I am a mountain gorilla

Posted by SuperClydesdale on February 23, 2011 under Commentary | 2 Comments to Read

I celebrated Presidents Day with a mountain bike ride.   I tweaked my knee snowboarding with my son on Saturday, so while my wife took my boys up snowboarding to take advantage of 8 feet of new snow, I decided to recuperate on the bike.

I rode a trail that I have done several times before.  It’s called “Salmon Falls,” cleverly named after the road it is on.    The trail begins where the American River flows into Folsom Lake, a large reservoir that sits ominously above the city it’s named after in California.

A view from one of my favorite spots on the Salmon Falls trail, overlooking a finger of Folsom Lake, just down from where the American River flows in. It looks as if you are going to pedal off the hill and into the lake. This is also one of the smoother areas, with actual soil!

The trail hugs the hillside, and roughly follows the northeastern shore of the lake.  It’s rocky soil, and the trail is littered with sharp rocks jutting up.  Parts of the trail are nothing but jagged rocks, sort of like the underside of a massive rasp.   The last time I rode the trail, I told myself that the next time I rode it, it would be on my full-suspension Specialized Stumpjumper FSR 26er, but the tires on the 26er are Kenda Small Block Eight and not suited for the wet conditions.  That, and the bike is a 26er, which is for suckers.  I haven’t ridden the bike since I bought my 29er –   I just can’t bring myself to ride it.  I cleaned it up to sell it on craigslist, and don’t want to have to do that again.  But, given my apparent inability to get rid of any of my bikes, it’s just sitting there.  I really need to sell it.

If any trail will get me to buy a full-suspension 29er, it’s Salmon Falls.   It’s just an ass-kicking kidney buster.   It’s not a difficult trail technically, in fact for the most part, it’s quite easy.  But it’s rough.   With the ruptured disc in my back, its really uncomfortable after a while, and I have to stop and stretch out the back every 20-30 minutes.  Yeah, that’s why I stop… to stretch my back.

As I began, and started ascending, I saw a guy riding an orange mountain bike up the road to the trailhead, so I assumed he’d be coming up the trail behind me soon.  That’s sweet!  I now know that I have a goal!  The orange bike guy cannot catch me.   I love a goal.

Within 50 yards, you have an option on Salmon Falls.  You can go right, which is a rocky and fairly steep little arc up the hill that rejoins the main trail in a few hundred yards.  Or, you can stay left, and there’s a short section where, unless you don’t have to go to work the next day, you get off and walk the bike over some rocks that have a very steep and long drop to the lake.  I had never ridden this direction on the arc, so I decided I would try it.  Unfortunately, about 100 feet up in the middle of a steep little rocky area, I discovered that my right foot was not clipped in properly, and it came out and I was forced to stop.  So, I’m right in the middle of a very steep (15%) rocky stretch only about half way up the climb.  I look back and see the orange bike guy – he decides to stay on the main trail, and as I fumble around trying to clip in on a steep, narrow, rocky climb, I hear him going on past.  Damn!  Now I have to catch him.  I fart around for a couple of minutes trying to get clipped in, and finally give up, turn around, and go back down to the main trail.  By now, orange bike guy is probably half a mile ahead.

Time to reel him in.

As it turns out, the guy was pretty fast.  It took a while.  It was several miles before I caught him.   Predictably, he was not enthused, and stepped up his pace.    He would take off, then I’d reel him back in.  He was fast and at times was able to put some gap between us, but I was very happy that on any little technical parts, I was able to rapidly close the gap.    To me, it seemed that either he was either a bit too tentative and cautious, or – my preferred explanation – is that I was more skilled at navigating the technical parts than he was.  Either way, it felt great to be able to close the gap at will.   It seemed to validate what I have been feeling for the last few months, which is that I am really getting comfortable on the bike, even in somewhat dodgy terrain.

Unfortunately, I had to stop and give my back a break, so I gave him back a several minute lead.  I didn’t see him again until the end of the trail, which is where the single-track ends and the fire roads begin.    At the fire road, I found orange bike man resting, having a snack.

Turns out the guy has a name (Bob), and he had just built the orange bike up.  The bike was a beautiful carbon-framed Santa Cruz, full-suspension 29er with Easton tubeless wheels, 3×9 gearing.   Sweet bike.  Incidentally, the guy was about 6’2”, 210 pounds, running tubeless at 35 psi on the back.   Bob’s a very nice guy, and does quite a bit of endurance races, and other mountain bike races.  That made me feel good as well:  I was hanging with a guy who is about 30 pounds lighter than me (yeah, a rough Winter – put on some pounds!), who is considerably more experienced mountain biker than me, and who was trying to lose me.

At this point in the trail there are some options.  I’ve heard of taking the fire roads to the campground at the end of the trail, and that there were some other trail options.  I didn’t know what my options were,  and Bob offered to show me a loop that rejoins the single-track mid-way back to the car.  Great!   Normally, I just turn around and head back to the car on the same trail I just rode, so something new was of interest.  So, I took him up on his offer.

Well, it appeared that Bob wanted to see if I could hang with him on some big climbs, because soon, we were on a 2.5 mile-long, 800 foot climb.   He had a triple on the front, and I have my 1×10 with 32 tooth front chain ring.   I was thinking “oh, crap!” this guy is going to crush me.    With a 1×10,  I quickly reach a point on steep, sustained climbs where my minimum speed and maximum speed are the same.   Any slower and I fall out of a comfortable, sustainable cadence, and any faster is…  impossible.  The good news is, if I stay “on top of the gearing” – in my comfort zone of RPM — I can go for a while.  I was very pleased to see that Bob was struggling to keep up – I actually slowed down a bit so that he could stay with me.   I didn’t know the route, so I needed Bob.  But, just knowing that I could have dropped Bob made my day!   My fitness level has slid a bit through the combination of fewer rides in the winter and the complete lack of long training rides on the road bike, and I was surprised that I had it in me.   Add to that the fact that I weigh more now than I have in about four years, and I’m no climbing machine at the moment.  But on Monday, I was feeling like a mountain gorilla.

From the Clydesdale Glossary:  For those of you who may not be familiar with some of my terms, a mountian gorilla is a big guy who excels at climbing.

Coming down the narrow fire road back to the single-track trail was a kick in the ass.   It was about a 1.5-mile long twisty, rutted, incredibly rocky, muddy, thrill ride.   The entire descent was sustained -10% or greater gradient.  Having never been on the trail before, my maximum speed was about 18mph, which at the time felt borderline out-of-control reckless.   The rocks are so sharp that I thought at any moment, one of my tires was going to blow out.  Unfortunately, while very rocky, there’s no jumps or even humps to get much air on.  It was more like riding an old wooden rollercoaster – just wild, rough, and with a pervasive feeling of imminent danger.  Thank god there was nobody coming up the trail.

At the point where the fire road re-joins the trail, I was exhausted.  My hands were numb.  My ass was numb (what’s up with that?).  My legs were gelatinous.  What a tremendous ass kicking!  I loved it!

Somewhat damaged goods, I took it fairly easy back to the car.   The hot tub felt very good that night.

What a day!  I’ll be back.

  • Dennis8269 said,

    I am invisioning a silver back gorilla on a bike motoring up a hill, for a Jersey design. Go Team Clydesdale on the bottom of it.

  • Dennis8269 said,

    I am invisioning a silver back gorilla on a bike motoring up a hill, for a Jersey design. Go Team Clydesdale on the bottom of it.

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