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.
I won't mention it again.