whileÖ and Iím pretty good at it. In fact, I can crash into a boulder, bail off the bike, roll into a ravine, and end up on my feet. OK, so maybe it was just a fluke that one time, but I bail pretty well. Itís a good thing. I find the group of men waiting for me, and they are suitably impressed by my bloody knees and elbow. I just smile.
We reach the bottom, then begin the climb to the next section on the other side of the saddle. When everything starts to look the same to me and I start feeling weak, I look at my watch and realize itís 11:30. The last time I ate was 7:30. If Iím pushing hard, I need to eat every two hours. No wonder Iím getting sloppy. None of the guys are in sight, as they are all ahead of me on the climb. I make a mental note to tell them I need to stop to eat. Ten minutes later I catch up to Hoser and tell him I need to eat. He says weíre almost to the top of the ridge and weíll stop to have lunch then. I nod agreement. We continue climbing.
At about 12:15, weíre still not to the elusive ďtop of the ridge.Ē I pause at a switchback and suddenly my inner thigh cramps so severely I almost fall over. I realize that Iím not getting enough electrolytes, and decide to force a break. When I catch up to the guys, I turn to Charlie, the Special Forces guy, who I know understands group dynamics and individualsí needs. ďCharlie,Ē I tell him with tears in my eyes, emphasizing every word, ďIÖ mustÖ eatÖ now.Ē Charlie understands. ďOK, guys, weíre gonna stop for just a sec.Ē I eat a gel. Itís enough to perk me up and get me going again.
We stop for lunch at 12:45, and I pull out my PB&J. I can only eat half of it, which in retrospect is not a good sign. I waited too long to eat, and now eating is difficult. I have no idea how much longer weíll be riding. I donít know how I should drink my water, whether sparingly or as needed. I go for sparingly, as I hate depending on others for supplies I should have. As we all clip in and begin riding away from our lunch spot, I notice the tube from my Camelbak dangling down. With my left hand, I take the tube and attempt to loop it into the chest strap, looking down as I do this. Just then my left elbow hits a tree branch that throws my balance off, and I crash very quickly on my bloody knee and right elbow. It was such a stupid crash. I wasnít even doing anything crash-worthy. I pick myself up shaking my head and cursing. Sean hears the impact of bike and body and hard earth and quickly turns around to see if Iím OK. He suggests that I walk this upcoming rocky section. I mutter under my breath (I talk to myself a lot) that I hate walking, angrily throw my leg over my bike and charge the next section, catching up to the guys out front. When we all stop, one of them asks if Iím OK, and I tell him itís probably good for me to get hurt every once in a while because I get angry and I do very well on adrenaline and endorphins. One of the guys volunteers to push me down every so often. I tell him Iím doing fine on my own for now, but Iíll keep his offer in mind.
At about 1:30 pm, I begin cramping in earnest, with both quads seizing up as well as the outer thigh and calf muscles. Thereís nothing I can do. I continue riding. Meanwhile, the guys have decided that one of them should stick with me in case anything happens. I hate being a liability, so I push as much as I can to keep up with the others. I feel the weight of being the slowest one in the party, and angrily vow that the next time I agree to a ride of this nature I will be stronger. My legs begin cramping again, and with none of the guys around to see me, I break down for the first time as tears stream down my cheeks and I begin sobbing as I ride. I get angry at myself for being such a woman, and I growl, spit, and tell myself to quit being such a baby. Logically I know that women just do these things Ė we cry instead of throwing things or blowing things up. But I still hate doing it.
We reach a stream crossing at about 2:30, and I pause to rest my knees and quads in the cold water. I have no ice for my aching muscles, but perhaps this will be the next best thing. It looks funny, but actually provides some relief. Sean and Charlie take turns riding with me, just to make sure nothing happens. They know Iím hurting, but I donít think they know how much. We cross the stream and follow the winding trail through an uphill rock garden. I pick the best line I can and charge through it for all Iím worth, making it through, and hearing a word of approval from Sean. Thus encouraged, I charge ahead, going as fast as I can through the twisting and turning singletrack that skirts the edge of the hill.
Up ahead I see Charlie struggle with a tight V-shaped turn. I follow close behind him, make the turn, then suddenly feel my front wheel slip away into a crevice in the side of the hill. The next thing I know Iím falling fast, tumbling head over feet. Iím at a really bad place, as the trail is cut into the side of the hill, and falls away at the edge in a steep 20-30 foot descent into a ravine. There is only one major rock outcropping about 2 feet vertically down from the edge of trail, and somehow I manage to land on my Camelbak right on that ledge. My feet are above me as I find myself on my back, and my legs immediately seize in painful cramping. If I move, Iím likely to fall off the ledge. Iím stuck there till someone can help pull me out. I canít take it any more. I just want this ride to be over. I just want the pain to stop. I lie there in a little lump of self-pity and have a total meltdown. I open my mouth and cry for all Iím worth. I have ceased to care what the guys think. I let fly with a few seconds of heaving sobs, letting my head slump to the right, and notice a wristwatch there in a hollow spot of the rock. I look closer. How odd that a digital wristwatch would be here on this little-known trail. I pick it up, thinking that it looks a lot like mine. I glance at my left wrist, and notice the watch is gone. This is my watch Iím holding. I have no idea what happened when I fell off the edge, but it was violent enough that my watch was torn from my wrist and thrown across my body so that it lands to the right of me. I lie there sobbing, holding the watch, and realizing how absurd I must seem to Charlie and Sean. I hold the watch in front of me, sob again, and whimper, ďBut I LOVED this watch!Ē then laugh at my own silliness and the absurdity of it all.
Charlie reaches down and physically pulls me up from the edge. After the ride when I assess the damage, there will be bruising and scrapes on my collarbone, a deep 1Ēx3Ē perfectly rectangular bruise on my chest, and my left shoulder will be sore for a few days. Sean notes that itís a particularly bad crash when the crasher fails to ask about the bike. Oh, yeah. Whereís my bike? The bike was lodged in a shrub and was thereby saved from going over the edge. Sean has brought it back onto the trail for me. He says I somehow managed to fall perfectly and heís a bit amazed that I didnít have a worse fall and that nothing is broken. Once again Iíll have to call my parents and thank them for praying for me.
Charlie heads out, leaving Sean and me. Sean holds my bike by the saddle, and I stand and just look at it for a moment. Perhaps weíve never really bonded. Maybe itís time to think about that S-Works Stuntjumper 120Ö With a sigh, I take my bike from him. Sean looks at me, all dusty and bloody and scraped, tear stains where the tears have left streaks in the dust on my face. He gently offers, ďMaybe you should just walk for a bitÖĒ I groan as I throw a leg over the bike and spit out, ďI HATE walking.Ē I clip in and take off.
We come to a train track that we have to cross. I scan the distant horizon for any sign of oncoming trains, see none, and hoist my bike over the track. As I carry my bike across the tracks, I think of cartoons where the unfortunate protagonist suffers every kind of misfortune imaginable. I look at Sean with an impish grin, make the sound of a train complete with Doppler effect and simulate the motion of getting flattened by the unseen locomotive, then laugh at my own little joke. I feel so beat up, it seems the only thing that hasnít happened is the oncoming train, or perhaps the obligatory piano or anvil falling on my head.
We traverse the last section of singletrack that takes us to the road. Pavement. The ride is almost over. I am almost delirious at this point. My concentration is shot and itís by sheer force of will and determination not to fall apart again that I manage not to dissolve in tears before I make it back to the van.
At the road, the men are gathered and waiting. They are going to ride another 10 minutes to the Mexican border, then return to the van. Charlie doesnít go with them, but instead leads me back to the van, which is less than half a mile away. As he unlocks the van, I continue to ride around in the parking lot. Iím almost afraid to get off my bike, because I know it will hurt to walk. Charlie fishes out a bottle of Cytomax that Brad has brought and tells me to drink. I get off my bike and for the next ten minutes sip on the Cytomax and stumble around the parking lot, walking in circles. My brain begins to clear, my legs are working again, and Iím feeling better. Soon the other guys show up and we all load up to head back to San Diego. Itís laughter and animated talk the whole way back, and in spite of everything, Iím glad I was a part of it. Itís been an amazing and unforgettable day. I know Iím a sick puppy for admitting it, but I know that if given the choice between suffering on the trail or work, I would do it all again.
I didnít know what to expect when I signed on for this ride, but I certainly got more than I bargained for. I met the breathtaking, beautiful, dangerous, and unforgiving singletrack of East County. I had the temerity to challenge it, knowing I was not worthy of the challenge, but vowing to go down swinging just the same. I was beat down in humble submission, and still bear the scars of the encounter. But I will be back.
I think about the mistakes I made. There are some good lessons to be learned here. I didnít eat soon enough, and probably didnít eat enough the day before the ride. I need to find additional electrolyte replacement to prevent cramping. I need to stop and eat at the first sign of fatigue instead of pushing myself to the point of physical and mental exhaustion. And it doesnít matter if the rest of the group keeps on going. When I need to stop, I should stop. Next time will be better.
ride report by Laura Drexler
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