As a child of the eighties, I grew up with movies like The Labyrinth, The Princess Bride, and of course, The Neverending Story…
Years (decades) later, as a parent, I rewatched the latter, and found myself sobbing alongside a 5 year old Hailey as we watched Atreyu’s horse, Artax, give in to the sorrow and despair of the Swamps of Sadness. And it was on Day 4, as I placed my trusty steed (my Trek Lush SL 29’er) onto my shoulder and ever so carefully began to step over the single log crossing of what felt like the millionth boggy path of the Bench Trail, I was reminded of the long forgotten scene.
That swampy crossing in itself was not a big deal, but coupled with us riding past not 1 but 2 turn offs to that days singletrack options, opting to backtrack about 2 miles to the second turnoff, then getting lost on the proceeding trail forks and adding another couple of miles and one brutal climb, the day was beginning to take on the feeling of an epic quest and we as the protagonists were being tested to the max.
The directions instructed us that the trail would end with the appearance of a cabin in a pasture. And as we rode on and on, getting in and off our bikes to leap across, shuffle over or just fall into pits of what we hope was predominantly mud, although the constant cow presence led us to question what we were precariously perched above, I began to think all hope was lost.
When we crossed our “Swamp of Sorrow”, I pointed out its similarities to my riding companions. We all had a good laugh, and Jess stated soon after that he now had the theme song stuck in is head.
But as the miles added up, and I saw the day steadily drift away, watching the sun begin to drop, I began to truly feel as if we were on “The Neverending Singletrack”…
Finally, we reached the “cabin in the woods”, all muddy legged and bloody limbed (we ran into some vengeful thorns not long after the sad swamp), and whipped and hollered at having finally reached a point of interest that denoted actual progress on our journey.
The downside to our arrival was the realization that we had, by our modest estimation, 18-20 miles of gravel road remaining before we arrived at the Grahm Ranch hut. We took a late (very late) lunch break, and prepared for the miles that still lay ahead of us.
We made the assumption that after a brief climb back up to the road, we just had to descend to the hut…this would not be the last time we inaccurately made this assumption. In fact, by Day 6, we began to joke there was no such thing as downhill on our hut trip.
Numerous hills, some fiesty four wheelers and a rain storm all tried to deter us on our final charge to the finish, but with pure relief, we arrived at the hut at dusk. The elation of having completed such an arduous quest was pretty amazing!
Day 4 pushed us to the limits as a group, as we pushed hard against exhaustion, fatigue and soreness. We each had our moments that day, looking back I am more than a little ashamed by my behavior at the base of the singletrack trail, where I bonked and somewhat lost my temper (read: threw a toddler style pouting tantrum). While I still feel bad about my attitude at that point, the rough spots we all hit along the trail that would never end helped us learn to communicate and and more importantly listen, so we could work together to support and encourage each other better in the days that would follow.
Day 4 made us a true team, working together for a common goal…so in the end, we became our own very 80s era crew, bringing to mind other childhood era groups like the Goonies or perhaps even the Breakfast Club. And the unopened bag of peanut M&Ms in the cupboard was the perfect reward for a day of hard work and perfect way to cap what ended as a 50 mile day.