We had left the trail far behind. Endless woods stretched before us. The earth tilted down in a jumble of rocks, moss, and rattlesnake dens. A muffled roar seeped through the trees, drifting to our ears like a siren calling. The sun was well past its zenith, gold hour light filtering though birch trees and towering maples. We headed toward the roar, our bikes shouldered, feet crunching through deep leaves. The fading light put urgency in our steps. Our water was gone. Ditto, the food. Our flats were numerous, 4 tubes gone… When the terrain was mellow enough, I rode a rear tire stuffed with leaves and moss, my trick of cutting a tube in half and tying the ends having eventually failed in a pathetic gasp of air.
There was no budget for lights. There was barely a budget for our useless map, a pointless commodity as we purposefully had left the trail to explore a cascading waterfall hours before. We knew these facts: we were on a mountain in a huge expanse of state forest.
There was a river at the bottom in one direction. A road in another. Endless woods in the other… Our thinking was this: find the river. Follow it downstream. Find civilization, or at the least, don’t run out of water.
Our plan was simple. Go into the woods. Explore whatever looked worthwhile. Try to get back out, somehow. We named it Extreme Freebased Cyclo Distancing, poking fun at the predilection of all things mountain biking to be called extreme this or epic that. Half the time was spent pushing, half the time shouldering the bike. Our bikes sported towels zip tied to top tubes for extra padding, our Camel Baks stuffed with extra bladders, additional tubes, tons of tools. It was our way of life, and we are lucky we lived to realize how foolish we were.
The roar grew louder in our ears. We saw flashes of light dance through the early fall foliage. Our thoughts turned to hamburgers and beer. We had been walking for miles. Turning back was never considered. The terrain was deceptive and difficult. Rock gardens stretched in every direction but a sea of leaves buried them. Walking in worn cycling shoes, rubber lugs peeling, hanging loose like the gums of an old man, our feet sliding along wet granite, ankles twisting like a Chubby Checker record.
The river filled our vision. I set my bike down. It was bigger than I remembered from the car.
Maybe 100 yards wide. Deeper too, and very fast. I could imagine other seekers of adventure paddling down it with handy things like life vests, and boats. There was a clearing beyond the river. Maybe a road. There were no cars to see, no trucks to hear, but then, we were in the middle of Pennsylvania and it was the late afternoon on a week day. Not typically a high traffic time. We sat on the bank and rubbed our aching shoulders. Earlier I had careened down a scree slope and stopped my forward progress with a stout sapling. I had been hoping it would exhibit a degree of spring, but none was forthcoming, and I was launched backward off my bike like a knight getting lanced at full tilt. A decade later my shoulder still bears the impact scar, raised and white, a mark of desperation.
There was never a question of whether to cross the river. It was more like where to cross. No time like present, no place like right here. We stepped in, crouching to keep our center of gravity low. We planted our bikes down stream like crutches, using them to brace against the current. The cold water swirled around our legs, ankle-deep, calf deep, thigh deep. We were too chilled to even swear. Breath ran from our lungs like the Don BranDon runs from girls. Traction was as scant as Rick Perry’s presidential chances. I stumbled and fell, my bike caught in the current, my butt bouncing along the slick rocks until I met a friendly boulder and regained my footing. We were barely halfway across, already exhausted from the current, feet numb, walking with senseless nubs, faceplanting into torrents of mountain spring water, snorting trout turds through our noses. The far side of the river seemed be to hover at a fixed distance. I wedged myself into a rock eddy and sat, chest deep in the frothing water.
My riding partner saw me give up. He trudged back to me, looking pitiful, wet, shrunken and beaten. He shouldered his bike like a school kid shoulders a backpack full of boring books and reached out and picked me up. Together we made the far side of the river. A short struggle through brambles and shale brought us to a bank of late season wild flowers. Climbing the bank brought us to a wide, beautifully paved road.
The mounting gloom had almost swallowed us when a pick up truck stopped and offered us a lift into the nearest mining town. The town was miles from our camp site, had no money, and still lacked all basic needs. We looked lost, half drowned, shaking on the side of the road. A local took pity on us, loaded our bikes in a brown conversion van, and schlepped us back to our car. We gratefully sunk into the seats, soaking them with mud, water and a stench that I am sure they are just now getting rid of.
We have some stuff going on this week, rides, the start of our clinic season.
First the clinics. We’ll have a whole series of clinics this winter season. We like to do them, and some times people even show up, and when they do, that’s great and fun, and everyone learns something useful. They’ll be every Wednesday at 6. Figure an hour or maybe a little more for each class. All free. Here is the schedule, which is pretty self-explanatory, I reckon:
1/11: Adjust a normal brake. By normal we mean a road brake (really easy) or a V Brake or cantilever. Not a disc brake, or a U brake, or a roller cam, or a drum brake or a coaster brake. Learn how to make it not howl, make it feel soft or firm, and how to balance it, side to side.
1/18: Adjust a derailler. Make it shift ok, rub less. We’ll demystify the magical front derailler, and explain what all the knobs, dials and oscillators do on the rear one.
1/25: how to true a wheel on a bike, if it gets all out of wack. Its easy enough to true it in a truing stand, and this will help with that, too, but really, if you wack say, a really fat ground-hog, and your rear wheel goes catywhompus, then you might need to straighten it out, just to get home. This clinic will be about that.
2/1: Bring in the first Wednesday of the outcast month of February with a fix a flat clinic. Not only will you learn how to shove a new tube in your tire, but also how to boot a torn tire, patch a hole in a tube, and how to use an old tube to make a really nice bungee cord for zero dollars.
2/8: Clean your Drivetrain at home with not much time and very little money Clinic. Self explanatory, that.
2/15: Tuning your mountain bike for your riding style and location Clinic. Adjust the suspension, tire pressure, gearing, bars, tire choice, etc etc, for where ever you are riding.
2/22: Rebuild a rebuildable normal shimano style hub clinic: Shimano style hubs should be rebuilt occasionally, to keep the boogie man at bay. We’ll show you how to perform this yearly ritual. If you want to do it at home, you’ll need a few tools we can point out and source for you, including the elusive and under used axle clamp.
2/29: LIMITED CLASS SIZE, email us at bikedrfrederick (at) gmail (d0t) com to get in on the action: James (that’s me!) will teach you how to lace a wheel (you pick, front or rear) and tension it so it won’t explode on you, or crumble like Michelle Bachmann’s presidential chances. You’ll be buying some basic spokes (or really nice ones, whatever you want) a cheap rim, and a cheap hub to learn this skill. Get something you can put on your commuter, so it doesn’t go to waste. If you want to take this class, ya gotta buy the stuff from us, but we’ll point out OK cheap stuff. Figure this class will go to about 9pm.
Tuesday- Meet at the 7th street Starbucks if it isn’t crappy out for a 8am ride of a super casual 40ish mile ride on a mixed surface.
Thursday: Meet at the same Starbucks for a 7 am ride around our fair county. 40ish miles, moderate pace, lead by our very own Dan the Younger and Don BranDon. Back in town by lunchtime.
Thanks for reading!
-The Bike Doctor Frederick Crew of Jocular Epiciosity.