Mountain bikers and other trail users have been known to have conflicts with each other, and I have had my own share of trail incidents. It seems like it may not occur to some trail users that from time-to-time we may need to rely on each other to get out of a sticky situation; and we may be surprised at how genuinely nice and helpful other trail users can be when a situation may arise.
A few days ago, I was planning my weekday mountain bike ride and I noted that it was going to be one of the hottest days of the year, so far. Temperatures were expected to be in the 90’s, fairly high humidity, and very little wind. Yes, this was Los Angeles. I left my house around 10:00 am and cruised up the road that lead to the trails, a 20-minute trek. It starts quite flat and I was making good time, my legs felt fresh, and it was fairly warm already but not uncomfortable. The last 1o minutes of the road section is an uphill and since I felt speedy I decided to push it up the climb. I picked up the pace, crested the top of the road climb, and hopped onto the singletrack trail to where the real fun begins. I pedalled half way down the trail when I suddenly noticed it was much warmer, but I thought it must be the white dirt reflecting the sun back at me. I kept up my pace; steadfastly climbing up the first rocky section of the trail I was on. I cranked it to the top, but it’s hard not to because it is quite rocky and steep. I steadily made my way across the park, noting the rise in temperature as I neared the access gate that leads to the next trailhead. Sweat was dripping down into my eyes, stinging them, as I took a swig of warm water from my bottle.
I made my way to the main trail, which is a long, fire road climb with very little shade, and proceeded to spin up the first part of the climb. I have done this trail numerous times, but today it felt more tedious than usual, and my legs felt heavy right from the start. I slowed down my pace but continued up the trail, still feeling not quite right. At this point I was thinking I should turn around, but I was on a ride and YES, it was blistering hot, but DAMMIT I was going to have an awesome time. I was not going to let the baking, hot conditions ruin my ride. I slowly made my way through the most arduous part of the climb, which consists of bumpy, hardened clay, a super steep grade in full sun. An exceedingly tiring part of the trail, it can quickly sap your strength and under these conditions, it was even more of a bitch. I finally made it to the downhill section, which was partly shaded, and found a welcoming cool breeze hitting me in the face, refreshing me momentarily. I zigzagged my way down to a right-hand corner at the bottom of the hill and shifted into an easier gear to navigate around the narrowest part of the trail, but when I started pedalling I got a really painful cramp in my left calf muscle. I shook it off and pedalled up the second part of the climb with the pain of the cramp still lingering. I took another swig of tepid water.
It was around 15 miles into my ride when I felt like I was starting to become affected by the heat. It felt stifling hot and with no breeze it was really stuffy. I should have turned around, but I told myself that I was almost to the next trail junction, just keep going. I slowed my pace down significantly and managed to teeter my way to the end of a climb, feeling even worse than I had a few minutes earlier. When I finally reached the junction, I decided to turn around and head for home rather than continue any further. Making my way back down the trail I started to feel lightheaded and dizzy so I tried to pick up the pace some, being careful not to crash. I knew I was going to have difficulties with the next couple of sections of the trail; there were two steep climbs I would have to do before I would reach the final flat section that lead to a long downhill. The two hill sections were more than I could handle. The first hill was at the bottom of a ravine, the lack of moving air caused a hot, stagnant feeling. It was here that I began to feel nauseous, and my leg muscles were burning. I shifted into my lowest gear and tried powering up the climb, but I just couldn’t make it so I got off my bike and started walking up the trail.
A couple of minutes after I got off my bike I heard the sound of horse hooves clip-clopping up the trail, and the chatter of two women coming up behind me. My first thought was that I needed to pick up the pace so that I could beat them to the top of the climb. I walked a little quicker, but I felt weak and hot. I did manage to make it up the second hill before the horses reached me and that is where I stopped again to catch my breath. Boy, did I feel crappy. I leaned my head down to try and get rid of the dizzy feeling I was experiencing, but I then felt nauseous and thought about puking right there on the trail.
The horseback riders cruised toward me and I waved them to go ahead because I wanted to rest and cool down before continuing my trek back home. One of the women started asking me questions about the trails, but they could tell by my responses that something was wrong. I explained to them that I felt lightheaded and dizzy, so they told me I should go lay down in the shade and they would wait with me until I felt better. Turns out one of them was a nurse and she also had some very cold water in a bottle that she poured over my head and neck and, needless to say, the cold water felt so good running down my head and the back of my neck.
I felt bad about keeping them from their own ride, but they insisted that they weren’t going to leave until I was cooled off and safely back down the mountain. I rode one of their horses–which I hadn’t done since I was 8-years-old–while one of the horseback riders rode my bike back down to the trailhead. She said she had a blast being on a mountain bike! In addition, they gave me a lift back to my house because I wasn’t able to cool down enough to ride my bike home. With the temperature now peaking into the mid 90’s, and 10 more miles to go, the nurse was very adamant about me not continuing my ride. I was completely blown away by their kindness and generosity in helping out a mountain biker in a weakened state. Two very nice women on horses were there when I needed help, and they didn’t hesitate about cutting their ride short. I was very appreciative!
This ride taught me several lessons: First off, always respect the heat. If it feels too hot to ride, it probably is. Also, I did not leave early enough, I was not properly hydrated, and I went way too hard at the start which caused me overheat even faster. I was not prepared for how hot it was going to actually be once I found myself way out on the trails, and I did not realize how quickly the heat can overtake you with little warning. From now on I will try to be better prepared to deal with hot days and will not be so jaded about over-doing it in these conditions. I truly would have had a hard time making my way back, and thanks to the horseback riders, I was able to cool-off and recover without turning this day turn into an even more serious situation. I can tell you right now, when you are way out on the trails, becoming overwhelmed by heat, it is not a good feeling; and when you know that you are miles from your house, you start to panic.
This incident also opened my eyes to how important it is for all trail users to be courteous, friendly, and to respect each other because you never know when you may need to rely on another trail user to help you out of a bad situation. Because of this day, two horseback riders and a mountain biker are now friends. Next time you are out on a ride and see a hiker or horseback rider coming, wave and say “hi” because we could all use more friends.
Michelle Lambert is a cycling obsessed resident of Southern California. She loves being outside, training, and exploring new trails. Michelle has been racing cross-country mountain bikes off and on, and five years ago she took up cyclocross as well.