Impressions In the Mud – by Deanna

(an article I wrote for the Greater Dallas Bicyclists Newsletter many years ago)

Up before the dawn. It’s raining, drizzling really. The western horizon beckons. Promise of adventure. We hit the road and leave the Dallas city lights behind.
I think the sun is up. It’s not dark but the sky is still gray. We wonder if it will even be possible to ride in this rain. If not, then plan B, Fort Worth Museums. Pass through Fort Worth, then Weatherford, then Mineral Wells, then just before Graham we turn off toward Possum Kingdom Lake. Fall color, no possums. Phyllis is ready for anything. Rain has stopped, sky looks white in spots where it was once gray, still no blue.
I start to drag my feet. Now how do we find the start? This is the map? How long is the trail? Sag? Sippery? Rocky? Creeks? Technical downhill? Just what does “technical” mean anyway? Do I need to know how to use a slide rule? Phyllis sees all kinds of possibilities. Well, if we cut off here we will avoid that mountain, and if we take the bail out we will cut off several miles and the “technical” downhill run is no problem! We’ll just walk that part. I ask if she brought her compass.
Race director looks at me and gives good advice. “Keep the red flags on your right and the blue flags left. Do only what you feel comfortable doing and have fun.”

Trail is mostly small flat rocks, easy going, no mud. Splash through a few puddles. Sky everywhere. Clean air, not even a telephone pole to mar the view. I love it. I never want to leave.
We come to the 5 mile turn off. Phyllis asks if I still want to do the short loop. No way I say, lets go for it. GREAT! she says and off we go. Gradual climb, ride along a scenic plateau. There it is, “THE” downhill. No way could someone ride down this rocky cliff.
I start to walk down picking my way through the rocks, hanging on to my bike to keep it from taking off without me. Whoa there Nelly, settle down now, we’re in no hurry. I’m glad I have my pack mule with me rather than the thoroughbred I left back home in the garage. Someone way down at the bottom of the valley is looking up at us with binoculars. Phyllis says to act cool, like we’ve done this a million times before. I wave and jump to shame them into looking away. They just wave back and keep on watching us descend. I try to picture people riding down this trail. We started late so the main group has already passed through. Impossible, I think. At the bottom I realize the man with the binculars was at a rest stop. Countryfolk, glad I didn’t moon them. We climb up out of the valley through a sort of ravine. We cross over a small creek about 2 feet deep. I walk. Next creek I ride. Well I ride in anyway, I walk out. At least I didn’t get completely wet. We climb up then down again. I mark this spot in my mind, good place to watch the races. We start to cross a flat muddy section, sort of a plain. We meet up with others on the ride. Jimmy and his son ride with us for a spell. Mud collects on the bikes, some break derailleurs, we just keep chugging along. I try riding on a small path off to the side of the jeep road. Now I have small bushes growing out of the mud on my bike. Broom brush, the local at the next rest stop tells me. It looks kind of cool. Makes me feel less alien.
Too soon we find ourselves crossing the finish. “Did I win?”
“By george! I think you did. (Not)”
We try to get a bite to eat. Bait store is less ready for a mob like us than the meat packing plant at Hill Country. They keep us updated on the football game while Phyllis makes hot tea in the microwave. Watch the start of the race. Again race director gives good advice. “Remember, a person riding his bike always has the right of way, even if a person carrying his bike passes the person riding.” (This I’d like to see.)
We hike backwards along the race course. Phyllis tells about a channel 13 special where a group crossing the Sahara gets stranded and gets so thirsty they drink coolant from their engine. Great subject for a hike in the wilderness. (Well, almost wilderness.) We start to climb. We’re nervous about being right on the trail in this part as we can’t see far ahead and the trail is narrow, not enough time to jump out of the way of oncoming racers. We start to pick our way through the brush off to the side of the trail. We come upon a clearing where a couple of girls are perched on a log with their attack poodles. They ask if we’ve lost something. I guess this can’t be wilderness if the fiercest creatures we’ve found are a couple of poodles. They ask if we know where the rocky downhill section is. I tell them it’s not far and they say their menfolk went around the bend and still didn’t see any sign of it. We keep walking and walking.
We come to a kind of marshy area and watch the racers go through to see which of many paths they choose to take. Some plough right through the middle. Some go to the outside and duck under the reeds. We keep walking and walking. I know it’s just ahead. I remember it well. It’s where that group of guys passed me. I was walking. They rode down. It was so cool to watch them as they pitched their bikes from side to side picking their way through the rocks. We come to a creek, again facinated by the differant method each rider uses to make it through. Then we really start to climb.
Suddenly we realize we have found the spot we were looking for. Or one just like it anyway. There’s no one else anywhere around. We find some comfortable rocks to watch the descent from. We hear wind starting to whoosh through the leaves on the trees at the mouth of the canyon. We look into the sky and see storm clouds rolling in. “Did you bring your hatchet?” I say, “we could build a shelter.” I look at the terrain around us. We are sitting on the northwest slope and the trees nearest to us are badly twisted and bent over from previous storms. In fact, most appear to be dead. A racer comes along. He’s headed straight for me. Suddenly my secure solid rock begins to feel a bit precarious. I hold tight not wanting to break the rider’s concentration. Of course he turns before he gets to me, otherwise he would have flown off the cliff into the trees. Still, I move back a ways before the next rider comes along.
The next racer is a woman. She charges down with strength and determination. A race guard comes along and tells us the approaching storm is pouring down rain on the other side of this mountain. I ask him if riders actually rode their bikes down “THE” technical downhill on the rally course. He said not only did they ride down, he saw a couple of riders “catch air” on that section. Not only did they live to tell about it, they even stayed upright. I still need to see it to believe it.
We marvel at the sound of the rushing wind and I’m struck by the absence of other competing sounds. I feel somehow renewed as if the approaching storm has cleared the city air from my lungs. Reluctantly we start back down. It starts to rain on us. I have my jacket and give Phyllis my helmet thinking it might at least keep her head dry. The rain drops make a funny pinging sort of noise as they bounce off it and soon she’s ready for a wet tee-shirt contest. We cheer for the racers as they pass us on the trail. They laugh and talk to us as they go by, now completely wet and covered with mud. They say things like “Now’s when it really gets fun!” and “I’m having a great time, how are you?” I feel special, like they are really glad we are there.
Think I will trade in my pack mule for a mountain goat.