Monday, May 2, 2016

Better Call Saul

I saw 2 triathletes on Brokenback on Saturday morning.  It was drizzling, foggy, awesome spring weather, and Brokenback in the Spring is one of my favorite routes.  To be clear, Brokenback is mandatory mountain bike territory.  There are a few hard people - Fred Wittwer for example - who choose to ride it on a Cross Bike, but for the most part it's all granny gears and 2.3's.  Certainly not carbon Tri bike terrain, but sure enough these two are riding carbon Cervelos.  Aero bars.  Deep dish carbon wheels.  Staring at their GPS.  Completely bewildered at what the fuck was happening to them.

Guy and a girl.  The girl, who is clearly the navigator for the day, keeps insisting they are supposed to be on a road and not a trail.  They're from Richmond, up for the day to ride some hills, obviously preparing for a race of some kind that has more climbing than what they can get out East, so here they are.  

One of the strangest things about the encounter was just how nice their gear was.  I'm guessing they had about $500 in high vis rain gear on, sweet bikes, a GPS unit that looked like it could launch the space shuttle, lots of very nice shit.  They were clearly prepared - they'd researched a route, knew they were in store for a few thousand feet of climbing and some steep terrain; they just hadn't planned on what qualifies as a "road" in that part of Greene County.   And now that little detail was coming back to bite them right in the $280 chamois.  

I've never actually hired a guide.  These days, who needs a guide when you've got the entire internet to consult and a $900 GPS?  It would seem, with basically limitless ride data, race reports, GPS info, Maps, and entire guidebooks being posted online, why pay for local knowledge?

I directed these two back to pavement, wished them well, and hoped for the best, and we went our separate ways.  And it occurred to me as I rode away and pondered the abundance of internet ride data, that the opposite is actually true.  It is NOW more than ever, that hiring a guide is important.  

For some people, there is nothing more dangerous than a map.

And there are PLENTY of maps out there to be found.  Having a guide who can actually help you parse through all of the data available, interpret it, and provide the kind of information only a local has just might make or break your day.

Case in point: local CRC fast guy, Julian Bowling, recently tried to ride the entire Jeep Road from the parkway to Coal road on his road bike.
As he surmised later, "not a good route."

I also considered this: there's a difference between being Unguided and being Misguided.
Two different things.

Being Unguided was how it used to be done.  No real info, minimal maps, just a bike and a bunch of roads/trails you didn't know, but off you went.  And you sort of figured it out.  Sometimes it worked out, other times you got lost and had to find your way back to the car, but you at least weren't doing so under false assumptions.

Being Misguided is way, way more dangerous.  Using data, much of it gathered online on an 18 inch computer screen, to navigate real world bike rides can leave you in dire situations.

An unguided person might see the jeep trail that Julian took, ride the first 100 meters on his road bike, and then he probably makes the quick and correct decision to turn back and go another way.

A misguided person, on the other hand - one who knows that the jeep road will eventually punch through to the coal rd - pushes on, then has to walk, then proceeds barefoot for 2 hours because the terrain is unmanageable in road shoes. 

An unguided person senses danger.  They have to. It's like they have a built in governor, that being the simple fact that they don't know where they are going.

A misguided person - equipped with certainty, but wrong - does crazy things like ford rivers, try to ride out a double flat, gets shot at while trespassing on a game preserve, and eventually drowns in a beaver pond.
See the difference?  

I've been on a handful of death marches - the kind where you might actually die - bike rides so far in my life.  All of them have been, at least in part, caused by misguided people.  People who can look at a map, 18" wide on their computer screen, and confidently spout, "we can do that in a day." 
These are the people who'd Better call Saul.

Don't get me wrong, I love and respect your sense of adventure.  I applaud your preparedness.  But I wonder what would have happened to those two triathletes had they managed to summit Brokenback...what next?  They have to come down now.  Not Good.

Next time, take the extra step.

There's a right way down and a right way up, up, up.  


  1. Snow mountain on a road bike. It's right there at the awkward in between of misguided and unguided. Or maybe I should just listen when my buddy tells me "ride your mountain bike".

  2. Julian Bowling. Master of Understatement.