Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Last Mile Post (or The Accidental 7-Miler) - Part II

“Oh, come on!” Joe yelled, dismounting.

The stream rushed over the giant boulders that did their best impression of a footbridge. It would have been a formidable challenge to get a bike over them even without the surging water. Having learned our lesson from the first crossing, Joe and I kicked off our shoes and began stepping gingerly onto each of the boulders. Our tactic from the first crossing wouldn’t work because the gaps between the boulders were too large.

We decided we could try passing the bike to one another until we were across. I stepped onto the first boulder and felt that familiar tug at my ankles. I steadied myself while Joe handed me the bike. He started to step onto my boulder when I stopped him.

“I think I got this,” I said.

I took the bike, thought about how glad I was to have been doing curls at the gym, and felt for the beginning and edge of each rock with my toes. With every step, the bike got a little heavier and the tires a little closer to the water. I knew that if the current grabbed the tire, we’d both be going for a swim. With each cleared boulder, I gained a little more confidence, until finally I was out of the water and back on dry land. I tossed a thumbs up to Joe then turned to see a couple watching me.

“You carried that thing all the way across?” the woman asked. “You guys must really want to ride.”
“You can go ahead,” I offered.
“Ah, no. This is where our hike ends. You two are crazy.” she said, before turning and heading back up the trail. “Or bad ass,” I thought.

“I hope that’s the last one,” Joe said as we pulled our wet shoes and socks back on and rode off.

With the sun high overhead and the temperature reminding us that it was indeed still August in Virginia, the trail suddenly emptied into a parking lot. A sign greeted us: “Fairfax CCT – Section 10 of 10,” and a final mile marker with a “0” on it.

“Ha! I guess this is it,” I said. We exchanged smiles and a quick fist bump, then tried to figure out what to do next.

Joe pulled out his phone and we found a trail leading into Great Falls Park. We decided to add a few more miles to our journey to see if we could get down to survey the Potomac.

We turned onto the new trail and began a series of climbs and descents. Joe rode a few feet ahead of me and I listened to the rustling of the leaves as a mercifully cool breeze flowed over me. My stomach felt empty and my body warm. It was the satisfying feeling of physical exhaustion that comes over me on long hikes and at the end of long runs. But just as easily as it came on, it vanished.

A quick good bye.
A cacophony of scraping metal. I turned the pedals over and the sound was jarring. I hit the brakes and looked down at the giant branch that had lodged in my derailer. I pulled it out and chucked it into the woods. Only when I tried to pedal again, my feet stuttered and the metal continued to grind. Joe stopped ahead. I got off my bike and looked down at the mangled mess of chain, spoke, and metal.

We tried to bend the derailer back but the chain wouldn’t fall onto the gears. I looked at my Garmin and the rationalization began. “What are you thinking?” Joe asked. “Should I go get the car?”

“I’m thinking that we’re seven miles from the car. The bike was $80 and I didn’t even buy it. I feel like the part and the installation is going to cost more than the bike. Clearly, I can’t ride this bike back to the car.”
“You want to ditch the bike?”

A beat.

“I want to ditch the bike.”

One less bike to carry back.

So, we glided down the hill to the start of the trail and snapped a couple pictures. I pulled my shirt off, cinched up my hydration backpack, and, with 18 miles already on my legs from the day before, started the seven mile run back to the car.

On the way back, I felt the full heat of that summer day. I prayed that no blisters would befoul my feet and that it wouldn’t turn into a gold bond kind of night (I had on cotton socks and mesh shorts, which raised the chafing alert to orange).

Joe carries the only bike back.
I ran the trail much the same way we rode it. I tore down the down hills and picked my way up the uphills, slowing to a jog to throw back some water.

When we finally reached the cars, the afternoon sun had begun to soften the light. We toweled off, scraped the mud from our shoes, and feasted on Powerbar products. Joe racked his bike and I simply tied my shoes together and flung them in the backseat.

We’d been to the end of the trail against all odds and taking only one casualty. With the windows down and the hot air blowing on our sweaty faces, we talked about one thing: when was I going to get another bike so we could ride again.

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