I awoke sometime in the night, shivering with cold. It was still dark out, so I knew I was in for a freezing couple of hours until the sun came up and I could thaw out. I'm not entirely sure how long I lay there, dozing in and out, but every time I woke up I was a little colder.
Dawn came just in time, and as soon as I saw the sun come over the ridge I crawled out of my bag and tried to warm up. As Boo dragged himself out of his tent, he looked at me and said, "You are actually shivering!" Unfortunately, he had had a similar experience with an untested 20 degree REI sleeping bag that did not breathe at all, causing him to sweat, and then get cold from being wet in his bag overnight. We were really worried that if it got any colder as we continued the ride, we were in trouble.
As a result of the chill, breakfast went from cold granola to hot granola, which was surprisingly good. Hot tea helped drive off the shivers, and the night was quickly forgotten in the excitement and anxiety of what we had to face today. We slowly packed our gear, and got a very late start to the day.
Our first major challenge was that the main route ahead of us at Neinmeyer Recreation Site had suffered a huge washout from torrential rains, and we were relying on anecdotal information from riders who had posted things on the forums such as, "I crossed a couple of days after the big slide on 268 and it was easily passable." and, "Somebody had already started a trail above the washed out road, which by now is probably rideable (more single track!)" and, "I definitely wouldn't detour off the route because the road closed signs may still be up, it sounds like some people are detouring around the slide on 268 when it is nothing more than a 100 yard, 10 minute hike-a-bike." I want you to remember these quotes as the story unfolds...
We had a nice morning ride, bumping along the washboard, and enjoying the gorgeous scenery. We were really looking forward to visiting Loftus Hotspring with the intention of soaking off the remainder of last night's chill, but the riding was so nice, with a light tailwind and perfect temperatures, that we were well past it before we realized it. Bummed, and refusing to backtrack, we searched for alternatives, but the other springs we were coming up on were all on the other side of the river, and the water was a bit too high for safe crossing. We forged ahead, disappointed, and nervous about the impending bypass to the washout. As it got close to lunch time, we came across the first warning:
"Eh, how bad can it be?"
The river looked beautiful, the day was gorgeous, and our optimism, based on the expert advice of the forum writers, gave us the confidence to continue on. A few miles later, right at Neinmeyer we found our second warning:
This was where we saw the actual washout for the first time
At this point, seeing how the road was recently graded, but deeply rutted soft sand, I decided to ride ahead on the Pugsley and see how it looked, and report back to Boo. I looked up from where the washout finally stopped me, and my heart just sank.
Riding back with the bad news
The road was totally gone, but we were expecting that. What we weren't expecting was the steepness of the bypass over the washout. Clearly, it was a trail made for forest service personnel, or firefighters, but not for bikes. The ascent was practically vertical, with steps cut into the soft, sandy soil, rising about a hundred feet above where we stood, to a narrow traverse that climbed across a scary steep, off-camber slope at least a hundred yards above the river. I had no idea how we were going to get two fully loaded bikes up that pitch, or across the narrow traverse to whatever was beyond the curve that blocked our view ahead.
We decided to walk it first, and see how viable it was. Slipping and sliding, we made our way up to the traverse and walked about 300 yards of it. We still couldn't see the end, but we could see the washout continue at least a half mile from where we stood.
Boo was convinced that if we unloaded the bikes and teamed up, we could get them up there. So first, he grabbed his bag to pull it out of his trailer, and the handle/strap broke! "Not good," was Boo's unflappable response. Of course, he knew that this meant he was going to have to bear-hug the bag the entire way, all 50lbs of it. He unhooked his trailer, and we began pushing and pulling his bike up the ascent, a few feet at a time. About fifteen minutes later, we had his bike on the traverse, and went back for his trailer and bag. Huffing and puffing, we got his gear on top, and then looked at The Beast as the next challenge.
With all the bikepacking gear strapped onto my bike, it looked like it might just be easier to haul the whole thing up in one trip. So, Boo would push and I would roll the bike about a foot and grab the brakes, then take one step, roll the bike another foot and grab the brakes, take a step...and about thirty minutes later we somehow had my bike on the traverse. It was so sketchy, words can't describe it. I was constantly in fear the bike was going to break loose and come crashing back down on top of us.
Now that we were up there, there was really no turning back, as I don't think we could have safely gotten the bikes back down that pitch. As I looked down the ridiculously steep slope to the river far below us, and at the footpath too narrow for both my feet and my bike, I honestly got really freaked out. I am not at all afraid of heights, but the idea of losing control of my fully loaded bike, and watching it crash into the river, or even worse, to have the loose, sandy soil give way and think what would happen to me as I slid down that hill...I was really scared.
The view down to the river
Another view down
Boo hitched his trailer to his bike without the bag and, giving me significant encouragement, led the way. I slowly followed him, never taking my eyes off his rear wheel, and definitely never looking down. In spots, I had to put one foot on the trail and the other knee upslope and scoot along, because there was not enough room for both feet and the bike to walk the trail. We would travel a hundred yards or so, and then stop so Boo could go back and get his bag, and I would lean against the upslope, hoping that it would all be over soon.
Poor Boo, dragging his bag one slow foot at a time
Eventually, the slope became a little more gradual, and although I still wasn't comfortable, I had room to push the bike without fear of sliding down the hill into the river.
The slope is finally opening up
I will always look back at this day as one in which I overcame my fear, and pushed ahead when I wanted to quit more than anything
It was at this point that we could finally see the road emerge from the water, and disappear around a bend. We couldn't yet tell if the washout continued again after the bend, or if we were nearly done. The trail appeared to go dramatically upslope though, and when I saw that I was ready to give up and just throw the bike off the hill. Suddenly, about a hundred yards in front of us, we could see a guy in bike gear coming our way, carrying a B.O.B. trailer with the bag strapped to his back! I shouted "I don't fucking believe it!" at which point he shouted back "Another couple of idiots!" and we all started laughing. He and his friend who was following were coming back after crossing the river to avoid the washout, and they said we were almost done, except the last bit was "Really steep and sketchy, be careful!" We chatted for a bit and they headed off, after our warning that getting down the other direction was going to be beyond sketchy. I hope they made it ok.
We finally made it to the descent they had warned us about, and they were right, it was steep as hell. Once again, steps cut into the hillside, soft, sandy soil that breaks away as you step on it, and no other option. At first, I was thinking we were going to have to rope the bikes down, but Boo thought that it might be easier to unload them and carry them on our shoulders, and that's what we ended up doing. I pulled my seat post, harness, and frame bag, and shouldered the bike, then slowly, step by treacherous step, made my way down to the road. A couple of trips back and forth for my gear, and for Boo and all his gear, and we were through the bypass. Well over a mile traveled, and a couple of hours elapsed, on a dangerous and incredibly difficult bypass that I would not recommend to anyone, written up as a "hundred yard, ten minute hike-a-bike"?! Are you fucking kidding me?!
OK, I had to get that off my chest.
We were now finally standing on the road again, and starving since lunch was supposed to be about two hours ago. There was no shade, and no convenient place to eat, and we were full of adrenaline, so we rode on for a bit to find a decent lunch spot, which turned out to be a nice, unimproved campground right on the river. I whipped up some TVP on a tortilla with cheese, ate a hearty lunch, and decided to soak my feet in the river. We came all this way for hot springs, and I couldn't wait to get my feet into that nice, cool water! Boo joined in, and it felt awesome, and really revitalized us. Feeling fed, and refreshed, we hopped back on the bikes (always a struggle after lunch) and rolled down the road, hoping to find a nice hot spring to camp at.
A couple of hours, and 18 total riding miles later, after worrying that we were not going to find any place decent to camp, we came upon Granite Creek Hot Spring, and although the campsite across the road from the spring was just a pull-out with a fire pit, we were going no farther today. We basically threw the bikes down, stripped naked, and...that's when the ATV's started rolling by! We cracked up over the fact that we had seen virtually no one all day, and as soon as our asses are hanging out, the four wheelers show up! Well, we didn't care, and the water was just incredible. It felt so good to sit there and soak away the stress of the day, and try not to think about tomorrow's major challenge.
Granite Creek Hot Spring
We spent about half an hour soaking, but the sun was going down and it was time to set up camp and make dinner. As we were setting up camp, I started to feel really awful. Kind of weak, and woozy, and just generally bad. I got my tent set up, and my gear put away, but had absolutely no appetite. This was bad because we had over 3000 feet of climbing to do tomorrow, and I needed my strength if I had any hope of doing it. Boo made some of my favorite veggie lasagna, and he could only finish about half of it, so I forced the other half down, although every bite was a struggle. I followed it up with some hot chocolate, and decided to call it a night and crawled into my sleeping bag. Of course, by then it was getting even colder than last night, and I started wondering if I was going to freeze to death overnight or not.
Click here for day three to see if I survived...