Most of us mere mortals are seldom in a position to ride epic cross-country mountain bike trails for 7 straight days. We have jobs, relationships, adult responsibilities that conspire to keep us off the bike most weekdays and even on many weekends. We’re lucky to get two straight days of riding, let alone an entire week.
So by the time we finished 6 consecutive days in the saddle, our bodies were whimpering. We were not used to this kind of punishm… er, rapture. Not without a break, anyway. Over breakfast Team Mojo looked deep into our souls. We were trashed, whipped, fried. We could barely lift fork or spoon to our mouth. What to do? After all, even the Almighty rested on the seventh day. Shouldn’t we take a breather?
Good Lord, no. I mean, are you crazy?
Here we were in God’s country, trails surrounding us on all sides, with no email to answer, voice mail to leave or snail mail to recycle. Tomorrow reality might set in and various ineluctable duties call. Today we had a blank slate and miles of singletrack to cover.
Taking note of our depleted condition, our hosts Squeek and Zelda (not their real names, ho ho) said they knew a local mtber who could give us a light day to help break up the monotony of utter exhaustion. Check in with ——, they said (not his real name). He’ll show you the lighter side of the panhandle. You know, kind of a recovery day ride. A leg-stretcher.
To our undying regret, we believed them.
We met OMG!! (Omigod! It’s Our Mysterious Guide!) in the rugged little burg of Priest River. Our destination: Priest Lake, ribboned with trails, where we would ride around Upper Priest Lake hard by the Upper Priest Lake Scenic Area. Any upper upper and you’re in Canada. Priest Lake is where vacationing Washingtonians go to kick back among various Hollywood celebrities and rich types. No one really knows who lives or has vacation places out here because they come in by limo or helicopter and besides, in Idaho you don’t snoop around like that. Or you might get shot.
So when OMG! said he preferred to remain anonymous in our chronicles, we did not ask why. Even though we wondered.
Jim had ridden previously with OMG!, but it was my first time. Jim’s wild Jack London-ish stories had only partially prepared me for the real deal. OMG! arrived in the biggest pickup I’d ever seen, an x-cab F250 whose tires got in the way of my eyeballs and whose engine sounded like takeoff time at Canaveral. Out leaps a totally bald, completely ripped, larger-than-life fireball looking like a grizzly about to dine on a couple of salmon. The man had arms like ham hocks and elbows that looked like they could crush brick. He tossed our Mojos into the yawning bed of his pickup, which made them look like totcycles, we climbed into the cab and were ready to roll.
If you figured OMG! for a typical backwater redneck, you’d soon find yourself surprised. Bush was a disaster. The “Rethuglicans” — his word — were wrecking the country and didn’t give a damn about America. Universal health care and Social Security were sacrosanct. The banks were evil. When I suggested the Democrats needed to kick some Republican ass (trying to adopt the local vernacular, ho ho), OMG! was equally unpredictable. No, he said, that’s not the way to move the country forward. They just need to be clearer and more articulate about the good they’re doing.
We roared up to Priest Lake with OMG! describing the roly-poly little trails we’d be doing — recovery day and all — and the truly abominable ones we wouldn’t. Not this time anyway.
We parked the rig, which is what all big honking trucks are called in northern Idaho, and deservedly so since you only see trucks and not these monsters in the big city, at the Beaver Creek Recreation Site. Soon enough we were were off on Navigation Trail No. 291 toward Upper Priest Lake. The morning was foggy, misty and damp, leaving the trail for the most part tacky rather than sloshy. OMG! tore off like one of those winged monkeys in the Wizard of Oz, leaving us with the sinking realization that we’d been snookered.
In addition to being fearsomely constructed and bellowingly energetic, OMG! is ruggedly old school, riding a titanium hard tail with — get this — flat bars, a 120mm stem and caliper brakes. For some reason I felt a shudder of mortal trepidation — that ancient technology in this case not only was no barrier but would be used to dish out even greater punishment than with sissy stuff like disc brakes and full suspension.
Recovery day indeed! Like any typical trail near freshwater, whether it be a lake, river or creek, the Priest Lake network climbs and drops over and over, leaving your legs just enough time to come up for air before another riser smacks you in the bottom bracket. It’s like getting knocked down by a prize fighter, crawling to your feet, wobbling around a few moments and then getting knocked down again. There were rocky sections, and rooty sections, some of them staired and some not. They were climbable if you felt like retching. It was a marvel to watch OMG! dig his way up embankments, spitting rocks and dirt from his knobbies, as we tried merely to stay upright.
At the first crossroads OMG! pulled up and with characteristic shit-eating grin and booming enunciation roared, “What do you think?” Not waiting for a gasping response, he answered for us: “Isn’t this the greatest?!”
It went on like that mile after mile, as we ventured around Upper Priest Lake, spilling out onto a fire road (USFS Road 655), cruising it for a bit, then diving down Trail 302 into verdant, moist, truly spectacular if not gloriously spooky old growth forest on the way to a lunch spot right on the lake. There are huge hemlock, cedar and Doug fir back here, and everything is a different shade of bright green. The old-growth trails were fast, swoopy and buff, punctuated by occasional bridges and creek crossings. One bridge I hit too fast and tried to pull up, only to find my Mojo skating like a bobsled. I laid off the brakes and recovered just in time to avoid being swallowed by the swampy green bottomless pit below.
At one point, hoping to sucker OMG! into taking it easy, I switched bikes to give him a taste of State of the Art. My Mojo weighs under 25 pounds, has Magura Marta stoppers, a 90mm stem, Easton risers, etc. etc. I actually liked OMG!’s setup, which brought back fond memories of riding in the mid-’90s, when men were men and bikes were … erm, unevolved. But my little gamesmanship wasn’t going anywhere. OMG! rode maybe a quarter of a mile and then opted out with a pained expression and some mumbled syllables about what a different ride suspension made. We got the distinct impression he wouldn’t be upgrading any time soon.
I will say this. The Priest Lake trails scored well on the Demi Thigh Index. On Day 1 of our Idaho adventure, Jim had discussed the variegated surface quality of trails we were about to tackle in the context — naturally — of a local celebrity. Before their notorious breakup, Bruce Willis and Demi Moore were the toast of Sun Valley, the biggest icons of an icon–infested retreat for the rich, famous, beautiful and shallow. In his rapturous description of the flat, smooth valley trails, Jim invoked Demi Moore’s thigh as a basis of comparison. Thereafter all trails were rated on the Demi Thigh Index. We hope you younger readers who consider Demi Moore an historical has-been will understand.
As we rocked and rolled around Priest Lake, Jim kept rattling off numbers, 9, 8, 10, 11. Like the amp dial in “This Is Spinal Tap,” the Thigh Index went beyond 10 for the really good stuff. Finally we broke out into a deserted picnic area relatively bereft of flies, at least momentarily, and took lunch. If it’d been hot out I would’ve jumped into the lake in a flash. But the day, for all its other joys, was still damp and overcast.
We could have ridden on and on and on — there was literally no limit to OMG!’s ambitions — but it had been 15 miles so far and our only alternative would be circumnavigating the entire 25-mile-long lake or doubling back. We chose the latter. With the former, we would have to trust OMG!’s better judgment, which we’d long ago begun to question. At least doubling back we knew what we were in for the rest of the way. I’ve never held the common prejudice against out-and-back anyway. They’re completely different views, and if you liked it one way chances are you’ll appreciate it even more in reverse.
If you’ve got enough left in the tank, that is. One thing about a roller trail — it isn’t any flatter going back than it was coming out. By the finish line I was gassed — funny how 30 miles of lowland constant pedaling can beat you up more than a mountain epic where you have a long climb but can cruise the down slopes.
When we got back I tossed my pack into the back of the cab, dislodging OMG!’s brief case. It fell onto the pavement and popped open. OMG! Out bounced a shiny hand gun, skittering over the cement.
“Is the safety on?” I asked uncertainly.
OMG! grinned at me. “It’s a little late to be asking that kind of question.”
Which is just one more reason why, even as I write this far away in the security of my office and the Big City, I refuse to identify him as anything other than Our Mysterious Guide.