Despite waking late and getting out the door even later, we motored out to the Swell and were on our bikes directly. Clear skies, warm temps, light breezes--another perfect weather day on tap. Had I been offered the opportunity I don't know how I would have improved on the conditions we were gifted.
A little over an hour of constantly devolving dirt road riding delivers you to the start of the rock on Five Miles of Hell. Eric yo-yo'ed off the back for most of this, clearly having trouble getting his motor started. We were all tired from our chunkfest the previous day.
92% of the laps I've done on this trail have been counterclockwise. The one time I rode it clockwise I had such an intense gravity squall of a day that not only did I think the direction felt wrong, I was pretty sure I never wanted to come back.
But that was many, many years ago, and those I rode with that day were convinced that clockwise just rode better. Today seemed like the long overdue day to try it again.
Since we'd just ridden here a few weeks ago, with similar weather, identical bikes, and identical trail conditions, we had a near-perfect opportunity to determine if one or the other route really had an advantage.
Side note: Here more than anywhere else I find myself continually scrambling to the top of any errant knob or knoll for a better photographic perspective. I typically do this somewhat unconsciously, climbing and looking and looking and climbing until I find the scene that really grabs me. Then I twiddle a few dials, press a few buttons, and squeeze off a few rounds as my secondary subjects come into view. As they pass through the frame and continue on up the trail, I find myself not just alone but perched precariously in a place that brings my acute acrophobia to the fore. After a few intense, sweaty moments of sewing-machine-leg assisted downclimbing, I hop on the bike, motor to catch up, and not long later find myself doing it again…
I've not yet ridden here during (nor immediately after) rain or snow, and as such have no clear grasp of what happens to the traction in those circumstances. When merely sunny or cloudy, rubber grabs *this* rock like few other places I've ridden.
Pretty sure no one has ever fatbiked this trail. Pretty sure it can't be done.
Are we clinging tenaciously?
Yes, yes we are.
Eric spent the bulk of the day off the front, alone with his demons. Jeny and I sessioned as much as we thought prudent given the lateness of our start. As the ride progressed we casually discussed different sections of the trail, both rock and sand, climb and descent, and agreed on how much more rideable they seemed when ridden clockwise.
I've maintained for years that no one, no human, could ever ride this entire trail clean. Clean meaning with zero dabs. And while the handwringers in the audience might spend hours debating what the true definitions of 'clean' and 'dabs' really are, I'm content to leave it open because regardless of the words one wraps around the effort it's just never gonna come close to happening. Not just because of the deep sand, but because of the grade and relentlessness of the rock.
As we neared familiar territory we backed entirely off the pace and savored every moment. Sometimes that meant silence and serene smiles, others it meant intense, repeated effort.
Combine the richness of the rock, the light, and the company with the overall vibe of the place, and I simply didn't want to be anywhere else.
We dawdled as long as we could, often riding less than 100 meters before planting feet and re-gawking at the cloud pyrotechnics constantly morphing above.
We found Eric reclined in his minivan as the last red rays were replaced by the oncoming chill of night.