Thursday, September 29, 2011

Loon Lake Base Ride Hang, v1

*****Super long post*****
[You've been duly warned]

My family owns and shares a cabin at Loon Lake and for the most part, it gets used between the 4th of July and Labor Day, and that's about it. September always has some super-sweet weather and I've thought for a while about having some willing friends up for a weekend of mixed terrain riding, including some excursion into the south end of the Colville National Forest. This past weekend was the actualization of that thought.

The general idea was to schedule a kind of Fri-Sat-Sun open house, where people could show up for any/all of the riding/hanging. There are sofas and cots to throw a sleeping bag down on, or places to pitch a tent. There's electricity; running water, including a shower; regular kitchen; deck with a view of the lake and stars; fire pit; boat; swimming. You get the idea. There are 3 or 4 country-cool restaurants, bars and coffee shops within a 5 mile ride and 3 or 4 more within 10. So the vision I had was that of us all driving up and parking, hanging out and playing, then riding to secure our nourishment and riding for the sake of riding, as the spirit moved us.

The vision was a little ambitious maybe, but hey, you gotta dream big. Things work out as they will and should.  I sent the invite.  I had first mentioned the whole deal to John late last spring and he was all over it, so I knew that at least he'd be on board, but then he clotted out.  For a while, there was no other response, and I was mentally preparing to go it alone.  But then, hardass mothers Jon, Nate and Steph threw down.  They were all coming up on Saturday morning.

I'd pre-mapped and gpx'd a 55-mile/4000' route, along with 47-mile/3000' option into the forest. I haven't been riding much for the past few weeks and so while Patty and I ended up totally chilling and enjoying the day on Friday, the apprehension about my ability to complete either of these rides was gnawing at me in the back of my mind.  Things came to a head between 1:30 and 3:30 in the morning, during which time my hyped up brain played out various heart and lung explosion scenarios, along with the the requisite dead-along-the-roadside-half-eaten-by-coyotes-and-vultures-with-loved-ones-weeping-at-my-closed-casket-funeral whole deal.

Things seemed a little better by the light of day and I was happy to see the gang show up around 8:00.  I presented the route options and soft-lobbied for the 3000' one based on the pretense of its superior scenic merits, but the gang was all about the 4000' one, of course.  I acquiesced, of course.  What kind of a host would I have been?  I also had my funeral to think about and I wanted people to have *something* good to say about me.

So that was that and my self-preservation strategy thereafter turned to carb loading and gear obsessing.  Patty made the carb loading possible with a fantastic breakfast, while I futzed over every little equipment, clothing and mapping detail (except for the really important ones).

Real (non-phony) blueberry pancakes, veggie omelettes, french press joe, the works!
At exactly 10:00, we were ready to roll, happy delusional bumpkins were we.  Just a lovely jaunt in the forest, 4 or 5 hours worth, said I.  The blind leading the blind.

Jon. Nate. Steph. Me. L2R.
In the first 5 miles between the south and north end of the lake, there are a coupla reasonable climbs.  We were good and warmed up by the time we hit the actual town of Loon Lake.

I'd spied a particular section of powerline road heading north and thought it looked sweet.  We hit it hard.

Badass creosote.  We all pretty much agreed that aliens would
eventually find this pole, perfectly preserved, long after the extinction of the
human race, and wonder WTF we had been up to.
Super duper happy fun riding on dirt a dirt road between the powerline and
the main road into the forest.  We love bikes and puppies and Mickey Mouse.
At around 20 miles into the ride, we entered the Colville National Forest.  The roads almost instantly turned Forest Service prototypical - smooth, narrow doubletrack, tightly contained by dense foliage.  At about the same time, I was starting to feel pretty wasted and was getting seriously concerned about my ability to finsish the ride.  Fortunately, I knew that we were already at 2800', and that the route topped out at 3000', so there wasn't a lot of climbing ahead.  Unfortunately, I was apparently oxygen-deprived and totally delusional and somehow had some different routes mixed up in my mind, as we were just beginning a bitch of a climb to 5000'.

Stephanie bolted off the front like the mountain goat that she is.  Jon wasn't far behind.  I struggled mightily.  Nate kept me company and kept me smiling.  Dude was awesome.

At a certain point though, despite his encouragement, I could go no further.  I was in bad shape and seriously shaking.  I stopped, sat down and had a bite to eat.  Maybe Steph and Jon were wondering where we were.  I'm sorry, but I didn't give a shit at that moment, because in addition to feeling like garbage, I just realized that we were at 3500'.  And also that we needed to go to 5000'.  I formally entered into survivial mode.

There's this human deal about inviting friends on a ride and then aborting.  There's just no way you can do it. I'll be honest, though, I seriously wanted to.  But I had to find a way to keep going, and that way was to keep playing with the numbers.  I had the gps and I became intimately familiar with the elevation gradients - I was all about how many hundred feet I needed to climb to get to such and such a percentage of the total, and how the grade might flatten out by a percent or so over the next half mile . . . that kind of thing.  I knew that at some point, I would be close enough to the top that it would actually seem possible and some final-kickass energy would emerge out of the abyss and carry me to the summit.

In the meantime however, things were ugly as sin.

Yes, it's as steep as it looks and yes, I'm as wasted as I look.  (Jon Eberly photo)
Despite the bleakness of my personal situation, I was still able to appreciate the higher-elevation views we were coming into.

(Jon Eberly photo)

Just a cool scree field.  You see these a lot on the west side, not so much over here.
At long last, we hit the 4880' gradient, according to my beloved device, which was what I had long-ago identified as the highest point on our route.  I insisted that we stop, celebrate, and capture the moment.

Primary summit timer photo.  (I'm the excited one, there in the middle.)

Auxiliary summit timer photo.  (I'm the excited one, there on the left.)
The road levelled out for maybe 50 yards, after which our descent immediately began.  It was a steep, rocky one, the kind that bounces you all the hell over and cramps up your hands, arms and shoulders from death-gripping your brake levers.  After all that climbing, this is the krappy descent we earned?  At least were were going down hill.  We dropped 700' in almost no time.

Jonathan had been out in front, but not that far, and so when I saw him riding back towards us, it didn't make much sense.  Until he delivered the worst possible news:  that the road dead-ended just up ahead.  WTF, no way.  I sprinted up, because there was no way.  The dude was lying.  Oh shit, how could this possibly be???

Sure as hell, the road ended.  But I wasn't ready to accept the fact that we were gonna havta turn around and climb 700' back up that nasty-ass road and backtrack the way we came.  It was panic time.  I saw a foot/game trail, dropped my bike, and plunged in.  10 yards in, getting more dense . . . jeez, this MUST go somewhere . . . 20 yards in, brush battering my legs, please, please, don't end, this MUST connect to a road that my gps says is here . . . 30 yards in, steep and sandy, can we even drag our bikes through this if it even does go anywhere . . . I should probably turn around, but I cannot climb back out of here, I'm gonna die in the woods, I just know it, MUST keep going . . . 40 yards in, hey, what's tha . . . is it . . . HOLY LIVING HELL, IT'S THE DAMN ROAD!!!!!

Giddy with the hope of survival, I crashed back through the brush and emerged with my good news.  There was very little discussion - we were obviously about to go bushwhacking.

There was a moment of debate as to which direction we should go, and after the debacle we had just experienced, I felt the tension of an impending mutiny, but it never materialized.  I can tell you it was nip and tuck, though.  The gps pointed us in that, there direction.

But not until after Jonathan fixed the first of his two flats.

While we watched, I think there was some tension released, combined with some dehydration and lack of oxygen and we entered into the 'comical zone', cracking each other up and laughing our asses off over the stupidest shit.  It was so excellent.

Remember how I estimated this ride at 4 to 5 hours?  Well, we were already there time-wise, but not even halfway there in terms of mileage.  And we were all runing low on water.  We tried not to think about it as we got back on the road.  I was positive that we'd never find running water in September, at the relatively low elevations we were at.  Shit.  How had I so totally underestimated the saddle time, thereby causing everyone to pack much less water than they would need?  Worse yet, Jonathan was supposed to work on Saturday evening, and now he was gonna get fired for not showing up, all on my account. Shit.

And then a miracle happened:  A creek appeared along the side of the road.  Beautiful, cold, clear running water!!

But guess who had decided not to bring a filter?  Yep, this dumb-ass.  Jon and Nate didn't give a shit, though.  They drank heartily and filled bottles with reckless abandon.  I stood by my principles, guided by fear and didn't drink any of it and didn't fill any bottles, despite the fact the we had 30 miles left to ride and I was down to less than half a bottle.  As I look back, I am totally at a loss as to how I could possibly have been so f'ing stupid.

A short while later, Jonathan had his second flat.  While we were chilling, things went seriously to hell for me.  I couldn't stand up and I was getting nauseous.  I had sweat so much that my electrolytes were all out of whack and it was all I could do to keep myself upright, sitting there on the side of the road.  I had absolutely no idea how I was gonna be able to pedal myself out of this hell hole.

Fortunately, Nate and Jon recognized that I was in pretty bad shape.  I hadn't been smart enough to save myself, but they had my back.  Nate had bottled enough water that he had some extra.  Jonathan was packing commercial electrolyte solutions (think Gatorade powder and Nuun tablets).  They mixed me up a creek-water concoction and nothing has every tasted so good.  But more importantly, I began to feel better almost immediately.

Cola Nuun.  Oh hell yeah.
There would still be cramps to battle with, but I could move again, and now there was hope that I might actually return to civilization.  I owed my life to these two beautiful men:

Jonathan (Eberly self-portrait)

Nate (Jon Eberly photo)
I had been ready for this ride to be over since way before we ever began that wicked climb, but at some point I actually began to feel not all that bad, which coincided perfectly with several miles of extremely sweet, smooth, windey, flowey, not-too-steep forest road descent.  It was just reward for a very long, hard day in the saddle and everyone was digging it and the world was right again.

We endured, and made it back to the cabin just before 7:00, so just shy of nine hours on the road.  Jonathan was able hightail it back to Spokane and work his magic and keep his job.  Nate, Steph and I zombied (by automobile) our way over to the local BBQ joint and plowed into some calories, then went back to the cabin for a very mellow, short evening and crashed hard.
Processed salt.

The dusty nipple of salvation.

I have to say, one thing we never had to worry about was getting lost, and
that would have been a pretty big deal, given the other challenges we faced.
My gps totally ruled.

This was our route.

This was the meaty part.
In retrospect, I messed up pretty bigtime:  1) I went out on a ride I had no business doing, fitness-wise;  2) I totally underestimated how long it would take, which misled everyone else about the calories and water that would be required (and when they could show up for their jobs);  3) I got way too complacent about the demands that the forest can put on you, when you have no way to get out but under your own power, and as a result, I didn't pack some of the equipment I should have (like a filter!).  If we'd had any route trouble, we'd have quickly run out of daylight and we'd brought nothing along to get us through a cold night.  (Although the obvious solution would have been to huddle in Jon's beard.)

So I'm not trying to get too serious here, but OTOH, if you don't learn someting from an experience like this, you're not paying attention.  I hope the lesson I learned will not soon be forgotten.

And I would never willingly or knowingly put myself or my friends in the situation that we were in, but shit does happen, and while the brutality of the pain is soon forgotten, the excitement of the adventure is not, and it was totally awesome and soul-inspiring and something that I don't think any of us will forget for a very, very long time.  There was so much drama packed into one day that by the end, it seemed like the beginning had happened the day before yesterday.  It was one of the best rides of my life, and I know that I'm not alone in that sentiment.

Nate, Steph and Jon, thanks for making this happen.  You guys are so rad for showing up and hammering down.  Your company is what made it special.

Mr Speare, you were missed.  Get well - we're not doing this again without you.


Hank Greer said...

Wow, Pat. That's a helluva report about a helluva ride. Glad it turned out as well as it did.

Jonathan Eberly said...

Great write up Pat. I had a great time on that ride and will probably remember it fondly for the rest of my life. It really was that good.

alex wetmore said...

Those kinds of rides are the ones that stick with you and that you remember. I've had a couple of my own.

The story made me feel good about the 5+lbs of crap that I bring along on logging road rides too (including a filter and an emergency bivy). Sometimes I wonder why I'm carrying all of that stuff.

Pat S said...

Thanks, Hank.

Jon, agreed. It really was that good.

Alex, in addition to my filter, I also didn't bring my emergency bivy (same one that you carry, if I remember correctly) and a bag of stuff that I keep specifically for forest rides. I am totally at a loss as to how I managed to leave these things behind. I think maybe the relative proximity of the ride to the cabin contributed to a false sense of complacency. Glad I didn't have to pay a steeper price and hope I've learned that lesson for the last time. Nuun tablets, or the like, will also go with me from now on.

Riding in Reno said...

Awesome recount. It's good to know I'm not the only one who bites off a bit more than I can chew occasionally! Great friends are always the solution. Keep all the great posts coming.

Anonymous said...

Still and all, one of the best rides of my life. That descent alone was a dream. Thanks for cooking it up.

You forgot to mention that bourbon is the antidote for giardia. That may be the only lesson I remember. (Also good on clots, I think.) I hope I remember to bring a triple next time, too.

Having computer woes, but I'll try to get you a pic you can splice in here of your existential moment of truth in the ditch. Also some pics of Steph looking completely joyful and unaffected.

Lots of fun, thanks.


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