The next section of the ride after we split up was actually the best suited to me of any bit thus far. It was made up of some wider trails, gentler inclines and reasonable descents. I passed a couple of people and started to feel a bit better and wondered if I should have tried to stay with PW a bit longer. It was about that time that the occasional bark from my rear hub turned into an angry honking duck. If you can make a guttural, low, very angry noise of a mama duck warning away an intruder from her ducklings, and repeat that noise every 1-2 seconds, you can understand exactly what this portion of the ride included. Pedal, HONK!, pedal, HONK!, pedal, HONK!, pedal, HONK!, pedal, HONK! Then it got worse.
After a few miles of this, the hub was so bound up that the chain was being pulled right around the cog. It got so that I could not coast - at all. I had to maintain constant tension on the pedals, as if I had a fixed gear bike, but without the benefit of the direct connection. It turns out that it is very hard to ride with constant tension on the chain on singletrack that is constantly going up or down. I quickly realized how frequently I stopped pedaling, even for a portion of a second, to adjust my seat, grab water or whatever. None of these things were possible. I even had to brake on every downhill so I could keep pressure on the chain.
The only good news is that whatever was happening in the rear hub went from bad to worse, and then, surprisingly, to intermittent. I didn’t have any control over it, and I couldn’t figure out how to make it better or worse, but it did go from a constant issue to an intermittent one, so that I had occasional relief from it. It was one of these periods in which the hub was working that I lost my streak of incident-free riding. I had had only one small crash through a summer of a lot of training, a lot of mountain biking, and numerous 85-100 mile mountain bike rides. We had been warned during the lengthy pre-ride meeting that some of the bridges were quite slick. This seemed axiomatic in something close to a rain forest, but it was a good reminder. Unfortunately, my memory isn’t perfect. As I crossed a longer bridge, I noticed that the trail took a sharp left turn up just after the edge of the bridge. I didn’t have enough speed to carry the rise, so I accelerated in anticipation. You might see the problem. I managed to use the light coating of oily green moisture on the bridge to push my wheel out from under me and I took a hard fall on my left side. It was a sudden, knock-the-wind-out-of-you-slam, flat onto the bridge surface. Thankfully it was wide enough that I didn’t hit the side rail. I got up slowly, assessed the situation and got back on my bike. I still didn’t have the speed to make the rise, so I got back off and walked the bike up the trail. I mounted after a bit and rode off slowly. I was glad that PW and I had split up so that I could slowly ride myself into feeling good and not worry about picking up the pace for a bit. I was still a bit shaken when I came up with a much more interesting way to crash.
One feature of this wet forest is that some trees lose their grip on the soil and fall over. In this case, the trail took a detour around a particularly large tree root. Nothing too interesting, but by being a bit out of it, I managed to ride too close to the many snags sticking out. One of the roots “grabbed” my left arm and shoulder and gave me a quick pull, which caused me to connect with more of the snaggy roots and get pulled onto the ground in a crunchy, twisting fashion. My second hard crash of the season and within 10 minutes of my first. This time I got up even more slowly. I wasn’t injured in the “I need help” way, but definitely in the “shit, I don’t feel good” way. As I got back onto my bike and rode away, I had the clear feeling that my shoulders, trunk and pelvis were facing three different directions, and none of them the direction the bike was going. Maybe I should have given thanks that my rear hub was no longer my biggest concern. Again, I rode away slowly.
In the midst of all of this, however, it was hard to not notice how beautiful the place was in which I was riding and very, very different than my home soil in eastern Washington. During the day, I recall perfectly a few things that I wish I had had a camera to capture. The early morning sun rising over the forest. From near the top of a climb, looking down on a valley of fog with the hills puncturing the cloud bank and the sun warming all of it. Some descents covered with vegetation that you would think was straight out of the Amazon rain forest (including an oddly oily mud that may be the slickest substance ever discovered by man). And one instance in which I pondered how my body would be recovered afterward. There were a number of well-constructed bridges over streams, creeks or drop-off areas. One of the most picturesque water crossings lacked any such civility, however. On a deeply forested descent, I came across a creek crossing that appeared to be a short, flattish section of a waterfall. It was steeply rocky above and below, but someone had stretched out a 2” x 6” board across a 12’ gap. Frankly, the board was close enough to the drop-off down that it might have been better used to collect bodies of the fallen, instead of encouraging hearty souls to try to ride across it and therefore ensuring that they were close enough to the drop-off to be sure to have a bone-crunching end to their day. I’m sure the day that board was put down the trail-builders patted themselves on the back as they walked across its sturdy, solid and dry surface. Unfortunately, only a small passage of time in an area like this covers everything with a sheen of wet, slick, intractable slime. A sadist might spend days just camping by this crossing to record the various pratfalls and tippy-toeing to get from one side to the other. I took the route just upstream from the board, trying to step from rock to rock while not jettisoning my bike into the unknown. Ironically, the only major slip I had was when I put my left foot onto the edge of the board to keep from falling and my foot rocketed forward 10” before I got a grip. After putting my heart back into my chest, I managed to get to the other side and marveled at the fact that I and everyone else apparently did so as well. And again, I wish I had had a camera to record this tricky but beautiful 15’ feet out of a 50-mile loop.