Sometimes a friend just has a stroke of genius, and sometimes it's not exactly how you'd expect it.
Today was the last day of a four day mountain bike trip with eight other guys (plus one for today only). Thanks to the weather, we waited for our North Fork Mountain Trail ride until today. It was supposed to be the best ride we would do, and today was the only day where there wasn't a chance of rain. So it seemed obvious, even though we were told it would be our longest and hardest day (which you usually wouldn't save for last), that we'd do it today. It would be epic.
It took a little bit of work to find the trailhead, but we found it and headed out on our last great adventure of this trip. Little did I know just how adventurous it would be. The total trail distance was 24 miles, but that's only if you have a bike capable of going that far. On this day, well, it just wasn't to be. At just 2.5 miles in, and going down a long downhill section, a stick popped up into my rear wheel and derailleur. Poof, many parts were destroyed. Now, my group plans pretty well for this kind of thing and we had every part and tool needed to replace the chain, derailleur, and hanger. What we didn't have, unfortunately, were any spokes to replace the two broken spokes in the wheel. Considering how close we were to the beginning of the trail, we considered this terminal. There was just too much riding left to risk injury or more bike damage trying to ride a wheel missing those spokes (and thus now very warped as well).
I assumed my day was done. I might as well walk back to the trailhead and just go back to the cabin and surf the internet. But Steve had a better idea. There was a way to get to the middle of the trail by car (or very close to it, we weren't sure). But we didn't know how, and I needed a bike. But it seemed that I might just have time to find the answer on where to go AND go to the cabin and back to get a different bike, if I hurried. We hatched a plan that even included an elaborate communication mechanism in the event that I got to the meeting point too late (no cellphone coverage worked up here with any carrier). And fortunately I brought a spare bike (or two).
So I hoofed it pretty hard back out on foot. Took exactly 40 minutes to do 2.6 miles while carrying 3.5L of water and another five pounds of gear on my back and pushing a 32 pound bike over rocky singletrack. I got in Bob's truck, and headed down the valley to a store where I'd find my answer on where to go. Only they had no answer. In fact, the kid behind the counter said "I've lived here all my life, and I've never heard of that trail." Damn. I then inquired with the guy at the deli counter. His answer? "The kid up front should know." Ugh. But just then another customer piped up and pointed me to the Seneca Discovery Center across the street, which was really just a state park visitor center! Voila! Eureka! (Why that didn't occur to me to begin with, I don't know. I was in a hurry.)
I headed over and found a very nice ranger lady who whipped out a map and proceeded to show me exactly what to do. I jumped in the truck and headed to the cabin for the spare bike. I might have driven a tad briskly, but I got there, got the bike swapped and offloaded some of the gear I now wouldn't need since I was only doing half the ride. Then I may have driven a tad briskly again to my new trailhead for the day. This involved a good bit of two lane highway before I passed where we had dropped off our other truck to run shuttle. Then it was a TIGHT two lane paved road for about ten more miles, complete with switchbacks and miles of guardrail. And then another four miles of gravel road almost straight up ("High clearance vehicles are required."). Oh, and I ate my lunch while driving there. Briskly.
I tell you, it was a great sight when I rounded a bend in the gravel road and saw Alan on his bike strolling down the hill toward me. I picked him up and we headed back up to where everyone else was waiting. Turns out they had been there almost an hour and I was on the clock for another six minutes before they were out of there. So I geared back up, grabbed my new sled, and off we all went for the other 12 miles. Wow, that felt good.
The trail itself was amazing. Some of the best views ever, and some of the best riding around. A great mix of terrain all ending in an epic downhill. Sure, there were a few more technical issues, some sight seeing, and just a ton of fun. We really killed it out there today. I would have certainly loved to have done the entire thing, but sometimes you have to learn and grow in different ways than what you expected. On this day, I learned the true meaning of rally. Sometimes you rally up a hill. And sometimes you have to do something a little bigger. It would have been easy to just pack it in for the day. It would have been easy to have wondered "why me?" It would have been easy to eat some lunch and take a nap.
This trip isn't about easy. It's about epic. And it almost wasn't.