I'm not one to let sleep deprivation keep me from having a good time. When Nick told me last Wednesday that Igor had posted a Saturday ride on the BBTC calendar for the Dungeness/Gold Creek loop, there was never a question as to whether or not I was going to join him. Sure, I had to work till 4:30 in the morning Thursday night (i.e. Friday morning) then was up at 9am and working on and off throughout the day till 2:00 Friday night, knowing I'd have to wake up before 6:00 on Saturday to catch the ferry in time, but I don't not ride that loop. It's one of my favorites in Washington and, besides, I had alterior motives.
Two years ago, shortly after buying my Giant NRS and getting back into mountain biking after nearly three years off from all things athletic, I took the bike out to the Olympic Peninsula to do this ride with Igor and some other hammer-head types. I was still completely out of shape, I was new to Washington mountain biking and I was in way over my head with regards to the steep hike-a-biking, the lengthy forest road climbing, and the very-exposed descent. Igor, who I later found out was one of the strongest riders in the club, had to do a lot of waiting for me that day.
Flash ahead two years to this past Saturday: another April outing at the Dungeness/Gold Creek trails, but this time I was a bit more prepared. Nick, who's riding Kokopelli's Trail with me in May, and Brett, my TR partner, both carpooled out there with me in my Element. They hadn't met one another before and, truthfully, I've only ridden with each of them one to three times myself. Fortunately, it was a really fun drive and everyone got along. Looking forward to the lengthier rides with both these guys later in the year.
As for riding the Dungeness/Gold Creek loop, Igor had us start at an old abandoned forest road that had washed out about 6 or 7 years ago. It's amazing what nature can do in an environment like the Olympic Mountains. The ribbon of slick-as-snot dirt and clay we followed for 2.5 miles to the main trailhead was as far removed from being a "road" as anything can get. There were massive washouts that resembed small canyons, numerous blowdowns, and vegetation had reclaimed all but a 6-inch wide strip of ground in some places. It was awesome, and it really served as a nice warmup before the three miles of hike-a-bike the the Dungeness River trail is known for.
I started out strong, trying to make a good show and keep up with Brett who was on his single-speed. In fact, everyone was riding really impressively to begin the ride. Brett was a monster on his single-speed; Igor was his typical self; and Stephanie and Nick were doing a commendable job climbing the switchbacks as well. We had one more guy in our group, Paul, but I didn't see him too much. Really nice guy though.
As you'll see when I post my numbers for the week, I had to take a few days off of riding this past week on account of work, but even moreso because my lower back has been killing me all week -- it still hurts now. I blame it on being hunched over my desk with really poor posture all week; that and a new desk chair from Ikea that I'm starting to hate as much as I initially loved. Anyway, it didn't take long before the severe grade, lack of sleep, and aching back conspired against me and I had to just get off the bike, let my heart-rate settle (pegged in Zone 5 for over a half an hour), and grimmace through the pain. We eventually came to the rocky overlook that is the traditional resting spot during this climb. I took off a layer of clothing (immediately felt better after that) and before long were back on the trail.
Nick took a bit of a header going through a pretty rocky creek crossing during the flowy descent down to the river cabin and it appears as if he at best separated some cartillege in his ribs, at worst fractured a rib or two. I was right behind him and saw the crash in that surreal slow-mo vision we get when something bad is happening. The endo itself wasn't too dramatic -- definitely a function of the blown-out fork he's been meaning to replace -- but it was the collision with the large rock after going over the handlebars that caused him the pain. Igor and I had a differing of opinions regarding which way Nick should head back after the crash. Nick pedaled on and gritted his way through the remainder of the Dungeness River trail to reach the forest road and Igor thought he should take the road back up and over find his way back through the maze of roads and trails. We had a map to give Nick, but I knew for a fact that some trails and roads were not on the map and Nick had never been out there before. I've done this loop a half-dozen times and I still think the roads out there can be confusing. Not only did I think there was a real risk of Nick getting lost, but I also felt that it would probably be easier for him to continue on with the group. He wasn't in need of mediacal care and both Brett and I have broken ribs while mountain biking and know there's nothing a doctor can do anyway. Nick loaded up on Vitamin I-buprofen and not only gutted out the rest of the ride, but kept right up near the front of the pack -- not bad for someone who guaranteed at the start of the ride that he'd be bringing up the rear. Ha!
I felt a lot better after stripping off a base layer and was able to middle-ring the entire road climb up to the Gold Creek trail at a fairly good clip . What I say next is not meant to brag, or because I'm in any sort of competition with anyone, but because I respect Igor as a rider so much and it felt really good to hear him say it. During the climb up the road, I looked back over my shoulder at one point and saw Igor coming about 150 yards down the road. I clicked down a gear and tried to hold him off. I looked back about a mile later and he was nowhere to be seen. I got to the top a couple minutes before him and although I'm pretty sure he could have caught me had he really wanted to, before he even stepped off his bike he looked at me and said, "You've come a long way since I rode here with you two years ago." That made my day.
The descent down Gold Creek, as always, is one of the best 6 miles of trail I've ever ridden. There were very few blowdowns, the trail had excellent grip, and although the switchbacks at the bottom were super slippery, Igor, Brett, and I cleaned nearly every one of them. The big-ass log I cleared two years ago was still there at the bottom of the trail and, fortunately for me, Stephanie was there to vouche for me that I had cleaned it on a previous visit with no run-up logs. It was way too slippery for me to attempt this weekend and, besides, once you clear a log like that you don't ever have to do it again.
We eventually came back out to the access "road" and the rain which had so patiently held off all day finally started to fall, thus making the final 2.5 miles back to the car a very slippery, muddy affair. It was a long day out on the peninsula with good riders, new friends, and we were able to get back home, with no mechanical problems and, what we hope are no serious injuries.
I didn't download the data from my Garmin into TOPO! yet but the ride was 22.5 miles and about 4400 feet of climbing and nearly all singletrack except for a 4 mile stretch.