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Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Devils Gulch Mountain Bike Trail: Bring Lots of Water

When you wake up really early; and you have a couple of days off; and you look out the window and see nothing but blue sky; you have to get out of town and take advantage of all these things. And did I mention that I have a new mountain bike? I was sipping a cup of coffee and driving out of town by 8 a.m. I didn’t really know where I was going as I drove to the entrance of I-5. When the weather is this spectacular, you have nothing but options.

I was sorting out my possibilities as I took the 520 Bridge across Lake Washington. I looked over to my right and the sight of Mount Rainier startled me about as much as if I suddenly noticed a passenger in the seat beside me. This 14,000’ peak acts like a beacon around much of the state, but it only works in good weather. I took the clear morning as an auspicious sign for the rest of the trip.

I don’t drive this way over the mountains very often and I wasn’t exactly sure where I needed to go. I made one wrong turn and had to double-back. I stopped at an espresso stand on the side of the road and asked directions. I’m still not sure if this is the right way to go, but it would get me there sooner of later. I wasn’t in a hurry.

I needed to connect to US Highway 2, which was somewhere a bit north of here. I’m great with directions. I’m fairly competent at orienting map reading and wilderness orienting. I just hate urban driving and I rarely pay attention when someone else is driving. Wherever I was right now, it was a beautiful bit of road. Picture-perfect farms and the only cloud in the sky was about one hundred feet off the ground running the length of this plain at the foothills of the Cascades.

Highway 2 goes over Stevens Pass. This is one of the higher western passes at 4061’ and named after John F. Stevens, a Great Northern Railroad surveyor who charted the route in 1890. A railroad service road soon followed and the highway came along in 1925. Before I got to the pass on the western side, I stopped to take a picture of Mount Index, and as I pulled back on the highway I noticed a pool of water through a gap in the trees. I’ve been through this way dozens of times and I had never noticed this spot. One of my biggest complaints about Washington State is there aren’t enough cool places to swim. This pool beneath a series of waterfalls is the coolest, most beautiful spot that I have discovered thus far. I made a note of the directions (a secret) and I vowed to come back and camp here for a few days.

I had decided that I was going to ride the Devil’s Gulch mountain bike trail just south of Cashmere, Washington. I had printed out a map of the trail and I had it right here in my bag beside me. It’s right here in the stack of mountain bike trail maps. Where in the fuck is my map of Devil’s Gulch? Screw it; I sort of remembered where it was. I could wing it. I’m more of a “big picture” sort of guy; maps are for small-minded, detail-oriented folks.

It was a little before noon when I pulled into Cashmere. As soon as I did, I saw a car with two mountain bikes on the roof. I followed them to the trailhead. They were nice enough to let me look at their trail book which I scanned and memorized. I have a photographic memory. At least I thought I did. Maybe I’m out of film. How hard could it be? I got on my bike and started humping up the forest service road.

A lot of bikers choose to drive up to the top of the trail and just ride down. I guess there is no shame inn doing that. It’s still a pretty kick-ass trail just going down. I’m sort of old school and I like going up. Well, maybe “like” isn’t the correct word here, but I always ride up, and “up” today was 11 miles with an elevation gain of 3,300 feet. And it was over 85 degrees. And I didn’t have enough water. And then I took a few wrong turns.

Taking wrong turns when you are grinding up an 11 mile hill is a little like putting too many bullets in the gun when you are playing Russian roulette. I like going uphill as much as the next guy, but 3,300 feet is quite enough elevation gain for me for one ride. I must have added at least another 500 feet by taking a couple of detours.

I had my water pack with me, which normally is plenty to keep me hydrated for most rides. The problem was that I started the day with two cups of coffee and no water. I was going to stop in town and get a gallon of water and a sports drink, but if you remember I was following the other cyclists to the trailhead. I had nothing to eat so far and I was saving my only food, a Speed Gel pack (basically a tube of syrup), for when I reached the top of the trail. Water was sure to be an issue today.

What I couldn’t stop thinking about on the way up was what a strange way to have fun. I can’t explain why I keep doing this over and over. I suppose that there are a lot of things about biking that are fun: being out in the woods, solitude, exercise, and whatever else you want to throw in. When you are riding up an 11 mile hill, you have to throw pain into the fun mix.

At the very top, I took off my jersey to let it dry in the hot sun. I left my bike and hiked up a hundred yards to a spire with a commanding view of the entire Mission Ridge. I suited up and slurped down the Speed Gel thing. I had just enough water left to wash down the syrup, and then I headed down.

Devil’s Gulch isn’t a very technical descent. The trail is fairly smooth, which means that it is really fast. You can almost fly down many parts of it. My dehydration started to catch up with me, first with fairly severe leg cramps, and then with a clouded head. I had a hard time concentrating, which can be a bad thing when you are skimming down a trail with a few hundred feet drop inches away from your tires. Most of the time this kind of trail is a blast for me, but in my dehydrated state I found myself wishing that the trail could be a little bit wider in the some parts, the parts where is you slip you’d fall several hundred feet.

I had to get off my bike and work out a cramp I had in my right quad. I never, ever get cramps from bike riding. The upside to my pain was seeing two wild turkeys a few feet away. They were too immersed in the forest for me to get a picture, and the slope was way too steep for me to follow them into the trees—or maybe I was too tired to chase turkeys.

After taking another wrong turn, I finally reached the bottom. I didn’t even lift my head up to acknowledge a couple of other cyclists in the parking area. I just threw my bike on my car and drove away to find water and Gatorade. When I finally found a quickie-mart the clerk was giving me a long story about why he had to charge me 15 cents for a cup with ice. I had to restrain myself from screaming, “Shut up so I can put some fluids in my body before my veins start collapsing.”

Devil’s Gulch is thought to be one of the premier mountain bike trails in the state. It is beautiful, challenging, well-maintained, and it has a murderous ascent. As a bonus, when you have finished the trail, you can drive down to the Wenatchee River and go skinny dipping. It didn’t even feel cold on this day.

Afterward: I usually bring along a mini water filter for emergencies. I wouldn’t call this an emergency, but not having enough water can be fairly uncomfortable at best. I won’t make this mistake any time soon.

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