Episode one: in which SBR learns some life lessons on an ill-fated bike ride.
Friday's ride started out innocently enough but things went a little south and it almost became an epic. Wanting to take advantage of the one sunny day we have been granted, and finally use the big gears on the new bike, I headed out our driveway, down the gravel road to the paved road. After cruising the pavement for a couple of km, I turned onto another gravel side road that I knew would lead me to some snowmobile trails. The sled trail was wet from the never-ending rain but still quite rideable. Mosquitoes and black flies were out in force but couldn't keep up with me while I was riding. At one point I remembered that I had left the bug repellent at home. Ah, well, keep moving. Famous last words!
Just follow the signs...
It was easy riding at this point.
Mail delivery, hunt camp style. Can you hear the banjo music?
Slickrock? Am I in Moab? More like Mud-ab.
Eventually I came to a giant water hole. Having already observed that the sandy soil turned to quicksand in the wet spots, I knew that riding through was not an option. The only ways around would involve pushing the bike through an impenetrable spruce thicket and/or wading in water up to my shins. Not appealing. Time to turn around. Wondering my my rear tire seemed to be sliding around a lot, I observed that it was losing air. Hmmm. Brand new tire with a flat? This made no sense. I stopped and checked things out. Somehow the plastic valve cap had come off and, the little screw thing on the Presta valve has loosened and air was leaking. No problem! I had my handy-dandy trail emergency kit, complete with spare tube, mini-pump, bike multi-tool, duct tape and more.
Bike-stopping quicksand. Not good for the disc brakes.
The turning point.
Flat tire in the bush. What you don't see are the mosquitoes.
Ten aggravating and bug-infested minutes later, I was ready to throw everything into the water hole and run screaming out of the woods like my hair was on fire (or at least what remains of my hair). The mosquitoes were even finding their way through the air vents in the helmet and biting my scalp. I had made the fatal mistake of not thoroughly testing a new piece of gear before needing to use it in a real-life situation. I was convinced (of course) that the mini-pump was a defective piece of %*. In the process of trying to get the mini-pump to work I had managed to let the remaining air out of the tire, so now I was completely hooped.
Since the mosquitoes were driving me insane, to the point that I didn't even notice the blackflies, I decided to start walking home. I was only about 30 minutes mellow riding time from the house, so walking not an unreasonable prospect. Plus I could probably use the phone at a friend's house along the way to call for a wifely rescue (maybe it is time for us to get a second cell phone). Having also forgotten to wear my watch, I had only a vague idea what time it was, but knew I had to make tracks for home so I could accompany Blue Toes to a somewhat formal fund-raising event she was involved with. Oh, and did I mention the mosquitoes?
I finally emerged from the forest onto the populated road. With some wind and open space, the mozzie attack subsided. When another attempt to pump the tire met with limited success, I decided the valve on the tire was suspect. I pulled out the spare tube and tried to inflate it. After some experimenting, I realized that the mini-pump required a measure of brute force to install it properly on the valve. I still couldn't get the thing to put much air into the tire. I started walking again. Passing the first house, I waved at the nice woman hanging laundry. With great joy, I observed that her husband was in the garage, working on their bikes! Me: Hi there, I see it is bike repair day! You wouldn't happen to have a pump that fits this skiny little valve, would you? Him (looking at me covered in mud, pushing my fancy-ass MTB, while he put the final coat of polish on their ancient but immaculate ten-speeds): Well, I've got a compressor, you got an adapter? Me: Uh, no, oh well, the house is not too far away. Thanks anyway. Note to self: get an adapter. It's easy to find Schrader-compatible pumps in the boondocks. Not so easy for the Presta version.
The only thing worse than pushing your bike on a trail is pushing it on pavement.
Walk, walk, walk. The friend was not home. Back on the pavement, a couple of school busses cruised by on their return trip, so I realized the clock was ticking. Faced with another 45 minutes of walking, I made a final attempt at pumping. Air seemed to be staying in tire, hooray! Bike guy and his wife went sailing by while I was madly pumping. After what seemed like an eternity, the tire was full and I rode home, with a few life lessons learned.
I gave up on fancy pants Presta valves years ago after a similar experience. It's great to be able to pull into a gas station and top em off. The advantages (wait what are they again?) just don't outweigh the downside.
This is one time of year I'll take the flatlands over the mtns.
Great tale. You know, for us, your audience.
"You just need to go at that shit wide open, hang on, and own it." —Camp
Ten aggravating and bug-infested minutes later, I was ready to throw everything into the water hole and run screaming out of the woods like my hair was on fire (or at least what remains of my hair). The mosquitoes were even finding their way through the air vents in the helmet and biting my scalp. I had made the fatal mistake of not thoroughly testing a new piece of gear before needing to use it in a real-life situation. I was convinced (of course) that the mini-pump was a defective piece of %*. In the process of trying to get the mini-pump to work I had managed to let the remaining air out of the tire, so now I was completely hooped
I've had the same thing happen...flat tire and a black fly/mosquito attack...makes it nearly impossible to do anything constructive to remedy the situation. I almost jumped in a shallow creek to escape the blood sucking bugs.
I had the same thing happen when I first got my road bike. I bought a mini pump, but never used it until I had a flat. I fumbled around like an idiot for 45 minutes until a guy came up and showed me what I was doing wrong:
Most mini pumps sold today are both Presta and Schrader compatible, but to switch from the stock setting (Schrader), you have to pretty much take the thing apart, flip the valve opening around, and put the thing back together. Luckily, the guy who told me about this apparent secret (it's not like the mini pump came with an instruction manual) was able to do the whole thing for me. I have Presta Valves on both my road bike and my mountain bike, and the mini pump works great for both.
Wish somebody had told me about that before I spent 45 minutes on the side of the road . . . But I guess it was better than your situation, Gord . . .
Ahh, Matt, if were only only so simple. Switching from Presta to Schrader mode (and back) was actually the only thing I had done with the pump in the bug free comfort of home. No instructions came with this pump and what I failed to figure out was that you simply have to force it on to the valve. Today I took the thing apart and found that I had actually bent some fitting inside the pump. Un-bent it and it seems to work.
Went for another ride on another section of the sno-mo trail today. Still buggy but no breakdown - woo hoo!
Episode two: same trail but with more knowledge and better conditions.
Summer is a very busy time in SBR-world, both professionally and personally. After two weeks of not going for a long bike ride, I got my act together yesterday and headed back to the same trail described above. The differences were many: more trail knowledge, better fitness and riding skill, no mosquitoes, greatly reduced deerfly levels (is it the "summer of the deerfly" where you are?), dry conditions and no pressing timeline.
This ride ended up being very exploratory and very satisfactory, since I found some very nice new trails, had some interesting wildlife encounters, finally figured out and completed the loop from the snomo trail back to SBR HQ and passed through some beautiful forest areas. I also came up with a new mantra for this kind of riding: every trail goes somewhere. While this may seem rather obvious on the surface, I find it a good thing to keep in mind when exploring new territory and only have a vague notion of where I am. By using common sense, dead reckoning and armed with the confidence that someone else has been here recently, you know that you will eventually get to some identifiable place by following their tracks. That place may not be where you intended to end up but at least you will be somewhere identifiable.
While this photo is not very remarkable, it does remind me to tell you a story and shows how much drier the trail is. While stopped here answering a call of nature, I heard two hawks screeching nearby. Indisposed and unable to get at the camera, I observed the first one fly out of the trees and perch on a branch. By the time I got the camera, of course, it had flown off but I was pretty sure it was a broad-winged hawk. Then I put the camera away and (of course) the second hawk flew out of the trees, and landed much closer to me. I watched it for a few minutes, saw the bands on the tail, which helped confirm the species (though I am no birder, believe me). As the second hawk flew off, I could see it duck and dodge through the forest canopy, and heard the soft crashes as its wings occasionally hit leaves and branches. It is amazing how these relatively large birds can fly through dense forest.
Since I had time to explore, I checked out some side trails and found this lovely patch of reindeer moss. Tree huggers take note: no moss was damaged in the taking of this photograph. Recent rain had left it springy and resilient. Had it been dry and crackly, I would not have treaded on the moss patch.
Clearly this is a multi-use trail. Here are the prints of bicycle, wolf and ATV. I also saw tracks by raccoon, moose, deer and bear on this ride. I followed the wolf tracks for quite a distance.
One of the downsides of riding on logging roads is that you will inevitably come across evidence of logging, which is usually not pretty. This clearing is a "landing" where trucks pick up logs the skidder has dragged out of the bush.
After the clearing, I followed the wolf onto a really nice ATV trail. This trail had obviously been made by someone who put some thought into making it fun to ride. Some twists and turns led me though this cool gully and eventually into the trail builder's back yard, where I discreetly turned around.
The gully from the other side. It was a fun hill in either direction.
After backtracking a bit, and starting to think that it was going to be a long ride back the way I came, I took another well-traveled side trail that headed east, which was the direction I needed to go. This was one one of the nicest sections of the ride, following a stream bed, crossing a creek and providing a nice little bridge for a rest stop. I should buy this person a case of beer, or something.
Yes, Virginia, there is a trail here. After the bridge, the trail climbed and led to yet another logging road overgrown with grass. Things started to look familiar. While I can't remember what I had for dinner yesterday, I am blessed with a photographic memory for geography and the places I have travelled, which comes in very handy when you explore without aid of a GPS or map. I do carry a compass. At a certain creek crossing, I headed off onto the VERY overgrown trail that Telemark Dave and I had ridden back in the spring. By this time I knew exactly where I was (sigh of relief) but also knew the ride ahead was going to be tough. In fact, from this point on it was about half walking, half riding. Oh, well, it was not too far.
Then I went for a bog walk with a bike. It was kind of a "lesser of two evils" situation, as the alternative was a section of trail with a lot of deadfall. Note to self: go for a walk with a saw when the weather cools off. It will be worth it.
Wide view of the bog. It is much more fun to ski on than slog through with a bike. This is where I saw the bear tracks but was too engrossed in not going up to my knees in muck to stop and take a photo.
Back on dry land, bog pond in the background. Have you ever ridden through ferns that are taller than your handlebars? It is a bit surreal, since you can't really see the ground so have little idea what you are riding over.
This ride doesn't stop being challenging. At this point I am about 500 yards from SBR HQ but there is a long rocky hill to finish with. It was also around noon by this time, so had become very hot. I reminded myself of my recent birthday and advancing age, took a rest and a big drink of water, then slogged up the hill to home and a cold beer. Other than scratches and a few deerfly bites, I was unscathed and on time.
Entertaining as always. Wow, wolves!....
Your "every trail goes somewhere" reasoning is pretty much exactly what I've been following as I explore "my" trails on mtn bike. Just about everytime I go out I discover new trails, including today. Once or twice I've turned back when "somewhere" wasn't where I wanted to go, but that still adds to the knowledge base.
Believe it or not, my workplace has lake frontage. On nice days, I sit in a Muskoka Chair (aka Adirondack Chair - it's a chicken/egg debate) on a dock and eat my lunch. Sucks to be me, I know. Luckier people than I get to live or cottage on this lake, and over the years, I have gotten to know many of the locals. One of the seasonal locals and I had been plotting an after-work paddle for a few weeks and, yesterday, it finally happened.
After a rather scattered day at work, I drove over to Ian's cottage shortly after 5 pm. Having not been there before, some time was spent on the tour. The place is my dream cottage: a small but comfortable square-log building with a few rambling additions built over the years, hidden back in the pines on a quiet corner of Oxtongue Lake. The main building is over 100 years old and has belonged to his family for three generations. There are a few modern conveniences, like running water, electricity and a single phone but all-in-all it is pretty old-school and filled with family memorabilia.
The route we had selected is a nice day trip on the Oxtongue River. This particular section starts at the west boundary of Algonquin Park and takes you back to Oxtongue Lake. Despite being close to the highway, the river feels very remote. There are a couple of easy rapids to negotiate and two significant waterfalls to portage around. Ian already had the canoe loaded on his car but once we got organized and made the short drive to the put-in, it was 6 o'clock. The last time I did this route, rather leisurely with Blue Toes and Utah, we took over four hours. Ian and I knew we did not have four hours of daylight left, so there was no dawdling once we got on the river.
We started at "A6" on the map. The river is outlined in green and our end point was Ian's cottage, located where the river widens into Oxtongue Lake (roughly below the "D" in Wolf Den)
Even though we had never paddled together, Ian and I found a good rhythm (maybe helped by the fact that he makes his living as a drummer). We made good time through the twisty turns and easy rapids above Gravel Falls. Both of us observed that we had never paddled the river with water levels this low. We elected to run the long easy rapid below the main falls and avoid 75% of the portage. Other paddlers had reported several downed trees on the trail, which made the decision easier. Both of us had run this rapid several times before, so off we went. After a combination of lining, paddling, pushing, scraping and finally me volunteering to wade so Ian could paddle solo in the two inches of water, we made it to the bottom of the set. I looked at my watch and was shocked to see that it was now close to 7:30. So much for making time. Admiring the sunset, we paddled towards Ragged Falls, and the final portage, at a brisk pace.
The portage around Ragged Falls is very well marked. If you run a small rapid above the falls, you can cut out about half the walk. We had agreed that it was getting a bit dark for running rapids, so started to get organized for hiking with a canoe. Ian stared at the rapid for a while and decided that he would solo the canoe and meet me at the secondary take-out. I was fine with that, as in situations like this, the solo paddler needs less water and can maneuver more easily. It was also my turn to carry the 80 pound Royalex canoe, so an opportunity to avoid that was quite welcome.
I trotted along the trail, watching Ian slowly paddle the narrow channel. There is a fairly long pool between this rapid and the top of the falls, so it is reasonably safe. He made a nice clean run and we rendezvoused at the landing. Pumped up from the experience, he offered to carry the canoe and I did not object. We followed the well traveled tourist path around the falls in the rapidly fading light. By the time we started paddling the last easy stretch back to the cottage, the moon was up and it was pretty much night paddling. And what a beautiful night paddle it was, gliding silently around corners, spooking a great blue heron, who ran along the shore instead of flying away. Herons do not run gracefully, let me tell you. Mist was rising off the river and nobody else was out and about.
Arriving at the cottage dock in full darkness, at about 8:30, we celebrated our adventure with a tasty Innis & Gunn. I put on dry shoes, checked in with Blue Toes (who had given up on me and eaten dinner) and drove Ian up the road to collect his car. Heading home, I knew that my only option for a quick dinner was fast food, and the only fast food open at 9:30 was Rotten Ronnie's. After a beautiful and invigorating paddling experience, a bacon-cheeseburger and fries was less anti-climactic than I thought. It tasted pretty good.
Someone else's photograph of Ragged Falls, with a lot more water flowing.