The blood dripped into the bone white dust and stone of the power line trail. I hadn’t rained in days and the trail was late-July dry. The smell of hot dirt and sweat. The buzz of the high voltage strung overhead on the steel towers like other-world cicadas.
Powdery, fine, white stone dust circled in little clouds and stuck to the sweat on my legs.
I hate this trail.
This trail has been harshly torn into the landscape over many decades of wheeled abuse. It runs up the ridge, following the power lines, like some angry white dirt snake. The surface has been worn away to bedrock, sand and loose soccer ball sized chunks of rock.
The path, or road, has been washed and scraped into a concave hell-hole of loose rock and gravel. It is pinched in on the sides by briars and thorns and other forms of angry flora that offer no exit. The elevation gain is not overwhelming but the combination of terrain and crappy surface conditions make it hard to ride.
You need to find a line through the rough stones that is not impossible. You have to climb while simultaneously un-weighting and shimmying the front wheel over and around the rocks while simultaneously keeping weight on the rear wheel which is skittering, skipping and slipping in the loose gravel – killing your momentum and throwing you off balance.
I’ve never made it to the top without hiking.
Standing there watching my blood drip into the dust and inspecting my cracked phone I was annoyed that I hadn’t anything to staunch the bleeding. You bring a pump, an extra tube, a multi-tool and even a super-link to fix a broken chain but you don’t even have a scrap of paper to keep the blood from fouling up the grips and shifters.
The folks from CSI would know that I was stationary because the blood spatter was in nice round drops, not elongated like in the murder scenes.
The bike was fine. I was ok too. I got scrapped up a little and lost some skin. It was a slow speed crash. I was attempting to ride on the high right side of the trail edge and the back wheel slipped out on a round rock. I went to clip out my left foot to catch myself and knew right way it wasn’t going to clip out. I had been having problems with the left cleat.
Unfortunately for me the high-side of the concave trail bed meant a 4-5 foot drop for my great meat sack into the rocks with only my left arm to get in the way. Turns out the cleat on the shoe was loose. When I twisted my heel to clip out the cleat just rotated in the shoe.
I was only an hour and a half in to a planned four hour ride when the power lines ate me like a large bike-meat-sausage. The late July heat was up but it wasn’t a bad day. I brought some fresh peaches with me for fuel and they were wonderful. I had two bottles of half-strength Gatorade and my full water pack. I had stuffed the bottles and the pack with ice cubes before I left the house, but they were all gone now, just the residual cool remained.
The weeds and grass were high and thick where the trail wasn’t maintained. I had sections where I would be cranking along waste-high in a field with no idea what was underneath. After each of these segments I’d have to stop and pull the ticks and burrs from my Zensah calf sleeves, which I was glad to have worn to keep the raspberries and wild roses from eviscerating me.
My legs were tired from the lunges and squats I did the day before on top of a week of decent training.
I emerged from the bushes onto the rail trail in Ayer two hours in. I was still a bit sore but recovered enough from the crash. I must have been a gothic apparition for the folks recreating on the trail. Covered with dirt and blood and sweat and plant detritus from the field I had just traversed.
The skies were darkening and thunder pounded the afternoon. I took what was left of my iPhone and was going to put it in the plastic bag that the peaches were in. I quickly discovered that the remaining peach had been a victim of the crash as well and was now peach jam. I just stuffed the iPhone into the backpack with my wallet and hoped for the best. No more music for me.
Two hours in and it looks like it’s going to storm. It looks like that 40% chance of rain is going to open up and whomp me in the face. Nothing to do but keep going. If I stay in the trails the rain won’t bother me.
The crash has worn off and I’m loose.
Two and a half hours in and I’m in the Groton Town forest. The rain is steady and the front wheel of the 29er sprays sand and water up into my face and eyes. But the riding is good. Dirt roads and swooping woodland trails down by the Nashua River. I’m in my flow. Cranking and flying and feeling great. Weight and balance shifting effortlessly around the obstacles and roots.
I come out of a swoopy section and the trail closes in the wet grasses and weeds conspiring to make it disappear. I tuck into a corner and my wheels slip off the edge of the trail into nothing. I gracefully settle in a wet heap into the sedge. It was like a tiger trap where Mother Nature had conspired to hide the edge of the trail with a covering matt.
The main dirt road of the Town Forest is ghostly in the storm. They have recently harvested trees and it looks like some apocalyptic nightmare forest. They don’t take all the trees. They leave a scattered few bare and traumatized to bear witness.
It’s over three hours in and close to 30 miles of trails as I head out of the forest down the railroad tracks. There are still steel rails and a trestle bridge over the Squannacook River even thought the trains have not run through here in years.
It’s raining hard as a speed down a deserted rail trail towards Ayer center. I’m going to have to take the roads back. The drivers all think I’m crazy.
The cool steady rain fells pretty good as I crank down the back roads with a steady cadence. The front wheel throws thick sheets of water up from the standing water in the road. The water baths me, baths my bike and cleanses us. It is a great cooling baptism that washes the dirt and sweat and blood from man and machine.