By Rita Mappe and Anne Hedonia
There you are, riding along with a companion who swears she knows the way, or at least did it once a year ago and ought to know it, and you've been on the trail three hours. Your buddy's voice grows vague. The ensuing feeling is one that every lost cyclist is familiar with: impending doom. Most of the women I know have been victims, one-time or another, of the fat tire rider's equivalent of the classic automobile tourist's cliche, whereby the (determined) husband forges ahead on unknown streets, refusing to ask directions because it might mean he's not all-knowing, leaving a (fuming) wife next to him, wishing the heck he'd roll down the window and 'fess up to a total stranger.
If this seems like a biased view, please remember that the gene that governs taking directions and admitting confusion is not found on the Y chromosome, and men are not to be blamed for their illogical behavior, merely indulged. And outlived.
Remember, every one of us has the equivalent of a non-detachable Spenco saddle pad in excess flab (read: "stored energy"), just waiting for an artificially-induced "famine" (The term "afterburners" takes on new meaning to the woman who, to her great surprise, keeps up a slow, but seemingly tireless pace long after Muddle Buns gets the "bonk").
As a veteran of this sort of ride, I have some advice to share, and some words of comfort in the form of a cautionary tale, set in Colorado, about the Marooned Belles.
Quite the opposite of Snoopy's long-labored masterpiece, it was a bright and springlike morning when the five of us set out from Crested Butte to do a reputedly easy-to-find trail behind Kebler Pass. The wildflowers were stunning, the aspens nodded, fluttering their impressionistic leaves, and we even discovered a chain of beaver-ponds. But after three hours of checking out dead-end options and somehow missing the crucial turn-off, we felt like we were being held captive in a Sierra Club calendar. Our explorer's enthusiasm had become raw, This-Ain't-No-Party fear. As in starvation, it hit each of us at different times, with the notable exception of the cool, calm and tres collected Ginny (Been There, Done That) Allen, who generally saved the day by not seeing any reason to panic.
Finally, just at dusk, we stumbled into "civilization": a clan of Oklahoma tourists holed up in their lavish backwoods retreat, playing Parcheesi.
By the time we were rescued by the Crested Butians, ten hours or more after we began, we had learned a few interesting lessons in Murphy's lesser-known corollaries. In bushwhacking, as in business, anything that can go wrong will.
Mr. Murphy's Offroad Tips for Detouring Disaster
- The Flat Tire Rule. Surprisingly, we didn't get any flat tires, but if we had, the glue in our patch kits surely would have long since evaporated. And it had been pouring, you can bet that we'd have spent a chilly hour attempting to repair a sopping wet, split-open tube.
- Gravity Math. Every minute "invested" in freewheeling down a steep, unknown trail yielded ten times the "interest" in time spent pushing back up again. There were times we dreaded going downhill, knowing what might await us at the bottom. There's nothing quite like backtracking for draining the energy from the legs. Even today, the legs seize up just thinking about it.
- Lost and Found Miles. Hunger plays tricks on your legs (one of Murphy's Corollaries states that a single "lost" mile requires the same amount of energy to cover as five "familiar" miles) and your mind. All us were considerably crabbier due to slight hunger and dehydration. Hate to say it, but suffering ten hours between meals does not constitute starvation...High-energy gorp can stave off crabbiness and hunger, but it can make you thirstier as well.
- Dress for Excess. Not one of us had forgotten to put a windbreaker in her fanny pack. We were, after all, capable riders, having a good twenty years' experience between us. But nary a one had brought pants longer than the Patagucci stand-up shorts and bike shorts that seemed so perfect that morning. Wind pants would have been smart to tote along in the High Country.
- To lessen the agony of de feet and the unease of the heart we recommend getting acquainted with The Unknown.
In future rides, note side-routes you've never tried, and one day go out with the express purpose of getting lost. Since you can't know how long you'll be gone, stuff your fanny pack 'til it bulges with well-intended fig bars, clothes, sunscreen, the whole nine yards. Then peruse the path you've never taken, follow it for a half an hour or so, and if it pops out somewhere familiar, great. If not, just return the way you came, and try another one, or return home assured that you got some solid exploration under your sweaty nylon webbing belt.
You will no doubt have packed along too much, an excellent muscle-building trick, akin to alpineers filling their backpacks with rocks. These forays can be lengthened as one becomes accustomed to the notion of having no expectations on this, of all rides.
It's a good bet you're a Type A person, even in your leisurely pursuits, or you wouldn't be reading this newsletter, right? So consider jotting down what you did, either on a map or in a notebook-for future use-though we understand that this is for the hardened fat tire fiend, and not necessary for the routine enjoyment of the outdoors.
This, our friends, is our method for coping with the inevitability of getting lost, and we hope you find some solace in the fact that we still hate it just as much as before, but now we know how to get lost.