Metabolic Acidosis (aka Bonking) on the Colorado Trail and Elsewhere

Mountain biking in Colorado
Mountain biking in the Tarryall Mountains

Ryan had never bonked before, at least in the metabolic shock overexertion sense of the word. When he started to bumble around and kept losing more and more of his edge, I knew that something was up and figured that’s what had happened. Not really realizing what was going on, he kept on trying to mountain bike further up the Colorado Trail, although with diminishing returns. The big patches of snow that still littered the trail, even though it was June, were probably a good thing since they ultimately turned us all around. His disrupted mental and physical state likely made the retreat more palatable to the 13-year-old, since he wasn’t one to be prone to turn around before his goal was reached, regardless of whatever difficulty he faced.

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The Ride Down to Sorata

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Mountain biking

We topped the ridge on the dirt road and began dropping quickly on our mountain bikes into the valley. We all knew that it’d continue to get warmer and greener as we descended from the Bolivian highlands, but our thoughts at that moment were mostly focused on what awaited us at the end of the ride. For each person, those anticipated rewards were different- a warm bath, a cold beer, hot coffee, a dry room. And so, we thought of those things and little else as the town of Sorata came increasingly into view.

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The Rattlesnake in Palo Duro Canyon

mountain biking
Group Mountain Bike Ride

The Rattlesnake had just woken up from its long winter’s nap and was just trying to slither peacefully over to the big flat sunning rock when all hell had broken loose. As it was, just moving anywhere until he’d had a little time to unwind was hard enough, but the still sleepy reptile had tried to giddyap especially quickly across the trail opening once he’d felt the vibrations approaching. Unfortunately for him, lethargy was all he could muster along all four feet of his bone, sinew and diamond patterned skin and moving any faster was just not something he could do at that particular moment.

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The Handlebar

A broken mountain bike handlebar in the Colorado backcountry leads to an interesting fix.

mountain biking in the Aspens

It was a long downhill and flowed well. I’d ridden it before and knew that even though we were going down the valley toward Lost Park, I needed to pedal most of the way in order to keep my speed up. That particular section of the Colorado Trail drops slowly and steadily for miles as it winds its way down the mostly open Craig Creek drainage and it’s a fast, fun, and mostly effortless ride. Sure, there are plenty of obstacles all along the way- unfortunately positioned rocks, encroaching Potentilla bushes, and washed out ruts. But the only real tricky spots occur where side creeks, thick with willows, come in from the side. While they can be dealt with by using vigilance and technique, the creek crossings require something a little more. With their mud, roots, and big rocks they’re simply best done on foot. Despite all of the downsides, it is mountain biking in the wilds of Colorado at its best.

I’d ridden the thing in the other direction, a couple of times before, which obviously made it an uphill. While the grade going that way wasn’t steep at any one point, it was simply more fun to go in the downhill direction. And so, like this particular time, that’s what I mostly did.

Even when going in the downhill direction, the start begins with a substantial climb leading up to a high point on a low pass at the west end of the “park”, which is what many such open valleys and meadows like the one we were about to ride into, are called. A gate separates the uphill from the downhill and, in our case, marked the start of over two miles of carved turns, fast straightaways and, and almost effortless pedaling slowed only by the creek crossings and the sporadic need to stop and soak it all in.

And so, we began. As we rode, Drew and I had no need or time for worrying about anything other than how to maneuver around the occasional rock, keep our pedals from hitting the side of the trail, or how to avoid each other’s dust. Bison Peak and the entire Lost Creek Wilderness loomed to the west, but since our focus was on the trail, we mostly didn’t have the luxury of looking toward or pondering it. While we could sense the remoteness of where we were, we were confident that speed would quickly gobble up the distance and soon enough take us back to the world of cars, roads, and computers.

For about the first third of the descent, or 15 minutes, I thought of nothing, other than what the next bit of trail was like. If any other sort of thing tried to work its way into my thoughts, I blocked it out before it could ever gain traction.

But, eventually, I let it happen. It was my own fault and no one else’s. I should’ve known better or been stronger in my resolve, but I began to mentally speculate about what would happen if a handlebar broke in the midst of a downhill like the one we were on. If such a thing were to occur, I realized that there’d be a guaranteed instant loss of bike control which would likely lead to some sort of horrendous crash. As I rounded yet another corner, I envisioned an out of control cyclist riding straight off of a big drop-off as the trail veers away in another direction. I saw nameless faces smacking into rocks, heads auguring into the ground, and bodies sailing off of cliffs. It was ugly.

With those visions overwhelming my mind, I was beginning to feel nauseous as we rode up to one of the creek crossings. We picked our way along the trail for a few feet the willows and then came to a complete stop as we rode up to a large rock blocking the way. We got off and began walking and maneuvering our bikes through and around other rocks and multitudes of mudholes. After only a few minutes, we came to a particularly tricky spot and I latched tightly onto my handlebar to hoist the bike up and over an obstacle. When I pulled up, the right half of the bar came up, but without the bike attached. I was initially both surprised and caught off-guard by the whole incident, since it wasn’t the response I was anticipating. I bumbled around for a moment between the rocks, mud, and bushes as the two of us initially laughed and speculated about the various “what ifs” related to it all. But then, our smiles turned to frowns as we realized the predicament that we were in and the potential wasting of another mile or so of downhill bliss.

I was at a momentary loss for a solution and began to visualize having to walk with my bike the rest of the way. Far off down the valley I could see where Craig Creek turned toward Lost Creek which gave me a frame of reference. From where we were, I calculated that it would take two hours for me to walk what could be ridden in 15 minutes to get to my truck over on the Lost Park Road and that was not how I wanted the ride to end.

And so, I rifled through my small pack looking for any sort of remedy. Among the various things I pulled out were a headlamp, rain jacket, and my first aid kit.That was it, I concluded! The answer. The first aid kit contained a possible fix. I opened it up and the solution was right there in front of me, at least I thought. I would be saved by the ace bandage and roll of white athletic tape almost staring me in the face. Sure, I knew that they were intended for human body repair, but realized that there was no reason why the two particular items couldn’t be used together to work in this particular case.

I was convinced that they could be combined in such a way as to put the bar back together, at least sufficiently enough to allow me to ride back to the road. I became overjoyed as I realized that the ride as intended could go on.

I pulled the two items out and wrapped and taped the broken bar back together. But when finished, I realized that the repaired bar was going to be way too flimsy for serving its purpose, if it did, indeed, even remain stuck together. My idea simply hadn’t worked.

I was at something of an emotional and mental crossroad, when Drew pulled out a single shot Quickfill air cartridge, which he always carried in the event of a flat tire and inserted it into the hollow and still partially tape-attached handlebar tube, as if he’d done it before. The three inch long, full of CO2, and hollow submarine-like piece of metal was an almost perfect fit. Without hesitation, we stuck the broken end of the bar onto one end of the cartridge and inserted all of that into the still attached part. Then we began wrapping tape around the whole thing in order to secure and hold it in place. When finished, I pulled and tugged on it to check, and it was solid. There was hardly any movement. It was almost as good as new, although it had probably added 6 ounces to the weight of bike. At least, I reasoned, it was solid enough to allow me to be able to ride out to the road.

And that’s what it did, but with a bonus. Within moments of finishing the repair, we were back on our bikes and rolling down the trail again. Initially, I was a little tentative and backed-off a bit on my speed, but for the most part, the handlebar felt as good as it ever had.

Once back on the trail, my first thought was simple satisfaction about how the fix was allowing me to ride, rather than walk. Admittedly, I was kind of amazed that it was working. We rode slowly at first picking our way down, gingerly steering clear of the Potentilla bushes, and giving the jutting rocks wide berths.

But our riding method didn’t last. Slowly, our speed increased. Single bushes began to blend into several and we kept getting closer and closer to the jutting rocks. Instead of seeing each potential trail hazard and consciously dealing with them one a time, we began to collectively pass them all by and kept looking further and further down the trail. Something seemed to take control and it wasn’t rational. Our concern about just simply being able to get back to the car with both of us actually riding, soon became a “given.” Eventually, we were back up to cruising speed, weaving in and out, and almost rhythmically flowing our way down the trail. Each time we looked down the valley to where Lost Creek veered off toward the road, it was closer. But instead of just savoring the end of the trail, we were suddenly hoping the ride would last a little longer

We reached the road and ultimately my truck. When the handlebar incident first occurred, our hope was only that the two of us would be able to ride out to in any form or fashion. But since we actually got to ride that last mile of single track the way it was supposed to be ridden, the whole episode became epic.

Mountain biking Colorado
Mountain biking through the Potentillas

Lost and Found on the Silver Trail

“You’re not lost, if you don’t care where you are.”

Mountain biking the Silver Trail

By this point, we were probably some 20 miles from the last little outpost of a town that we’d been through but were theoretically about to come to another. Jerry had the best maps of the area available loaded onto his GPS, but it only told us where we were in relation to the relatively paltry data that it was loaded with. The realization that we might actually be the first people ever out in that part of Mexico’s Copper Canyon trying to figure out and quantify where the hell the old trail went left me with the feeling of simply being overwhelmed. The old adage of, “garbage in, garbage out” came to mind and was soon followed by the vision of a web page that simply said, “no data available.”
I was momentarily depressed as I looked at the convergence of three trails, all of which seemed to head up toward the top of a wrong ridge. Just as we were each desperately searching for any sort of clues about it all, I was saved, once again, by the quote- “you’re not lost, if you don’t care where you are.”

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The Meatgrinder and Puke Loop

Two trails, seven years later…

Base Camp area trails
The Puke Loop

Old trails never die, they just get harder to see.

Their names did, and still do, an excellent job of describing them in a few short words- The Puke Loop and The Meatgrinder. While their heydays of being a few open and pleasantly flowing pieces of path connecting extended sections of tight turns, horrendously steep climbs, and complicated descents have long passed, the poorly angled roots, cactus, unfortunately placed rocks and riding/hiking/trail running memories remain. More than just a few body scars remain on people to help tell something about what the two were like back in the day and undoubtedly there are those that still think of mountain biking the Puke Loop whenever they find themselves hugging a commode.

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The 24 Hours of Moab

Interesting events late at night during a 24 Hour mountain bike race.

A dirt road via mountain bike
Mountain biking

Things got progressively weirder as the Utah mountain bike race/event known as the 24 Hours of Moab continued. At some point in the middle of the night, two tandem bikes with riders dressed as frogs rode in from a direction that I was certain had nothing to do with the race course. During the first lap, I’d been concerned when another racer didn’t correctly yield the trail to me on a long climb, but by the time the frog thing happened, nothing of that sort was bothering me. I was just pleased that the creatures stopped and were waiting off to the side of the trail for me to pass before continuing on. From that moment on, as I passed and rode on up toward the crest of the hill and far end of the race course each time, I was consumed by the thought that the frog riders might just turn onto the same 15 mile long trail that me and several hundred other riders were in the midst of riding. As I rode on, I hoped that if so, they’d at least go in the same counterclockwise direction as the rest of us.

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Hamburgers and Lizard Head

A group of backpackers attempts to climb Lizard Head and learns the true meaning of climbing.

Pingora
Pingora, Cirque of the Towers, Wind River Range, Wyoming

Lizard Head is a big peak just to the north and east of the well- known, long, and breathtakingly majestic line of mountains, ridges, and spires in Wyoming’s Wind River Range, known as the Cirque of the Towers. On one particular Outpost Wilderness Adventure trip, we backpacked with two groups of 7, via different routes that both came in from the east to Bear Lake. The lake sits just on the east side of Lizard Head and would be the location for our backcountry base camp. Once there, we set up two close, but separate camps each located between the lake and mountain with the plan to use them as a base from which to explore the area. Since it was during the Fourth of July holiday, we knew that there’d be a lot of people in the general area, but that few, if any, would venture into that particular neck of the woods. Our plan included a non-technical ascent of the nearby mountain, fishing in area streams and lakes, and a special Fourth of July supper, which was to include freeze-dried hamburger patties- a cutting edge item back in the ’80s.

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Mountain Biking The Trail of Death

An interesting turn of events while mountain biking some Copper Canyon singletrack.

Trail of Death 1-03
The Trail of Death

Afterward, we began to call it the Trail of Death.

For the longest time, Batopilas, Mexico was connected to the small town of Cerro Colorado by just a little bit of dirt road and seven or so miles of trail, just barely wide enough for local burro traffic. Then, a few years back, that same dirt road was bulldozed all of the way from Batopilas into the little Copper Canyon town, although the last mile or so of the old trail still exists where the road took an easier route. The part of the trail that remains is a testament to human ingenuity and persistence and literally clings to the rugged mountainside, almost 100 feet above the intermittent waters and ever-present boulders of the Rio Cerro Colorado.

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Resbaloso

Resbaloso, which is a Spanish word meaning slippery in English, is “that” word and also the name given to an infamous trail descent into the town of Creel.

The Resbaloso
Riding down the Resbaloso during the La Onza bike race in Creel.

Just seeing the word, much less speaking or hearing it, causes my pucker reaction to kick into high gear. Resbaloso, which is a Spanish word meaning slippery in English, is “that” word and also the name given to an infamous trail descent into the town of Creel. Continue reading “Resbaloso”