It felt like we were descending into the darkest depths of middle earth. I fully expected to pass sea-level at any moment. We started the morning in 34 degree sunshine, freezing but happy to be riding. Descending more than 2,000 feet, we passed through the cloud layer we once looked down on, into a gloomy murk which revealed amazingly steep (and deep!) canyons. We continued going down, down, down and could pick out small streams that had cut these “Lord of the Rings”-esque ravines over the last few thousand years.
Mark was cursing himself for forgetting his leg warmers. My fingers were numb within my neoprene winter gloves. Finally, we arrived at the low point of the trail, but still not the bottom of the ravine. We peered over the edge; it was still another 1,000 feet to the bottom at least. Yikes!
We settled into a rhythm climbing slowly but steadily. We would be climbing for the next 12 miles. At some point on a fire road, a pickup truck rolled past us. The occupants were decked out in their best camouflage gear and the reek of cigarette smoke was thick. “You boys seen any turkeys?” they asked. Choking down the obvious jokes (ie: “Not until now!”), we replied in the negative and they motored on. Later we saw some turkeys and I tried to mentally warn them to stay out of sight today.
We climbed and climbed, back through the clouds and into the bright but chilly sunshine. We didn’t mind the cold anymore and kept going up. We spent a total of 2 hours climbing to a new high point, about 600 feet higher than we started that morning.
At the end of the day, as I enjoyed my slice of apple pie in front of the Julian Pie Company, I figured that we had covered 43 miles and climbed 5,873 vertical feet. This was (by far) the farthest I have ever pedaled my mountain bike in a single day. The funny thing is that it’s only the first half of the Julian Death March, which Mark and I are racing next month. Mark and I are going to preview the second half this coming Saturday. It should be about the same distance and elevation gain. “The second half” – that makes me smile for some reason.