I Suffer (So You Can Suffer)

Garmin data:

Or…….., so you don’t have to, or
you have the option to, or
maybe I am a glutton for punishment and just can’t help myself. 

The reality is somewhere  between, above, below and beyond.  Recently I did a RTR recon ride.  One I’m glad I did solo.  It is not that the roads didn’t check out but the conditions and the lack of certainty made for some tense moments.   

In six years of Lost River I’ve rolled a lot of area but there are still some new tracks to uncover.  Mostly it requires going deeper beyond the initial radius.  There are also vague dirt sections which, I find through local inquiry, actually connect places.  Getting a gauge on grades and conditions is tough since folks four wheel them and have little concept of road bike action.  It is a crap shoot.  I’ve been surprised at how rideable some remote places turn out to be but I’ve also made long treks that while magnificent in their newness ultimately descended into narrow passages and locked gates. 

The only way to know is to venture out.  The latest route is one I’ve been factoring for awhile.  Twice I was going to take a group on it but opted out due to difficulty and unknown variables.  I finally had an open day to explore.  The weather forecast was good and the skies appeared clear but as I rolled  from the Barn heading west the entire valley below loomed a still and ominous charcoal black.  I pedaled on thinking maybe it will slide south or at worst be a light summer shower.   The ridges to the east were clear and enticing and I could have easily shifted my direction towards calmer seas but I didn’t want to ride the same old roads.  I was riding to explore not  riding to ride. 

By the time I got to the bottom of the descent it was pouring–hard enough to duck under the slim cover of an abandoned building.  When it shifted to drizzle I started south in the valley. 

The next ten miles is flat and calm.  Smooth quiet highway and a soft drizzle.    At mile 16 the route turns right onto Dumpling Run Road, a west bound dirt ridge crossing.  The next 20 miles is mostly dirt and, except for a very brief valley section on the other side, is all ridge.  Dumpling is one I frequent.  It had a healthy volume of new loose gravel.  The gravel is eventually pounded in to the dirt by vehicles and prevents wash out but to the cyclist it is an unpredictable hurdle – bumpy resistance training at best.  Running in sand. Sharp sand.  I try and adapt to the challenge and divert my mind towards the green, damp and vibrant scenery.

It is still drizzling but doesn’t feel threatening.  I descend to the next valley and two miles later turn left/east onto Deep Springs Road and back into the same ridge further down.  This is the new road.   It  should run for awhile and top out at Hinkle Mountain Road, which I have used before.  Hinkle comes back to the valley below the Barn 20 miles south. 

Rising up Deep Spring reveals new unfriendly storms to the west that I hope will drift elsewhere.  Deep Spring is sweet.  Switchbacks, fields, streams, rocks.  Slowly the vistas give way and it starts carving into the mountain.  There are some splits but I think I am tracking correct.  I see a guy outside one of the few houses and ask him if this leads to Hinkle.  He immediately says ‘just continue up friend’ which gives me confidence because by now the black clouds are in sight.  I know I am gonna get slammed but hope it isn’t too big a ride to Hinkle.  He makes it sound easy.  No echo of doubt like most civilians portray as they aren’t aware of the potent athleticism before them.  Maybe he has ‘Versus’ or ‘Universal’. 

The rain picks up.  About a half mile later I come to a distinct unmarked fork in the road.  One hundred percent squared off.  No clear idea which way is the main road.  They both go up. I can’t believe the dude hadn’t noted this.  My map gives a not so obvious version.  It is raining harder now.  I consider waiting until someone drives through but it is too remote and I am already getting cold from stopping.  I choose a direction and keep going up.  There is some rural road work happening and two cabins.  A lot of mud and rock.  It’s pouring now.  I continue up looking for similarity to the Hinkle junction.  I don’t see any cabins for a long time.  The road is almost a wash now and the grades get sharper.  Lots of 18 and 20 percent reads on the Garmin.  Each effort is big and I dig figuring I may as well try and get there as fast as I can.  Not that I’m going so fast but I  don’t want to dismount and get clay in my cleats.

I get up to 2400 feet and it doesn’t look like Hinkle.   At this point continuing is as good an option as going back. Dauntingly the road starts going down.  I hope it is just ridge modulation but I can see switchbacks far below me.  Not encouraging.  It feels like it is doubling back to the valley I started from.  This would put me a long way from home but I would at least be on pavement and be able to get to a town and warm up.

After a long disheartening descent I hit some flat but I’m still in the woods.  No valley.  No pavement.  Hills on all sides.  The road splits again.  I am too cold to stop now and just pick a fork hoping I will drop into the valley.  It comes to an old deserted farm house and dead ends.  Turning back I go the other direction  and as the road goes from a sandy clearing into thicker woods there is a fallen tree with ‘wrong way’ painted on it. 

I start climbing again and the road gets rougher.  The already hard rain notches up in a loud pounding assault.  The dirt and rock has mini streams of run-off taunting me.  AND I get a rear flat.   I try and stay calm and not think about too much beyond changing the thing successfully with out pinching the new tube or missing a tire slice.  The rain and dirt make a messy read.  I take some steps over big rocks into the woods for  a little tree cover and  find a boulder to sit on and make my fix.  My S Works lies sadly in the road and I  am thankful I hadn’t dragged anyone else into this ‘adventure’. 

There have not been any cabins for miles.  I’m easily five miles into the woods in either direction and I have not seen a vehicle the entire time.  My numbing fingers have just enough strength to make the change.  It occurs to me that while it is a long way back maybe I should cut my losses but if this IS the right road I can’t be too far from Hinkle.  The flat happened on a steep section.  I put the wheel on and start back up.  Just like any routine flat. Despite the circumstances, getting into a smooth riding rhythm brings some warmth.

I put in low PSI  just in case I have a slice.  Though I have patches I’m not sure if I could fix a tube in these conditions. Knowing how much another flat would cost me I ride out of the saddle to avoid extra rear wheel impact. 
It turns out I was closing in on Hinkle.  The road  levels out and I see some familiar terrain.  This is a cool ridge with a long surprising plateau on top.  Hinkle drops off to the east. 
This is no recovery beyond the inner calm that I am no longer potentially lost, and that, though I still have some miles and climbing to go, I will get home.   It is a chilly rain on the ridge.  60 degrees maybe.  I have arm warmers.  Hinkle drops down five sharp miles of rough rock and dirt.   How ever cold I am now I am about to get colder.  My hands will become numb but if I make the valley I can bring the senses back.

Turning from Hinkle onto the smooth pavement of South Fork Road the transition is enormous. 

I can still pedal.  It takes some miles to feel the tips of my fingers.  The final leg of this recon ride was to be a short section of South Fork and then an east bound turn at Peru for a 16 mile dirt road back to the Barn.  This will wait.  The valley has a slight drizzle but the ridges are cloud covered.  It is not a tough choice.  Maybe if I had a few more tubes I could be tempted but for now I have had enough for one session.  That doesn’t mean it isn’t on a future program.  I still have to link it all together. 

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