Thursday, February 28, 2013

Plan "B": Boatin', Brush Whacking, and Breakdowns

Just as I was getting all set to jump into the springtime mode of more flowers, fewer clothes, and longer rides, the still-winter weather pattern showed up with a few reminders that it is still February. Between cold days, rainy days, and cold, rainy days, my higher mileage ambitions for the month have shriveled like, well, whatever shrivels in cold wet environments.

Plan "B": The Cossatot
Last weekend actually shaped up pretty well once I got over my road ride fixation. Midweek rains topped off creeks and made for predictably good water levels on the Cossatot River in the Ouachita Mountains of western Arkansas. The Saturday forecast called for sunny skies, but windy with highs in the 40's-- a marginal day on the bike, but a great day for running rivers, so we packed up the pickup and headed out.

At the put-in, getting ready to saddle up!
The Cossatot was the best whitewater option for the weekend and boaters showed up from around the region. The dry conditions of the last couple of years have made for scant boating opportunities, so there was a big crowd at the 'tot.  Diane and I have been boating for many years, so days like this take on the feel of a family reunion. While riders can generally hit the road almost anywhere, boaters have to travel to wherever the water may be, so we tend to are a driving bunch. Boating friendships stretch across a wide geography and usually the only time we cross paths with one another is when we converge on a river.

Mandy 'Crash' Signorelli in the Esses

The Sandbar Bridge marks the approach to the Cossatot Falls.
For many years, I had been encouraged to take up cycling, particularly mountain biking, by some of my boating friends. There is a lot of crossover in terms of attitude, venue, and skill sets, though by definition running rivers is an all-downhill endeavor. Now that I've been riding few a few years, it is interesting to see cycling friends turning to boating, as is the case with Aly, Bryan, and 'Crash' Signorelli. They've been knocking around it boats for the last year or so, but Saturday was the first time I've seen them on the water. I was impressed but, then again, they have been hanging out with my old friend Cowper Chadbourn, which makes for a fast learning curve, assuming survival! Actually, Cowper doesn't hesitate to let folks get in a little over their head, but he always has your back, which makes for a safe experience and some very good stories.
 Cossatot Falls: JBar file photo from last spring.
The falls is a series of drops with names like Cossatosser, Eye Opener, BMF, and Washing Machine. If you blow the move in one of those, you'll likely flush through Whiplash and Shoulder Bone on your way to washing ashore at Dead Dog Beach.
One of the thrills of winter paddling on the Cossatot is that eagle sightings are likely.
As we approached the 'tot, Diane and I were betting on our likelihood of eagle sightings. She predicted that we would see one and I went for two. My odds were good because over the years it has been pretty common to see a pair of the impressive birds in the Devil's Hollow area of the lower river. We got out ahead of the crowd and, sure enough, right on schedule a mature bald eagle came up the river toward us below tree top level. A short time later, its mate was spotted soaring near the ridge line. Day complete.
Plan "B1": Trail work and mountain bike at Camp Robinson
I've got a short list of riders to whom I usually send out weekend ride plans.  This time of year, the responses can be as thin as the hide of my fair weather ride buddies, so it didn't surprise me that I did not have a crew for a Sunday road ride. Bike Nerd Justin Ray had e-mailed his plans to clear the Dogwood Trail at Camp Robinson so I checked my pack for the folding saw and loppers, grabbed a couple of treats for Willie dog, and headed out to Camp. Justin and I cut fallen trees, rerouted a little trail and cleared some sections that had been nearly reclaimed by brush and vines.
  Lower Dogwood Trail required some extensive rehab!
After a couple of hours of work, I decided that I needed to let Willie run and I wanted to get in a few miles. Justin had walked in so I left him to complete the mission while Willie and I headed up Elevator. Elevator is a sustained rocky climb which can be even more tedious than usual when it is buried under a blanket of leaves as it was last week.
About halfway up the climb, I was suffering more than even my winter legs deserved and finally had to dismount to seek the source of my problem. It was NOT simply  me being old and slow, but my rear hub was locked up. I didn't get too deeply into it out on the trail, but my rear wheel wouldn't even roll and I couldn't figure it out. Bummer. Willie, who is accustomed to running like the wind out on the trail, was impatient as I started trudging out with my impaired bike.
I half-assed tore the hub down once I got home, but then elected to reassemble and drop it at Arkansas Cycling and Fitness since I needed to be in Sherwood on Monday. My freehub had shot craps and the rear wheel bearings were trashed. The shop wrench said that this usually happened only with very large riders or guys who put out massive torque. Since even in my current winter-fat state I weigh in at around 157lbs, I'm going for the massive torque story. 
It was a good day for a walk in the woods and I was glad to join Justin in getting some work done. Dogwood is a good connector trail for accessing the lower loops at Camp Robinson and it was about a season away from being lost.
It is March as of Friday and we have more flowers showing up in our yard every day. Spring will be all over us soon enough and these Plan "B" days are not bad. Not bad at all.

No comments: