[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.
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.