Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Definition of Epic

This is a guest post written by Tony Parkinson

I'm guilty of using the word epic to describe 2+ hour rides up American Fork Canyon or the mountains of Park City/Deer Valley. Both areas I know very well, and plan my rides accordingly with plenty of food and H2O.
This past weekend, the true meaning of the word epic was revealed to me, and has forever changed my perception of what an epic ride consists of.

I enjoy the benefits of having in-laws that have a vacation home in paradise, otherwise known as Palm Desert, California. Frequently during the winter months there is an open weekend that I can enjoy a boys trip, or as the case was last weekend, a couples trip with my wife and a few of our close friends.
I frequently had traveled with my road bike down to the desert to spin out the winter cobwebs from my legs. However, it wasn't until I read an article in Mountain Bike Magazine regarding some great trails in Palm Desert and Palm Springs, that I had thought about riding my mountain bike in the hills that border the cities to the East.

Rick, myself, Jamie Pogue and Jon James thus endeavored to explore a few of the trails most mentioned in the article. One in particular, was the Art Smith Trail, which is an 8.5 mile one-way, or 17 mile out-and-back that includes some steep terrain, awesome views, a palm oasis or three, and gnarly trail features. The trail head began at 307 vertical feet with nowhere else to go but straight up. See the attached photos for a visual depiction of the trail, (ie; gnarly trail features, palm oasis and awesome views.) You thought I was embellishing?

After two hours, 8.5 miles and 2,000 vertical ft, we found ourselves at what was a critical junction in our ride. The Art Smith Trail "T'd" into a fire road which is known as Dunn Road. We had a decision to make which would be the defining moment of the day. The results of which would lead to the inspiration of this post.

We had 3 choices: 1) Ride straight onto the Hahn Trail, which is a beautiful single track. (More on this trail later in a post by Rick.) 2) Go right on Dunn Road, which unbeknownst to us at the time, descends only 4 miles into Cathedral City, where we could have simply called our wives to come pick us up; or 3) Go left and follow Dunn Road back to Hwy. 74 where we started. Sounds like a no brainer right? Well, had we known that the fire road which led us back to Hwy. 74 was a 27.5 mile, 2,000 vertical foot climb, we would have gladly chosen another route. Unfortunately for us, but fortunately for you the reader, we chose to ride the Dunn fire road back to Hyw. 74.

Every climb in the remaining two and a half hours of our ride was marked with anticipation that just over the pass would be civilization. Did I mention that there were at least a dozen more climbs, for a total of approximately 2,000 more vertical feet in elevation? Long climbs that would taunt me by disappearing over the horizon. But each time I approached what appeared to be the summit, I found a false flat or a quick descent into a sandy wash with another steep climb following. Pffff! That was the sound of the hope leaking out of my soul at every false summit.

No man uttered curse words like those out of our mouths that day. I was out of water long ago with only one water bottle cage on my bike. I took both drink and food from Jamie and Jon, and still needed more. Rick and I began to recall various episodes of Man vs. Wild and suspected that we may have to put the lizard/scorpion/beetle eating scenes into play. Jon was cramping bad, which required him to sit down frequently. We were all happy to wait with him and walk beside him, despite being anxious that we were burning precious day light. To be fair with Jon, we all probably walked as much as he did as we were all on single speeds. Although I don't have any evidence, Jamie walked too. Don't let him tell you any differently. Things were bad with no end in sight.

With the day expiring quickly, I pulled out my cell phone to call my wife and tell her that we were lost, but thought we knew where we were headed. I made sure that she knew we were on Dunn Road and expected to come out on Hwy. 74. Techno-geek Jamie went one step further by telling his wife our coordinates from his Garmin, hoping she could find us with the GPS unit he had left at the house. Little did I know that the sound of my voice, in addition to the knowledge that we were out of water, and quickly closing in on dusk, worried my wife enough that she and the girls began seeking advice from Coachella Valley Search and Rescue.

Finally, it appeared that our luck had turned as we began to descend without another climb in sight. Like a literal oasis in the desert, we rolled into a rural subdivision and desperately sought evidence of someone home via an open garage. We rolled up to a worn woman and her child in their yard and must have startled her as she held back her barking dog. Her husband who closely resembled "Dog" The Bounty Hunter, came out to greet us as we described our desperate situation and asked for some water. At least a dozen water bottles later, and a couple of photo opportunities for his kids who wouldn't believe "the day the mountain bikers visited", he pointed to the exit of the subdivision and said the most beautiful words I'd heard that day yet: "1 mile to Hwy. 74".

Once on Hyw. 74, we descended rapidly back home. We had called our wives earlier upon descending into the subdivision and they met us and followed us home in their mini vans full of damp towels, water bottles and trail mix for their weekend warriors.
As I said to begin this post, epic has a new definition in my vocabulary after this ride. Epic rides must include cramping, fear, the lack of provisions and fluid, and the stakes are doubled if you become lost. Never again will I be caught using that word for any Saturday morning rides near home.

P.S. I'd like to thank Rick for making my dreams come true by being his first guest blogger! Good times bro.


tibiker said...

Great write up, when are you starting the TP blog?
Having been on a number of these real "epic" rides, I always look back on them and think "it wasn't THAT bad" but with this one fresh on my mind, it certainly was THAT bad to me. What an ordeal. I'm just glad you guys didn't take it out on me for getting us lost. I thought for a while you 3 would just beat me senseless and leave me for dead out there.

Rick Sunderlage said...

I think the lowest part of that ride was about 5 hours in. I had been out of water for a while and after taking the lid off my water bottle, I tried to lick the inside of the rim to get a drip or two of moisture. As I rode with my head down, I noticed a coke can on the side of the trail. I've never craved a Diet Coke so bad in my life (notice me in the pic at the end. I have a death grip on that can).

Thanks for taking the time to post this. It was a good read and always interesting to hear someone else's perspective.

Jon, Jamie? who gets to write about day 2 & 3?

Anonymous said...

I hate it when I miss out on an epic ride. Sounds like it was tons o fun.

Jack said...

Rick, you never craved a Diet Coke so "Badly" it's an adverb describing how you craved the Diet Coke. Bad is an adjective and can only be used to to describe a noun or a state of being. I thought I raised you better.

Anonymous said...

You guys should have split up. That's what the survival experts always say. That and leave the 'cramping guy' for dead.


tp said...

Botched, Jamie road far enough in front of us that it was as if we WERE split up. As for Jon, I needed to stay near him. He had the food and water.

KanyonKris said...

I've had a revelation - epics start with doing something stupid (i.e. don't bring enough water, have only a vague idea of the route or change the route mid-ride, etc.) so epics can be created since it's easy to be stupid. So when I'm in the mood for an epic I should just head for some random distant point with as little gear as possible and a very good change the weather will get bad. I could be having epics weekly, or daily! My thinking about epics has been unnecessarily limited and has now been expanded. Epiphany!