THIS is the face of idiot who is so delighted by snow that she doesn’t immediately stop ascending on her mountain bike ride. She may be prepared for a rainy ride, but snow and related temperatures were unexpected.

THIS is a lucky idiot, who managed to make more good decisions than bad, and was rewarded with a highly improbably citizen assist.

I can explain… In the weeks leading up to these moments, smoke from the Eagle Creek fire had made the out-of-doors a very inhospitable place. Excess energy levels were high. The day of my ill-fated ride was the first clear one. Well, by “clear” I mean “not smokey.” The smoke was gone because of rain and cool temperatures, but DAMNIT I was going to go ride my bike.

I’d planned on a 25-ish mile loop, accessed via a low-traffic forest service road 45 minutes driving from Hood River. I knew most of the trails, but not exactly how to connect them.  Not to worry – I had a map! And beta! I started up the trail as wind blustered through the trees. A couple miles in, the rain started. No matter – I’d brought a coat! A couple more miles and a thousand feet of elevation later, the snow started. I love snow!

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In retrospect, I should’ve turned around at the snow line. But I was warm from the climb and still hopeful about completing my objective. Silly me. More miles, more climbing, and at 10 miles from the car I became uncertain about my next turn. As I scrolled around the map on my phone, my hands became uselessly cold. My gloves, which were soaked, had become useless as insulation. After a brief shivering conference with myself, I decided to bail on my loop and descend the way I’d come. Relief to be heading down was quickly tempered by cold and the realization that I could barely feel the brake levers under my fingers. My feet had also gone numb, in their shoe-pools of rain water. I gobbled down food to help myself warm up. I did a lot of pursed-lip breathing as I descended, trying to focus on the trail and not on my numb extremities. When my frozen claw hands almost slipped off the bars, I shifted my focus to making my fingers work. When I whacked into a log jam near the bottom, my knees registered only mild pressure. I was so gripped that I couldn’t even enjoy the perfect dirt. Back at the road, I was beyond relieved to have descended those 1200 feet without serious mishap. By that point, my hands had come back to life, and I’d entered the home stretch of sufferfest. I just had to ride 0.5 miles of road to the next single track; 5 more miles of descent would have me back at my car. I hoped but didn’t expect to hitch a ride on that tiny stretch of road. So when I heard the vehicle behind me and thought “please be a truck” I was delighted to turn and see a police rig rolling up next to me.

Officer Larson: “Are you ok?”

Bedraggled Cyclist: “Can you give me a ride back to my car? I’m so happy to see you!”

I was giddy to skip those last 5 miles. Officer Larson was generous and kind, offering me snacks and turning the heat up full blast (which immediately fogged his windscreen). I thanked him profusely. He told me stories of patrolling the Dalles watershed, and I breathed through clenched teeth as sensation stabbed its way back into my icy feet. Just as we reached my car, the sun came out. Of course. I thanked him once more as he drove off. I gleefully changed into dry clothes and felt grateful that what had started to feel like a dangerous ordeal had quickly defused into a learning experience.

Here’s my gps track, for reference. The crazy part about Officer Larson seeing me on that little stretch of road was that he didn’t even usually patrol there. I guess some mountain power decided: “Ok, she’s learned her lesson. Send in the relief.” While I would’ve learned the same lessons without the “citizen assist,” I would’ve missed out on the mild embarrassment spotlight of making a local paper.* Plus, Officer Larson probably enjoyed the opportunity to do a good deed, which I was more than happy to accept.

The red track was the only section of road. Small odds for hitchhikers in the rain.

I’ve been mountain biking since July 2016, so I’m still a newb. For other newbs out there – especially ones who like riding in remote areas – consider learning from my mistakes. Here are some lessons I learned about riding in shoulder season/inclement weather:

  1. Bring an extra pair of gloves (or two), make one of them winter weight
  2. Bring one more layer than you think you’ll need (worst case scenario: it’s training weight!)
  3. Waterproof mountain biking shorts aren’t dumb like I initially thought they were (I guess that makes me the dumb one)
  4. Turn around when it starts snowing (unless you planned to ride in that)
  5. Braking is immensely difficult when you can’t feel the levers under your fingers (also scary)
  6. Keep hand/feet-warmers in your first aid kit

Things I did right, that you should too:

  1. Gave my plan to someone in town (he actually texted “are you alive?” right after I started getting snowed on)
  2. Had first aid/emergency supplies with me
  3. Brought extra food and ate a bunch of it to stay warm
  4. Turned around instead of trying to route find, alone, in shitty weather (egos aren’t useful in the woods)
  5. Wore wool base layers/socks and a raincoat (merino is magical)
  6. Took wet gloves off on the descent, to let my hands warm up (water conducts heat away from skin faster than air)
  7. Kept moving when I got really cold (I tried to go quickly but carefully, so as not to eat sh*t)

*I guess the Gorge was low on news during that week, because my little adventure made it into the Dalles Chronicle. The reporter tracked me down within days. I guess when police let you into their car, they have to take your name, and then your name is available to anyone. An interesting tidbit I learned from the article was that the officer usually pats down people he lets into his car… had I not been assessed as non-threatening, I probably would’ve kept pedaling. Here’s to more trust in our world.

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