Epic is definitely an overused term when it comes to most things. The media uses the term loosely to describe events that are off the scale for most mere mortals. Sure, there are guys and gals who ride their mountain bikes in Morrocco or in the Himalaya and are sponsored by outdoor gear companies to trek with their bikes to the far corners of the world for a week,or weeks and relate the stories about the difficulty of the trail, the lack of sufficient water and food, potential dangers with native groups who might not particularly like the intrusion of people riding bicycles in their land and mingling with their friends and relatives. There are the stories of battling the elements in order to reach their goal of riding the impossible. These are probably an apt description of what most folks term as an epic adventure.
But the term epic can also be relative. What if an excursion takes a mere mortal, weekend warrior out of his or her element and places them in a siuation where the trails, weather, time and place make the ride epic in the scope of the person’s personal experience. We all can have epic experiences if we take the term relatively instead of comparing ourselves to world class athletes. The 59 year old kid has had a couple of those epic adventures on a mountain bike and part of the fabric of an epic ride is who you share the experience with on the trail.
Two of my more memorable epic rides have been with my good friend Dixon. We have known each other since the minor league in baseball and have skied together for years. We both got involved with mountain bike riding a while back and had the idea to navigate with the Pennsylvania Department of Conversation and Natural Resources map from Dixons cabin in Westmoreland County to Ohiopyle State Park and back. It seemed like an adventure at the time seeing that we usually only ride on top of the Laurel Ridge in the State Parks and the Seven Springs Ski Resort trails. Dixon is an interesting character. When you come to his house, you are greeted by a loud hello and he is usually outfitted in construction boots, shorts and a red bandanna. The Grateful Dead is blasting on the stereo and Dixon is busy loading his oversized fanny pack with blue bubble gum and Captain Crunch- his main source of energy on the trail. Dixon protects his pack with a flowered shower cap and as we leave his cabin, he festidiously checks the locks, his pack, his bike, and all of his equipment. After a pre ride shower he routinely blow dries his whole body in order to prevent any chafing on the trail. For the work load that a tax attorney like Dixon takes on, he is in great shape and likes to ride to blow off steam. We usually left the cabin early in the morning and began our ……….epic adventure in the Laurel Mountains.
Dixon and I are, and were candidates for a GPS while riding. We constantly got lost on our way out of Normalville ( how about that Pennsylvania town name?), and referred to the map to find the trails that would lead to Turkey Foot Road. Staying close to the stream bed, we rode and as I looked beside me, I saw the gleaming smile of Dixon with his blue teeth munching merrily on his bubble gum. Blazing through some seldom ridden trails we experienced the trials of briar bush orienteering, large, deep mud puddles that were always a challenge because you never quite knew how deep they were. An over the bars and out of the pedals crash into the mosquito infested water was never out of the question. Dixon was always searching for potential fishing holes along the ride and as we always made our way towards Ohiopyle, we reloaded our supplies in the local grocery store in town. Ohiopyle is a whitewater rafters paradise and the outdoor vibe of the place is welcoming to muddy, disoriented mountain bikers. We usually spent a little too much time watching the rafters and when we decided to load up and head back, we made use of the rails to trails until we reached the first of the backwoods seldom ridden trails near Maple Summit. As late afternoon approached on these rides, we sometimes had to refer to the location of the sun to determine which way was west or east. The woods all look the same when you are lost and part of the excitement of an epic adventure is when you are totally lost and need to find a way back before dark.
In the early days of these rides, we had no GPS, cell phones, or other modern ammenities that would make the adventure fool proof. We just referred to the ratty map and made our way through farms, fire roads and old deer trails until we reached a familiar gravel road that led us to Indian Head at the bottom of the mountain near Dixon’s cabin. I can remember one spring ride when we were totally out of food and water, the temperature was dropping fast, and we entered the Red and White store in Indian Head and split a pack of fig newtons. Usually I laid on my back on the porch and jammed the newtons in my mouth muttering how in the world I was going to pedal up that hill back to the cabin. Dixon always had a bright approach to things and we usually talked the lady who owned the market into riding us up the hill in her red pick up truck. Other times we would make our way as far as the Mountain Club on County Line Road and use the garden hose to get a drink and blast the inches of caked and frozen mud from our bikes. The hollow looks from some of the guys that rode with us indicated that they were all on their last legs along with the 59 year old kid, but Dixon and his blue bubble gum sustained his cheery disposition even at the end of an 11 hour adventure.
The Laurel Highlands are not challenging when compared to the epic rides that you see in the magazines, but then again, relatively speaking to the mere mortal, the epic adventure to Ohiopyle and back was adventurous in our minds. Wildlife, rain and snow, poorly marked trails, mud, aggressive farmers and their dogs, and redneck traffic always make for great stories on the trail. When you have a friend like Dixon who is a real character, it makes these rides memorable. So go do something epic. Chances are you will have fun and have some good stories to tell about your personal adventure. It may not make a magazine, but it will make your memory banks for sure. Thanks for reading.