Sunday, July 25, 2010

Hail

Several days at my brother's place in Taos, then up into Colorado. I'd been feeling pretty lousy in Taos, maybe just from altitude and the heat, but a new weather pattern moved into the Rockies bringing thunderstorms and cooler temperatures.

From Taos drove up to Pagosa Springs, then over Spring Creek Pass and over to Gunnison.  My drive crossed the Colorado Trail and I took the opportunity to get in a ride on one of the trail's most rugged sections, Segment 22.  All I'd heard of it was that it was above treeline and wasn't really a trail, just cairns to follow.  I wanted to just go up the trail a ways using the race GPS file, and check out what it looked like up there.  I'd make the call to turn around when I saw lightning or when the dog started to look tired.

We started in clear sunshine, but the sky was crowded with clouds. Up above treeline the views showed gray masses of rain hung like vines from the flat bottoms of rumbling clouds.  Farther up the range, the vines of rain brushed the sides of mountains. 

Segment 22 starts with a mile or two of jeep road, and even then I suspected I'd get at least a little damp on this ride.  I wanted to see the high part of the trail though, to have it in my head before the race.  When I got there I was happy to see the cairns were far from subtle: giant pyramids of rocks, each with one or more tall stakes sticking out of the middle.  And while early in the season there might not be an actual trail, by this late in the hiking season it was worn in pretty well.

Light rain was falling, but soon the rain intensified and turned to hail.  I knew it was time to turn around.  Just as I pointed the bike downhill and called for the dog, the weather got much worse.  I wasn't too far past a fold of the hillside right at treeline, so rode fast for that shelter.

Too fast.  The front wheel slid out on the slick rocky trail and I went down hard.  The middle of my thigh slammed against a rock with the full weight of the impact.  My vision blurred out and the only sound I heard was pinging hailstones against my now-horizontal steel frame.  The pain was matched with panic that I had hurt myself badly so soon before the race.  Then the thought flashed through my mind that it's almost impossible to break a femur, so I must be ok.  And it was still hailing hard, and the thunder was now accompanied by lightning.  I stood up and started walking down the trail leaning hard on the bike.

I took a couple minutes to lie in the undergrowth at treeline, freezing but out of the hail, and eat some chocolate.  My soaked but unflappable dog stood around waiting for me to get going again.  I wanted to just walk but got back on the bike because I was sick of being cold and wanted to get back to the bottle of advil in the car as fast as I could.  The trail was technical but rideable, even in the rain.  Definite out-of-the-saddle riding, thigh screaming every time I kept the weight over that leg for too long.  Soon enough I was back on the jeep road, which had missed most of the rain.  I was mostly back to the car when I realized my GPS was gone.

Looking back, the route was still dark with rain and hail above.  Nothing to do but just turn around and go back up for the stupid thing.  I knew right where it would be, sitting in amongst the rocks where I had crashed. 

This GPS is new.  My old one was run over by a car in May: I hit a pothole during a nighttime interval workout, kept the bike upright but jolted off the GPS out of its mount... and realized that mountain bike lights do not throw far enough for the speeds involved in all-out road efforts on pitch-dark Fort Jackson roads.  Anyway the old one has never been the same since.  After my GPS problems in Georgia last month I decided I better bite the bullet and get a new one before Colorado.  It pained me to spend the money since I'd rather just use maps than GPS any day, plus I hate replacing well loved gear, but it would pain me more to be lost in a race.

So back up into the rain, and higher up the hail.  I left my bike and helmet at treeline where the jeep road turned to the trail.  It had been more walk than ride above there anyway, and I might give my leg a little relief.  With thunder and lightning still around I decided to forgo the trail, which slices through the middle of the open tundra.  Instead I walked off-trail along the relative safety of the trees rimming the field.  The dog followed.  I was getting worried as this had turned into a really, really long hike for him, with half of it running at bike speeds, but he seemed fine.

Despite a rain jacket I was freezing and my hands and feet were numb and soaked. After a while of wandering through the trees I got back up close to where I'd crashed.  When a few minutes passed between thunderclaps I hurriedly limped up and grabbed the GPS from where it was nestled between wet gray rocks.  The stupid precious thing.

 No photos were taken up on the high sections of the trail.  Are you kidding?  It was hailing!  But here's a photo from back at the car, Tiko happily resting after work well done.  Lassie would have gone back and gotten the GPS for me, but Tiko happily wandered around in the freezing rain to keep me company.  Ten years old but only a step slow at the very end.  Good dog!
And some photos from New Mexico to satisfy your mountainy photo needs. 

 Rio Grande Gorge.  The wind blowing across the desert was full of the scent of wet sagebrush.

In the Carson National Forest

 Viva Zapata! Ten miles south of Chama.

Next day report: giant bruise and swollen bump in the middle of my quad.  Hurts like hell now, but should be ok by next week.

4 comments:

  1. Ah yes, nothing like the persistent pinging of hail on your helmet to throw your senses awry. It's incredibly distracting, and probably accounted for your crash. That's my theory anyway. A bruised leg is much better than a broken femur.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Wishing you good vibes from Tennesee next week. You can do it, girl!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thank you, Carey. I really appreciate it!

    ReplyDelete