I got a killer deal at Performance Bike on a Panaracer FirePro XC 2.1 knobby front tire and with 30% off decided to go for broke on lightening up the front wheel and picked up a LunaLight innertube, which added just 95 more grams to the featherweight 580 gram tire. I didn't get the tire for weight though, I got it because in thick mud the WTB WeirWolf LT 2.55s just don't clean out well. The Panaracer's tread is sparse, and with good edges, so knowing I would need all the help I could get, and at about half price, I took the plunge.
I spread a 12x20 tarp, folded over twice, over the floor of the trunk and rear seats in my old car, stuffed the bike in the trunk, and headed out for Old Folsom. It's a good solution since I don't have a bike rack for the car yet. I also humped a CamelBak and duffel bag with a dry change of clothes for beer and company afterwards. We met at the Folsom rail station. Tons of free high-rise parking meant for rail commuters, but always plenty left for other uses, and a boom to business in Old Folsom.
Partners in Crime :D
With the calf tear, and re-spraining the ankle, I haven't ridden this particular trail in about a year, and haven't had the mtn bike out at all this winter, but I was a little surprised when I showed up and only knew 3 of the 16 riders. Some I knew by the many pictures MeetUp.com allows us to upload, and some I knew by reputation, but it was so nice to finally be introduced to everyone.
We all rolled out from the rail station and I realized my seat was still a little low, so I bit the bullet, stopped and raised it another inch. No problem. This is a leisurely ride and I have started as late as 20 minutes and caught the group a few miles up the trail.
Did I mention it's been a year since I last did this ride? Yeah, well about that '
Our ride leader, Marsh, has been on a mission to get in shape for a Moab mtb trek our mtb club has put together for this summer. He's dropped at least 35 lbs and has been hitting the weights, doing spin classes and even Yoga these days. I had to stop and turn around for a fallen tree blocking the trail, but still, we were almost 7 miles in before I caught up with the back of the pack. Marsh later announced this was the fastest time yet for the ride. No question in my mind.
I rested a little, trapped behind a few slow riders on single-track, but did manage to hit the Aquatic Center regroup point about 2/3 rds of the way back in the pack. I was hot and dry, and welcomed the opportunity to take a long drink and chew through some ride fuel. I was also overdressed for the pace - in part because there are some nasty thorns on this ride, and I don't want my legs and arms exposed. Even with pit zips wide open, and both front zippers half-way open, I was sweating profusely.
We took off after a 10 minute break, went over the Hazel Ave bridge and went blasting down the 30% slope of the cork-screw towards the Nimbus Dam. It's pretty flat after the dam, at least for a half-mile or so, and stank badly of horse manure. (I'm investigating having equestrian traffic halted until the rains stop because with heavy rains again last night it's pretty clear raw sewage is being washed into Lake Natoma - ICK - and both Folsom and Carmichael draw water out of the river for drinking water. Ewwwwwww) I was very happy to have that tarp at the end of the ride!
The flats ended soon enough and we started down some soggy single-track. I was testing the tires as I went, turning up the sides of the trail ruts, crashing through the middle of mud puddles, and gingerly pushing over wet rocks and roots in turns to get a feel for the grip of the tires. I was very happy at how well the tread cleaned out. Nothing adds work like lugging 10lbs of mud around on your tires. The trail was pretty sandy in this stretch, punctuated with lots and lots of 4-20 ft mud puddles at the bottom of endless rollers.
I was a bit preoccupied with this and almost crashed into the back of the leaders. They were all stopped for tree branches, or in some cases, whole trees, down across the trail. Marsh had a folding saw with him and was having a ball cutting and clearing brush. Later we all had a good breather waiting up for him as he tried to clear an 8" bough from the path. I have a folding saw myself, and think I'll bring mine next time.
It takes months of bureaucratic red tape cutting to get permission to do this kind of work legally, and in the meantime, people create new by-passes, which creates a lot of erosion problems. Quick action is so much better for all concerned. All of the government cutbacks in California are making things worse, so I hope responsible maintenance will catch on with trail users. We are the same people that do the work as volunteers anyway, so why not get it done in a timely way?
The last 4 miles we took a completely new route, at least new to me. It starts with a steep climb over a rock garden of 3-5" river rock. I have never been able to keep the tail of my hard-tail planted well enough to get up that hill, and still can't. River rock, round and smooth is a very poor choice. Any civil engineer would have spec'ed a mix of 3,1 1/2 and 3/4" crushed rock, so not sure what happened here, but we all attempted the challenge, regrouping briefly at the top of the climb.
With a long, shallow climb, this fire road continues to climb until up on a plateau, with a breathtaking view of the Rainbow Bridge over a sheer cliff. I knew the trail we were on rejoined the bike trail again 300' below, so was wondering how the trail would get us down. About that time, cruising along on the left fork, watching most of the group riding 100 yrds to the right, I looked up and realized I was 4' from going over a cliff.
The trail is well traveled, so I assumed this was not a suicide drop, but it was a real gut-check when I saw the bottom was a good 10 ft down. My brain fought panic, screaming at my stupid hands to say the hell off the brakes, as I pushed back as far as out-stretched arms and forward-rolled shoulders would allow. I was pretty sure the tires would hook up in the decomposed granite, and the 100mm Reba Race fork (the frame geometry was designed for 80mm) has been spectacular - confidence boosters as I leveled the pedals, stood up on my calves, and landed the fall as solidly as possible.
With only a slight off-balance bobble I was psyched, but looking up the trail to avoid 'look down - fall down' on the drop, I noticed the trail again disappeared from view, and I was approaching the bottom of the run-out area and visible trail quickly. There was a lightly traveled by-pass to the right, but no trail visibility there either, so I stuck with the main trail and found myself going up a 3' ramp with a little 2' kicker just a few feet past it. I didn't want to land straddling the kicker, so jumped, and went airborne.
3-4 ft off the ground, flying over a dozen feet of descending terrain, I had but one thought - 'I'm too OLD for this shit' Of course, once the pucker factor subsides, all's well that ends well. I really like this challenge, and will take that fork again on the next ride, but I did tell Marsh to warn riders about it, because this trail is advertised as advanced beginner, and on that fork, it ain't!
What followed was a long series of high-speed sand and decomposed granite (dg) surfaced single track switchbacks with lots of soggy green grass on either side to scrub off speed. The new fork added almost 2" to the wheelbase of the bike, so it's a little slow in turns, but the extra front-end height and better grip of the Panaracers allowed me to ride aggressively and make up some ground on the leaders.
Sand and dg soon gave way to mud and brush as the trail continued it's descent. Not long after the two forks merged I came around a turn with 3 riders on my tail, shouted STOP, and hit the brakes. A large 3-4ft tree was down across the trail and we all had to creep under it. Not comfortable! When I worked for the USFS I was almost killed by an identically sized tree rolling over me, so was happy to be up and riding when on the other side. That fix will need some chainsaw work.
We had a few other stops for boughs, and I fell climbing up another rock garden when my front deurailler wouldn't shift into a lower gear and the torque from my feet ripped the handlebars out of my hands. At least I was able to fall into the uphill slope so the 2 riders behind me could pass without falling.
The last important feature was a wooden bridge with a sharp uphill turn at the far side. I was anxious about it all day, because the Panaracer reviews had reported they didn't hold well on wet wood and rock. Because of the climbing turn on the far side, you really want to carry a lot of speed across the bridge, but I slowed to a modest pace, and was pleasantly surprised that the front tire hooked-up well, and gripped the wet rocks in the turn a lot better than my WeirWolfs had. In fairness, the wood wasn't all that wet, but I was relieved to have that test behind me. The truss and railing structures on the bridge, and rocks in the stream below, would make a fall pretty painful.
We ended the ride in a local cantina in Old Folsom sharing a few beers - OK, just one for me - but a nice hour getting to know my riding partners. I was especially impressed with Katie, who suffered some very serious spinal injuries in a snowboarding accident, but still pursues her love of mtn biking.
Arriving home I spent 20 minutes with the hose blasting the mud off the bike and shoes. Time to go do some laundry now, but the sun is out today after a night of more rain, and I am sore all over, but smiling with an impish grin at my little mud-fest adventure.