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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Why I should never plan NOT to do something

Last year, when we went to Hannibal for the mud volleyball tournament (report on this year's is still to come...I'm working backward on reports from this trip) I left my running shoes home because I knew I wouldn't be running over the weekend.  And then I promptly signed up for a race and ended up running it in my old shoes.  I learned my lesson and brought my running shoes and clothes for this trip.  And used them, so that was good.  I also left all of my bike gear home because I knew I wouldn't be riding on this trip.  And now I'm sitting here--very gingerly--because it turns out that wasn't the best choice after all.

Through an unexpected turn of events, I ended up coming on this trip alone.  Alone, as in no husband or children.  Alone, as in no responsibility to any other person.  I have to tell you, while I miss my family, I could definitely get used to this!  I left my return kind of loose, either Thursday or Friday, but I also know that this is my one shot this summer to have some extended time to myself, so I wanted to actually do something with it (besides N's volleyball tournament, the reason I was in Minneapolis after Hannibal).  Since yesterday was another volleyball/drive day, that left today.

I'm staying with my brother Jim, who kindly offered his mountain bike for me to use.  Some google-ing led me to Levis Mounds Rereational Area and its 30+ miles of mountain bike trails.  It's about an hour drive from his house.  Jim had to work today, so after sleeping in, getting sucked into the diy network's Crash Week, and eating leftover deep dish pizza for brunch, I headed out.  It wasn't until I was pulling up at the trailhead that I thought about the fact that I was going somewhere new, had no idea where I was going or what was there, am not the best mountain biker, and was alone.  Sometimes I forget that I'm not quite as gutsy as I like to think I am....but I was already there, so I was committed.

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Main parking lot/shelter
I ran into the first snag early.  There are user fees for the multi-purpose trails (during the winter, they serve as cross-country trails).  I knew that, but somehow all I had was a $1 or $20 bill...and there were no employees there to make change.  I counted out $4 worth of quarters, added the dollar bill, sealed them all in the registration envelope....and spent the next 5 minutes trying to cram it into the little slot.  Yes, I was off to a great start.

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Trail leading off from the parking area
The park's trails are an interconnected network of singletrack and doubletrack.  The trails were all well-marked, and many of the intersections had a large copy of the trail map I was carrying with me.  This both was, and was not a help, but that was through no fault of the map.

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Tick city
I started out on the doubletrack, which was an experience.  The trail was very ridable...and very overgrown.  Most of the doubletrack was even grassier than the picture above, and I picked up a bunch of ticks riding thorough it.  Yuck! One of my least favorite kind of insects.  The ticks had a lot of company, too.  I felt like I was swarmed by bugs, but luckily I had a can of Deep Woods Off in the van and had sprayed myself liberally.

Once I got to the singletrack, the trails had some cool new-to-me features.  Like this...

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...and this...

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...and this...

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In case you didn't read it, it suggests "jump"...I declined the offer. :)
I was having fun, but I was really missing my bike.  And my bike shorts and gloves.  Jim's taller than I am.  His bike seat was a bit too high for me, and I couldn't get the seat post to adjust, so I was taking a bit of a beating from the seat on the bumps...and my running shorts were no help there.  I definitely spent more time out of the seat than I normally do.  In addition to the different fit, I didn't have the same mental comfort level as I do with my bike.  But it still beat sitting in the car driving home.

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The trails (once you got on the singletrack) would've been great for running.  The surface would be so easy on the body.  Lots of soft dirt, sand, and pine needles.  It smelled really good, too.
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So pretty out there. 
Jim's bike doesn't have disc brakes, which on this trail was a pretty good thing for me.  I was still riding the brakes pretty hard, but the weaker brakes lessened my chances of pitching myself over the handlebars.  I had a hard time with some of the climbing, though, especially on the Upper Hermosa trail.  I had been lulled into a false sense of confidence by some of the other (easy) trails.  Upper Hermosa was rated intermediate..  It wasn't very technical, but it had some steep climbs through loose, soft dirt.  I did most of my climbing on foot, but the view at the top was pretty cool.

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Ahhhh, this is why there's so much sand!

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I climbed up on the rocks and was about to climb onto the higher point when I realized that I always have a much easier time getting up than back down.  Since I was out there without anyone to help me climb down and didn't really want to spend the night up there, I decided to play it safe.

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Thoroughly enjoying myself.
At this point, I'd been riding for about 3 hours.  Well, riding and taking pictures.  Between stopping to hike up hills and stopping to take pictures, I wasn't setting any fast pace.  I had just reached the furthest trail from the shelter, and I was excited to ride it because it was a 2.4 mile green (easy) loop, so I'd have a good chance to string together a long stretch of riding.

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The lines of trees looked really neat.
Also at this point, it occurred to me that I had less than 1/4 bottle of water, no food, and hadn't eaten for several hours.  I had no idea how long it would take me to get back to the van after riding the loop.  Maybe this isn't such a good idea... I thought.  Then I decided it would be fine and went on ahead.
I know it's only 2.4 miles, but 2.4 miles on a mountain bike isn't necessarily a fast ride...especially if you're me. I rode a little further and decided that bonking at the very furthest area from my car was a bad idea, so I turned around.

Before heading out on the last trail, I had studied the map to figure out the way I'd head back to the parking lot. My trail would run into another trail, which I'd take to the doubletrack. When I got to the intersection, though, I couldn't figure out which way to go on the other trail. Now, just to give you a clear picture of how incompetent I am, I had both the very good trail map in my hand as well as a bigger map posted at the intersection. As I looked back and forth from the map to the trails in confusion, I was quite sure that the map's way would lead me right back the way I'd come, which wasn't the way back. I knew it was the wrong way because it ran alongside those really cool straight rows of trees I'd been admiring before.
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What are the chances that there'd be similar trees in the forest?
So, let's get this straight: the maps agreed, I could tell from the maps which way I should go, but I still went the other way because I thought I knew which way to go.  As I rode up the trail (thinking all the while, I'm pretty sure that I should be heading down away from the mound now), I even stopped to loop at my trail map again.  Since it had contour markings on it, I looked at both options to see if the contour lines would give me a clue. Sure enough, the wrong way (the way I was going) on the map was heading uphill, while the right way was a gentle decline. 

At this point, I was pretty sure that I was going the wrong way, but I decided to continue on my path because if it was wrong it would take me back to an intersection I had been at.  Rather than continue to second-guess myself and bounce back and forth on the trail, I opted to follow Luke's advice from the non-race and get myself to a known location.  Even though it cost me a little time, I think it was the right decision.  Sure enough, I was wrong, but then I just picked a new way back, and this time I got it right.  And it was a good lesson that, at least sometimes, the map just might know more than me.  Who'd have guessed? :)

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12 comments:

  1. These pictures are Gorgeous Kate! What a fun adventure!! I would have been way too scared going down that hill that you have a shot of. My breaks would be toast. Those are some interesting spots on the trail too. Glad you found your way back! This kind of makes me want to go hit up some trails when I get my legs back.

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  2. Nice trail! Ticks, ugh. I got covered in seed ticks once and had to use a butter knife to scrape them off, being they were so small. You did a good job staying calm and getting your self un-lost!

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  3. Ok girl...you are going to have to load your car every time you venture out of your house with all running AND biking gear, including bike! :) Always prepared. And I should also listen to that advice!!

    If I found a tick on me I seriosuly think I'd have to enter a mental hospital. When I lived in Alabama, I found one crawling on my wall once and I didn't sleep for months after. They gross me out! Not many here in Colorado...but we do have some so I constantly look.

    Those trails are beautiful though...you and I live in totally different worlds. Love Colorado but I do miss the woods and all the green. (not the humidity though).

    Glad you enjoyed a few days to yourself!! :)

    Happy Weekend - yay!

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  4. The best way to see new things is getting lost....then again, nice to get lost with lotsa food and water and bug spray....sounded fun.

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  5. Haven't had "no responsibility to any other person" in a looong time :) Looks like a great adventure!

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  6. Eww. I'm still thinking about the ticks. My friend is an entomologist and is so paranoid about ticks that I have become so too. I take it you got them all off.

    Other than that it sounds like a great adventure.

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  7. Brave girl!! Sounds like an awesome adventure! I can relate to the lack of navigational skills. If my instinct is to go left, then I should go right. Unfortunately, I usually follow my instincts and end up lost. I see some fun things though and (so far) have always managed to find my way home!

    The ticks though. YUCK. Hate those nays things!!

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  8. Ticks completely creep me out. If they made Frontline for people, I'd be all over it.

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  9. Very cool S.K. 3 hours? I'm impressed. I have no idea where Hannibal is. I'm assuming it's in the Western Hemisphere. Or, may Equatorial Guinea?

    You are a stud for going on such an adventure. Really.

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  10. I would get lost there! That was an adventure.
    Beautiful pics of beautiful woods.

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