Aug 24, 2010

Radford's Inferno

In these parts your will to win mountain bike races is measured by your willingness to ride Clarks-Radford. From 2N10 (aka Skyline Dr) in Big Bear, Clarks Grade is a twisty sandy road that descends to the sleepy settlement of 7 Oaks, which is mostly cabins and campgrounds. From there, you can travel to all kinds of places, but the most popular options on a bike are to head west to Angelus Oaks or east on 7 Oaks Rd or Converse Rd to Glass Rd, Barton Flats, or to the always fun Santa Ana River Trail. For those who like to suffer, there is another option, and that’s Camp Radford. The mostly abandoned and run-down camp located northeast of 7 Oaks is simply put, the entry way to Hell. Radford Camp Rd is a mostly exposed boney 5 mile road that leads back to 2N10 via Sugarloaf Truck Trail. Essentially, if you do the Clarks-Radford combo from Big Bear, you ride the final third of the loop with the Devil. If the relentless climb, oven-like heat, and gardens of loose stones don’t kill you, the army of gnats will drive you to tears. Just in the first couple miles of Radford Camp Rd, many have been found in the fetal position, but more than rocks and insects, Radford Camp Rd is littered with souls.

Last Saturday, me, Woody and Jeff Stanners raised our fists to the Devil and gave it a go anyway. Sorta. Instead of doing the Clarks-Radford combo from Big Bear, we began at the gateway, heading straight up Radford Camp Rd from the start. No warm-up (it was already warm enough); no opening shredding descent; basically, no fun. Our first pedal stroke was headed up, strangely, in the direction of Hell. I can testify that the experience was infinitely worse by the fact that Woody and I were pedaling… singlespeeds (insert menacing music here). Well, I wouldn’t actually call it pedaling. Stomping, is more like it. We stomped over jagged boulders, we stomped through clouds of gnats, we stomped under the searing sun, and we stomped up. Up, up, up. Meanwhile, Stanners spun. Granted, he had to spin over, through, under, and up the same Hell that we did, but let’s face it, on easy days no one ever says, “I’m gonna go for a stomp.” It’s always, “I’m gonna go for a spin.” Anyway, my point here is this: Stanners is smarter than Woody and me. The gears in his brain turn at a significantly faster rate than the gear (singular) in Woody’s or my brain.

It took roughly an hour to summit, and by that time my back felt like it had been trampled by a herd of wild horses. At the top I was swimming in sweat and couldn’t get warm, even in the summer heat. After re-grouping and gathering our composure, we headed straight to the reason for the ride: a singletrack trailhead at Grandview. Word on the web is that an old singletrack was recently fixed up and that it’s a fun descent from Big Bear to the Camp Radford area. Word on the web is only right about half the time. True, it’s fixed up, but I wouldn’t exactly call it fun. More than half of the trail is on loose hillside and only a few inches wide. I spent almost as much time traversing my way on foot as I did actually riding. It should come as no surprise that Woody, who is known to clear and clean most any obstacle, was able to roll significantly more of the trail than Stanners and me. With the way things have been going as of late, I was just happy to make it back to the car alive. The next day, however, my back was really unhappy. Although not on the same level suffering, and in a completely different circle of Hell, I got a little taste of Trish’s world on Sunday. I was confined to the couch mostly, accompanied by the comfort of a heating pad and this question in my mind: “What in the Hell were you thinking climbing Radford on a singlespeed?”

In these parts Radford Rd is a source of folklore and a place of legend. But climbing it on a singlespeed? Now that's just divine comedy.

The sign says "No Horses" because Radford Rd would kill all but the strongest of horses.

Radford Rd is hell on men, animals, and machines.

This is the easy part.

We survived the climb to see this new singletrack that starts near Grandview. It looks sweet. It's not.

Aug 3, 2010

She’s tougher than the average dude. And that means you.

This is the second attempt at writing this blog. I lost the original post because the “Blog This!” app on my Black Berry works like most Black Berry apps do - only half the time. But who am I to complain? My femur is still in one piece. On Thursday night, Tricia’s right femur was in 7 pieces. By Friday afternoon it was repaired with a rod and a bunch of other fasteners. She was released from the hospital yesterday and has started her recovery at home. She’s still in a lot of pain and discomfort, and is for the most part, bedridden until who knows when.

Thanks to everyone who has been there for her since the crash. From the first responders up on Loch Leven/Old Highway 38, to the Search and Rescue army, to all the family, friends, co-workers, and acquaintances who have visited, called, emailed, and sent texts. I’d also like to thank my parents a ton for being by our sides and watching Ryder throughout these last few days. Also thanks to Tricia’s parents who have been very supportive, patient, and have entrusted in me to take care of her while they are at home in Michigan.

What exactly happened? Well, if you haven’t already heard, here’s how it went down. On Thursday after work Trish & I decided we’d drive to Loch Leven, ride our mountain bikes up to Angelus Oaks, turn around descend back to the car, and call it a night. We made it to the top, saw for ourselves that the Angelus Oaks store was indeed out of business (again), and then started descending down old Highway 38 a few minutes after 7pm. Almost exactly a mile past the gate, where the pavement ends and the trail begins, I stopped to wait for Trish to catch up. She made it within an earshot of me, then crashed going into a right-hand off-camber corner. I didn’t see it, but I heard a thud, and then I heard that she was in a lot of pain. Luckily, I was by her side within seconds of the crash. The get-off occurred in a fairly wide section of the trail, and as far as I can tell, it looks like she may have just lost the front end in some loose dirt, over-corrected to prevent a low-side crash, and then high-sided instead. Trish and I watch that type of crash happen on MotoGP almost every week. Only this time instead of Valentino Rossi and his Yamaha hitting the gravel trap, it was Trish and her mountain bike hitting Old Highway 38.

She was conscious the entire time, but as soon as she made the first painful roll over to her left side, we could see that something wasn’t right in her right hip and femur area. Her cycling shorts were bulging out like a water balloon. She would not be nursing this one back to the car. It wasn’t a compound fracture, but awfully dang close and I feared if we moved her too much, it might turn into a compound. Neither of our phones had service (thank you Verizon and AT&T) so I rode down the trail about a quarter mile to a clearing to call 911. I made the call at 7:28pm and a good 5 minutes later, I was riding back up to be by her side, although worried that it would be a long time before anyone would reach us.

The temperature down the mountain was probably in the 80s still, but in Angelus Oaks, it was getting cold and Trish was beginning to shiver, causing her to leg to move and adding to the pain. I didn’t want to do it, but fearing she might go into shock, I time trialed it back up the hill to get a blanket from one of the houses in Angelus Oaks proper. On my way back down to Trish I dropped the blanket and as I stopped to pick it up, a fire truck pulled up. I was relieved to see them even though I knew as soon as they ran out of pavement, it was going to be slow-going getting down to where Trish lay because they‘d have to do it on foot. I gave them detailed directions of where to find us, then rode down to cover her up.

When I got back to her, she was in the same position that I had left her - with her head facing down the mountain, on her left side, and still shivering. I covered her up and then we just waited. And waited. We waited a long time. So long in fact, that just before nightfall, I decided to take one last sprint up the hill to make sure that her rescuers hadn’t taken the one and only wrong turn that they could have. I reluctantly left her laying there a third time, but knew if I didn’t make sure she was going to be saved soon, things would go from very bad to worse. About a half mile uphill from the crash site, I found three fire fighters with a backboard trying to radio the other half of their crew who was dealing with some guy who had flipped his car on Highway 38 just moments before Trish’s crash. It was a busy night for emergency medical services in Angelus Oaks.

I hate to sound ungrateful, but when the three finally did reach us, they weren’t overly prepared. Their presence was a relief, but they had only a backboard, and a somewhat simple first aid bag. They weren’t certified to give her pain killers and they couldn’t get coordinates on their GPS in order to get a helicopter in to pick her up. While I was fumbling around in the dark trying to get my Garmin to show some coordinates, we got bad news. The car crash victim up on the highway was going to get the one and only helicopter ride and due to out difficult to reach location, we were in fact going to have to carry Trish out.

It hurt Trish like I can’t imagine, but we eventually got her on to the backboard and then waited for the medics to hike down so they could get some morphine in her. Only then could we carry her out. When they finally arrived, they had the drugs, however a communication breakdown between them and the first responders saw us with morphine, but no needle. Trish was again forced to wait as the sheriff rode down on an ATV to deliver a syringe. Once the medic got the morphine into her system, the pain was dulled to a degree, and the now group of a half dozen or so rescuers could start lifting.

The process proved to be painfully slow going on foot and physically painful for Trish so after only two-tenths of a mile we put her down, shot some more morphine into her and lifted the backboard onto the back of the sheriff’s ATV. By that time there were several members of the San G. Search and Rescue squad now on site and everyone helped to slowly guide her and the ATV the rest of the way up Old Highway 38 to where the ambulance was waiting. In her horrible state, laying on the backboard, Trish looked up and recognized Phil Naman, a friend and one of the San G. Search and Rescue volunteers and said, “Hey, I know you.” It spurred my one and only laugh of the night.

When we finally arrived to where the pavement began, it looked like a scene out of the evening news; emergency vehicles with their lights flashing parked all over the side of the road and in the middle of the road too. More than 3 hours after her crash, the medics put Trish in the back of the ambulance, shot her up with more morphine, and started driving her down the mountain to Loma Linda. Even though I was there, I still have a hard time believing what she went through, and keep thinking I’m going to wake up from a bad dream. I’ve been around bad stuff on the trail before, but none as bad as this, yet she dealt with it and endured the pain as well as anyone would have or could have. I’m not sure I could have mimicked her bravery, and I know a lot of other people, whom put in the same situation would have crumbled.

Unfortunately, getting off the mountain was only the beginning. As I write this, Trish is 4 days post-op with 8 more weeks of non-weight bearing recovery ahead. I’m proud of her, yet somewhat perplexed by the fact that at least once a day since this all happened, she looks up at me from whatever bed she’s laying in at the moment, and says, “Why don’t you go ride for a couple hours.” And for all kinds of reasons, mostly amazement, I just don’t know how to respond. Then I remember how damn tough she is and think I better just do what I’m told.