I awaken to the question, “Do you want anything from McD’s?” I mumble something. I think I said Big Breakfast – not sure. I fade in and out and finally realize its time to get my lazy ass out of bed. My feet hit the ground, eyes all groggy and head still fuzzy. I meander into some clothes and wander downstairs to say hi to Lyn and the lil’ ones. It seems that Bean and Emma rule the house in the morning with iron fists and all Lyn can do is sit back and enjoy the ride, at least until nap time.
After witnessing the tyrannical twosome in action, buKit shows up with some white and red bags filled with meals on the go. Julia is there immediately to remind us that fried foods are not in our planned diet. I’m thinking they just want the fried goodness for themselves and are trying to throw us a curveball in hopes that we may give up the hash browns. Nope, we can’t let this happen. The lil’ ones can not take control like this. I hurriedly wolf down my hash brown as Julia turns her head. Whew, that was a close one. Uh-oh, it looks like Lyn didn’t make out as well as I did. Both Emma and Julia are there throwing mom a guilt trip. It could have very well worked out for them, but mom would not give in. Besides everyone is allowed a lil’ reward now and then for being good, right?
buKit and I eat the rest of our food, prep the gear, ponder about whether or not Big Jim will have his shit together. I jokingly tell buKit that we should bring extra water bottles for him and some food as I know he won’t be prepared. I bring my CYTOMAX with me as well as mix a whole camelback bladder with it. buKit and I both laugh at this comment throw the gear in the car, say adios to his family and head on down the road.
On the way to Manassas to meet Big Jim, I begin to think of past memories and trips to the Furnace. There was the first time I road there. We turned around at the swimming lake. The humidity was way up there and the temperature was unbearable. That was my first visit. The second was in a constant drizzle of rain. That time we rode the whole thing, up the fire road to Woodstock Fire tower, then back down to the Furnace trail and up over the mountain to get back to the car. After that all the trips to the Furnace sort of meld together, that is of course except for the last time I was up there.
Two years ago, I got invited out to Big Jim’s wedding. I wanted to do as much riding as possible and shipped my bike out that year as well. I hit a lot of the parks in Maryland I used to race at and then decided that I would ride the Furnace twice in one weekend. Once on the way to Jim’s wedding and the second time the day after Jim’s wedding. I had such high hopes’
Let’s just say that I didn’t get to ride the Furnace twice. Let’s just say instead, that the first ride was a fight from the very beginning to the very end. It didn’t get easier it got harder and harder as fate unfolded for me that day. I, being an experienced rider and outdoorsman, should have known better and turned around that day, but I didn’t. The day started off with rain and thunder within five minutes of the start. Also, I started the ride at 4:00pm in the middle of October. It gets dark at 6:30pm around this time of the year in Virginia.
Ten minutes into the ride, and I came to an obstacle in my path. What I didn’t realize, was that a huge storm had blown down quite a few Oak trees on the fire road ride up to the Furnace trail in the week previous to me showing up in Virginia. This resulted in me hopping off the bike every ten to fifteen minutes on the first climb to walk over 20 foot wide tree stumps that had been up-rooted from the high winds. I was wet and moving as fast as I could. Daylight was a commodity that I couldn’t spare, and I knew I could roll out the ride in a little under 2 hours if I skipped out on the fire tower climb.
So I make it to the trailhead, its 5:00pm. I’ve got 30 minutes to go till I top out and its all downhill from there. I ride very little of the trail and heft the bike and almost run to the top. Time is of the essence and there’s still 7 miles to go. I make it up there faster then I had anticipated. 5:25pm, I’m at the top. No time to rest. I steer my full suspension shred sled downward into the mist for a short distance. I come to a stop and rethink my strategy. Instead of trying to ride some death defying sections, I hike the top section of the downhill because I’m alone and I know this ride will reach out and bite you when you least expect it. So I take it easy. After five minutes of a mix of hike and bike, its all riding. It’s still difficult picking the lines with rain running over the lenses on my glasses, so I have my brakes on all the time to make sure the sludge doesn’t build up on ’em. On the way down I realize that v-brakes just don’t cut it for me anymore. I make a mental note to re-install my discs once I get back home.
The tough part of the ride is out of the way, its 6:00pm and I have half an hour to ride the last 5 miles. The trail goes from difficult to not so difficult and right around the middle it gets easier to ride, but you still have to be on top of your game. I’m thinking, it’s easing up, let’s get a move on. I let go of the brakes for the first time in 30 minutes. My fingers were cramping up and needed a short break. Well wrong time, wrong place, wrong brakes, one can only imagine what happened. Let’s just say that I went for short flight and used my right knee as a brake. This didn’t work out too well as I smacked it right up against the corner of a rock that was jutting out of the ground.
Too make a long story short, I had five miles to go and my right leg was out of commission. A 5 inch gash right on the patella made sure of that. With blood coagulating in my tights and sharp pains getting worse and worse, I managed to make it off the mountain alive. Running on adrenalin the entire time, my body crashed as soon as I got into the car. The pain kicked in and my stomach got queasy. I needed some food first if I was going to go to a hospital. Priorities right?
I stop at McDonald’s, grab a #3 in the drive-through and head back into Front Royal. I have no idea where the nearest hospital is so I stop at the first convenience store. 7-11. I hobble in and ask the lady behind the counter where the nearest hospital is. She asks me “Why?” and I point to my right leg. Well the lady must have never seen blood before because she shrieked in terror and ran into the office. A second later, I guess what you could call a manager walks out and accuses me of scaring the living bejesus out of his employee. I look at him, do the same thing (point to my knee) and he looks up with an utterly grotesque look on his face, almost as if he wanted to puke. I asked again, “Do you know where the hospital is?” He pointed down the road and said “At the second light take a left and you’ll see it on your right. Are you ok to drive?” I laugh and hobble out the door and finally make it to the hospital.
The look from the receptionist at the ER room in Front Royal was a classic one. I walked up with a bag of McDonald’s in my hands, legs covered in mud, the right one looking more like clay as the mud and blood had oozed together for over an hour or so. She asked me if she could help me and I told her I had a laceration that would need cleaning suturing and I would need a few scripts to get me through the next few days. She nearly gags when she looked over the check-in counter at the mess on my leg. “You’ve done this before huh?” She says shaking her head back and forth in disapproval.
Needless to say I survived my battle with the Furnace that day, barely. A lot of things could have gone worse, but I learned a lesson that day.
Fade in, Fade out.
Go back to a month before I come out to Virginia. I’m talking with buKit on AIM. “What kind of ride is the Furnace?” he asks.
I tell him: “It’s fun. It’s a great ride. It will make you hate yourself.”
I typed this out while thinking about my most recent adventure/nightmare on the Mountain.
Fade in, Fade out/
Back to the present.
Manassas, molassess whoo hoo. We meet Big Jim at the Cracker Barrel. His bike is in pieces and I have the luxury of putting it together for him. Fortunately, he has one more errand to run which makes the operation much easier. Amazingly Jim has a stand and all the necessary tools to get his rig back together. It’s also fortunate that I was the last monkey to work on his rig so I know what I am up against. Granted its been five years since I worked on it, but for those five years it sat in his garage since someone stole his rear wheel off the bike one night. I built that wheel for him too. Jim takes off, and I frantically start piecing his bike back together.
After a short while, Jim shows back up, to find his bike completely together and ready to go. It took about 10 minutes to rejuvenate the Jamis Dakar. Damn I’m good – I know I have an ego – let me pet it will you.
After a lil’ discussion of what gear he has at his disposal, we realize that my guess of Big Jim being unprepared was right. He had one water bottle and 4 or 5 Gu’s that expired in 1998. buKit and I take stock and find everything we need to get Big Jim through the ride. Lucky bastard he is to have friends like us. Well, it’s off to the Furnace.
We arrive and park at the family camping area. Get the gear and bikes all together and off we go. buKit is right, from the very get go, you climb, then you climb some more and some more and more and more and more’
I figure that I’ll take it easy and let them get their groove on. Being that I live in Boulder, Colorado, this climb is a cake walk compared to the likes of the Lefthand Canyon, Jamestown, and Logan Mill climbs. Even more of a challenge are the rides in Crested Butte – Teocalli Ridge, Deer Creek, 403, 401. The list goes on and on. Mountain biking in Colorado is a bit different than mountain biking in Virginia. Unless you want to drive to a park to go mountain biking in Boulder, you have to spend a minimum of 2 hours climbing up at least 7-18 miles of 5-15 degree pitch roads. The reward in Colorado for such feats, is the same length of downhill on the other side. Jim knows this as he came out one year and rode with me at Crested Butte for a few days.
Jim is off in the lead, which is amazing since he hasn’t ridden in over 5 years. buKit is right behind him and I was bringing up the rear when all of a sudden I just fall over into the drainage ditch on the side of the fire road. Yeah, yeah I know. Big Mtn. Biker Nature is caught off guard and thrown from his bike on what seems to be the easiest part of the ride. I have to get it out of the way some time, right? Jim and buKit wait up for me and we roll on. After about 45 minutes of fire road and 15 minutes of rock garden riding we end up at a crossroads. I look at Jim, he looks at me and I say, “It’s your call. Up or Over?” Jim complained a lil’ bit, buKit sat there as if the climb had confused him, and I assure Jim we should complete the classic and he gives in.
Off to the Woodstock Fire Tower we pedal. The ride out is rolling fireroad with tons of great tempo. I sit behind the big boys and let them enjoy their time in the lead as I know the big climb is coming. Next intersection we head left and climb some more. buKit looks over at me at one point and says “Are we almost there?” I laugh a little and say nope – close – but not yet.
I’ll leave it up to you to imagine what he mumbled under his breath. So I dilly dallied around, sprinted a few yards uphill for fun and started to lead for the first time since we were out. We get to the one mile marker and I pull over on an island built in a turn on the road, grab a Clifshot and munch on some granola. We take a small break and wait ’till everyone is ready to go. As we get-a-going again, buKit asks me one more time if we are almost there. I point out the sign which reads Woodstock Tower, 1 Mile. buKit seems relieved, but I tell him it is a bit of a climb. I slow down and let buKit take the lead. I look behind me and Big Jim is falling back pretty fast. I slow pedal until he catches me and then pull on up behind him and give him a helping hand.
You see, in the Tour de France, the sprinters have the toughest time getting over the Alps (they are not built for long climbs), and teammates will come out of the pack to help them get through the day’s stage in the time allotted. They do this by pushing the rider from behind. Well Jim got a mile push from me and as we were working together I realized I had to leave him behind soon to head back up to buKit and give him some moral support. I left Jim and told him I’d see him at the top. A few hard sprinting pedal strokes and I’ve nearly caught the buKit again. Ten feet before I catch him, he stops and puts a foot down. This is the first time I have seen buKit try to take a break in mid-climb. Being that he is training for the TDH, I pull right up behind him and say sternly “NO STOPPING!”
I guess I must have surprised him a lil’ because he popped right back into his pedal and started on the finish of the climb. I look down at the buKit and notice he’s in the small ring, so I slow pedal next to him to keep his mind off the pain. Well I guess my gesture of good teamwork must have gotten to him. He looked own at my cranks and noticed I was working the big ring up the climb. I heard the words, ‘bastard, bitch, Colorado,’ and something about home. I laughed and popped a few pedal strokes and lead the way to the top. I wanted to give buKit a sense of accomplishment so I kept him within ten yards of me all the way to the top. Once we got up there, I noticed Big Jim was out of sight. I pointed out the fire tower trail to buKit and told him I was going back down to help Jim.
Once all of us were at the top, we took in the view, dropped a few water bottles, ate a few bits of food and then rousted the rigs to head on back to the ride. We geared up for a bombing fire road run. You see, the only way back to the Furnace trail is down the way we came. So we get going and we are flying. I tried to lead but I don’t have the weight to fly like Jim and buKit. Those boys flew on by me at warp speed. I felt a huge wind go by as they parted the dirt in front of me. We finally arrived back at the original crossroads where Jim and I made the decision to hit the fire tower. All of us are there so we continue on. The fire road continues for another five miles or so, and gets rockier and rockier the closer we get to the Furnace trail.
Finally, we pass the reservoir and come to the trail head. I wish buKit had taken a picture of the trail post and the beginning of the trail. Its one of the most forbidding trail entrances I have ever seen. It looks at you and smiles like it wants to snag a part of your leg or gear as you head in. I guess that day you could compare it to the entrance of Mirkwood, but without all the spiders and elves running around. Jim immediately lets us know he is running out of steam and will be hiking a majority of the trail up to the top. buKit looks at me with a look of astonishment, like, “what have you gotten me into?!?”
I let him know there are some hike-a-bike sections and it shouldn’t be anymore then 30 minutes to the top. I head off and ride. I ride with devotion, commitment and balls. Some of the stuff I’m riding over, shouldn’t even be hiked through without sure footing. The trail never lets up either – it gets rockier and rockier and rockier. I have to hump the bike through a few sections here and there, but persist in riding as much of the trail as I can. At one time I wait on the saddle, clipped in and holding onto a tree on the side of the trail to make sure my boys are still back there. Clunk, knock, knock, knock, clunk. Here comes buKit. Once he is in sight I know Jim can’t be too far behind him, so I pedal off through a pretty rough section. Actually it was the section of the trail that buKit stopped and took a picture of. I get to the top after four switchbacks and patiently wait for my companions. While waiting I notice the time and start praying that the boys are gonna hurry the pace a little.
I hear another rock falling down the trail and some more clunking and crank bashing, buKit’s coming. Arriving in the saddle is a tired and worn out buKit. He looks at me with a grimacing look of being out of breath and says “That is NOT a trail. That is a geologic formation put there to remind us as humans that we are weak and frail in relation to the power of nature.” I look at him and laugh while saying, “The power of nature, or the power of Nature?”
Jim arrives and we sit for a few more minutes. It’s all downhill now. Time to take it easy, sit back and enjoy the ride for what it is, technical, fun and dangerous. We walk and bike, bike and hike. Tripod a few sections and then ride to the bottom. All said, the buKit hit the deck once and Big Jim flew over the bars three times. Both times the boys went airborne they were right behind me. We were grooving some super technical sections and I should have told them to give themselves a lil’ more room, but I was in a zone. First buKit went over. He was right behind me and I could hear his freewheel. Then all of a sudden everything got very quiet. I doubled back and Jim had helped the buKit regain his composure and we were off again. Next it was Jim’s turn to give flight a chance. Usually when Jim gets ejected I can feel the ground tremble when he hits. I must have been flying cause I didn’t hear him, see him, or feel him hit the ground. Just like buKit’s crash, one minute I could hear his freewheel and the next it was gone.
All in all we had a total of 5 crashes. Me on the fire road, buKit on the downhill once and Jim 3 times. The most spectacular of all was witnessed by buKit. He said that Big Jim just literally flew off the side of the mountain, rolled a few times and got back up on his bike and rode it out. Fortunately the only thing the mountain claimed was a few bits of gear and a few broken blood vessels which turned into bruises.
I have to admit, Big Jim never ceases to amaze me. It had been five years since his butt saw a saddle and he hung in there. He made it in style and hung with me like old times.
The year he came out to Crested Butte did the same thing. But he’s not young anymore and I was a little worried.
And then there’s buKit. The last time I rode with him was at Wakefield Park, shortly before I left Virginia in the cover of darkness for Colorado. buKit was 250 lbs. and had a brand new Ziggurat which he scored while he was working with me at the Alexandria Bikes USA. It had been years since I had ridden with him and I had hoped in the back of my mind that me leaving Virginia would not de-motivate him from riding anymore. Quite the contrary. He has taken his time on the bike and used it well. He has made a great rider out of himself and I would be honored to ride anywhere, anytime with him. Whether it be by my side, in front of me or bonking behind me, I am glad I turned buKit into a mountain biking fanatic. It’s a whole different lifestyle and one he embraces. Pass the love along to another and you will continue the legacy. buKit you are a strong rider and will only get better with age. Take advantage of the opportunity I set up for you with Lee at Performance, he’ll teach you well my young Padawan.
I have to thank my parents, my friends and especially Lyn and buKit for putting up with me and offering me their homes to eat, stay and hang at. I will make another trip out soon, as life changes and life decisions must be made. Family is more important to me than anything else right now and my friends buKit, Big Jim, Lyn, Lee Umali and many more are now considered part of my immediate family.
God’s speed and pedal with you soon. Long live long rides.
PS: If anyone wants to get a hold of me and catch up on old times, as I know a lot of the LYH gang reads the buKitzone, my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.