Saturday, July 11: Quite an interesting day to say the least. Now we were a bit on the casual side today seeing that we just had to do the ascent of Hermit Pass, a mere 7 miles up with 5K of gain. So with that in mind, I was able to work a little longer in the morning while Judy and Bill did a coffee run. So then Judy and Bill came back and said there was a pancake breakfast at the Westcliff HS. Ok, I was game, hell, just had to ride 7 miles today….with 5K of gain right?

We go to the HS and it’s vacant? And that’s when Judy asks for the date today. “Is this the 18th,” she asked? And I tell her that today is the 11th. OK, no pancake breakfast then. 

So we go to this little diner across the street, and then wait an eternity for the food to come out. I did the Chicken fried steak with eggs and hash browns. Bill and Judy do the pancakes. But we had to be there for about an hour. I think the guy had to go out and kill a cow before he made my streak. Alright, got that done, went back to the motel and got prepped to go back to yesterday’s start point, junction of CR 159 and Hermit Rd, CR 160. Now today I was going to go with my bigger backpack, so I could get my high mt weather gear in there in addition to my bike repair gear and electronic gear. It turned out to be a fairly stout pack. And off we went. 

So we were told by a seemingly well intentioned guy yesterday that we should be able to drive the van to within a couple miles of the pass, so we were expecting to have some good support for the majority of the ride. BUT, I had my pack packed just in case. Go going, made the turn onto CR 160, Hermit Rd north, and no more than 50 pedal strokes into the road I see this monster puddle in the middle of the road. And I knew damned well that the van was going to have a bit of luck to get through there, what with the light rear end and all. I turned around and rode back to Judy and just had her park where there were some other vehicles parked for this climb. She wouldn’t sniff an inch of that road, not with the puddling on that thing she wouldn’t. Grabbed my pack, and told Judy this could be 3+ hrs, and to just sit tight. 

Bill and I took off and headed up, right from the start. Bill stopped soon thereafter for a bathroom break, and I was on my own. As soon as I went past that puddling, the road just pitched up hard, and the road was pure jeep track, all this unconsolidated rock, along with deep ruts and water flowing down the middle of the track. And I’m thinking, “what the what, how in the hell did that guy think we were even going to go a mile on this mess?” It was just brutal. You need 4WD and high clearance for the whole damned thing. Within another half mile I was bike hiking. Now I’m not a technical mt biking stud like some of my clients (you guys know who you are) but I’m a pretty good climber on back tracks. And I was in my easiest gear - the big pie plate in the back - just spinning like mad, seated and hunched down low, with my arse pressing against the seat to give the rear wheel purchase, but the pitch combined with all the loose rock, cobbles and junk, it was just impossible for me in places. 

I looked down at my garmin and I was about 1 mile into this puppy! I’m thinking, “dude you’re freaking crazy…you’ve got 6 more miles to go!” Ok, so I kind of settled myself down, talking to myself, saying, “you’ve done grunts before, and it’s time to suck it up and get this done. Even at 2 mph you can do this in just over 3 hrs.” So I just pushed the bike at about a 2.4 mph pace in my good mt biking shoes slipping and sliding on the rocks and cobbles. There were places where I could mount the bike and ride for a half mile or so, until I hit the steep sections of unconsolidated crap, and then I was back off the bike. So it was a mix of riding at like 3.4 mph, or bike hiking at 2.4 mph. And my eyes would always wander to the garmin so I could see how far I had to go, how fast I was going, and what the total time was. And I was doing the math in my head the whole time. 

There were some folks who past me on ATC’s and some people in 4WD machines, and they were creeping to. This road, errrr track, is just punishing, and they just barely were going faster than me, maybe like 5-5 mph. Only a couple times did I hit areas where the terrain was gently sloping up, and only twice did I hit a whoop de do. The rest was just unrelenting climbing, where the track doubled for a run-off stream for the snow melt. Past the 5 mile mark in 1:30 hrs, and it just seemed like I was riding and bike-hiking forever. But I kept ticking off the miles, one-tenth at a time. It was as if time was dilated, and moving ever so slowly. On the bike, off the bike, on the bike, off the bike, over and over. Past the 6 mile mark and I was beginning to think I had this licked. Around this time the gradient seemed to back off a bit and I was able to really get in like a half mile at a crack. 

And that’s when it happened….I rode to this nice less rocky side of the track to my left on a punchy little up hill and my front wheel just kind of stopped dead against a biggish rock. Time just stopped as I was balanced there for a couple seconds, and while trying to unclip my right foot I tipped over onto my left side on a slope. “BAM,” as Emeril would say! I was down on my left side. Problem was that since I was in the little cookie and pulling my right leg out of the pedal and falling, all in one motion, I came down with my inside right leg, right above the knee joint, getting raked by the big chain ring. The minute I was able to unclip my left leg so I could stand up, I saw the chuck of flesh kind of peeled back on my right leg. 

No, I did not utter the F-word heard round the world. Not this time. I was silent. I kind of knew that I screwed up, in a not so good way. My first thought was bleeding and how deep was the laceration? The bleeding was minimal, so that was good, but I had a 2-inch chunk of skin flapping, and it was down to the muscle. Ok, so I took my sweat washcloth and did a tight wrap around the flap to prevent dirt and such, and to keep the bleeding to a minimum. Then the next decision…what should I do, turn around and go straight to a med  center in Westcliff, OR since I’m within a mile of topping out finish the damned thing. Well, my decision was based on the bleeding, and my washcloth was not saturated with blood. 

I decided to finish that bastard. So on I went with this pseudo tourniquet around the top of my knee. I guess I was kind of taken by my adrenaline so there was little pain. I did my bike hike, and I’d ride, same as before. Now I got up to above Hermit Lake, and it just continued more like foot trail than 4WD. I mean the trail really narrowed out. By the time I was above Hermit Lake I’d gone the seven miles up, as all the trail guides and ATC guides had said, and I was still what looked like a mile off. That pissed me off for sure. “Ok, I’m this far, I’m going,” I muttered to myself, and on I trudged for the next .85 miles up to 13,045 feet. I took two pictures, and that sucks because I had wanted to scout out the other side for the hiking trail that junctions the pass, and I’d wanted to get the GoPro out and shoot the ascent, but that was it. I figured I’d better get down and get my butt to a med center to see into cleaning the wound and getting stitched up. 

And then the fun began. NOT. This had to be the toughest technical  descent I’ve ever done. And I’ve done a couple dillies in the Black Forest of PA, but this thing was nearly 8 miles of pure shit, of rock garden and unconsolidated rocks and boulders coming out the whazoo - non-stop - and of steep pitches where I had to hang my butt down towards the rear tire - constantly. Now I did feel my right leg gash on this bumpy soul-crusher as I bounced my way down mile after mile. I tried to hug the inside track most of the time, just to make sure that I didn’t take the outside track and then biff it and go sailing down into the pine forests below. But I had to drift from side to side just to avoid the really big cobbles and boulders. Sometimes I even rode right down in the stream in the middle of the track because that was the cleanest line. 

I think I was still on the adrenaline buzz, because I was just in a zone on this descent, wired, where I was fixated on looking ahead and steering through the maze of rocks, lightly hitting the hydraulic disk brakes, which are so touchy that one hard squeeze and you’re doing cartwheels down the track, and focusing on a soft touch on the front steering. You almost had to make your adjustments 50 feet ahead of time so that you can hit the right line without washing the wheels on a last minute move. There were a couple hold-your-breath moments, but I really felt that despite my moderate ability level on this kind of stuff, I did a pretty good job. Those miles just ticked off fast, and before I knew it I was at the 14-mile mark with just a couple miles to go. Those went nice and fast, and bingo bang I was back at the van. Total ride time was 3:36 hrs for just under 16 miles - of which only 7.8 were forward progress for American Dirt. Judy saw the rag tied around my leg and I went into the description of what happened. Took a powerade and ice water and asked them to take me to a med center in Westcliff. 

Got into town to find the med center had closed at noon. So we went to the EMS center just across the street. They told me they could call an ambulance that would take me to Salida, or we could drive. So we were planning on going that way anyway for today, this so we could go up and around the mountain range, then go south, where we could then go up to Hemit Pass from the west side to connect the two segments. So on we went, to the Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center. The drive took us an hour across some stunning terrain, including a drive along the Arkansas River west to Salida. Judy and Bill really enjoyed the drive. 

Got checked into the med center by a wonderful lady named Marybeth, and then went into the Emergency waiting room with Judy by my side. The leg really didn’t hurt that bad, it just kind of looked gnarly with a chunk of skin peeled back off the muscle. I have to say that for a very short moment back up there on the mt, I’d though about just washing and disinfecting it myself and then bandaging it up myself, but that soon evaporated when I considered the remainder of the trip it had ahead of me where I’d be sweating, riding through dirt and dust, and just taking way too many chances on getting that infected. So good sense prevailed here. 

An RN by the name of Zak came in and took a look at it, pulling the washcloth with coagulated blood from the wound. “Yup, you’ll need that stitched up,” he remarked. So we waited for a bit there, and then we were moved to one of the  rooms in the Emergency area itself. Had a few more very nice nurses come in to get my info etc, and then in came Kelly, who was doing an internship at the center. She told me she’d be doing the sewing today, under the tutelage 

of Doctor John. Took awhile because just when I came in, so to did several patients who needed attention much more than I. So our wait was about an hour. No problem though, everyone was really friendly and accommodating. Once Kelly was ready to go, she peeped me with a rinsing of the wound, followed by several injections of numbing meds to kill the pain of suturing. Then Doc John came in and supervised the suturing. I’d told them of my plans to keep riding and hiking post stitches, and asked if there was a way for them to stitch me up such that I could still be active with respect to range of motion of the leg. 

Doc John said they could do that. And really, they were just brilliant in working on getting that thing stitched up properly. Kelly was super, and Doc John was very engaging in conversation with me as he was watching the whole operative process like a hawk, offering some advice here and there on how to stitch, anchor etc. I think I even learned a thing or two just listening to them talk about how to best do the stitching for what I had to do once I left the center. And their bedside manors were awesome. Thanks to you both!!!

Now Judy had asked for a couple of restaurants in the area, and Doc John had given us his favorite, but by the time we were done it was after 6 PM. So Bill told us of the Hospital Cafeteria where he’d eaten earlier while waiting for me, so we did that just to save some time. The food was actually pretty good. Then we were back in the van cruising west on Rt 50, and then south on Rt 285 to the town of Sauguache where Bill had reserved a room at a little motel called the Big Valley Motel, close to where I have to start tomorrow to go up the west side of the mts to join up with Hermit Pass. It’s a very tiny town, but the motel is amazing. We love it. It’s so quaint and tidy, a real slice of small town American - just the way I like it. 

So that’s it. Now my sister is quite possibly going to be PO’ed at me for not calling in my injury to her, but honestly - KIM - I didn’t want to bug you or worry you. I’m A-OK. The folks at Heart of the Rockies were wonderful. My only regret is the time we lost today from my injury and the self-pay I’m going to incur for being a dumb-ass. I ended up with 9 stitches, and a prescription for an antibiotic if I begin to sense an infection coming on what with all I’ll be doing in the next three weeks. I’m planning on hiking the Rio Alto trail to Hermit Pass tomorrow, and that’s 14 miles round trip. If I can get some riding in afterwards then I will. If not, I’ll just have to suck it up and be yet another day behind. 

And so American Dirt rolls on……..