The Best Rotten Ride Ever

Finally, after what seemed like weeks of steady rain, snow, and grey skies, the clouds parted and the sun shone through. As luck would have it, I posted a mountain bike ride at Moran State Park on Orcas Island for this very day. A group of 9 solid riders met in Anacortes for the early morning ferry to the San Juan Islands. Spirits were high, especially for me. We were headed to one of my favorite places to ride and many in our group hadn't ever ridden there, and nobody who had, had ever done my proposed route. Except me, that is. One of my favorite things about leading rides is getting to share my favorite places with those who have never been. The weather would be chilly (how chilly, we couldn't foresee) but the sun was out and the trails were a lot of fun.

After a mandatory coffee & bagel stop in Eastsound, we continued the drive around the horseshoe-shaped island to the trailhead I like to use near Cascade Lake. The route begins with a 1.8 mile kick-to-the-teeth. Good luck keeping your heart-rate below 180 as you grunt your way up and over the first few hills.

The group was keeping together well and I was confident we'd have a really great day. We regrouped at the start of the double-track climb up to Mt. Pickett and pedaled on. And that's when my ride ended. Despite it taking 6 hours roundtrip by car and ferry to reach this jewel of a trail system, despite it being my beloved bike's two-year birthday, and despite -- no because -- of me bringing my bike to get a tune-up in March, my derailleur hanger ripped in two at the start of the benign climb up Mt. Pickett and my day was done. The guy at the shop informed me when I picked it up that he straightened the derailleur hanger for me. I didn't know it was bent and if it was bent, the lack of ghost-shifting or chain-skippage is an indicator that the bend was minimal at best. I'm guessing the force he used to bend it back wasn't. As it simply sheared in two while pedaling a non-technical, debris-free, double-track path.

I have never in 11 years of mountain biking broke a derailleur hanger. I kept a spare with me for years when I owned my Giant, but hadn't gotten a spare for the Moots. I never heard of one breaking before.

Not wanting to stand around and listen to 8 different opinions about what I should do next, I tutored the group on the route we'd be taking (they had maps and Moran State Park is very well-signed) and I turned around and coasted back to the truck. Well, after taking off the chain and derailleur that is.

As luck would have it, one of my friends who also has a Moots mountain bike was driving by when I got out to the road -- she and her friends were going to shuttle Mt. Constitution (my group would climb it on their bikes). I asked if she had a spare Moots hanger, but no she didn't. She hadn't ever heard of one breaking either.

I decided that rather than take my broken bike and go home, I would drive to the top of Mt. Constitution, convert the bike to a single-speed, and wait for my group and do the descent with them.

The first sign that this wasn't going to be possible came when I reached a gate across the road before the summit. The road was closed for snow & ice. I thought about the route they were climbing and realized then that the uber-steep climb from Twin Lakes to the summit was on the north side of the mountain. I hadn't ever heard of snow lingering this late in the season at Moran State Park before, but it turns out the trail was buried with a few fresh inches from earlier in the week. There are portions that are unrideable in the best conditions. They would certainly be walking.

I knew converting a bike with a soft-tail and vertical dropouts to a single-speed was an iffy proposition. And I was right. It was simply impossible to keep the chain tension where it needed to be to keep the chain from falling off to a lower cog. I took out as many links from the chain as I could while still being able to actually close the loop, yet it took only a couple minutes of pedaling on the road before the chain popped off the cog. I tried to make a chain guide with zipties, but that didn't work either. My day was, indeed, done.

There are worse places to be stuck on a beautiful day with a broken bike than Orcas Island. I decided to not dwell too much on the misfortune and instead got cleaned up, drove back to Eastsound and got myself a cup of coffee and wandered the bookstore for a little while. Come 2 o'clock I drove back to the lake and napped in my car while listening to the Mariners game on the radio and feeling the chilly breeze blow through the open windows. I shook my head in amazement at the 8 year old boy swimming in the lake. The air was in the 50's and the water couldn't have even been that warm. Snow continued to melt on the hills around the lake.

The other riders returned shortly after 3:20. They descended from a direction I hadn't expected them to, and over 30 minutes later than I anticipated. They had to cut off a sizable portion of the route. The snow had slowed them down far too much. They had to walk the best portions of the trail due to snow, push uphills that could have been ridden, and simply didn't have enough time to do the backside portion of the spiral descent and certainly didn't have time to get around Mountain Lake.

In their words, I certainly didn't miss much.

And that's the last thing a ride leader ever wants to hear, especially after convincing people a 6-hour round-trip commute is worth it. And normally it is. I try to ride at Moran at least 1-2 times a year and there's no way I would if the trails weren't really fun. The trails are closed to bikes from May 15th to September 15th and I won't have time to return this spring, but I hope these 8 riders do indeed give it another chance in September when I return.

Now where did I put that phone number to the bike shop...

No comments: