A Bad Ride, A Good Adventure

The sign read “BRIDGE OUT,” and two tall, orange traffic cones blocked the way. Google Maps flickered and rerouted to a dirt road off to the right. This dirt road had a name, which was encouraging, but it also had a class, which was IV. If Owen was nervous, he didn’t say so.

We’d set out from a big family vacation to find some mountain biking, just the two of us. A state park 20 minutes away had Trailforks reviews and a discernible trail map, so the bridge being out and the jeep track that led off into the trees felt like a minor detour, not a real obstacle.

We were still a few miles from the state park though.

The car bucked and churned along, the bikes on the rack bouncing around in the rearview mirror. Every time we came to a spot that looked sketchy, I slowed down but kept rolling, hoping the road would hold up until we reached the park. Then we came to a bridge that looked much the worse for wear.

I stopped the car and got out.

The bridge was clearly rotting through in spots. I walked across it, stomping as I went. Bits of it fell away into the deep ditch below. Not driveable. No way. We were still a little over a mile from the park.

I proposed to Owen that we back up to the last wide spot in the “road,” park the car, and ride the rest of the way. My fear, unspoken, was that the road only climbed from here, that we were starting on a serious incline and would be deep in the red from GO. But, he was game. I love that kid.

Up we went, back to the bridge, carefully across it, and then up some more. The road got softer, muddier and rockier. Even if we’d made it over the bridge in the car, there wasn’t a lot more navigable doubletrack. Some of it wasn’t even rideable.

I kept glancing back over my shoulder to confirm Owen was still there and still willing. He’s off to college in a couple months and I’m not trying to create another “Dad made me do it.” memory for him. Given how little mountain biking he’s done, I was honestly impressed with his ability to keep up. Young legs.

On and on we went, around a sweeping curve, a dazzling stretch of classic, New England low-flow mountain biking. And then I saw an arrow nailed to a tree. AHA!! A trail maybe. Or an indicator that real trails might be nearby. I feared that if I didn’t get Owen a little fun soon, the ride would be over. I’d already told him twice that if it went on like this we could just bomb back down the car, feel happy with a well-earned descent, and go back to the vacation house.

The arrowed route led to a powerline cut and more climbing. Here the riding was slightly easier, drier, but no more promising. We stopped to confer on strategy, to keep going or not, and promptly found ourselves crawling with ticks. Tall grass and bright sun are a beguiling combination if you’re a hungry Ixodes Scapularis. We spent a minute there picking them out of our leg hair and trying to suppress the heebie jeebies.

I’d all but given up on the ride by then. We were both sweating hard, had been in the red since we left the car, and were no closer to finding the trail system than we’d been when we set off. Owen agreed that a hasty retreat was worth beating.

The good news is that down is much easier than up, so we were back to the arrowed tree in a minute, and that’s when I spied a sign further along that looked promising. I told Owen to wait while I checked it out and promptly discovered the state park.

I called Owen down the trail, and we pushed on, into the park.

It’s tempting to guess that it all came good at that point, but temptation often leads to disappointment. The way into the state park was no better than the sodden dirt road we’d been on thus far. If possible, it was wetter, muddier and more crawling with aggressive insect potential. I watched Owen put his leg nearly knee deep in a mud puddle, and that’s when I knew we were done.

Just then an old woman in full mosquito netting emerged from a side trail. I asked her if the whole park was like this, and she said, “I don’t see how you could ride any of the trails. There are so many trees down and so much mud.” She smiled as she delivered this news.

So we left. The descent was about as fun as I thought it would be, water crossings the only reason to slow down, our rear wheels skittering and popping through loose rock and mud.

When we got back to the car we’d ridden 2.5 miles, collected 17 ticks, had both stuck our feet in mud up to the calf, were sweating through our clothes, and Owen didn’t hate me. “It wasn’t great, to be honest,” he said, “But it was good to get away and a little exercise doesn’t suck.”

In the car, picking our way back down the hill, he said, “I didn’t think you’d drive up this road,” and I laughed.

Join the conversation
  1. khal spencer says

    Tough ride, but sure beats that recent ride down to the Titanic. You got home.

  2. bart says

    I liked reading this. My kids are younger (10 and 12) but I look for opportunities to get into these sorts of messes with them. I think we all learn a lot from these less than ideal adventures. And it gives them good stories to tell their mom and friends about “guess what dad made me do”. But, I know they’re secretly proud of themselves.

  3. Dan Murphy says

    When we started mt biking in the late 80’s, we explored a lot of dirt roads locally and in NH. Even today, my friends remind me of a saying I came up with back then: The trail never gets better.
    We would follow dirt roads that started out fine, then turned into overgrown paths, then swampy hike-a-bikes, and often just a dead end. But, not always!

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