Monday, August 29, 2011

The Last Mile Post - Part I

The trail turned to the left. My eyes followed the branch-strewn path to the hill’s crest and the reprieve I thought awaited us vanished. There was still more climbing to do. The chain on my bike made an awful jarring sound as I tried to switch to a lower gear. I rose up out of my saddle and willed my burning quads to turn over. The tires bumped over rocks and roots and split the fallen branches. With an 18 mile run just over 24 hours ago in my rearview, I thought, “This was supposed to be a recovery day.”

We crested the hill and sat back, letting gravity pull us down the declivity and stretching our legs out over the pedals. A breeze cooled the sweat running down my face and I felt euphoria wash over me in one delicious, satisfying moment of exhaustion.

Then something sounded horribly wrong.

* * *

For the last few weeks, my friend Joe and I have made steady progress toward reaching the end of the Fairfax Cross County Trail (CCT). The CCT twists, climbs, and descends through 18 miles of trail carved into the Fairfax County Woods.

Looking muddy and bad ass after our
first adventure.
Our last adventure, just one week ago, found us mud splattered and verifiably “bad-assed” when we returned to his truck. That 14 mile trip took us through stream and thunderstorm. We spent the ride home and the subsequent days throughout the week talking about “next Sunday’s ride” and where we’d set out from and how we’d finally see “mile post 0.”

Then there was an earthquake. Then there was a hurricane. Still…

With our wives at work, and Tropical Storm Irene’s bands lashing at the D.C. area Saturday afternoon, Joe and I tuned up my bike in his basement in anticipation of the muddy jaunt the next day. We ventured out to Target for supplies and spent the remainder of the day drinking beer (combining carb-loading and hydration) and watching “Band of Brothers.”

I went to bed that night with a heavy head, heavy eyes, and Irene rapping at the windows.

I awoke Sunday morning to a cloudless, wind-washed sky. A cool, heavy breeze blew through the trees and from the window, you’d swear it was fall outside. In my beer-fogged brain, one thought became clear: We were going riding.

Each ride has delivered a dose of nostalgia, back to my youth, back to times when we’d spend our Saturdays as explorers around the neighborhood, splashing through creeks, jumping over logs, venturing into uncharted territory before returning home with muddied shoes, fresh cuts and the occasional crop of poison ivy.

I find, however, that the reckless abandon with which I used to attack trails, hills, creeks, has been replaced by a much more cautious, “Holy shit, if I fall, it’s going to hurt and I’m probably not going to be running New York.”

So, Joe and I set off to find the last mile post of the CCT.

We started from the back of an ice skating rink parking lot in Reston and pedaled away from the world. It had all the markings of boyhood adventure, reminiscent of “Stand by Me” ... minus the dead body at the end of the trail but including things crawling up our clothes.

We imagined a muddy, soupy mess of a trail given the amount of rain that fell the day before. What we saw instead was a few puddles and stray fallen branches, which we happily crunched with our tires. However, neither of us had accounted for the speed of the stream.

The First Crossing
We reached the first crossing and watched the swollen creek surge through the stone pylons. We put our bikes down and began searching for a way around. Joe unlaced his shoes and headed into the current, made a face, and turned to me, “It’s pretty strong,” he said.

I trekked down the trail some and looked for a smoother place to cross, but the speed was replaced only by depth.

“Looks like there’s a dam down there that we could walk across,” he said, pointing downstream.

So, barefoot, Joe trudged through the high grass and disappeared around the bend. He shook his head as he made his way back across, then jumped. “What?!” I called.

“Definitely just saw a snake.”
“A snake?”
“I don’t feel good about this.” His pace quickened with the thorns and prickers raking at his legs and bare feet.

When he made it back to me, we stood, hands on hips. Suddenly our weekend adventure had turned into a team-building, problem solving situation. It was a corporate nightmare.

“If we were in Oregon Trail,” I said, “We could pay the Indian to get us across.” Joe snickered then started jumping up and down and swatting at his shorts. A praying mantis fell out and scurried off, as fast as a praying mantis can.

“Jesus!” he said. “It’s wild kingdom out here.” Joe gathered himself and I decided I’d see how strong the current was. I waded in and felt the tug at my ankles.

“What if we each grabbed an end and shuffled one bike across at a time?” he said.
Joe gets ready to check out
the Second Crossing
“Let’s try it,” I said.

So, we heft my bike up and took tiny shuffles across the stream until we got to the other side. Then, we shuffled back, and with much more confidence, did the same with Joe’s bike. With soggy feet and wet socks, we were riding again.

The trail turned to single track and matched what our original expectations had been. We bounced over roots, over rocks, through waterlogged banks, spraying mud onto our backs, up our legs and into our mouths. It was glorious.

That is until we hit the second crossing.

Check back tomorrow for Part II to see if we made it through the second crossing and to the end of the trail.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...