A few things I learned with my new venture;
- I have a new found respect, a deep respect for mountain bikers.
- To attempt a mountain bike trail you must be adventurous.
- To actually ride a mountain bike trail you must be courageous.
- Or young enough to be fearless and believe you are invincible.
- To mountain bike on any consistent basis (more than one ride), you must be fit, very fit.
- To make it through a trail you must be able to horse and man-handle your bicycle.
- You will see some of the most beautiful scenery that you really can't see any other way.
- That ridge on the side of a mountain (ok, big hill in Michigan) that always looked so cool and fun and I was dreaming about riding as I pedaled by safely on a wide paved flat road and just couldn't wait to do, it will scare your socks right off your feet.
I've been planning and dreaming about this ride for weeks now and finally felt up to it. Wrong. But I plunged ahead, literally and did it. I had poured over paper maps, searched the route on map my ride, read everything I could about it and watched a 35 minute video on You Tube that someone who rode this with a helmet cam and posted it, but nothing really prepares you for the real thing except for, well, the real thing.
I've rode the park dozens of times and was familiar with most of the landmarks/points of interest and tournouts throughout the park to have an idea of the lay of the land, however I was about to get very up close familiar with it in a way I'd never imagined. Still, I knew places I could bail out and take the road that runs through the park and focused so much on those before hand that when I got there I thought, "hey, that's a bad mindset, you're talking about bailing before you even give it a try." That clicked someplace in my brain and the first few times I actually thought I might need to bail out, I stayed with it and just kept saying "one more segment." Until I reached the half way point. The trail travels the southern side of the park heading west out of the trailhead and ends on pavement near the west end of the park, you have to traverse to the end of the park about a quarter of mile on pavement to pick up the trail again for the northern loop heading back east to the trail-head.
So a 4.5 mile ride took me just over 1.5 hours. The pamphlets say that you should allow for 2 hours for the 9 mile trail. With limited time I knew the next half of the trail would take me at least as long as the first half and I didn't have that kind of time today. That was a good thing, because my body didn't have that kind of energy in it either. It was beautiful, gorgeous even, when I had enough time to actually look at the scenery, most of the time I was trying not to wipeout or otherwise kill myself.
Much of the trail is through dense woods that wind. If another biker comes up behind you, you usually don't know about it much ahead of time and after they pass they are gone like a deer or bear in the woods. They just disappear round a bend or get gobbled up by the woods never to be seen again.
There are passages along side of gurgling water, places that go up and up and places that go straight up and also straight down, or nearly so. I'm not too proud to say there were ample opportunities for me to walk both up and down hills that were either too steep to pedal up or I was too afraid to barrel down the previous hill to gain the momentum needed or just too steep and rugged to go down. There were logs and plenty of roots, some erosion that caused sudden drops and rocks. Not boulders like you might get out west but in places there were tops of rocks sticking out. There were some switchbacks both while ascending and while descending. There was also a vast wide open area through a meadow and also through a somewhat desolate looking landscape. Wouldn't you know it, that is where I had my wipeout, it was 1.84 miles in and I know that because my speedometer quit working when that happened only I didn't know about it till at the turnaround point. The trail is well marked in 1/4 mile increments and at the turn I noticed the marker said 4.5 miles and my speedo was stuck on 1.84. I figured out that the fall disoriented my wireless pickup and fiddled with it and got it working. Anyway, here I am in the most wide open part of the trail, the singletrack in various places is hard packed dirt, softer dirt or fairly good packed pea gravel and some portions have the dreaded sand. The trail had opened up and turned gravelly and I hit a soft deep pocket of sand, not more than a couple of yards long but it was enough to take me down. As the ground came rushing up I noticed my bare hands and thought, crap, I forgot to put my gloves on. So my landing spot was much more gravelly than what caused the fall. I lay there stunned for a moment and when I combublated my self again, I picked the gravel out of my hands, knees and legs, picked myself up, brushed off the dust, put my gloves on and away I went. Much more cautious of the condition of the trail and very wary of loose ground. Maybe it was the crash but I was more tentative as I progressed. Most of my ride was very doable for me but the section after Spring Mill Pond wound up a large ridge and down it and that area gave me fits and made me want to quit. I crossed the paved road again after descending the ridge and knew from my whereabouts and the map that there was only about another half mile to reach the half way point and I pressed on even though part of me wanted to quit and was very glad I continued as the trail passed through more pretty scenery and it was flat enough for me to enjoy my surroundings but rugged enough to appreciate I was traveling a singletrack.
Time-wise I needed to hoof it back on the paved road. My body was grateful for that and my spirit was uplifted over my accomplishment, meager that it was. In reality it was half a trail and a beginner tail at that but for me it was conquering my quest. It was only 2.5 miles back by road and took me about 25 minutes to return. A wee bit battered, bloodied and bruised, yet you couldn't wipe the grin from my face and I can't wait to return!