Sunday, August 30, 2009

Midnight Adventures, Part II

When we left off, our hero had run out of lights with 4+ miles of trail in front of him and no moonlight. Will this be the end of our hero? Let's find out...

I was in disbelief that both of my lights had gone out. This couldn't be happening. My lights generally last longer than this (I was about 1:20 into the ride at that point), and I had been pretty good about turning off one of the lights when I didn't need it up until that point.

But if there is one thing I'm pretty good at, it is this: I seldom panic. I figured that the worst that could happen is that I spend the night up on Cottonwood Creek. Yeah, Wesla would be freaking out in the morning (if she wasn't already - it was already almost midnight), but I had water and warm clothes (vest, arm, and knee warmers) and it wasn't too cold. Okay, so the worst that could really happen is that I get eaten by a mountain lion, but I tried not to dwell on that for too long.

After my lights went out and I slowed to a stop, a small miracle happened. The auto-pause feature on my GPS was triggered, and the backlight came on to let me know about it. Suddenly, I had light again. I also realized that I had my cellphone in my bag. So I took my cellphone in one hand and the GPS in the other and triggered their backlights to light up the trail. It wasn't much, but I could barely make out the edges of the trail.

I was in business again. I figured I had three objectives: 1) don't get seriously injured; 2) don't fall into the creek; and 3) don't lose the trail. I thanked my lucky stars that I charged the GPS the day before, threw on my warmer clothes, and started slowly feeling my way down the trail.

It's quite amazing what riding thousands of miles on dirt trails will do for you. It really gives you a sixth sense for following trails. Between hearing the creek to my left and barely seeing the trail in front of me, I was able to naviguess my way down the trail pretty well. Walking my bike also helped, as it served both as a walking stick and a blind man's cane. Anytime a drop off or a big rock was coming up, my front tire would hit it first and I would know what to expect.

I've occasionally been guilty of complaining about sharing trails with horses. They leave post holes in wet trails, they spook easily, and worst of all, they leave shit all over the trails. But from now on, I'll always have an appreciation for horse manure on the trails. It turns out that horse poop really stands out against a dirt backdrop. Almost every time I thought I was losing sight of the trails, I'd see a piece of horse crap on the ground, and I knew I was still heading in the right direction.

I was slowly making my way down the trail and was feeling pretty good about my chances of making it to the car sometime before morning. Suddenly, I heard something move to my right. It was quiet enough that I didn't know if it was the size of a rabbit or the size of an elephant. Then I heard it again, only louder. And then I could make out a big black silhouette about 10 meters away. After reading Watcher's post about a bear encounter the day before, I instinctively thought I was looking at a bear.

And then I heard something else move to my left. Another one. I decided it wasn't a bear, but instead I was standing between a mama moose and her calf, being that I am somewhat of a moose magnet (gives me an idea for a future post). I wanted the bear back.

MOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!! ... rumble rumble rumble. I almost laughed out loud when I realized I was standing in the middle of a cow herd. However, the fact that I had just started a cow stampede with no light wasn't very funny. Fortunately the cows avoided me and I was able to keep on going.

After over 2 hours of inching along by my GPS backlight (my phone backlight turned out to be pretty useless, and I wanted to save the phone's battery as a last resort in case the GPS died) I was finally almost back to the car. I remembered from my previous ride on the Cottonwood Creek trail that there would be at least one stream crossing near the bottom, and I was pretty excited when I thought I found it. I crossed the stream without getting wet, and soon found another section of the stream to cross (I figured that the stream had split and that I walked across an island of sorts).

I kept walking, elated to be so near the trailhead. After going over a few hills, I decided I'd better verify that I was still going in the right direction, so I pulled up the map on my GPS. My jaw dropped as I realized that for the past 1/3 mile or so I'd double backed on myself. I was so disoriented in the darkness that the I didn't realize that the second stream crossing was actually the same as the first stream, and that I'd completely turned myself around. I cussed at myself and started heading back in the right direction. I turns out that a GPS can be used for more than just lighting up a trail. I'm telling you that if not for that GPS, I would have spent the night up there.

From there, I successfully followed the trail almost all the way back to parking lot. In my haste, I somehow lost the trail just before it intersects with the main river and I couldn't find the bridge to cross it. As I bush-whacked up and down the river in search of the bridge, I saw a light on the other side of the river. I yelled, and someone yelled back.

"Aaron, is that you!?"

Brandon had noticed my car in the parking lot as he was pulling out to leave. He waited around for me and when I never showed up, he ended up riding up past the hot pots to look for me and then paced back and forth for over 3 hours trying to figure out what to do. That's a good friend right there. Thanks, Brandon.

Other than a few scratches and a pretty big bruise from hitting my right calf on my pedal about 379 times, I made it down unscathed. It was a long 3 hour walk, but it certainly could have ended worse.

Now my main concern was about Wesla. She can be a light sleeper, and if she noticed I wasn't back, she would be freaking out. We drove down the canyon and eventually got back into cellphone range. I called my messages and was never so glad to hear "you have no new messages."

By the time I was home, had eaten (I was starving by then) and climbed into bed (I took a page out of Rick's book and slept stinky style), it was past 3:30 am. When I woke up in the morning and went downstairs, Wesla says to me, "Well you were out a little later than I expected. I woke up at around midnight and you still weren't home. How did the ride go?"

To which I answered, "um... it was pretty good."

I think I may finally find out if Wesla actually reads this thing.


KanyonKris said...

Wow, quite the midnight adventure! Glad it didn't get worse.

Jonnie J said...

Naviguess is my new favorite word. You do have a nose for adventure.

South County Ciclista said...

Too bad your lights didn't go out descending the Hot Springs trail. You wouldn't have had any trouble borrowing a flashlight from any of the 100 people up there that night.

Ski Bike Junkie said...

Still no comment from Wesla. Hmmm...

Watcher said...

Great story! Way to stay cool. Coincidentally I rode up 2nd water Sunday. Seems like a bear to walk a bike down in the dark.

For a while I used to night-ride with an extra little emergency LED headlamp in my camelback. Think I'll put it back in...

Grizzly Adam said...

See, now aren't you glad the AMC was canceled and freed up those funds for the 705?

Get yourself the Princeton Tec EOS Bike, it slips into a jersey pocket and runs off AAA batteries, but its bright enough to ride with on climbs, or in an emergency.

I've always thought DF was creepy even in the day time. I'd have been crying like a lost child if this had happened to me. I'd say you demonstrated serious cojones just leaving the parking lot alone. That, or your just stupid.


nails said...

You are one of a kind. Are you gonna tell that at the Timp Storytelling Festival this weekend?

Keith said...

Who knew piles of horse crap were like bread crums and could lead you home?, please tell me you weren't eating them as you went to maintain your strength! Let's talk about lights when you have a moment.