Wednesday, April 5, 2017

April 5, 2017 -- Day Five of A thousand Words A Day in April

Continued from Day 4

April 5, 2017
Hypothermia is a real concern for those of us who like to go outside and play and it only takes the body dropping below 95 F for it to set in. I had been reasonably sure I’d make it back to camp being only mildly uncomfortable before the wind kicked in. Now that the wind was blowing almost too hard for me to pedal into, and was bringing with it air cooled from the snowy slopes of the 13,000 ft.  La Sal Mountains, I was a good bit more worried about the possibility of hypothermia. I remembered seeing a hoody in a wash a mile or so back, when I was just beginning to worry about how much further there was to go. I’d come barreling down from a dome into a sand pit corduroyed by the wind and a zillion other bikes pushed through. I had to dismount and push my bike through the deep sand and that’s when I’d spotted the hoody. It was wadded and half covered in red dirt and looked small, like maybe a child’s size small. I’m small enough to fit in some children’s clothing, and it crossed my mind that maybe I oughta grab that thing, shake it out and wear it despite its complete question mark of an origin. Like maybe it wasn’t a lost hoody, but a discarded one, possibly because it had something on it too yucky to shake out. It occurred to me briefly that even wearing a hoody with someone else’s vomit on it might be better than no hoody at all if the weather turned.

The weather had turned. I briefly considered going back to see if I could even find the hoody, but my gut said, don’t backtrack, get going. So that’s what I did. I stopped briefly if I came across a spot with little wind so I could try to call Darren and tell him what was going on, but the only places blocked from the wind were between solid sandstone domes or canyons with no cell service. At one point I’d reached the top of a scoured dome and as I was heading down the backside of it, I was blasted by a gust of wind that literally knocked my bike out from under me. I managed to jump off, and then catch the bike before it tumbled down. I half ran, half walked down, using the bike’s breaks and tires to keep us stable on the way down. I jumped back on and started pedaling, and as I started heading back up yet another dome, I tried to shift into a gear that would let me spin a little easier, but when I did that, my derailer, a sort of chicken wing cog that moves the chain closer together or farther apart, was bent and poked into my spokes and stopped the tire from turning. I hopped off, wind howling, really not having time for this latest development and I saw the problem. A little panic set in. I reached down and tried to bend it out as much as I could, but I was worried I might actually break it off and make it impossible to ride. I tried to switch the gears back to where they had been before, where I could at least still ride the bike down hills, even if I had to push the bike up them. I pressed gears, lifted the back wheel off and turned the pedals until I found the gear that would still allow the rear tire to turn. That was comforting. Somewhat.
But that’s exactly what I did from then on. I walked, ran up the domes pushing the bike in front of me, using the breaks and the sticky rubber tires to keep us both from sliding down the steep hills, then at the top, wind howling full in my face, I hopped back in the seat and road down. I thought of a technique I’d heard about (and had actually used a couple of times in my deep past) where Tibetan monks meditated in their sparse robes sitting a top snow banks by stoking the fire of their inner chi. I was no expert and maybe I’m longer on imagination than chi, but it worked back then and it at least moderately helped on this trek. I was freezing and had nothing to lose so I started chanting to myself, “Firebelly. Firebelly. Firebelly.” After a few minutes I thought I detected a slight warming of my body. Or maybe hypothermia was setting in. I decided to believe in the technique and so I kept chanting, sometimes I screamed it into the wind, “FIREBELLY! FIREBELLY! FIREBELLY!”
I passed the 1 mile marker painted on the sandstone. One mile to go. “FIREBELLY!” I growled. I know it sounds crazy, and if I actually thought more people were reading this, I might be a little embarrassed. Maybe. “FIREBELLY!!” Shortly after the 1 mile marker I could see the hill that rises up just before the parking lot. Less than a mile to go. I saw two other bikers beating it to the parking lot, and then saw one biker who was riding out on the trail in my direction. I thought, “Who in the world is coming out here now???” And then I recognized the blue helmet, the blue bike, the uber concerned look on the most handsomest man in the world’s face. It was Darren. I don’t think I’ve ever been so glad to see anyone. Nor him. He saw me and I smiled through my frozen cheeks, “CAN I HAVE YOUR COAT??” I yelled over the wind through chattering teeth. He looked like a man who had been back at a campsite with a little girl while both of them sat worrying about where Mommy was for way too long. He untied my own jacket he’d brought with him. He offered to push my bike up the steep hill. “I am sooooo glad to see you.” I said. Before we reached the trail head, a group of five or six bikers wearing down coats rode past us. I thought about the other bikers I’d passed before the weather turned. I’d assumed they’d all turned back since I hadn’t seen them, but the people who just rode passed us had looks like the one Darren had worn when I first saw him. Intense worry for loved ones. I hope they’re okay.
When we got back to the parking lot, Nila was sitting in the truck with the same kind of expression Darren had worn, and way too young to be wearing it. She threw her arms around me and started crying, “Mommy I was so worried about you.” She cried.

“I’m so sorry baby. I’m sorry I made you worry. Mommy’s okay now.” We were still hugging when Darren came up to the car and said, “Are you okay with us giving these unicyclers a ride into town?” The Unicyclers had made it back. They climbed in, red cheeked and shaky, like they had their own wide eyed adventure tale to tell. I remain immensely impressed by them, but I didn’t go into town with them. I asked Darren to come back with a pizza and I went back to the camper, cranked up the heat and ate a bag of cookies, a bag of popcorn, a bag of cheese crackers….

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