Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Quilomene Agony

[So just a note starting out here . . . whereas I took well over 100 photos on Day 1, I took a mere 8 on Day 2.  And those 8 were a serious chore, given what was going on.  And those 8 were all taken with my iPhone.  Sadly for you, this post will be less about looking, and more about listening.  To me talk.  My condolences, then.]

I woke up at around 2:00 am on Sunday morning due to the imperative to, umm, whiz.  As I was coming back towards that tent, I thought I felt a couple of small raindrops, but that would have been impossible - there was no rain in the forecast for Sunday.

I woke back up at around 3:00 am, due to the sound of raindrops hitting my tent.  Okay then, hard to deny it was raining.  Must be due to some weird, angry cloud rolling through.  No way this could last, given the forecast.

Four hours of fitful sleep later, it was still raining, and in fact the intensity had picked up.  Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.

Breakfast, if you could even call it that, was a highly abbreviated affair.  Over the next two hours, we'd be filtering water, attending to the long list of camp breakdown details, and packing our increasingly waterlogged gear onto our bikes, while wearing our increasingly waterlogged clothes.  In these types of conditions, and with pretty much no opportunity for shelter from the rain in our natural surroundings, we were just going to keep getting wetter and wetter.

But time duly spent, at least I was starting to get fairly packed.  The yellow bit is the raincover that came with my camera bag.  Little did I know, it's not waterproof.  It's just nylon, with no coating.  Holy hell.  I was able to keep the cameras alive, but they did get pretty damp.

Finally, at around 9:00, were were ready to roll out.  If you are doing the math at home, it had been raining for 6 hours by this time.

The climb out gains 3000 feet of elevation in 11 miles.  It's a royal bitch on a good day, and this was not a good day.

It got dramatically worse, less than 2 miles into the climb:  I looked up ahead, and Ward and Randy were off their bikes, pushing.  I was like, "what the hell?"

It would only take me a minute or two to figure out what was up.

We'd arrived upon a muddy freaking mess.  It was sticky, gooey, clingy shit, and in the pic below, my drivetrain had become completely clogged, to the point where I could not pedal the bike forward.  Period.  The only lame prescription was to stop and grab a rock off of the trail and use it as a tool to try and scrape the mud off our tires and dig out the mud from our der's with out cold fingers, and somehow keep pushing on.

I don't have any pics between this early slap in the face and the approach to the summit.  It was incredibly ugly and it was all we could do to just get through.  I don't want to be overly dramatic, but it was super soul-searching, dig-deep territory.

Staying out of the energy-sucking and unrideable mud was our major objective, and we figured out pretty quickly that the the rocks, rough as they were, were our friends.  In fact, the flow of rainwater, the stream, that was flowing down the doubletrack road we were riding was our ticket out, because it not only exposed the rocks, but helped wash the mud off of our tires and provided a constant cleansing splash onto our drivetrains.  That said, it was still anything but easy.  Many times we had to abandon the road completely because it was flat out impassable, and make our way through the adjacent scrubland.

Our group of four fragmented pretty badly and Ward and Randy were ahead, with me sort of in the middle, and Scott trailing a bit.  We were not within sight of each other, and there was no way to communicate with each other, or the outside world.  As we rose in elevation, it was getting colder and colder, and we were getting more and more gassed.  Every inch of progress was supremely strenuous. I made the decision to drop back and buddy up with Scott.  Ward and Randy were buddying up ahead.

I won't speak for anyone else, but I was so wet and so cold, that I couldn't stay warm unless I was moving and generating heat. A two or three minute stop was all I could take.  I was shaking from the chill and exertion, and it was impossible to replenish the moisture I was expelling, try as I might.  I also could not eat well, as I was not hungry and had to force food into my system.  I was also out of any kind of food that was anything but garbage.  My bad for not bringing a greater supply of edible, sustaining stuff.  My bad for not respecting the Q like I should have.

It was half push and half ride and none of it was energetic.  It was all about moving forward at whatever pace.  Just keep moving forward, though.

I really can't remember the last time I've felt this vulnerable and truly scared.  There was absolutely no place or way to bail; it pretty much came down to the decision to somehow keep moving forward or figure out a way to pitch tent or emergency bivvy and hunker down and somehow manage a way to stay warm amidst a plethora of already-soaked-and-getting-wetter-gear.  There was also an option of stashing our bikes and walking out.  We chose to keep moving forward.

A couple of thoughts that really piled onto my sense of fear and gravity of the situation were 1) what if the wind was blowing even reasonably, which is the norm for this area (and the reason they put up wind turbines here), and 2) what if we'd had a mechanical, even something as relatively simple as a flat.  I don't even want to think about either of these scenarios, even now.

6-1/2 hours, 11 miles, and 3000 vertical feet after we had started, we finally emerged from that effing hole in the earth.  It was the first time I even gave on shit about taking a pic.

There was still a hundred or two feet of climbing to be done, but we knew at this point that we were gonna make it.

A pretty damned good photo of Scott, near the top, having endured one mother of an experience . . .

Randy and Ward were waiting for us at the true summit, and had laid out some food, which we tore into.  There was cell service up here, and Ward first called his wife, and then our friends Steve and Meg in Ellensburg.  The message was that if they don't hear from us in 3-4 hours, they need to start heading our way.  Reason being, we were not "out of the woods" yet.

Remember the Day 1 pic of the road in that I told you to hold in your thoughts?  Well, it had started raining at 3am and hadn't tapered off until around 2pm, so 11 hours of pretty steady rain.  We were justifiably (as it turns out) worried about whether we would be able to drive out, even if we did make it back to our trucks.

In the end it all worked out, after due drama.  The road was a ribbon of mud and it was a white-knuckle ride all the way, with some sections where all you could do was jack the gas pedal and hope you made it through, which is why I don't have any pics, normal camera whore that I am.


Once again, I don't want to be a drama queen here, but the experience was really dramatic and I will certainly be judged as a big baby, but I can live with that.

It took me a few days to even get halfway "right", both physically and mentally.

Us guys that were out there haven't had a chance to sit down over a beer and honestly talk about what this was, and probably never will, which is sad.  That would be a cool hang.

What has come out is a few, sparse comments, that have served to shape my view of each guys' experience:

For Randy, it was a cool experience that was well within his boundaries of back-country fun.  The discomfort, for him, appears to have enhanced the experience.

For Ward, it was pretty uncomfortable.  He has a solid family structure and thoroughly enjoys his kids and grandkids and this should have been fun, not a life and death experience that potentially threatened what's important to him.

For Scott, I don't even know, because even though we rode all the way home together he is really quiet and reserved, but it had to have sucked.  His first experience in the Q, and it was a pretty big disaster.  Even though I've tried to interject the appropriate disclaimers, I can't help but feel a little responsibility for inadvertently glamorizing the place to the point where he was attracted to throwing down.  Sorry, Scott, if I gave you a bum steer.


As for me, it was a huge deal.  I have no desire to go back to that hell-hole anytime in the near future.  At this moment, I love the place, and I hate the place.  I like to think that I want to go back at some point, maybe.  But I have backed my ass way out of the 4-day trip that was in the works for a few weeks from now.  That is not happening.  I need to process all of this and do some way better planning, before I go back in.  Maybe next year.

In closing, there is this one thing about this whole experience that has emerged for me as what's most important, and that one thing is this one decision point that occurred during what was arguably the darkest moment of the whole ordeal:  In the face of some pretty dire circumstances, I had the choice of making a decision that exposed my good character or bad.  At that instance, it's not deliberate - it's who you are.

And as messed up as this whole weekend got, I am at total peace in terms of what the experience revealed to me about my character.

With all that has transpired, I feel really good in my skin, and that's a good place to be.

Yep, this is still a bike blog.  More than ever.


Unknown said...

As I said that morning as we emerged from the tents "my biggest worry is the drive out". Seriously, in those conditions, on that road, it's easier than one would think to catch a rut wrong and careen off the road ending up on your side or top even. I thought about the drive out so much that I didn't even consider the clay sections on the ride out... until we hit them. Right about that time Meg texted me saying something like "oh my God, do you guy's need help?"(She and Steve know that area and it's mood when wet quite well). Felt good to have them waiting on the other end just in case.

We've done this route many times as a day trip... and it is one tough day trip for sure! And that's why we decided to do this "recon" as an overnighter, to take the pressure off a bit 'cause, as a day trip, you have about half an hour to look around down there and it's time to turn and BURN! I guess the weather report had changed from 20% chance of showers on Sat. to 70% chance of 3/4" of rain on Sunday shortly after we embarked on Sat... and the trap was set. We've had such good luck out there so many times in a row... I guess Mother Nature decided to throw us a curve ball and teach us a little lesson.

Sorry we got separated! We would have been within eyesight of each other most of the time had it not got so foggy up on the ridge. Randy & I waited a couple times, but, like you said, got chilled pretty quick and had to keep moving, even if just crawling. Once we were in sight of the top, we made the decision to get up in the trees, change into dry clothes and we could head back down if need be. You guy's popped over just as we got changed.

I do look forward to traveling out there again... in good weather. But if there's any chance of rain at all I'm afraid I'll be canceling/postponing whatever plans we have. Those of you that have traveled the route between Q Bay and Whisky Dick Bay, can you even imagine that route in those conditions? I can, and it would be real bad... not going to say "impossible"... but it would be NASTY! What we did times two, or three!

Anyhow, sorry things turned out the way they did. Self propelled trips into the back country can't all be expected to go smoothly... no matter how much planning you do. Still, feel bad about this one... and I won't be talking anyone into traveling out there anytime soon. Traveling out there is everyone's own choice... and you've been forewarned!

Vik said...

If there are no risks it's not an adventure. Glad it all turned out okay.

I bet at one point you guys said:

-- Vik

Meg said...

Pat- I could say a lot, but the tl;dr is "don't feel bad, you're not the first dude that got their bits handed to 'em on a plate out there."
We've been gobsmacked by enough stuff on day trips in the area to know how it rolls. Or doesn't roll at all once it gets wet, or how fast and crazy the weather can turn on you, how bad the wind can get, how there's typically zero cover to be had and no easy bail-out... I can't even tell you how many times we've tried to explain all this phenomena to folks and gotten blown off or even made fun of for worrying. And yet there it is. Spend enough time out there and EVERYONE gets burned so they can learn some proper respect for the Q themselves.
Thankfully everyone there had enough gear and experience to make it out OK and learn from it. I think a special Teanaway bikepacking trip might be in order to make up for this though!

Ward- Happy birthday! :) I think just keeping moving was the only thing you could do under the circumstances without risking going hypothermic. I actually was fairly certain the bikes would be OK, it was the drive out that had us sweating... We kept trying to figure out a way we could make it up as far as possible without getting stuck ourselves if you had to call us in. Glad the vehicles made it because to be honest we couldn't come up with any great ideas.

Vik- mottos for dirt bags to live by.... :P

Stine said...

Dang. Glad you all made it out.

I'd love to learn what y'all pack for a trip like this...

Hank Greer said...

Wow! What a way to redefine arduous. I'm glad you all made it out okay. Now you have a great story to tell and you tell it so well.

Wileydog said...

Me - quiet and reserved? Seriously, excellent write up. I'll finish mine soon. For me, I think I will go back - when/if my legs recover! So maybe not April. No worries about bringing me out there - these type of areas have always attracted me. Yep, you got good character.


Pat S said...

Thanks for the comments, all. I agree with most all of what you've said.

I need to add something here, due to some offline discussion that occurred today . . .

I've been replaying the whole day over and over in my head. The process is necessary, I think, in terms of reconciling what happened and how I did a lot of things not well in terms of preparing for something like this - it was pretty inexcusable to be out there without rain pants, for instance. There will for sure be some changes to what I'm carrying before I head out there again. I did some other things okay and I'm comfortable with that.

When I said that I felt good about a particular decision I made that day, it was strictly from the perspective of my own self-absorbed self-analysis. I recognized as a result of conversations today that it could easily be interpreted that I was implying that I did not think other people made good decisions or demonstrated "character". Nothing could be further from the truth. I TOTALLY respect the decisions and judgement of ALL the guys I was riding with. The only person I have any business judging is me, and I am absolutely going to do that, so that I can learn from my experience and actions and hopefully improve myself and my equipment strategy, and be better prepared next time. I should have worded things a bit differently and sincerely apologize if those comments came across any way other than how I intended them.

Meg said...

So.... you're saying we're on for Teanaway then?

How much whiskey should we take?


Pat S said...



Riding in Reno said...

Wow. What an excellent tale of adventure. It sounds like all of you were forced to dig deep both physically and in the character department! Everyone want's to believe that they have this type of person inside, but when the cards are definitely wonders who will emerge from inside us. I'm leading a newbie group of 13 on their first s24o this weekend (20 miles - 2000ft of climbing on mixed terrain). I'll be bringing along your story for some fireside reading (assuming things go well it should provide some perspective on how a trip can go sideways)! Cheers.

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