The first day of any bikepack is the chance to set the tone for the entire trip. We almost set the tone of death march, but then four seasoned bikepackers who’ve done their fair share of death marching wizened up and made an excellent decision.
We made it nine miles today.
They were a pretty epic nine mile, but nine miles all the same. I walked or ran most of them, and not by choice.
We woke to the sound of the Toot-toot bird, followed closely by the sound of rain. So we ate breakfast insides the tents and eventually resorted to reading or napping until we got a break in the rain. The radar showed a blob of rain had just passed, a smaller one was coming after a break, and then after another break, there was a big blob of rain headed our way.
We packed up quickly and started up the Wakamarina trail. There was a little hiking involved, and we all were wondering if we were in for a Kurt and Kait Go Overseas Bikepacking Adventure. We all hoped not.
Eventually, the trail got mellow enough to ride, rarely easy, but rocky and engaging. Mist turned to rain and at the top of the pass, we paused to put rain jackets on. We were on the top of trail that an Enduro had been run on…at some point in time. We prepared ourselves for slippery fun.
And it was. Until as some point in time, I was off my bike pushing it across a waterfall, I realized that I no longer had a functional rear brake. Lever to the bar, nothing.
A quick assessment, in the pouring rain, after discovering that I couldn’t simply pump the brake back up, discovered brake fluid gushing out of a hole in my brake hose that had been kinked.
Game over, do not pass go, do not collect $200.
We knew that there was a hut somewhere down the trail, and we thought that maybe we could engineer a fix if we could get the bike dry. At the very least, we could get ourselves dry.
I feel like all of my years of riding bikes with janky brakes led up to this pinnacle moment in my life. I rallied that bike like champ with only a front brake down all sorts of things that I had no business rallying. And when I couldn’t rally, I ran.
Lucky(?) for me, the trail soon went up and deteriorated into a mess of roots, rocks, mud, and barely trail…all which went straight up a mountainside. Several of the bike-ineering moves required partner assistance, both over down trees and up vertical walls of mud.
This was not what any of us were expecting…or hoping for.
So we made fun of the situation.
It could be worse, we pointed out. Trump could get elected for president. Hey, wait a second…
There was all forms of bike transport, aside from riding. Pushing, pulling, dragging, carrying, shoving, manhandling…all through pouring rain in a forest of ferns. And as it turns out, hike a hiking without a rear brake is actually pretty treacherous. Especially on steep and muddy terrain.
Once at the top, I knew I was in for a challenge. Try to ride, run the rest, try not to get too far behind. Also, try not to die.
As it turned out, I really don’t think I would have ridden that much of the trail in the first place. It was a rooty and Rocky Enduro track that unloaded would have stretched my skills. Deciding to run the whole thing at least saved me the time of getting on and off my bike over and over again.
At some point in time, while running next to my bike, trying to keep it from getting too far ahead of me, keep it from getting caught up on anything while keeping it on the trail, I had to think of the obscure sport of burro racing where you have to run with your burro.
Thus, I named by bike Donkey.
In the end, I wasn’t losing too much time to those who had brakes, which I think is a testament to my improving running skills.
We found the hut nestled in the woods and immediately got the fire going while changing into dry clothes. At the very least, we were going to stop for our afternoon coffee. It was 1:30 anyhow.
Now, 9 hours later, we are blowing the candles out to go to sleep. The stove is filled with coals, Kurt is completely passed out.
We could have put our wet clothes back on and ridden a few more hours and camps in wet tents. Those more hard core than us probably would. But we were more than happy to wile away the afternoon with coffee, good conversation, and repeated observations of the fact that it was still raining out.
We’re on vacation. Suffering (excessively) is for the birds. And for us when we have to ride 40 miles into Nelson tomorrow…me without a rear brake. But that’s a problem for when the Toot-toot birds wake us up in the morning.