Thursday, September 13, 2012

If You're Not Overdoing It, You're Not Doing It Right

Words and photos by Greg

It's possible that you, oh gentle blog-reader, have noticed a distinct lack of mountain biking photos of late. This is, of course, the result of a certain convergence of tree/bike/shoulder. Trina has been riding, but alas, I have not been there to photograph her.

Now, three months after the injury, it is time to get back at it. Gently, of course, one might presume. The doctor has suggested I lift weights. But he might underestimate the power of having lived a life that revolves around spinning two wheels over dirt.

My shoulder isn't quite strong enough for much of the rougher kind of trail riding that I like. And my personality isn't up for the banality of lifting weights. So I came up with a brilliant idea. I'd traverse a nearby trail that is unpleasant enough that pretty much no one bothers with it. Why ease back into mountain riding by swooping through the curves of one of the easier local trails on a lovely evening.. when I could spend hour after hour in the dark on tortuous doubletrack?

I do not pretend to know the answer to that question. I just went ahead and bit off more than I could chew and my mouth was so full I couldn't say anything further about it.

I did compound the adventure somewhat by carefully planning for everything in about 15 minutes, which included all the time I spent packing. Sleeping bag, mini-stove, food… Strapped hastily onto the rack of an all-purpose steel hardtail.

The first long climb was easy, since I was riding in the truck with Trina. We had a nice evening hike in a canyon with the dogs. Then she and the dogs drove home and I rode off into the twilight.

I think the main attraction of this "trail" is that it eventually goes somewhere. It isn't stunningly scenic. The rough doubletrack trail isn't particularly fun. I've ridden it a couple times before and each time I was left with thoughts like, Well, that was very close to being pleasant.

But it does usually cater to a sense of solitude. And I had it all to myself as I rolled down the first pitch over sloping slickrock and through sand wallows, occasionally walking (for the sake of my shoulder…) down stair-step rocks. Darkness closed around me during the next hour while I was pushing my bike upward on a track too loose, rough and steep to ride, stumbling on boulders, slipping on ball bearing gravel and sand. Then I was rolling again, over a saddle and into a valley where stubby towers were silhouetted against the stars.

I crossed a dry wash where skunk musk drifted in the air, then found a fairly flat patch of cracked dirt where I called it a night. My little stove's blue flames heated a small dinner, and I sat in the near silence eating and reading in the dim red light of my headlamp. Then rolled out my bed next to a pinyon pine and slept under the stars, unconcerned because in the dark I hadn't seen the bear tracks.

I was up before the sun and strolled through a nearby grove of cottonwood trees to the dry wash where I saw the bear tracks. I don't normally expect bear tracks in dry desert-like canyons. But bears have their own rules, and our dry spring may have them exploring new areas in search of food. I wish them luck. But am also glad that one did not call upon me to provide needed food.

More bear tracks throughout the morning as I again spent most of an hour pushing my bike upward on the loose, bouldery trail. Also coyote and fox tracks. Squirrel tracks. Lizard tracks. Even human and moto-human tracks. But all I saw and heard were squirrels, lizards and birds.

A couple hours of ride-push-ride brought me to the high point. Then it was all downhill on a ridge that sloped gently toward the valley floor. Though the slope was gentle, the surface was rough, so I went slowly and carefully. Down, down, down.

At last the doubletrack ended, poised over a cliff above the paved highway that pointed toward home. I rode most of the final short section of singletrack. It was neither exotic, flowy, nor very enjoyable. Soon, nearly exhausted, I was spinning paved roads toward town. Toward a huge lunch. Toward a solid nap. Thinking, Well, that was very close to being pleasant.


  1. Hi Greg,

    Your photos are beautiful! And now they make me want to come back and explore more. The first picture in this post makes me stop and stare! You look like you're exploring space with your bike. Are you willing to share your camera settings for that photo? How long did you have to hold still for the exposure?


  2. Hey Fu!

    Thanks! Looks like the night shot went like this: f3.5, 20 sec, 800 iso and a bucket full of noise reduction. My dim little headlamp was shining from the ground 25 feet behind me. The dirt was rather white and lunar. And shortly after this I got out my bigger headlamp so I could actually see what I was doing.

    Nice to meet you while you were out. Seems like you had some fun!


  3. Thanks for the info! I keep meaning to play around with more night photos, specifically star shots.

    We had so much fun!!! And thank you and everyone at OTE for being so kind and helpful!