A Russian, a German, and an American go mountain biking...
If that sounds like the perfect setup for a joke, that's because it is. The joke was this ride called "8 Drainages" and the laugh was had on me. My original plans for the weekend were to link up the Miller Peak and Esmeralda Basin rides on Saturday and then, if feeling up to it, do the notorious Five Drainages ride on Sunday. But when Igor and Stephan (I'll let you figure out their nationalities) rolled into my campsite Saturday morning and asked me to flip the schedule, I kindly obliged. It didn't really make any difference to me. Or so I thought. The only real change that was suggested was that we keep a good pace and try to knock out all 8 Drainages (the 5 Drainages ride with with the Esmeralda Basin loop tacked on). I ignorantly, overzealously, and cockily agreed.
There is no such thing as a bad day in the Teanaway Valley, especially along the north fork of the river, and Saturday was no exception. The skies were blue and cloud-free and the temperature would reach the upper 70's. Best of all, save for a few swollen creeks and some lingering snowdrifts, the trails were clear and dry too. The three of us headed up the road from the 29 Pines campground by 10am, me on my lightweight Moots softail, Igor on his 41-pound Intense, and Stephan on his moderately heavy Santa Cruz Nomad. Clearly I had the advantage, right? Wrong.
After a couple of miles along the forest road we reached the first drainage and headed up the Stafford Creek trail. I took off way too fast along the lower section with the gentler gradient and was soon sucking wind as we started to gain elevation. It wasn't long before my hamstrings and groin muscles were tightening up and I was off the bike gasping for air. It was clear early in the ride that I was indeed spent, burned out, cooked, fried, or whatever other adjective you'd like to use. Yes indeed, you could stick a fork in me; I was done. My body had had enough, my mind was not interested in riding, and quite frankly I would have rather have been home playing videogames. Yes, I said it. I need to completely check out from cycling for a week or two and let the love come back. Unfortunately, the recharging of my batteries would have to wait, as I was in pretty deep on an all-day epic.
Sometime during the lengthy hike-a-bike up Standup Creek I realized that I wasn't really on a mountain bike ride. I was out for a very long hike in which I just so happened to have my bike with me. To make matters worse, the goal of completing all 8 Drainages forced us to limit breaks and keep moving. No rest for the weary. So onward and upward I pushed the bike up and over rocks, through snowdrifts, and across fast-moving creeks. Occasionally I would get on the bike to ride, only to have my lungs balk at the act of squeezing oxygen from the thinning air. Sure, we may have only been between 5000 and 6500 feet all day, but for a lowlander like me who needs a day or two to acclimate, it was tough.
After a prolonged slog up a neverending series of switchbacks, we finally reached the top of Bean Creek, the third drainage. From here we had a very steep descent down towards the confluence with Beverly Creek. The descent featured a good amount of exposure and some very tight, loose switchbacks that forced Stephan and I to dismount on almost every turn. We were just too far out in the backcountry to risk a bad crash trying to negotiate these turns. The descent eventually did flatten out a bit and offered up some nice cruising along some fun moderately-technical singletrack. Alas, we eventually came to Beverly Creek and were yet again facing another 2000 foot climb. Numerous blowdowns and rocky trail surface forced me off the bike more than I'd like to admit, and what we thought may only be an hour of climbing turned into nearly two hours. And as we continued ever upward towards the saddle near Iron Peak the going got even harder. The last few switchbacks were up a steep snow-covered face on which I had to kick into the snow with my shoes to make little steps to hike up in. All the while carrying my bike in my left hand due to my wrist injury. Stupid bowling balls!
We eventually reached the top of Beverly Creek and were able to lay the bikes down in the sun and stretch. At this point we realized that there was no doing all 8 Drainages and that 5 would be more than enough. After all, we had been out for over 5 hours already and only gone a mere 16 miles, including a couple miles of forest road at the beginning. So we took our time and left the bikes on the trail and hiked up to the lower Iron Peak summit and enjoyed the views. This is why you do this ride. For those who've done the other Teanaway area rides and think they've seen great scenery, please understand that you haven't seen anything yet. The views from the 5 Drainages route are incomparable. Your body and mind will suffer greatly in your quest to achieve these vistas but despite the neverending pain -- did I mention we all ran out of water also? -- the views from atop Iron Peak and within the Standup Creek basin are remarkable.
Now it was time for one final stretch of singletrack. Several miles of jarring technical downhill on the Iron Peak trail or, to complete the drainages-motiffe, along the El Dorado Creek. The descent had dozens of switchbacks but some skillful braking and well-placed kick-outs made each one rideable. Although my arms eventually tired from constantly squeezing the brakes to keep my speed under control, it was a fun descent and almost made me forget the tortuous 6 hours that prefaced it. Several miles of downhill later, we popped out onto F.R. 9737, just two miles from the Esmeralda Basin trailhead. Kristin had parked the car up the road with plenty of water and Gatorade for us to refill our Camelbacks with in case we were to continue on, but that was not in the cards. We turned our bikes south and cruised 9 miles down the road back to the campground where a fully-stocked cooler awaited me. V8, water, and beer never tasted so good.
And I can't remember the last time my body hurt like this.
Warning to Others: If you haven't figured it out from reading this far, let me spell it out very clearly to you. This is not a ride for the masses. This isn't even a ride for me. It makes riding Miller Peak and, dare I say it, Juniper Ridge, pale in comparison in terms of difficulty. Excluding the miles on the road, we spent over 6 hours covering just 15 miles. There were times when I had no idea why I had even brought my bike. Yes, the photos and video clip I'm about to post a link to show some great scenery, but before you think about doing this ride, repeat the following numbers over and over to yourself: 16 miles, 100% singletrack, 5000 feet of climbing, 6 hours.
Link to photos from the 5 Drainages ride.
I'm having trouble with YouTube at the moment but will get the video link up soon.