Tears on the Trail

Utah is one of my favorite places on this planet. There's no mistaking where you are when you're there. I'm still undecided on the whole "God" thing, but I'm pretty certain that if there is one, he/she probably lives in Utah most of the year.

I've been dreaming of returning to Utah since I returned from there on May 3rd of last year. And I've been pissed off about taking the bail-out in 5MOH since I did it on April 30th, 2004. And even *more* pissed off in light of what took place in Hell this year...more on that later. And yes, the date *is* etched in my memory. So, when we left for Utah this year on Friday April 15th, I had high hopes and was firmly set on completing the unfinished business of the year before. As you might have guessed by now, it never happened.

Usually our trips are pretty uneventful, except for the occasional broken bone or frame, but this one was destined to try my patience. The first thing that happens is Eric's GasGas starts fouling plugs on our first ride at White Wash on Sunday the 17th. It was more of an oily foul, as opposed to wet with gas, and he figured it might be rings or a crank seal. He replaced the rings the next morning but when the fouling began on our ride, he turned around and went back to camp. I feebly volunteered to go back with him, but thankfully he declined my offer. He went back and grabbed his WR and GPS and played "Dakar" in the sand washes. He had a great time, and so did I. I love the slickrock of White Wash, and I laugh now when I think of how terrified and panic-stricken I was on my first trip there. What a maroon...

The drive down the road to the staging area of White Wash was fairly steep with sand drifts in a few places. Eric did a great job negotiating the Palace down the road, but the trip out was weighing heavily on his mind the 2 days we were there. We all decided to cut out early for the Swell, due to a cold front coming in, and incessant howling winds. We watched Mike Neilson try to pull out in his mini-van with very small light trailer with one bike on it, and Eric and Mark Kesseler went to his aid with shovels and muscle power when he got stuck in the sand. I couldn't help but think of the Van Incident in Idaho when Mark and Eric were pushing on the front of Mike's mini-van. I laughed nervously, knowing we might be the object of someone's amusement very shortly. Victor and Rowdy came back down the road in their mighty Toyota 4WD, offering to pull trailers out if need be. We scoped out the best lines to take, debated on which gear to be in, and then prepared to tackle the scariest obstacle of the weekend. Eric was sweating. He straightened out the wheels, put it in 2nd (I think) and punched it. We bounced through the sand pretty good, sliding sideways a bit, but the big van made it through with no apparent damage. We made it though the second obstacle also, and there were high-fives all around at the top of the hill.

Dinner at Ray's Tavern was superb, as usual. We dumped the tanks and filled up our fresh water tank with 27 glorious gallons of water, and headed out to the Swell accompanied by a beautiful setting sun.

Now, last year we spent 10 days out at the Swell camping out of our cargo van. We had about 13 gallons of water, and we made do with sponge baths. All the way home we talked about how we could get a park-able RV of some sort that would allow for real showers on our next trip to Utah. We decided on a camper van by the time we got to central Nevada, and I hit the ground running upon our return. I did almost 5 months of intensive research and we ended up with the Pleasure-Way, a wonderful vehicle and perfect for our needs and wants. It turns out a little more ground clearance would have been nice...

We pull into the wash itself, missing the actual road alongside the wash in the darkness. Eric backs up and pulls up onto the road with a loud "Ka-thunk." I hoped out loud that it was the trailer I heard. No such luck. Victor mentions that water is running out the bottom of the van. I say, "yeah, it was dripping a bit when we filled it up in Green River." He says no, it's gushing out. I get out to look and damned if every last one of our precious gallons of water isn't spilling out onto the thirsty desert sands. Nooooo! I was instantly furious, completely bypassing the stage of disbelief, and of course it was all Eric's fault since he'd been the unlucky bastard behind the wheel at the time. I wasn't crying yet, but I certainly felt like making someone else cry, that's for sure. Mark Hughes (or English Mark, as I'm used to calling him since I never remember his real last name) came up with the fresh water drain valve in his hand. It was a bit scuffed up but he was able to get it to go into the spot that it had occupied only moments before. Victor, being the smart experienced guy that he is (think Tie-Down Incident,) had ducked Hurricane Tami and had walked out to the road to look for the cause of the damage and had found the valve in the dirt. We tried to find a level spot (since that tricky shyster Victor had sneakily purloined "our" personal campsite before our arrival) and of course *that* was a trial in and of itself. Then comes the "backing up the trailer" part. Oh, good lord... I'm fairly certain Mike Neilson will never talk to me again, being the good God-fearin' man I'm guessing he is. I was railing on about how it isn't f'ing brain surgery and anyone with a shred of common sense should be able to back a stupid f'ing trailer up fer crissakes, I mean, what the hell? In my raging state of incredulousness and disbelief at having to "rough it" despite spending zillions of dollars specifically to prevent that very thing, I didn't notice him slinking off in the darkness, feeling lucky, I'm certain, to be escaping with all his body parts intact.

Strangely enough, Eric and I were left alone to set up our campsite. We hauled the gear bags out of the van, turned the chairs around and -voila'-campsite set up. We were able to work together without killing each other in order to get some water into the van. It was dripping slowly, and Eric determined that the valve itself was leaking. He took it back out and cleaned and dried it real good. He then put a whole glob of silicone in the end of it, and by morning it was good as new. Good news for anyone within a 10-mile radius of our campsite, I'm sure.

We were a bit stressed out, I was still angry about having to "rough it" and we weren't ready to go to sleep. We decided to watch a movie, and as I snuggled into my nice big comfy warm bed, and the sound came on through the 4 surround-sound speakers, I just started laughing to myself. Eric wanted to know what was up but I didn't even have to tell him. We were "roughing it" alright. The irony was quite apparent. We just rolled our eyes at each other, made plans to hit Goblin Valley State Park for water after the next day's ride, enjoyed our movie and then slept like babies.

Our first ride at the Swell was the Waterfall Trail, better known as Crack Canyon. This trail is one of my favorite "normal" trails in the Swell. Lots of TST, fun wash bottoms, some cliff-side single track, a few rocky ledges, lots of beautiful views. Jeff Wallace got a flat as he was climbing the rock at the Waterfall and we all stopped to allow him to fix it. I took the opportunity to lie still in the shade and use the...uh...trial-side facilities for, like, the 4th time that morning. Did I mention I hadn't been feeling well for a day or two? Well, I wasn't. Kinda shaky and weak, like a flu coming on. I'd called in sick only once in the previous year (and that was to facilitate a 4-day riding weekend at Kennedy Meadows ) and now here I was on a long-awaited vacation and I could feel it creeping up on me. I was double-dosing my vitamins, too, to no avail. Great...

There is one very easy non-technical stretch of plain old dirt on the Crack Canyon trail. And this is where I bunged up my knee, of course. This wasn't the final death blow, though; No, it was the tiny little speck of snow that would start the eventual avalanche of stupidity and pain. It seems there was a tiny little pebble of sorts lurking on the trail. I must have hit it and gotten a little squirelly. Next thing I know my left leg is augering into the dirt and I'm experiencing excruciating pain in my left knee, the only good one I have/had. Is it a coincidence that it's called a "cruciate" ligament and that word is sitting smack-dab in the middle of the word "excruciating?" I think not. Eric saw the whole thing and had wrongly guessed I had hurt my wrist or something. It was such a low-key thing, I didn't even fall off or anything. But, damn, it hurt. I laughed it off, posed for a few "thumbs-up" shots from my prone position in the dirt, and continued on the ride. No tears were falling. We were almost at the end of the trail, so I toughed it out and then we took the road back. There is a fun jeep road on the way back which I've enjoyed every time I've been to the Swell. I got a little happy and almost ended up tearing up my other knee...again. I slowed it down and cruised into camp in one piece...sort of.

Spent the rest of the day icing my knee and willing myself to heal overnight. Everyone went out for another ride and it was awful quiet around camp. I felt like crap and ended up sleeping for about 3 hours. It is almost unheard of for me to be able to sleep during the day, but I must have needed it. I didn't feel much better upon waking.

Wednesday rolls around and I still feel crappy. The knee isn't so bad, even though I can't straighten it or bend it all the way. I decided to attempt the ride, especially since it was the Behind The Reef Trail(nothing technical) and the Little Wild Horse Canyon (I think that's what it's called) that I had so much fun in last year. Had I "opted not to ride," as Deeney so eloquently put it, I might not be in the situation I am now. I really wanted to ride, and so I did. I fell over in a very stupid spot, no big deal, just a tip-over to the right. I stepped off the bike, let it fall, and then picked it up with one hand. I swung my left leg over and when my left foot hit the ground, I found I couldn't support myself and down I went on the left side, crumpling into a big ball of hot-flame pain. Dammit! I felt stupid but it was just one of those things. Ok...no more falling over on the left side.

We finished the trail and headed out onto the road. My bike seemed to choke up a bit and acted like it was running out of gas. I stopped and put gas in it and it was fine, but it didn't need any. Don't know what was going on. About 10 miles later we turned to go down yet another road. This one was wide and smooth and had exactly one rut down the middle of it. Looked to be from a big truck tire. Only one rut. With sharp square edges. We took off, and I was going through the gears. Maybe I was in 4th by the time Mike Neilson passed me on the right (he was probably trying to avoid me in the worst possible way, and I wouldn't have blamed him ) and I moved slightly to the left. I cross-rutted in what perhaps was the only rut for several miles, tried to save it, put my left foot down hard when I couldn't keep it on the peg anymore, and then the screen went blank. I couldn't function and I went down hard. Got a huge hematoma on my left thigh, and had some pain in the general vicinity of the right side of my rib cage. Could hardly move my head the next day, and had a bit of pain in my left collarbone area. But that was nothing compared to the massive injuries to my pride. A dirt road, fer cryin' out loud. These guys I'd never ridden with before were probably wondering what the hell I was doing out there. I was beginning to wonder myself...

I was instantly aware that my riding trip was over, as was probably my whole riding season and both softball seasons. I couldn't...f'ing...believe it. Honestly, I was just so...unbelievably frustrated, and angry, and just...I don't know. I knew from experience what would lie ahead for me as far as making a physical comeback from a traumatic knee injury. If there was any doubt as to the extent of the injury before, it was now replaced with that old familiar feeling, something was torn. Here comes the wussy crybaby part, I'm embarrassed to say.

I have never cried due to physical pain. And y'all know I've been through my fair share of physical trauma. In all my years of riding and injuries and frustration and such, I have cried on the trail exactly once. It was in 1998, after re-habbing a torn ACL, MCL and meniscus. It was before surgery, but after a long and arduous uphill battle to overcome the injury. It was during a long day in the Capital State Forest in WA, one of the first rides in a week-long riding vacation. I was putting along at a nice "scenic ride" pace when I cross-rutted in a rut about 2" deep. I banged my foot on the ground, instant pain, and I just freaked out. The frustration was more than I could bear and I sniffled a bit and then got over it. I was totally bummed and I felt totally stupid for letting it get to me. Well, this one here in Utah affected me in a similar manner. It was all I could do to keep my composure and I just wanted everyone to leave and get the hell out of there before I had a complete meltdown. I just wanted this riding trip so bad, and had looked forward to it for a whole year, and now there was no mistaking that it was truly over. No Red Trail, no personal redemption in Hell, nothing. Besides, I was just kind of settling down into this injury-free lifestyle and I was kind of enjoying it. Now it was over.

I got back on the bike and started it, as Eric and I were going to ride back on the road. It made a sound like the kick-starter was still being pushed down, and Eric decided then and there he'd go back and get the van and come back for me. I wanted to give it a go, but he was gone in an instant, unknowingly taking my jacket with him. Victor waited with me, even though I told him he didn't have to. Once everyone was gone, I just kind of let go, and I'm embarrassed that Victor had to witness it. Totally out of character for me. Dusty goggles couldn't hide the near-sobs that I was fighting to control.

Anyway, I was back to my old self by the time Eric showed up in the van, and even the brief snow flurries hadn't bothered me too much. Thanks for the vest, Victor, and for not making me feel more stupid than I already did.

I spent the rest of the evening...the rest of the trip, actually...lying on my back in the van with ice on my knee. My body felt extremely heavy and I could barely stay awake. Eric made me dinner and then it was lights out. It was only at this point that I "opted not to ride" and it was only because it was now a physical impossibility. I reached up, as I often do in times of trouble or contemplation, to twirl the aquamarine stud earring I've been wearing non-stop for 21 years. Geez...half my life. It was given to me by a man that has managed to remain a friend all these years, even though I left him, quite literally, at the altar for a Moto-Guzzi and its rider. It was gone. Almost 20 years of helmets being pulled on and off, even my super-snug Arai street helmet, swimming, crashing, wrestling, sleeping...it has never come off. Only for the occasional MRI (got one scheduled for tomorrow night) or CAT Scan. Now it was gone. I pushed it into the back of my mind and refused to even think about it til I got home. The knee pain was now inconsequential.

I love being in Utah, bikes or no bikes. I enjoyed everyone's company immensely. It was great seeing Gene and Rod again, and Crazy Curt, and Ruxton and Bill and Victor and Rowdy and the Jeffs and Marks. And Jim Geidel of course. Too bad Rick never made it. It was fun meeting the new folks, too. Especially that little 23-year-old honey that Ruxton brought with him We closed down the fire one night while sharing a fine bottle of Madeira. Hey, it isn't my fault Eric didn't return from Operation Rescue Rowdy until 1am! I really enjoyed the trip out and back, too. Eric and I had a blast together and that's really the whole point of these trips anyway, right? Right?? So it wasn't a total loss, just extremely disappointing from a rider's point of view.