Yesterday morning my buddy Doug called to see if I was up for a ride. I had no plans, so we talked about where to go. I secretly hoped for someplace other than Auburn. Naturally, that was the ride Doug chose. Auburn was the last local ride on my recovery checklist, a ride that I knew would be a challenge. To be truthful, the idea of riding there scared me a bit.
I started my comeback by riding Granite Bay, the least technical of my local rides, way back in July of 2008. It was only about six months after my wrist was repaired, and it was tough going even though the ride is really very smooth overall; it's a place you can take a very green beginner. Even with a suspension fork set up as plush as possible, I would finish the ride in pain with an angry, swollen wrist. Now I ride there almost every Wednesday, and I have progressed to the point where I now ride with a rigid fork with little difficulty.
In the fall I rode Sly Park with Doug and it gave me some problems. I was very slow on the singletrack descents, and the exposed ledges around the lake freaked me out. I walked down a number of technical sections. I cursed at myself for wimping out, but at that point I just wasn't ready. My hand still wasn't doing what my brain told it to do, and psychologically I was still flashing back anytime a ride feature looked similar to the one I crashed on.
This spring I started riding in Cool, which introduced steeper, rockier terrain and longer descents. Again, at first it gave me problems. On numerous occasions my hand nearly slipped off the bars. My hand strength was slow to return. Since the left hand is responsible for most of the braking, I had issues with fatigue on long downhills.
This summer I rode in Tahoe, where you get into longer downhills, often with features like drop-offs, stair steps, boulders, tight switchbacks, and deep sand. I spend much of my riding time there uncomfortable and timid. I walked down a stair-step drop that I used to do without much thought, a trail feature I used to look forward to doing. It sickened me. I wondered if I would ever ride like I used to.
The turning point came when I did the 50 mile race at Cool. In hindsight, I should have raced much sooner. In the racing environment I completely forgot about my wrist. Instead, I worried about fuel, hydration, cramps and chasing Doug down every hill. I finished with a little soreness, but during the race my wrist didn't hinder me much at all.
A couple weeks ago I tried Salmon Falls. It's a rough ride, but it gave me no issues. I could feel my confidence and speed increase as the ride went on.
Yesterday I arrived at the trailhead and Doug was already there. After dressing and gearing up, we rolled out. I asked Doug whether he wanted to just (hopefully) roll down Stagecoach, or hit the Manzanita Trail. Again, he wanted the tougher of the two options.
When we first hit the trail I felt a bit apprehensive, but before long I was in the groove. At the end of the trail section there is a sheer rock face, about 30 inches tall, that you have to wheelie up. When I saw it I thought, "Oh crap," but it was a pretty easy move. After that I felt like I was going to be fine.
We then descended the rest of Stagecoach and started the long climb up Clementine. It seemed like it went on forever, and it was undoubtedly the longest climb I have done on a single speed in a couple years. After that we did the Connector trail, which is one of the best trails anywhere. Then we started the Forest Hill Divide Trail (FHDT). I had forgotten how much climbing this ride has. The first half of the ride seems to be nothing but climbing. When we hit the 16 mile mark, I was seriously wondering if I was going to make it. When we crossed Forest Hill Road, Doug assured me that we were at the high point, and the rest of the loop was mostly downhill. And it was.
The second half of the FHDT and the Connector on the way back was some of the most fun I have had on a bike in years. The trail was in perfect condition. The mostly downhill, rolling singletrack was fast and buffed, with incredible traction. I was up front and riding well, as comfortable on the bike as I used to be. I was smiling to myself as we ripped along, carving through perfectly radiused corners, many of them with berms. So fun.
We dropped down Clementine rather than bombing the Culvert and Confluence trails. My wrist was tired and a bit swollen, so I opted to play it safe rather than ruin an otherwise perfect ride with a fatigue-induced mishap.
All that was left after that was the climb up Stagecoach, which has always been one of my favorite climbs.
We ended up with 29 miles. It was a super fun ride, and I rode everything just fine. My wrist isn't perfect, but I have learned to ride with it, and it doesn't limit me too much at this point.
I feel like my wrist has been a central theme in my life for a while, and I am tired of talking about it. After yesterday's ride, I feel like I can close the book on that chapter.
Tuesday was a rough day at work. Tension is high. Furloughs, budget cuts, deadlines, low staffing levels, ill-conceived projects, the oncoming tax season and the general dissatisfaction that has crept into the minds of most Californians all contribute to a very tense workplace. Tuesday I had two arguments with guys who are normally very laid-back and level-headed. I could have prevented either or both arguments by simply keeping a level head myself, but I didn’t. Quite frankly, it felt good to lose it a little bit. Unfortunately, I sit right next to my boss, who heard it all. He doesn’t handle conflict well, and it drove him over the edge; he’s back on the glue again. We all have our ways of dealing with life.
Wednesday I was looking forward to my weekly single speed ride more than usual. I needed a release. I needed to breathe.
After dropping my boy off at school, I headed down to the trailhead. The morning was clear and cool, but not cold, the morning dew providing perfect, grippy soil conditions. I warmed up briefly, then quickly settled into a fast and somewhat uncomfortable pace. Over each rise I hit it hard, relishing the resistance of the pedals as I powered over hill after hill.
The frustrations of the previous day melted away as I became more and more absorbed with my ride. It was just me, a narrow trail, and one gear. No thinking, only reacting. The world beyond my tunnel of vision faded away, the trees only a blur in passing. The fall colors wrapped around me like an old, comfortable blanket.
Before long I had traveled 15 miles. I sat up and ate an energy gel on a smooth section of trail. I cruised slowly and looked around a bit, enjoying the scenery after redlining it for over hour. A call of “on your left” brought me out of my daydream as two guys motored by. I stuck the empty gel pack in my pocket and went after them.
I tend to ride under control on singletrack these days. Anybody who has ever suffered a head-on collision with another rider probably does. So when a couple guys go by at race pace, it’s fun to jump on the train because you can ride at otherwise dangerous speeds without worrying—you have two crash test dummies ahead of you.
Because they were on geared bikes, I had a difficult time catching up to them at first because the terrain was flat. As the trail became more hilly, I reeled them in with each successive climb. Finally, I bridged up on a long, steep ascent. I rode behind them for a few more miles before they turned off and I continued on to do another loop.
I stopped at the top of a hill overlooking (the mud puddle that once was) Folsom Lake. I rarely even set foot on the ground when I ride, preferring to ride straight through. On this day, however, I had a different mindset. I sat down and enjoyed the day. The warm sun felt good on my face. I called my wife. I called a friend. I drew in the dirt with a stick. I took a picture.
After about 30 minutes, I started the 14 mile ride back to the truck. The rest of the ride was more mellow. I rode at a good tempo and finished the 41 miles feeling tired but fresh, if that makes sense.
The only hiccup in the whole ride was when I realized, after reaching El Dorado Hills, that I had left my front wheel in the parking lot back at Hazel. I rushed back down, terrified that I had lost my DT Swiss wheel. When I arrived, I was relieved to see that some nice person had placed it in the dirt median of the lot where it wouldn’t be run over.