The Old Man and the Mountain Bike
A Camping Adventure in the Age of Flab
Friday, July 25, 2003
In the end, all my carefully built-up fitness disappeared, the pattern of my regular exercising having been broken because of the trip to Toronto and the extended illness which followed.
When I tried to resume it, one session of situps (which, one month earlier, I had been able to do without thinking) left me in pain for three days. Thus it was that I came out to the campground this week with my traditional flabbiness once more firmly in place.
Setting up camp actually left me feeling like I had just climbed Everest.
Then: major stupidity.
Following my fitness guru’s advice I was taking it easy, recovering from the previous day’s exertions of setting up camp. I did some minor adjustments to the front brake callipers of my mountain bike, then pedalled off to put some pop cans in the recycling bins and go over to the pay phone to tell Heather where I was.
Brochures for this park – which is new to me – advertise a 5.5 km. hiking trail nearby. “Not suitable for children,” it warned, “Allow 3.5 hours to complete.”
After making the phone call, I rode over to the trail head, curious. The path looked clear and inviting; it was even groomed with cedar chips. “My goodness!” I said, “I could bike this!”
I had biked hiking trails before. Often, on my day off, I would go to places within an easy drive of the city and ride various trails; some of them difficult, none too long or trying.
Now, with the cedar chips under my wheels, it felt almost as easy as pedalling along a paved road! Signs beside the trail depicted a hiker with a backpack and a walking stick. Was there any indication bicycles were not permitted? None that I could see.
Before long I was quite far in. No preparation. No bike helmet. No sunscreen. No water or energy bars. Indeed my bike lock – a heavy steel “U” lock – was dangling over the handlebar, clanking and banging as the trail became rougher.
The cedar chips were now left behind. Roots and rocks jarred my wheels, then an incline. I could handle it, of course.
Into low gear, up we go!
Being more and more uncertain about using a bike on this trail, I was comforted in an odd sort of way to see skid marks from some other bike that had come through here before me... as I narrowly missed a rock on the steep downhill.
I was breathing hard now, but, heck, who would want to turn back when adventure beckons? Not me! According to the brochure, the trail makes a great loop between two lakes. Going forward brings me home. Why go back?
There were moments when rolling through the deep forest with light filtering through the canopy high overhead, I felt I was the luckiest guy on earth.
Then there were the other moments.
Steep, root-snarled climbs. Rock and root infested descents. Not that difficult or dangerous to walk (“not for children,” mind you), but truly hair-raising on a bicycle.
I stopped to catch my breath.
Three young women with fishing tackle came along from the direction in which I was going. I recognized them as being from the campsite next to mine, and commented on their evident lack of fish. They lamented their day but (as two were from Germany) exulted in the marvellous and vast wilderness. They mentioned that the trail was “very long.”
I must do something about that clanking “U” lock. On rough spots – and there were more and more of them – I couldn’t concentrate on steering, braking, all the while having that thing bumping my hands. I stopped again, and attached it to my belt loop.
No more looking at the scenery; every inch of the path was an obstacle and demanded full attention.
Sucking deep breaths, I now had perspiration dripping down my face, in my eyes, and more of it running in rivers down my back.
The sun, whenever it broke through the forest canopy, was searingly hot. In the shade, if I stopped to rest, biting flies came and feasted on me.
The brochure – deceptively it seems – promised picnic sites at intervals along the trail. I would search through glazed eyes as I rounded each bend hoping to see one; longing to sit, to stretch out on a bench, to allow my racing heart to slow down.
No benches. Nothing but enormously rugged terrain with a steep forest hill to my right, and a drop through thick bushes to the lake on my left.
I would stop and sit on a rock or a log for ten minutes at a time, while my anguished breathing slowly subsided. With parched mouth, I thought ruefully of all those litres of fluid running down my back. And, after each such rest, the return to complete exhaustion came more quickly. My legs could scarce push the pedals. Each rock or root threw me, and I was so weak I couldn’t steer.
Coming down an almost normal slope I lost control and tumbled in seeming slow motion into a thicket. I lay there wondering if and where I was bleeding, completely unable to move, with visions of being found in a day or two by hikers, my fists still clenched in rigor mortis to the handlebar. Nice sudden final end for a foolish old man.
In time I recovered enough to pull myself up and dust some of the dirt off. No blood, nothing broken; just a lot of twigs in my hair.
I began to walk, pushing the bike, but my legs were so rubbery I could scarcely do even that. On moderately level places it was easier to ride than to walk, but I no longer attempted any slope, either up or down.
It seemed endless. I imagined myself drinking water. Litre after litre of it. Bathing. Above all else, sitting down. Just sitting.
C’mon, one more step. One more step. Here’s a smooth place: get up and ride. Careful! Don’t fall! Get off and walk. One more step. Sit. Let that racing heart slow down a bit. Up again. One more step.
Then: a turn, and there before me those cedar shavings grooming the path once more! I was at the beginning, the trailhead! Up on the bike, each push of the pedal feeling like it must be my last. And finally I reached the campsite with the longed for water and place to sit.
I was in bed before dark and slept through a thunderstorm, not emerging from my tent this morning until 10 a.m..
Indeed, today has been a day of sitting. On two brief attempts to walk (to the washroom) I probably looked drunk, because even after twenty-four hours my legs could scarcely hold me up. Mercifully they only hurt a little bit.
Tomorrow I pack up and return to Winnipeg. Then, Heather having finished all that is needful in her practice, we’re off to the cottage.
Next: Return to the Cottage