|Direction of travel is from right to left.|
The travel plan, in general, was the same as it would be for each of the four days of this trip: Start out near river level, climb our asses off until we were way the hell up on some gawd-forsaken, wind-swept ridge, and then descend back down to near river level. The plan was what it was because it was the only way it could be, really; we were traversing a totally badass section of ridges and valleys and you can't just effing ride straight up or straight down cliffs. In short. So you take the roads (and I use the term loosely) that exist because of some amazing collective human effort that has spanned who knows how many years and involved who knows how many people, or groups of people, to put them there to do exactly what we were trying to do, I think, which is to travel overland along the river in the most efficient manner possible. Which is not very effiecient. Because the terrain doesn't particularly lend itself to efficiency.
The other part of the low-to-high-to-low pattern of movement is that it's the desert (and honestly, it is), and you need water, badly, and it's damn hard to find it at the higher elevations. So it's best to start and end the day's travel at the bottom of a drainage, where you have an ample supply of this magical fluid.
Google Earth delivers some amazing data, and even if you click for big I'm not sure it will be totally readable, but the red line with the orange underneath it is the elevation profile and the dark blue line with the purple underneath it is the speed at which we were travelling. It shows that we were frequently travelling under 5 mph, and mostly travelling between 5 and 10 on the way up and between 10 and 15 on the way down. We had a max slope up of 18% and a max slope down of 19%. We went 17.5 miles and it took us 5 hours and 17 minutes. Holy hell.
I've gotten kind of ahead of myself, though. Let's start at the beginning of this first day . . .
Joe and I left Spokane at around 7:30 and arrived in Vantage on schedule at about 10:00. Ward was waiting for us.
|Ward (L), Joe (R). Getting in some last bits of conversation before heading into the wild.|
|The two fats that would be making the trip - mine and Ward's - ready to roll.|
|Randy making final adjustments to his handlebar sling pack, while Joe and his bionic knee look on.|
So at this point, I guess, we were still a little giddy. But we were also working our asses of and the reality of the harshness of the terrain and what we were heading into was starting to set in, a little. Things were about to quickly get more serious though, and in fact, the overriding theme of this entire first day was about to emerge: Snakes. Rattlesnakes, to be specific.
Look, I don't care for snakes much, and I had some pretty sleepless nights in front of last year's tour across the state on the John Wayne Pioneer Trail, but in my more rational and sane moments, I recognize that the probability of encountering one is actually pretty low and that my head is my worst enemy.
At the same time, a person has to acknowledge and come to terms with the fact, on some subconscious level at least, that when travelling through the desert, he's among snakes, whether he sees them or not. And when we saw our first bull snake, just after the gate, said person was forced to come to grips with the fact on a conscious level.
"Bull snake. Big whoop.", I bravadoed, internally. But the edge had been set and I was on some level of alert, although I'm not sure what color. I am sure that it wasn't just me, though.
A few hundred feet of climbing later, as I was crossing some standing water on the sun-warmed road, something moved, and then RATTLED!!! directly underneath my pedals! My already ragged heartrate pegged hard and I let out some spontaneous and uncontrollable girl noises. Joe was right behind me and before he could figure out what the hell I was spazzing about, he ran over it with all three of his wheels - the two on his bike and the one on his trailer. The snake quickly moved off into the rocks on the side of the road, appeared injured, and sat there rattling. I grabbed my camera and approched to take a picture, until Joe insisted that I was a total dumbass. I had a hard time arguing the point, so I backed away.
We warned the others coming up behind us about the snake and then we all headed on up the trail.
The mood had abruptly changed; this gig was for real. We found some shade and stopped to take in some fuel. It was good to rest, but it wasn't a super joyous event. Everyone would now be paying a lot more attention to the road and a lot less attention to the rad scenery.
|That road is what we had just ascended.|
|Stu, pushing up a badass rise.|
We were bombing through a brushy section of trail and the rattlers started going off all the hell around us. It was not just a snake here and one there, it was some freaky gathering and they were pissed and they were right there off the side of the trail, just loud as hell. We all got through this section of whatever the hell had just happened and we were talking about standardizing hand signals to point out rattlers to the riders behind us, but we were ignoring the elephant in the room, which was that it was getting dark and we had just dropped several hundred feet off of a ridge into the valley of death. It was kind of somber, let me tell you.