Big Fat Tire: Manage snow, erosion gullies and fallen trees on a June mountain bike ride in Summit County
June 15, 2017
I knew it right away. I didn't so much hear it at the point of contact or immediately feel it where the action was; I heard the sound in my Adam's apple and felt the pop in my stomach.
I was riding down an old, steep Jeep road that had been closed to motor vehicles years ago. I hadn't been on it in a couple years and it didn't look like it had been used by hardly anyone yet this summer, but I've ridden this particular road many times over the years. In general, steep, cobble-infested Jeep roads aren't my favorite types of trails, but this trail was the fastest way down from my friend John's property, where I was inquiring about an excavator he is willing to let me use for a work project. Even though it's not the most fun trail out there, it's still a good connector.
New erosion gullies had formed since I was last on this trail and I got sucked down into one of them going faster than I needed to be. Usually my first plan of attack — or survival, as the case may be — when sucked into deep erosion gullies is this: Ride it out and gently scrub off some speed without locking up the front brake or getting tossed into the babyheads (your front brake is your friend until it's not), and then shift my weight back a little to make a graceful, collected exit. Maybe I'll even bunny hop out if my mojo is feeling the force.
That's Plan A, but to pull off Plan A I needed a certain amount of speed and the force was not with me at that moment. I elected for Plan B.
I figured if I took it very easy, I could climb up Gold Run Road to Upper Flume and make it home without having to call 911 or asking anyone to come get me (way too embarrassing).
Plan B is to slow my bike to an almost walking pace in a semi-controlled fashion — slow enough to put a foot down and kind of pivot on the foot out of the rut. I managed the former in a satisfyingly controlled manner, but when I went to perform the latter, somehow, I got it wrong. There was no mistaking the pop and the explosion of pain in the aforementioned locations, and then in my ankle, where the pain would stay well past its welcome.
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"Hmm," I'm thinking. "Not good." Loudly cursing didn't help much. Everything in my foot seemed to be pointing in more or less the correct direction, but I couldn't put weight on it. I wasn't about to try to ride back up that steep, beat-up Jeep road, so the only way out was down.
Riding down the rest of the road turned out to not be as painful as trying to walk. I made it to Gold Run Road and an ice-cold creek, where I took off my shoe and sock to reveal an impressively swelling foot. I plunged it into the natural ice bath for as long as I could stand it. The cold water seemed to help with the pain somewhat and after a few test pedals, I figured if I took it very easy, I could climb up Gold Run Road to Upper Flume and make it home without having to call 911 or asking anyone to come get me (way too embarrassing).
As it turned out, I made it home with relatively little difficulty to an evening of RICE (look it up if you don't know, but it's the suggested cure for any sort of bike sprain). The next day I made an appointment with Doc PJ for an x-ray and consultation. I was pretty sure it was a sprain and nothing was broken, but it's good to make sure and he confirmed my amateur diagnoses.
So here I am, gimping around on crutches at the same time it's finally looking, feeling and riding like summer. Although it could be a lot worse and I'm pretty sure I'll be able to ride fairly soon — I'll probably be able to ride a bike without problems before I'll be able to walk without problems — I'm still feeling a little sorry for myself as far as my seat time goes, but there's a lot more to life than bikes.
Anyway, so much for self-pity. As of now, trail-obscuring snow is thawing rapidly and melt-off has shifted into high gear. Lower-elevation trails are pretty much dried out, except for those perpetually wet bogs that have more to do with ground water than runoff. As always, ride through (not around) the smaller puddles. As you get closer to 11,000 feet, especially on the shadier slopes, you'll start running into swaths of snow and running water. The high alpine (aka those trails near and above tree line) are still white, as anyone who looks up at the high peaks can tell, and probably will be until July. These routes should just be avoided until they are drier.
Another issue we seem to have more of this year than others is trees down across trails. One of those wind events earlier this spring dropped them like Paul Bunyan and I've heard reports of trails with large numbers of trees across them.
What can you do about it? This time of year, I usually carry a decent-sized folding saw in my pack like the Silky Big Boy. With it I can cut trees up to about 12 inches in diameter. There are other good saws out there and lots of people sing the praises of better-quality pocket chainsaws. With handsaws like these, you can cut out small-to-medium blow-down. Bigger trees across the trail should be left to chainsaws handled by experienced operators with the U.S. Forest Service, local open space departments or volunteer trail crews. Trees that are pre-loaded — that is, leaning against each other — can be very dangerous and tricky to cut safely. Definitely leave those to pros.
Summer trail work and miscellany
By now, the Summit Fat Tire Society has completed its second trail maintenance project (which I couldn't join due to my ankle). It seems momentum is building for these quick yet productive sessions. A dozen or more people can accomplish a lot in a couple hours, so I hope more folks join in and invest some time in their trail system.
This Saturday, Friends of Breckenridge Trails is hosting another day of work on the new Mineral Hill Trail. Help bring it closer to completion by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
That's about it for this week. I'm going to try a little test pedal in a day or two to get an idea of where I stand. (Don't tell my lovely wife-to-be — she fusses over me like an expecting father.) I always tell injured people to not overdo it, but I've often been accused of not following my own advice. Of course, I do have a busy summer of building a new hut and moving into a new (for us) house, so I had probably better keep that all in mind. I just need to be extra careful about how I put my foot down on Jeep road.