Tuesday, October 13, 2009

the mountain bike trail

I was camping deep in the Wenatchee National Forest. A ranger told me about a bike trail that leads to a lake. He said it was a popular trail, about 3 miles long. He gave me directions and showed me the trail on a map, which he also gave me. I noticed a green dot on the trail. I looked at the key at the bottom of the map, and the green dot was labeled "easiest". He confirmed it for me. He was very helpful. Since he gave me directions, I left the map in my car.

I started the trail at 9:30 a.m., and it was pretty easy heading into the woods. But once the trail hit the woods, it got tougher. Next thing I know, I'm carrying my bike up a mountain. The path got so narrow, that I couldn't even walk the bike next to me half the time. The trail looked like it hadn't seen a person in years. The only tracks I saw were either the biggest dog prints I've ever seen, or cougars'. I kept stopping and listening for cougars and bears, planning my defense. I thought the ranger had sent me up here as a joke. But I remember the map said "easiest". At 11:00 a.m. I started thinking about quitting. If this trail was three miles long, then I was climbing at less than two miles an hour at this point with no end in sight. That couldn't be right. But I kept stopping, so it was possible. I kept stopping to listen for cougars and bears and now psychotic, rapist park rangers, because this was no joke. That ranger sent me up here so his other psychotic, rapist park ranger buddies could pull a "Deliverance" party on me. Then I started thinking about the map again…"easiest", not "easy", just "easiest". What if this is what they considered easiest? Then if I quit, I'm a pussy. So I gave up all thought of turning around and going back, even when I started passing snow. Let me make that clear: SNOW! It was in the middle of July. How high was I climbing?

At 12:00 p.m. I abandon my bike for a stick because I know cougars are afraid of sticks. As far as I know, cougars aren't afraid of bikes. Besides, there were now fallen trees lying across the almost invisible trail. The trail would disappear, and then reappear ten or twenty yards away. I was becoming really frightened. I was alone out there on a god-forsaken trail that had been neglected for who knows how long, and probably because too many people got eaten by cougars trying to find this lake. But I couldn't stop, and for two reasons: "easiest" and "lake." I was going to reach that lake or die a horrible bloody death trying.

At 12:30 p.m. the trail started going downhill. At first, I just thought I was in a little valley on the trail or something. But the trail kept going downhill. Then I really got scared. I must have lost the trail somewhere, and now I'm on some cougar's driveway leading me straight to his house. I went on for another five minutes before the visions of my shredded corpse overwhelmed me and I turned back. Fuck "easiest", and fuck "lake"! I was getting out of there.
I climbed back up the trail, and eventually down the other side. I was so afraid that I was being stalked by a cougar, that I was stopping ever hundred feet or so to listen. Every rustle was a cougar, every crack of a twig. I was sure I was going to die on this mountain alone. And it would be a week before anyone knew I was missing, and months before they found what was left of my body.
I was descending the trail as fast as I could. But I kept losing it, and I'd have to find it again. I was exhausted. I started worrying about my bike. Had I missed it somehow? Everything looked the same. The trees all looked the same. The rocks all looked the same. I started thinking "why did I put the bike where it would be on my lazy-eye side? I probably walked right past it." I checked my watch and decided that if I didn't run across my bike in the next ten minutes, I was going back up the trail (I might have cried a little bit at that thought. It was probably sweat in my eyes, but it might also have been tears). I found my bike five minutes later.
I didn't realize how steep the trail was until I stared riding my bike back down. I was flying. I was riding both brakes with white knuckles, and I was still flying. I couldn't always stop the bike completely. When I would get to a tree in the path, or a ditch, a couple of times I had to slow the bike down as much as I could then jump off. A few times I didn't have to jump off. I must have wiped out five or six times not counting the bail-outs. I was afraid my brakes would wear out completely and I was going to fly off the side of the mountain on one of the dozen "switch-backs". But I didn't. I came flying off that mountain like it was on fire. Like something were chasing me; which I half believed. There were a couple of spots I should have carried the bike that I didn't because I was so paranoid that I would be mauled by a cougar the moment I stopped and rested. I knew it wasn't a bear, because I was flying downhill and bears don't run downhill. I came shooting out of those woods like a kid out the bottom of a water slide. I'd never been so happy to see my car in my life. I lied in the freezing river for five minutes probably, until I couldn't feel my toes any more. Ten minutes later, I was the hell out of there. And whom did I run into on my way out of the parking lot? That's right: my friendly park ranger. I told him about my little adventure, and that his gang bang buddies must have missed me somehow. Before I could finish, he told me I took the wrong trail. I was on the wrong side of the campgrounds. I looked at the map, and sure enough there were two trails leading out of that campground. One to a lake that was three miles long marked with the level "easiest", and one that was five miles long that connected with another trail on the other side of the mountain, and no lake, marked "most difficult".
If I had any energy left in my body, I would have gone back to see what "easiest" really meant. I would have murdered the park ranger for not warning me or posting any signs, then I would have gone up the "easiest" trail. Who puts two trails that are so different so close together and then doesn't mark them with a sign? That's like putting the "Bunny Hill" right next to the "Kamikaze Dive" and not marking them with so much as a couple of wooden arrows. Some one's going to get killed. I'm sure it would be hilarious, but it could have been me, and that is NOT hilarious. I should write them a letter.

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