Lost in the Castle- Growlers Gulch Ride 1/27/13

Mielle and Mary smiling early on

Mielle and Mary smiling early on

Hi, I’m here to pick up Tony” I say to a woman peering through the screen door with a confused smile. “Am I at the right address?”  “Yes, but Tony left 10 minutes ago. He drove himself because he didn’t know what the plan was.”  Crap. My job was to pick up Tony but I guess nobody told Tony. Worried about being late to our meeting point, I hauled ass (with my Kona Kula Supreme locked safely to my roof rack) out to the PIR park-n-ride from the Hawthorne area.  My ride companions for the day are just shooing the shit when I get there and don’t notice my tardiness. My  teammate Mary Fordham, Tony Ohotto ( Yakima Vigillantes) and Dave Condon (Trusty Switchblade) will be my co-pilots to uncharted territory (at least for us) up in Castle Rock, WA. I was the instigator for this mountain bike outing since I really missed the trails. Our original destination, Wilson River trail, was snow covered and off the menu today.  We will have to settle for cold and rainy instead.

Dave, with his shiny new Ellsworth full suspension, made the realization that his skewer for his through-axel was at home. No skewer, no ridey. We had two other riders that were meeting us at our destination to help navigate but now they would have to start the ride without us. Dave and Tony drove off to Tony’s to get a skewer. Our 9 AM departure time turned into 10 AM. No biggie. We would just find our people when we got there, right?

An hour plus later, we arrived at the tiny Growlers Gulch parking lot. 38 degrees and light rain. At least it’s not snowing. While there are maps on-line for this trail system, the trails are NOT marked because it is private property.  So, enter at your own risk.  I had been here once last February (it was snowing), with the Growlers Gulch Girls through the Northwest Trail Alliance.

Growlers Gulch Girls Feb 2012 ride

Growlers Gulch Girls Feb 2012 ride

We had a guide but I remembered it being a spider web of trails and doubted my ability to navigate them on my own after just one ride.  Tony took the lead with a plan to take each section one by one, mark 3 big lines in the dirt across the trail at each fork or maybe an arrow so we could figure out where we had been. Simple enough. Our version of bread crumbs that the birds wouldn’t eat.

The trails were in great condition, mostly sheltered from the rain under the pine tree canopy.  Undulating trails, whoop de doos, huge logs to attempt.  Letting the boys scamper ahead, we rode some of the sections in reverse of the natural flow and had to hike-a-bikeup a few short, steep sections, too slick to actually ride. Fog hung eerily and the forest was quiet. We seemed to be the only ones out riding today. Riding reverse direction was more fun because these climbs were now quick descents. The fern covered forest floor offered soft yet tacky mud and pine needle covered trails, not as fast as mid-summer would be, but still fast enough that mud bog patches were few and far between. For Mary, this was her first adventure back on the mountain bike since the bike vs. car incident a week before Alpenrose Cross Crusade. That day left her with a busted collar bone in September.  Getting our “trail legs” under us, Mary and I took the more cautious role until an hour or so in to the ride when things started to feel familiar.

Darting through the trees

Darting through the trees

We’ve gone 3 miles in one hour” says Dave.  Whew! Big difference between trail miles and road miles for sure. Our foursome bombed down damp descents, dodging small trees and launched over logs and small rhythm sections. I may have ridden around a few of the bigger logs today but I’m sure another trip out here and I would have at it. As we exit one of the loops and stop for a mid-ride snack break, Tony’s friends, a husband and wife team, appear from a descent across the service road from us.  They proceed to tell us that there is snow if we ride up towards the top and to just head up the trail they just exited. “The main service road out of here and back to your car is always on your left,” he says. I thought to myself, trails flanked both sides of the main road so at some point the road would be on your right.  He continued with an extended list of directions but our ride captain Tony made the executive decision for us to just go explore on our own and wished them happy riding.  As long as we keep track of the service road we can find our way out.

Masked man Tony and Dave

Masked man Tony and Dave

Our climb to the top turned out to be less interesting than the rest of our ride had been thus far.  A gravel double-track seemed to be the only option and there wasn’t any view accept the trees that flanked us heavily on both sides. The temperature had dropped and rain was still coming down lightly. Now that our group was more exposed, gloves and shoes were getting wetter and colder. All agreed  continuing up the road would not be very fun. Turn around and find our way back to the more fun trails and then, start heading back to the car by 2pm. I remounted my bike as we turned back and fell over in the gravel half clipped in (only crash of the day). Totally pro. My knee really hurts but I just figured it was from the gravel. Looking down after a few minutes, the blood is spreading across my black knee warmer, forming blood droplets on the surface of the fabric. All Tony could say was “awesome”. Thanks doc (he is an MD).  It is so cold out that I am hoping the bleeding will just stop on its own since my wet knee warmers are doing a good job of acting like a cold pack as we work our way back to the last trail exit point we marked. I also have to pee but I am waiting till we get back to the car because bib shorts are not ideal when it’s this cold out and I don’t feel like stripping my layers off at the moment. I’m thinking we will be back in like an hour.

More logs, twists and turns but with me leading (briefly) I miss the turn. Tony calls out, “WHOOP WHOOP” like the trail police.  Back track and we hit it again. Coming out at one of the gravel roads Dave exclaims, “We’ve been here before.” “Yup” I confirm.  Tony wasn’t quite convinced but Mary chimed in that we had indeed just gone in a big circle. We just went up a different trail and ended up right back where we started. With the hour growing late and the rain not really letting up, concensus was to skip any more ‘exploring’ , much to Tony’s displeasure, and to work our down and out.  Heading down a trial we aren’t quite sure if we’ve been on before, the plan is to get back to the car with plenty of light left.

Hike A Bike

Hike A Bike

Legs feel good so I’m solid that we should be back at the car in like 20 minutes since we are not detouring for exploration. Our small trail drops onto another gravel service road of rollers,  and things look kind of familiar but there aren’t any markers, just the random piece of garbage. Did I see that Coke can on the way up? Eventually we arrive at the open hilly field single-track and the humming power lines that loom overhead like they do at Sandy Ridge. This is where things started to go wrong. The rollers eventually open to a fork and we have to decide, right uphill or left downhill. Because there ARE so many rollers, UP could be down.  Dave’s GPS isn’t really helping find the tiny dot that is my car. Mary had told us stories today of being a lifetime member of the Girl Scouts but at the moment, our decisions are based on our gut and not a merit badge in wilderness navigation. A pick up truck passes us and we decide to go RIGHT, following down the same road. Cue ominous music. Our gravel road links to an actual paved road with a road sign. Oh no. This is NOT right.

Tony, Mary and I in 2011 Browns Camp-Not lost that day

Tony, Mary and I in 2011 Browns Camp-Not lost that day

None of us remembers seeing this street sign for Melton on our way in. The country road is dotted with small houses, expansive properties and the random batch of clucking hens. Still not in panic mode but fingers are pretty wet and cold now that we are at the mercy of the elements. We might as well have done ‘rock paper scissors’ for our directional choices. Nobody wants to climb back into the woods for fear of getting more lost so late in the day. So down the road we go, seeing there is a stop sign coming up and maybe another street sign. Short but steep, the decent is like sticking your face on a wet ice pack. At the bottom we find Delemeter road. Still no idea where we are.

Mary and Dave making decisions

Mary and Dave making decisions

Dave’s magic phone tells us that there is a road, back up the road we just descended, that will take us back to the car. Up we climb, passing the sign for Melton again, up and up until we see the power lines humming over our heads.  “We passed the turn,” says Dave. Impossible! Other than Melton, there wasn’t any road to turn on accept maybe a homestead driveway. We are standing at the top of a hill in the middle of the road in the rain trying to figure out what to do. Spotting a guy doing some work in his yard, Tony rolls down to have a conversation with the locals. It was a long one. When he makes his way back up the road to us I ask, “So, how far off are we?”  “Quite a bit.” Tony won’t say how far which means it must be A LOT. Ok, that’s fine. I have the legs to get there so just point me in that direction. Back DOWN Melton again, with the face piercing wind and rain on the descent to Delemeter.  This is a two- lane highway with a small shoulder and fast moving pick-up trucks. I am in roadie mode now, fully expecting my soggy band to form a functioning pace line. Nope, all different speeds and energy levels now. I keep shaking my fingers one hand at a time but it feels like tiny knives stabbing the palms of my hands.  Fingers hurt really bad.How I wish I had packed an extra pair of gloves. Our next turn is on Cline which is more country road with very few houses or traffic. A random dog comes bounding out of his lightly fenced yard to tell us we were in his territory but other than a few barks and some sniffs, he just let me and Dave go by without incident. I keep the thought pushed down that other than a random dog attack, a flat tire would really suck right now. Mary and Tony are in the back, Dave is riding ahead of me. Head down and get it done. We pass a guy out for a walk who smiles and shakes his head at me like we must be crazy. He said to Mary and Tony something about him HAVING to be out in this weather but why would we do it by choice. That is an excellent question sir.  I don’t know how long we were riding for but when we finally found our left turn onto PH 10, the road we had driven in on, I immediately knew we were several miles from our car at that point. Very hilly miles.The battery on my computer died so I hadn’t kept track of how far we had come. Other than Mary feeling a little under trained for all of this extra riding, I seem to be the only one that is dealing with freezing body parts. Up we climb and climb until we see the left turn onto Growlers Gulch road.  There is a side road that we almost took on our drive in but kept going to the left instead and we found the parking lot. But now that we are tired and a little punch drunk, the self-doubt creeps in. Dave and I are ahead and I am just plugging along in my granny gear with a “get to the warm car” mantra in my head.  “Are we sure this is the right way?” I ask Dave. He was starting to have doubts too. It seemed like a VERY LONG steep climb. We stopped in the road again and waited for Mary and Tony. There was enough doubt that Tony and Dave were going to head BACK down to the bottom of the climb and check out the side road just to be safe. I had about reached my breaking point. The thought of another freezing cold descent and back track combined with my screaming hands was almost too much. “If we have to go back down I am going to cry” and I was pretty close. Mary could see it on my face.  I did my best to keep the emotion and frustration in check. The boys sped down and back pretty fast and confirmed that yes, we were going the right way up the hill. Back into climbing mode, no tear shed, power up the road. Rounding the bend I see my rig in the tiny parking lot. Ughhhh. We  f@!%ing made it. Unfortunately, the climb didn’t really get me warm enough. Once the stripping of the wet clothes happened I couldn’t stop shaking. Under my wet knee warmer I found a slice of pre scarred knee flesh gone but nothing major.  Felt a lot like finishing a wet, cold cross race (Krugers anyone?). Mary announced we had done just over 20 miles. 20 FAT TIRE miles and almost 5 hrs. That is way more than any of us planned today.

Dave sent me the Strava map after the ride. We missed our turn in the woods by a tiny fraction. The quote of the day came from Mary and this is how she summed it all up; “This was still better than sitting at home on the couch”.

I’ll let you decide.

Green dot is the car

Green dot is the car-Giant loop is paved road

http://bikemountain.info/MountainBikingGrowlersGulch.html

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