By: Robin Rongey
So if a holiday rolled around, say something like Memorial Day, what would a red blooded American girl do with her time. Well there are lots of options, like going for a nice long run in the woods, or riding a road bike for many miles, or competing in the Highland Biathlon, or choosing a more eXtreme option. You know what I’m talking about don’t you. Getting a few of my craziest friends together for some high stakes mountain biking at one of our favorite parks.
So the week before the holiday, Jim Cedor asks if I would be interested in a long mountain bike on Memorial day, I quickly say yes and send out a note to see if anyone else would like to go out for some fun.
To have major fun on one of these rides you need a few different personalities. First we have Patrick, the daredevil, he will try anything no matter how dangerous it looks. Then there is Chuck, a fairly new rider, but following in Patrick’s tire tracks and will do almost anything. Then there is Jim, he is the voice of reason, he is technically the best rider among us and could probably do most anything, but, he doesn’t. He thinks about things before he does them. If I were in his head this is how I think it might sounds. Jim: “Oh that looks so fun, it might be a bit dangerous, but I think I could do it.” Kari’s voice (Jim’s wife), “If you come home hurt, you are in big trouble mister, so you better be careful, because my wrath is going to be way worse then any physical damage you do by trying something stupid”. Kari’s voice in Jim’s head is the one thing that saves me every time. I am a big chicken but if everyone tries something, even if I know it’s a bad idea, I will do it too, because I don’t want to be the sissy, therefore when Jim says nope I’m not doing that, I just follow suit and say I’m with you Jim. Thank you Kari, you have saved my skin many times over. To top off the three personalities you need one girl who will not whimper, whine or cry or at least most the time she won’t, and that would be me. Now that we have all the personalities assembled, we can create our plan for the day.
We wanted to start early so we could get home for some other activities in the afternoon, so at 6 am we meet at a park n ride and load bikes on my bike rack, hop in the van and take off for Castlewood State park. We make a stop at the QT to use the bathroom and get needed snacks. Off to the park, it’s just a few miles from QT. We pull in about 6:55, Chuck is already there pulling his bike out of his van. Jim, Patrick and I unload and suit up with our camelbaks and I put on my helmet cam. We load up with Honey Stingers, and check our Kenda tires for the right air pressure. We discuss how much psi to put in, then head out to the woods.
We want to hit the Groppeter trail first, so we will be fresh when we hit the uphill section with the big rocks and roots. There is just one spot I can’t ride through and I have been trying my hardest to figure out how to do it. Chuck hits it first and doesn’t have enough momentum so he jumps off, Patrick is behind him, but can’t make it either, Jim is next in line and he stops, then I stop. Jim goes back down the hill and tries it again on his new 29’er. He makes it right through, I try it, but don’t make it. I want to make it through this spot so bad, but can’t seem to get that one more pedal stroke in to make it through.
As we are standing there discussing the best line to take I remember that I forgot to turn on my helmet cam, so I try to do it only to find out it won’t turn on, I can’t figure out why because I had just changed the batteries. I was really frustrated about it, but nothing I could do at that point other than ride around with a camera on my helmet that didn’t work.
So we move on, and hit Roller coaster, I love roller coaster, it is the most fun of all the trails. Chuck turned me onto it a couple years ago, now we do it every time we ride the park. It’s tough in the beginning, but then it rolls like a coaster, with some banked turns and lots of rolling hills. So far all is well, no one is crashing. We hit a few mud holes, but nothing that takes us out. We finish roller coaster and get back on Groppeter and take it down to the road, cross the road and go back in the woods by the ranger station.
Next up is the creek, Patrick who will try anything, rides across but because of heavy rains the bank is washed away, so he can’t get up the steep drop off at the edge of the water. He picks up his bike and climbs up the bank, then he says he is going to ride down, but after a good look, he thinks better of that idea and stops before taking an endo into the water. Chuck rides across and jumps off at the bank and I follow doing the same. Jim picks his bike up, it’s brand new and carries it across the creek which is knee deep in the middle. It’s pretty hot and muggy out by this time so the water feels great.
We finish the loop and head down to the boat ramp to check how high the river is, a guy is shoveling mud off the boat ramp and I muse about how I want that job where you are outside all the time. We head down the Rivers Edge trail across the field and down to the train tunnel over to the Cedar Bluff trail. There was a lot of mud to ride through to get to Cedar Bluff, and let me tell you, it smelled so bad. When we rode through it, it splattered all over us, therefore we smelled so bad and our bikes were just caked in it. I was thinking good thing we didn’t crash in that, it would be really bad.
Cedar Bluff trail is really technical with lots of roots, rocks, switchbacks and uphills. Patrick is right in front of me and on the first switchback after a long grueling uphill, Patrick crashes and when he went down he hit his knee and elbow so hard that it felt like the earth shook. Chuck and Jim were in front of him and didn’t see the crash so they kept riding. When Patrick got up and started off again, a tree just jumped out in front of him and he went down again. He got up and in a matter of minutes he was down again, then he gets back on the bike and it’s just a matter of seconds before he goes down again. The Cedar Bluff trail is not Patrick’s friend today. We made it to the top of the ridge to find Chuck and Jim waiting for us, we all ate something and inspected Patrick’s wounds. We take off heading for the tough downhill at the end of the trail where you go through loose gravel, big roots and steep rocky drop offs. Of course Chuck and Patrick both tried to ride it, but both ended up hopping off for the sake of their health. Jim and I walked down and it was hard to just do that. So we all ducked our heads down low and rode back through the small train tunnel, everyone stayed on their bikes and there was no incident coming out on the other end of the tunnel. We rode back through the fast winding trail, through mud pit after mud pit, and then it happened. Jim took what looked like the best line through a deep mud pit, but when his back tire hit the mud, it slide out from under him and he ended up wallowing in the mud like a pig, not because he wanted to, but because the mud was slick as snot and he had to somehow climb out of it. He broke his sunglasses into 4 pieces in the crash, and was not too happy, but he still put his friends needs first and rode behind us so that we didn’t have to smell him. He is really a nice guy.
Before we make it to the end of the trail we have to cross a really big mud pit about 7 or 8 foot deep and a mouth 15 yards wide. Since the mud is so bad we find a smaller area to ride around it, but Patrick see’s another way. There is a large tree fallen over the pit where the drop off is only about 5 or 6 feet. The tree is about 2 foot in diameter and he decides he will ride over it. We all move back thinking this is an accident waiting to happen and we didn’t want to be in the wake when it did. Well he takes off, hits the tree and glides right over it and drops off to the ground on the other side. He made it, it was amazing, we were all yelling and clapping. No picture though, Patrick had the camera in his jersey pocket. Patrick said he wasn’t really going to do it, but when he didn’t stop in time, he was committed and had to do it. Well he has bragging rights now, but without having it on film, no one will ever believe him. We will vouch for him, it was truly amazing.
We get back to the boat ramp and see the guy still shoveling mud, so I decided that maybe his job wasn’t so good after all. So back down the trail we go, to the giant hill going up Lone Elk, Patrick doesn’t get a very good run at it and has to hop off and try to start over. Chuck, Jim and I head up the hill, Jim says he has one gear left and he is saving it for the top, but about halfway up, he retracts that statement and says he needs it now. We all three make it to the top, then shortly after Patrick pops over the top. We catch our breath for a minute then head up the next hill, it’s not nearly as bad as the one we just came off of. After some really rocky sections and rolling hills we make it back to the creek. Chuck and I tried to ride through it, but didn’t make it, Patrick and Jim grabbed the bikes and ran across. The water sure felt good. We checked our watches I had a good 30 minutes before we needed to load up, so Chuck said lets take the Cardiac hill bypass trail and come down Groppeter.
Cardiac hill is crazy steep and technical, the bypass is not as steep, but longer, just as technical and with switchbacks. We passed a few walkers going up, I think they were betting if we could ride to the top or not. Jim and Chuck made it to the top, I think Patrick may have crashed behind me, I heard some crashing sounds going on. I made it to the final switchback and had to get off. At the top of a steep switchback there were 4 other riders standing on the trail, I’m not sure if they were waiting for someone or just so tired they took a break. I rode through them with Patrick close behind. We regrouped and Jim said, “Robin had to say we had 30 more minutes”, but I quickly put the blame on Chuck who suggested taking the bypass. The good thing was it was mostly downhill all the way back in, and we really hammered back to the road.
So now that we were back, we decided to ride down into the creek and get some of the mud off our bikes, except Jim of course, he was still treating his new bike like a new girlfriend, not submerging her in the water or handling her too roughly. I have to say, she was beautiful though, it would have been hard to treat her that way. I, on the other had decided to see how my Trek Top Fuel did when riding through a deep creek. I made it half way before I had my Trek completely under water, she gave me all she had before I ended up submerged and swimming her back to shore.
We got most of the mud off the bikes then decided to do a couple more sprints out of the woods. Well Patrick of course does not want to finish the day without a bang, so he rides out of the woods and crashes, breaking his break lever and resting his badly beaten body on the ground.
What a way to end the day. On that note, we loaded up and went home, reliving every twist and turn of the day.