As I settled into my tent at Greenwaters Park in Oakridge, OR, it suddenly occurred to me that this was the first real vacation I've taken alone since my month-long, five city, two country tour in 1997. I took a moment to relish my new found freedom. The dynamic of going 'alone' to a group event suits me well. There are tons of people around if I feel like socializing--but I have no obligations to anyone and can retreat to my tent for some alone time whenever I want. Perfect.
Once my temporary home sweet home was set up, I got my bike and headed the mile into town for dinner at the new Chinese restaurant. I heard from several people that the owner used to be Jackie Chan's personal chef. The chicken fried rice I had for dinner didn't seem particularly star-quality to me, but it wasn't bad either. While I ate, I read We Might As Well Win by Johan Bruyneel. We went to his reading at Powell's last week, and I picked it up on the way out of town, thinking it'd be a nice bike-related read for the weekend. (Reading during dinner--another perk of temporary bachelorette-hood).
Back at camp, it was getting chilly, but I had my four-person tent to myself, and I discovered that Jess's lounger camp chair with foot rest, fit nicely inside the tent with all my other stuff. I read until I couldn't keep my eyes open anymore (and the guys next to me had turned off their music) and went to bed.
Friday morning, I was up at 6:30 and hit the breakfast line just after it opened at 7:00. The MBO organizers have had four years to dial in this event and it shows. The breakfast menu included ham, sausage, yogurt, granola, biscuits and gravy, scrambled eggs, pancakes, OJ and coffee from Nossa Familia. All the food was cooked up fresh by volunteers from the local Rotary club right in front of us. I loaded up, knowing I had a big ride day ahead.
At 9:00am, our bikes were covered with blankets and loaded into a big Penske truck, while the humans loaded into a genuine yellow school bus. A lot of the tall guys found their knees getting squished in the kiddie-sized seats. I was glad I'd brought a magazine to read on the drive up because looking out of the side window to the steep drop-off next to the narrow gravel road, as we headed to the start of the Alpine trail was a little harrowing. In mountain biking, when you're on a narrow single track trail only a couple of feet wide with a big drop-off below, you look at where you want to go, NOT down at the drop. Illogically, I felt the same way about riding the bus. I kept my eyes on the road ahead or buried in my magazine. We only stopped once, to let a hen and her chicks get across the road.
When we reached our drop off point, everyone piled out. The guys of course, immediately all lined up on the side of the road to pee off the side of the mountain. I followed a few other women to the 'ladies room' a little ways up the road.
The view was breath-taking, and included five mountains: Three Sisters, Broken Top and one other mountain I couldn't identify. The guides called everyone together for a group meeting, where we split up according to which trail we were riding (there were two leading from our start point, Alpine and Tire Mountain), and how fast we wanted to go. The Tire Mountain group left first and the rest of us waited around to avoid bunching up on the trail. Finally it was time to go.
We entered the trail at a spot called Kate's cut in--presumably named for the woman who found/built it. The road turned up sharply, and almost immediately, I found myself walking. I suck at climbing at the best of times, and I'm definitely not in the best shape at the moment. The grade eased up after a few feet and became rideable. From there it was a mile or so of climbing. We stopped in the middle of a field of bear grass to regroup before the first big downhill section.
The descent down Alpine represented my longest time on a real single track trail and my longest sustained descent (road or mountain) ever. It was indescribably fun. One of the things I love about MTB is the absolute focus required if you want to keep your skin whole. You're flying down a tiny little trail maybe four or five feet wide at best. Roots, rocks, dips and turns are coming at you, and you have, depending on your speed, 1-3 seconds to register obstacles and pick the best line around them. It's a focus I wish more people would bring to the driver's seat. My top speed going down Alpine was 21 mph. There's a section called "Jedi" because riding through it feels kinda like this, with narrow routes through fallen trees, a huge trail dip and other delights. It was definitely the highlight of the trail.
Jedi dumps back out onto a section of forest service road, where we regrouped for snacks. I saw a guide wearing a Bike Friday jersey and started chatting with him. His name is Ian, and it turned out that he used to work at BF, but now runs his own business making and selling bike trailers and hitches. In fact, it turned out that the trailer conversion kit I bought just before I left came from him! Not only that, but he trained Hugh, the BF sales rep I worked with while ordering my bike. How's that for a small world?
Despite being in a guided group of about 45 people, I was surprised to find that I was 'alone' for long sections of the trail throughout the day. It was awesome not being able to see or hear anyone in front of in back of me and having the feeling of being alone on the trail, while at the same time knowing there were people around to help if anything went really wrong. The first time I caught up to some one, it was a father and son who'd been just ahead of me. The dad had tried to grab air and a free apparently jumped onto the trail and hit him. His son, riding behind him, had no choice but to bail. They were both OK, and the son was laughing hysterically about the whole thing. I kept riding.
The next section started out bumpy as I promptly engaged in bad shifting technique and dropped my chain as a result. I couldn't clip out fast enough so I did a classic tumble onto my right side with my foot clipped into the pedal. Luckily, a rock broke my fall, and only Nick, the sweep guide for our group, was around to see it. I fixed my chain and got started again, only to promptly get a stick lodged deep into my spokes. I stopped before any damage occurred and fished it out. From then on, it was smooth sailing down another loooooooong descent. So long in fact, that I felt the burn start in my quads from hanging off the back of my bike. Luckily, all those awkward poses in yoga have paid off! Nick found me later that evening in camp and complimented my descending. He said he had waited a few minutes before starting after me, thinking I might hold him up, but he never caught me.
The trail ended at neat and well kept rest stop near a covered bridge. It was here that I had my closest call of the weekend. I'd been feeling fine all day, but suddenly, the Chinese food from the night before took vengeance on my intestines like I have seldom experienced before. I spent a fair amount of time on the porcelain throne, thanking any deity I could think of that this little episode hadn't happened on the trail.
By the time I came out of the bathroom, everyone had left to ride back to town. Just one guy was sitting at the picnic table, next to his broken bike. A bolt on his crank had striped on the trail and the entire left crank and pedal had come off his bike. He rode the last 2/3 of Alpine with one pedal! Now that's hard core. "They just took off, and I saw them go up the hill over there," he told me. "You can probably catch them if you start cranking."
But there would be no more cranking for me that day. I gingerly mounted my bike and limped off down the road, averaging about 3-5 mph for the three miles of uphill road back to town. As I went up the first incline--too short and gentle to even legitimately be called a hill--I passed two women hanging out in the front yard of a little house. We exchanged greetings and then one of them said, "As long as I've lived here, I've never been able to ride up that hill." Yeah, she was talking about the baby incline I'd just crawled up with my intestines turned inside out. I've had driveways steeper than that. It makes me sad that so many people have lost the will/ability/habit of moving around under their own power--to the point that they can't ride up a tiny little hill.
It took me about an hour to crawl the five miles back to camp. The road finally turned down at mile three or so, which sped things up considerably. Once back to Oakridge, a nice guy getting out of his car pointed me back towards the park. I had hoped to spend the afternoon doing the easy Salmon Creek trail that runs through camp, but as it was, all I could do was crawl into my tent to die.
Fortunately, a nap did me wonders. After a couple of hours, I was still weak, but I was able to get up and head over to Nick's (different Nick) yoga/stretching session in the beer garden. I met Nick at a Dirty Martini show in June and when he found out I was headed to MBO, he was stoked to car-pool. He eventually decided he needed some alone time instead, but he was still stoked to see me, and invited me to come sit with him and his friends at dinner. Someone took a picture of him in the middle of a yoga pose, drinking a free beer, which I think pretty much sums up his personality. One minute, he's encouraging us through a silent/still meditation, with admonitions to use the serenity of the trails to work through and really experience our emotions. An hour later, he comes back to to the dinner table and someone asked, "Hey Nick, what'd you ride today?"
"Your mom," he replied smoothly.
Despite being somewhat of a dude-fest, the atmosphere at MBO is one of the friendliest I've ever experienced in a group made up of mostly total strangers. The demographic is overwhelmingly male and white--there were maybe 20-30 women (some non-riders) and a bare handful of non-whites, and I was once again the TBG of the group. But everyone is just so stoked to ride that it pretty much over-rides the petty barriers of race/class/gender that might come up in a different environment. A routine conversation would go something like this:
(Morning): What are you riding today? Oh that's a sweet trail, you'll like it. Where you from? Cool. Have you been here before? How long have you been riding? What is ____ trail like?
(Afternoon/Evening): Where'd you ride today? How was it? (insert morning questions if it's a new person).
It's so textbook in fact, that when I go back to MBO August next month, I may just start volunteering answers to the standard questions to see how people react. I hung out in the beer garden in the evenings, not drinking beer and chatting with whoever was close by. I sort of adopted two families including a married couple and their son who looked to be in his early twenties, and a women and her older teen daughter. We traded trail stories and plotted our adventures for the next day. If only I could remember any of their names, but alas, it was not to be. Perhaps I'll suggest name tags as an improvement to the event. I met lots of great people and remember maybe two names and probably couldn't attach them to the right people if I saw them again.
Since I had two more days of riding, I decided it would be a good idea to try to ice-bathe my legs in the river. It's a pretty well known fact that I hate cold water, but one of my Sorella sisters recently posted a compelling email about the benefits of icing as an aid to recovery. I figured I should just harden up and do the right thing. Well, the mind was willing but the body was--reluctant to say the least! One of the guys laying out on the bank pointed out a handy rock from which I could leap into the deep section and completely submerge. I thanked him, but respectfully declined, not seeing any need to go into shock and drown. It took me five minutes to submerge up to my thighs. I did some fast talking and convinced myself to stay in for at least a slow count of 100. By then, numbness was mercifully setting in so I figured I might as well stay in another few minutes for maximum benefit. I distracted myself by singing Lindsay Mac's 'Stumble' a couple of times and thought of all the fresh oxygenated blood TM that would shortly be flooding my legs so I could hit the trails fresh the next day. My legs said, "screw you, we don't care."
I stepped gingerly out of the river, intending to head for the showers. But when I passed by the info tent area, I noticed dinner had just arrived. Food suddenly seemed like a much higher priority. They mentioned they were trying a pizza dinner for the first time this year and to be sure to give feedback. For me, the pizza was a definite fail. It did not survive the forty minute trip from Eugene well at all and I'm not a big fan of cold pizza, especially after a full day of riding. I ate a couple of pieces and some salad and headed to the showers.
There were shuttles to ferry people to the nearby high school. As I got out of the van, a guy waiting to make the return trip said, "Enjoy the water temperature!" Crap. I had forgotten that the hot water tank was pretty small. The information booklet for the weekend promised the showers would be wet but made no guarantees beyond that. When I walked in, I was pleased to find the locker room facilities were spacious, clean and well kept. I was appalled to see every single one of the twelve showers running steadily with me the only person in the room. I'm sure with that set up, whatever hot water there had been was used up twice as fast. I was even more disgusted when I heard that the men's showers all turn on and off individually--in other words, they were designed in a sane manner. The women's showers, it turned out, were all on a timer. All on or all off. It was possible to turn them off, but only by wrenching the timer back to zero with brute force. It was a good thing I'd been in the river already--the showers seemed downright comfortable in comparison. But I definitely was in and out quicker than usual.
Back at camp, I spent some time in the beer garden chatting with my new adopted family, and trying to talk one of the moms into doing Short Track racing. It occurred to me that I sounded remarkably similar to all the people who have been trying to get me to race 'cross this season--but Short Track is sunny and warm and fun, while 'cross is wet and miserably and insane.
I retired to my tent at a decent hour and called Jess.
"You would have hated everything I did today," I said, telling her about the hours-long hairy decent on Alpine.
"I like descending!" she said, a bit defensively. "I just don't like when I spend half my time walking, because of obstacles, and there are roots and rocks and it's really narrow and if I go wrong I might hit a tree or drop off the trail."
You're describing good singletrack, I thought, but decided not to point that out at the moment.
I stayed up way too late reading and finally went to sleep sometime after my neighbor's iPod battery ran out and their obnoxious music died down.
I forced myself out of my warm sleeping bag at 6:30. The breakfast spread was the same as the previous day and I loaded up on pancakes and hoped my guts would behave today. I was wait-listed for the Middle Fork trail shuttle and there would be no friendly rest area at the end---just the shuttle bus waiting to take us back to camp.
I made it onto the bus. Ian sat next to me, the knees of his long legs crushed up against the seat in front of us. I can't remember the last time I rode in an old school yellow school bus, but they were definitely not made for adults. I alternated chatting with Ian and reading my magazine.
With fourteen miles to go to the trail head, the routine hum of the road was shattered by a loud shot. One of the bus tires had blown. We kept driving for another mile or so and pulled over as soon as there was room.
Everyone piled out of the bus and the driver and a couple of guides had a look at the tire. The rubber poked out at odd angles, but the tire itself was only slightly sagged. The next few minutes were filled with discussion about the best way to proceed. We still had twelve miles to go to get to the trail head. Suggestions included having a few people ride to the start, while the rest piled into the Penske truck that held our bikes. Or half the people going on the truck and half in the bus. The PIC's has just about agreed on this plan, when one guy who was a commercial trucker, said that the tire would be fine with everyone on the bus, as long as we kept to twenty miles per hour or less. So then we all piled back on and made it safely to the start of the trail.
We split into the hammer, middle and slow groups and set off. Middle Fork is described in the MBO literature as an epic, all-day trail. My first hint of the magnitude of the adventure came about a quarter mile into the trail when we went through a huge mud bog. It came up with no warning and I wasn't carrying any kind of speed. No chance of powering through it, so I got off dropped off the last rung of my comfort zone ladder. Five minutes in and already my feet were caked and squishy with mud and cold water. So, it's going to be *that* kind of day, I thought, and adjusted my mind set accordingly.
As I cleared the mud and started pedaling again, I heard a loud splash behind me. It was Paul, one of the guides, apparently not having much luck riding through the mess. I smiled and kept pedaling.
A few miles in and we were into a fun swoopy section of fairly smooth single track, with enough turns and bumps to keep things interesting. It was like a roller coaster, except I controlled the speed.
Middle Fork is a pretty technical trail, with lots of roots, rocks, switch backs, steep climbs, creek crossings and other challenges. I consider myself to be closer to intermediate than beginner so tried to challenge myself while still keeping in mind my number one priority to not get hurt. That compromise meant at least a couple of miles of what is referred to in MTB circles as 'hike-a-bike.' Anytime the road turned steeply upward, I was walking. Sometimes on creek crossings, there were rocks or logs to step on. Sometimes I just waded, to try and get the mud off my shoes. A few people complained but I looked on the bright side--at least my feet weren't going to swell! And I'd worn wool socks, which turned out to be a great choice for spending the day with my feet wet.
The other popular feature of the trail was these skinny log bridges with one rail. We must have crossed about at least ten of them before the day was over. They're so narrow that you have to pop your bike onto the back wheel and roll it in front of you, and a couple of them were missing steps on the other end.
One section of switch backs was so steep that a couple of guys were waiting to help folks get up it. I didn't hesitate to hand my bike up, as I could barely crawl up it *without* carrying my bike. I think I struck a nice balance throughout the day between not being a stuck up feminist, or a girly wimp. There were a few times the guys offered to take my bike, but if I didn't need help, I didn't take it.
I was very happy to see the truck waiting for us at the lunch stop. At the beginning of the day, we put our lunches in coolers and they were delivered to us midday. I still had a pretty gaping hole in my mouth from getting my wisdom teeth out eight days before, so I eschewed the turkey in favor of PB & J, which was my lunch of choice for the weekend. I had to skip the Dave's Killer Bread as well because of all the nuts and seeds, just waiting to tuck into the gaps.
The trail gets easier as you go down, so after lunch, things mellowed out a little bit, and I even managed to clear one of the baby stream crossings. Even the 'easy' sections of the trail required my full attention though. Just when things got smooth enough to lull me into feeling comfortable, a tricky short root-filled climb or some rocks would appear to keep things interesting. As usual, I had drifted to the back of the pack. Matt was the guide doing sweep on the middle group, and he rode directly behind me after lunch. All the guides were great all weekend. Matt in particular had a very intense vibe and took his responsibilities very seriously, while still obviously having a great time. If any charge needed taking, he was the go-to guy to make sure decisions got made, flats were fixed etc.
I could tell he was impressed with my riding, especially when I cleared a short steep section full of chunky rocks. "I didn't think you'd make it," he said after I'd powered my way up it (by the skin of my teeth, but I didn't feel the need to mention that). He asked if I'd gotten involved with the PUMP group in Portland yet and suggested I hook up with them for some rides. "But you might want to take your reflectors off," he warned. "They'll probably make fun of you." That happened to me with my road bike as well. I expect I'll care as much now as I did then, which is to say, not at all. I'm a commuter first, and have been known to ride all my bikes in town, in traffic.
Everyone made it back to the bus around 3:30 and then the most challenging part of the day was upon us: a ride back to town on a bus full of stinky bikers. I think just about everyone remarked on the odor as we filed onto the bus. "I'm smelling chamois!" one guy said.
Fortunately, the ride back was much shorter. Heeding my lesson from yesterday, I headed immediately to the shower shuttle and just got the last of the hot water. Dinner that night was amazing, bbq chicken, sausages, corn on the cob, rolls, salad, coleslaw, potato salad, veggie sausages, brownies and ice cream. I got my tray and sat down next to a hard core guy with a long beard. He'd ridden three trails and had four beers before 6:00pm.
One trail and no beers was plenty for me, but I headed to the beer garden to socialize after dinner anyway. I saw a woman with a dog that I knew was camped next to me but hadn't met yet. I went to join her and another woman, but left after finding out they were just camping out with their mates and not riding. Too hard to try to make conversation about things not trail-related. I spotted my adopted family and headed for their table. We hung out and traded trail stories until it was time for the raffle.
Everyone registered for the weekend got a raffle ticket, and the chance to win one of the many cool prizes, but the only one I cared about was this one: A sweet looking blue/black GT hard tail that would be perfect to take home to Jess. I was already imagining the look on her face. I'd tell her I was bringing her home a souvenir--and then show up with a shiny new bike. It'd be awesome.
Paula came around with the tickets, and promised me sincerely that she was handing me the winning bike ticket. Ayleen likes to run speed raffles, which I like because it means a better chance to win if someone isn't paying attention. If you miss your number because you were talking to your buddy, or in the bathroom, too bad.
The moment finally arrived and Ayleen dragged it as long as possible. "Three...." Holy crap, I was in the running. "Five...." Now our whole table was on pins and needles, since all of us had 35 as our first two digits. One number left. Could I actually be this lucky?
"One!" Our whole table deflated as one. I looked down at my ticket: 354. THREE STUPID NUMBERS OFF!!! It was maddening to be so close. The lucky bum who won was sitting near the stage. He didn't even holler when he won.
Later I saw most of the staff sitting up on stage and went over to commiserate about my close call. Ayleen immediately took pity on me and offered me a consolation prize--a tiny little Dave's Killer Bread tank top that actually fits. Still, I think I may need therapy about the raffle.
I visited a while longer with the fam, and then went to brush my teeth. I was headed toward my tent and bed, when I saw Ayleen coming towards me. "Hey, we're driving up the road to the hot springs, do you want to come?"
My mouth moved before my brain even processed forming the words. "I'm so there. I'll be right back." A hot soak would be just the thing to perk me up for the last day of riding.
I met her back at the info tent. I had imagined a van full of people, but when I showed up it was just Ayleen and two guys who worked for Randy. Stefan and (name forgotten of course). So we took a car instead of the van and rolled out.
We decided to avoid what was known as the creepy trucker hot springs and drove a little bit further to a different spring that was about a mile hike in to get to. I was the the only one who'd thought to bring a light. Stefan found one more flashlight when he went back to the car for the booze and we made our way in without mishap.
There were two pools--one was too hot to get in, but the other was just right. Even though it was only a foot or so deep, the pebbled bottom was plenty nice for sitting in. The others brought suits, so I was the only one skinny dipping but it wasn't a big deal and the guys were chill about it. I actually had a swim suit at camp, but I don't do swim suits in natural hot springs. I think it's wrong and unnatural.
We soaked and sweated and talked about event planning, other hot springs encounters and enjoyed the full moon shining over the river. On our way out we stopped at a particularly pretty spot to take it all in. I suggested a moment of silence and they agreed. It was sweet and peaceful--until a car went by on the nearby road, shattering the sense of peace.
With that little side adventure, and staying up to write about it, I didn't get to bed until 1:30 or so.
My big plan for the day was to take it easy. I was tired from two epic days of riding and I knew that fatigue equals more mistakes (read: crashes). I planned to do the grossly misnamed Flat Creek trail and then Salmon Creek, a flat trail which lead right back to camp.
The shuttle for Flat Creek was very popular--I think a lot of folks had the same idea. Instead of a school bus and Penske truck, we had a couple of vans with racks on top, but they managed to get all the people and bikes who wanted to go. On the way up the trail, we encountered two guys riding up, who latched onto the pick up truck to get a ride.
Even though Flat Creek is listed as one of the easier rides on the weekend, I found it pretty challenging. It's a short, but unrelenting 15 minutes of downhill with lots of cliff exposure to one side of the trail, and some pretty steep switchbacks. At one point I ran into some big rocks and panicked a little, riding up onto the right (non-cliff) side of the trail and pulling my first endo of the weekend. It was pretty minor and I only got a few scratches. I was so close to pulling a crash-free weekend! Oh well. I finished out the rest of the ride with no incidents.
At the bottom, we regrouped and Matt asked who wanted to go straight back to camp and who wanted to do the more technical side of Salmon Creek, ending at the Fish Hatchery. Even though he said it was more technical, I figured it was still pretty flat, so how bad could it be? I went the hard way.
How bad turned out to be, bad enough to end up doing more hike-a-bike than I expected. I had no legs to speak of on any of the up hill sections. It would've been interesting to do the trail when I was fresher. But that's the nice thing about going back next month!
The trail ended at the fish hatchery, where we spent a few minutes admiring the baby salmon and the HUGE sturgeon, all of which were longer than me.
From there it was a quick jaunt over a gravel road back to camp. I took about an hour to pack up and head back to the city, well pleased with my first foray into the world of sweet, sweet single track.