As I approached the California Street Bridge on my way to work I stopped to take a photo. Through the trees I could see the bridge outline with pink colors of the morning sky and the beauty captured me. I snapped off a quick shot and headed to work. Crossing the bridge I thought ahead to tonight’s plans. I was hoping to do a quick core session at home and ride to the Bridge Pizza to meet up with my friend Jill for a couple slices.
“Another beautiful cold day … So are you interested in riding tonight”, the message rolls across my screen. It was lunch time at work and I was reading my messages. This one was from Jill. I contemplated a second and made my decision.
My decision took into account that I needed to move back my training plans until later that night. This didn’t seem like to big of a deal. The other things to consider is that I was not equipped for a mountain bike ride. But I did have my booties, facemask, goggles, and cold weather gloves. I would leave work and chase her down. Jill on her pugsley would start about 10 minutes ahead of me. I thought I could do it. The ride would be fun and this would be the first time I have actually seen her in daylight since last year.
I approach the hill and don’t see anyone on a pugsley climbing. I am thinking I beat her to the trailhead. As I approach the steep hill I look up and nothing, I look back, no pugsley pedaling friend. I geared down and started out slowly. I needed to keep things on the down low because I was tired from the previous day’s intervals and I had a core session in the pain lab later on. I started thinking ahead to the pizza we were going to be devouring a little later.
The sun was still out but barely. I had to stop a few times to get some photos. As I neared the first gate I spotted fat tire bike tracks. Shoot she was already up the climb. I looked ahead but saw no magical figure riding a pugsley. Was she really up there?
As I neared the steepest part of the climb I ran into a familiar face. I closed my eyes and took a re-look. Yep. It was Norman. I searched my brain for my schedule. Lets see what day is it? No … no … it was not Thursday night. I hadn’t planned a hike with Norman. A greeting followed and he told me that Jill was on top of the climb already. Oh yea, I was supposed to catch up. How in the heck did she get up there so fast I wondered. I took off my coat exposing my office “outfit” and pants stuffed with garbage bags.
“Expecting to drain the sweat”, Norman asked referring to my garbage bags.
“No, its to keep the boys from freezing. I am just wearing my work clothes and have nothing on underneath except some tighty-whiteies”
I start up the climb again and think I’ll catch her just around the bend. The bend came and no pugsley riding figure. It was if I was chasing a ghost. I saw the tracks but no rider.
All I see is snow covered hillsides with a ribbon of double track leading to the far side. I felt hungry, under dressed, un prepared mentally for anything over two hours. I made plans to ride to the first intersection and then back to hit the Bridge Pizza around 7. My mind drifted as I felt a slight nervousness about not having any water to drink.
I picked up the pace and started hammering the side hill single track. I couldn’t believe the great conditions. Suddenly, just like that, I was smashing into the hard frozen trail and a searing pain shot up my shoulder blade. I had hit some glare ice which was hard to see because it was dark now and I didn’t have much for a headlamp. I tried to get up but three times I fell back down each time utilizing a different part of my body. One must spread out the bruising. Right? I was wearing booties with zero traction on ice, snow, or anything remotely slick.
I thought back to the last time I was out on this stretch with such a dim light. It was with a ride with Alden the night I lost him out here. I shuttered. THAT will never happen again. Shaken I powered up to the Crazy Canyon Road trying to forget the images of myself searching through the bushes alongside the trail with a dimming headlamp looking for my friend. I almost called out … “Alden”. I remember thinking the worse. One minute he was behind me and the next gone.
I made a decision to turn around. Only because my shoulder hurt and I was hungry. I looked at my gps and noted that if I started back now I could be at the bridge by 7. I didn’t think I could catch the ghost rider ahead of me and who knows I was not even sure it was who I thought it was. I was confused a little as I turned around and bumped slowly back the way I came.
The ride back out of the woods was harder then coming in. I bounced along and was thrown off the bike a couple times. I kept thinking the ghost rider would be coming along behind me if I just kept going slow enough. Just as I was doing when Alden disappeared about 4 years ago.
I made it back all the way to the top of the final decent into town and I stopped. I didn’t know why but I started to worry. Maybe it was all this thinking about what had happened 4 years ago. Maybe it was because my friend had reported to be slightly sick. I don’t know but I decided to climb up on the bank and wait for a light to appear on the horizon back towards where I just emerged from the woods. I ripped open a pop tart that I found in the bottom of my camel back and wolfed it down. Boy ! Was I hungry.
And I waited. I needed to go back. I would just head back slow and wait for the headlamp. Wait to see if my friend was alright. As I rode I began to go faster. What if he fell down and hit his head. I rode faster. NO! Stupid! That was four years ago … no one was lost or needed help out here. Still though I felt driven to slowly walk back to where I turned around. This time I would follow the tracks until I found who was making them. Who would I find at the end of those fat tracks?
I didn’t get far up crazy canyon climb when I saw two fat tracks. Obviously one going up and one coming down. I turned around and returned to the intersection, Sure enough someone had come down and returned by going down to the Pattee Canyon Road. I was relieved because I wanted to go back to town. I wanted to go back fast. I wanted some pizza damn it.
No, tonight was not like that night 4 years ago when I thought I lost Alden and searched the woods through the night. But just like then tonight my friend had taken another route home. I pulled up my face mask and put it in the big ring. I would be home soon.