Get Out of Town!
Short Trip Long on Reminders
November, 2013 - Issue #109
Courtesy of Shutterstock
Courtesy of Shutterstock

This wasn't how my morning mountain bike ride was supposed to end: pedaling a four-lane road, five miles off course and an hour later than planned.

But the detour along Los Osos Valley Road in San Luis Obispo gave me time to recount the decisions that had brought me to this point - and give thanks because things could have been much worse.

Over-confidence, forgetfulness and lack of preparation made a simple morning ride more complicated than it needed to be. And something unexpected, like a mechanical failure, or a fall, would have compounded my bad decisions.

So how exactly did things get so off course?

For starters, I was a on a new trail. A few months earlier, my wife April and I had hiked through the Johnson Ranch Open Space just south of San Luis Obispo. As we walked, I knew I'd be back with my bike. The well-groomed single-track trail curved among oak trees and up and down rolling hills. It begged to be ridden.

Because I had hiked the trail, I thought I knew where I was going. My over-confidence expanded after a fellow mountain biker I chatted with in the parking area offered some local knowledge. It boiled down to, "Stay to the right when the trail branches. When you come to a big u-turn, take it."

Easy enough. I rolled past the park map without a glance and started pedaling. I was traveling light, thanks to my forgetfulness. My hydration pack and energy gels were still at home, inadvertently left behind in the mad dash to pack for a camping trip with four kids and a dog.
"I planned to be gone for an hour tops. Plus, it was a cool morning thanks to the fog blanketing the hills. I decided I could GET BY WITHOUT WATER."

I planned to be gone for an hour tops. Plus, it was a cool morning thanks to the fog blanketing the hills. I decided I could get by without water.

Gentle switchbacks carried me past a herd of grazing cows up to the ridgeline. I soon found myself sweating from the effort. I cringed again at my lack of preparation. Thinking the morning would heat up, and that I'd only be gone an hour, I had left my long-sleeve pull-over in the car. Plus, without a hydration pack, I didn't have a convenient way to carry an extra layer.

I paused at a junction in the trail. It looked like it could have been a u-turn. Since I wasn't sure, I headed right. I soon began questioning the wisdom of continuing.

The trail became a narrow, rocky climb that dropped off steeply to one side in several places. A breeze picked up and immediately I felt its chill against my sweat-soaked shirt. A nasty fall - which could have happened easily on that stretch of trail - would have left me immobile, without proper clothing or water, in an area which seemed infrequently traveled.

I continued forward. From my vantage point, it looked like the trail would descend. It didn't. But a jogger coming down gave me directions.

I followed them and expected to be nearing the car. Wrong again. I came to another junction and instead spotted a shopping center in the distance that told me I was five miles north of where I should have been.

Fortunately, I had cell service. Google Maps pointed me to pavement where I could find my way back to the car. I had no interest in returning the way I had come. Given my lack of supplies, and my thus-far woeful navigation, I didn't want to push my luck.

I texted April my location and then continued on. I made one more wrong turn before finally reaching the end of the trail.

I hate riding the streets, but I was thankful for a flat, smooth route. And I was especially grateful that my poor decision-making had cost me nothing more than time and mild inconvenience.

It was a small price to pay for a valuable lesson.

Eric Harnish lives in Castaic, where he always rides with water and doesn't get lost.

Lost and Found
Johnson Ranch Open Space
5182 Ontario Road
San Luis Obispo
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