I awoke the next morning, at the Trout Pond campground, feeling shockingly decent, considering the hell I’d put my body through the previous day. I immediately got down to the serious business of glamping and fired up my alcohol stove to get water lukewarm and use my coffee pour over.
However, this trip wasn’t all sunshine, roses, and amazing coffee. There was work to be done, some of it even labelled “Urgent”. You see, I had purchased a growler sized water bottle cage to schlep my Gallon Klean Kanteen (herein referred to by it’s moniker, GKK) under the downtube, and said cage had decided to work for 10 minutes of the ride before becoming a constant pain in my ass. (Seriously, you’d think that riding 11 straight days all day long, the biggest pain in your ass would be…well, your ass. That is, unless you have a GKK strapped under your downtube in a crap cage). Thus began a battle the likes of which had never been seen before, and likely never will be seen again. The Hundred Years War? Nah, bro. WWI? Pffft, please. The Cold? More like tepid compared to the temperature of this war.
I legitimately needed to be able to carry the GKK as I didn’t really know how often I would be able to get water. It was a sort of safety measure, and carrying nearly 7 liters on my back with a camera and laptop was not an option. So, I decided to “fix” the growler cage. Looking back on it now, it’s funny how naive I was. My first attempt was done with the best of intentions, I thought I was bringing out the big guns from the get go, but really it was just a cap gun.
I used Gorilla Tape on the cage in a few places, as well as tied the GKK on with some string. “That’ll hold ‘er. Nice work!”, I smugly said to myself, as I sipped my half caff, skim, mochaccino I whipped up that morning.
Happy with myself, I packed up and hit the road. I confidently cruised out of the campground, looking around at all the lazy bums still sitting around their campsites, feeling superior that I was up and out so early, after having definitely, undoubtedly fixing the GKK problem. I pedaled away up the road, out of the campground, only to quickly realize I went the wrong way. Crap. I slunk back into Trout Pond, hoping no one had noticed the looks of derision on my face on the way out. At any rate, I found the trail, which was, I shit you not, directly across from my campsite. I inherited my sense of direction from my mother, apparently. After a short while, I made it to the North Mountain Trail, which was a rocky, technical ridge trail. It was awesome riding, and provided some incredible views.
The riding was tough, but tons of fun. I was pushing myself hard, riding some super technical stuff I never would have imagined I would ride on a fully loaded, rigid bike. A serious groove was developing, some might say I was “in the zone”. My thoughts were filled with positive self talk, such as “Wow, it’s amazing how good you are at negotiating these rocks” and “You’re probably top 5 best mountain bikers out there” and finally, “This tubeless setup is the cat’s pajamas”. As I crawled through Rock Central and took a detour to Boulder City, my mind was so engaged with massaging my ego that I came down hard on a rock. I felt the rim strike stone, and heard a deafening hiss, followed by a spurt of white sealant coming from the tire. My heart sank as I watched the tire hemorrhage air and sealant.
Try as I might (and I tried, hard), I couldn’t get the front tire to seal, so I resorted to putting in a tube. At this point, I was paranoid about getting another flat, so I pumped the tires up fairly hard, which negated the passive suspension benefit of running such large volume tires, and led to a much harsher ride.
The next few hours were fairly uneventful, rocky trail, sweet gravel downhill to some highway riding to get to a gas station/restaurant. Pound food, water, and get burgers to go. Back on the bike, got miles to cover. The highway turned into a small paved road, that tapered to a small gravel road, meandering through the woods. I passed numerous farm houses and abandoned barns and saw enough “No Trespassing” and “Private Property” signs to convince me to stick to the road.
I stopped to take a picture, when I felt a sharp sting on my back. I slapped at the spot, and saw a bee flit around, then fall to the ground. Shit…..
If you’ve not heard my bee saga from the AT a few years back, the cliff notes version is: I got stung 3 times in the same place over the course of 4-5 days, with my leg swelling up to the point I couldn’t bend my knee, and almost went into anaphylactic shock. In the middle of the 100 mile wilderness. Which is in the middle of nowhere, much like I was now.It was scary as hell, and I was in no mood to repeat it.
I sat down, got out my EpiPen, put some Norah Jones on the IPod (she saved my life in Maine) and tried to relax, as more bees swarmed around my head. I tried to get up and keep riding, but my throat tightened, and I got light headed, so back on the ground I went. After about an hour, I convinced myself I was okay, and forced myself to ride on. Phew, crisis averted.
An interesting thing happens when you are alone in a remote area, and are faced with a stressful, potentially life threatening scenario. There is really nothing to do but deal with the situation. Stressing, worrying and delaying action do no good, in fact, those actions can be harmful, even more so in a situation like this, where there is no “out”. It is one thing to have mechanical difficulties or an off day on your local trails, but it is an entirely different animal when you are in the middle of nowhere, with no cell service, and no one to come to your aid. People often ask if I am nervous or scared traveling alone, after all, “What if something happens?”, they ask. Yes, I do get nervous, and scared. Quite frequently. But I have learned to control my emotions and trust in my judgement and knowledge to get me safely through the trip. This is really only something that comes with experience, with putting yourself into those “Oh shit….” situations, and pushing yourself well past your comfort zone. I have noticed the difference between myself and friends, where some may give up, I am just getting started. I know plenty of people that are more than capable physically to ride the VMBT, but mentally would break down, in situations much like this. This isn’t to say that, “I rule, you drool”, but I have regularly pushed my mental limits over the last ten years to become confident enough in myself to handle these situations properly. That being said, this was scary as shit, and has fueled my hatred for bees. It really is a totally helpless situation. An EpiPen isn’t a cure for anaphylaxis, it just buys some time, which wouldn’t really do me much good in my situation. The only thing to do is force yourself to relax and stay calm, a difficult task given the scenario. The body naturally goes into heightened awareness, essentially in fight or flight mode. I had to go all Shaolin Monk and override that shit. I like to push myself to my limits, but I could do without getting stung in remote areas (or anywhere for that matter) for the rest of my life. I seem to be candy for bees.
Back to the story. The gravel road tapered further into a forest service road, which further tapered into an overgrown, non maintained, untraveled forest service road, complete with stinging nettles and thorns. Oh, and it was uphill. For, like, a long time and stuff. The going was slow and very difficult. I quickly realized that I definitely did not have a low enough gear for the hills. I would estimate I spent upwards of 75% of the trip in my smallest 2-3 gears, and my chain was incredibly worn. I had neglected to replace it and the cassette prior to the trip, reasoning that a new chain would only get destroyed, so why not roll with the old one? Well, the derailleur was making a nasty noise in the smallest gear, a grinding, grating noise that definitely is not supposed to happen. Add the potential for a broken chain to my mental worry list. Sweet! The scenery was absolutely gorgeous, and there was no evidence of people anywhere. I was truly out in the wilderness, and felt like a true explorer.
I was deliberately running low on water, as I didn’t want to haul water up the mountains, and I had picked a spot to camp that was next to a spring (or so the map led me to believe). The climb finally peaked after 6-7 miles onto a wide gravel road, and the sky began to darken, threatening rain. Parched, hungry, and exhausted, I prayed that the rain would hold off until I made it to my planned destination. I “dropped the hammer” as much as was possible after 6 hours of riding, which is to say not at all. Luckily, the rain held off and I pulled into my planned destination: a place labelled as “Hall Spring” on the map. I was shocked to ride into a clearing to find an abandoned house. Keep in mind that this is at the end of close to 4 hours of riding on overgrown forest service road, so it was strange, but I was happy to have a porch to sleep under, given the looming rainstorm. Number one on my priority list was finding this “spring”, which turned into an impossible task, as there was no sign of water anywhere. Shiiiiiiiiiit. The water to the house was turned off (I checked the well at least 3 times to be sure). However, there was a large 55 gallon drum that caught rain water. It was full of water….and bugs and minnows and things swimming around.
Well, I’m nothing if not local when I travel, so I figured I would sample this local delicacy. Brackish, brown, with a hint of giardia, it was surprisingly refreshing. I busted out my two burgers and massive pickle I packed from the gas station and dug in.
I finished the day at 46 miles, with over 6 hours of moving time (I suspect this is actually higher, as the Garmin doesn’t think I’m moving when I am pushing and dragging my bike). Refueled and satisfied, I hunkered down for a fantastic night’s sleep.
On the next installment of Riding with Ron: 5 am wildlife visits, jungles and running out of water. Stay tuned, and thanks for reading!