Road2Recovery – February 2013
We were invited to participate with this amazing group, Road2Recovery. The organization offers cycling as a way for wounded soldiers to repair emotions and cope in a practical and lively environment. It’s a little surreal when you arrive at the trail-head and see men and women on mountain bikes, most with some prosthetic limbs. Some of these limbs were modified to deal with the stresses of mountain biking.
It was humbling, too. On days when you think, “Man it’s cold outside, I should stay here and rest and be warm in the house,” this offers a new perspective. These wounded are out riding and enjoying the experience because they have the ability to still do it. Every moment they can ride is a blessing. I have full use of my body. Situations like this can make you feel like a real dirt bag. I am no wounded soldier.
Getting to Vegas
The trip started as an invite that I thought I wasn’t going to get to be a part of. Then things changed and changed again and all of a sudden I was on the road with Zack and Kyle en route to St George, our first stop. We’d ride the Zen trail there and continue on to meet the group in Vegas on Monday morning. We arrived in Vegas on Sunday evening ready for a good time. As it would turn out we wouldn’t spend more than a couple of hours a day with the Road2Recovery group, just enough to do some fantastic desert riding with them.
After breakfast on Monday morning we hit the road bound for Blue Diamond, a place I’d never heard of where there are some 150 miles of mountain biking trails in an area known historically for Spanish mining. The Spaniards went off in all directions in search of glory, gold, and God. They found gold in what has become the tiny colony of a town, Blue Diamond, and started mining, looking for the gold.
Similar to many hard-rock mining camps in the west they needed the ability to move massive amounts of rock and debris so they brought in mules. Those mules and their masters created the eerie old, inexplicable roads that now lace the desert countryside. Their work made way for the mountain bikers who’d be along centuries later to build trails and bring new life to this corner of the desert.
Blue Diamond, Nevada
Blue Diamond is a town at the center of all of this. They have their own zip code and post office. There’s even a quirky little bike shop manned by a quirky and amiable mechanic. He’s the guy you want sitting around a campfire telling stories of the past. He’s the one that you need to ask about the trail system here.
Surrounding Blue Diamond is a haven of trail systems. In the middle of winter when all the trails at home are covered by 9 feet of snow and daily skied across, you long for a ride. Las Vegas answers the call for a winter ride. Blue Diamond is desert country and is a place that is shrouded by near mythical history which doesn’t exclude Spanish prospectors. Redrock.org has a brief history of more modern times of this area.
The trail is hard and soil filled with what seems to be river bed stones. They’re all rounded and give the dirt unmatched stability. There are sandy sections, like the section called Viagra… there are several small regions with different names: BFR (?), Badger, Red Canyon, and Cottonwood. There are probably others but I think you’ll get the idea when you get there.
These men and women had been injured on duty, injured in terrible and terrifying ways. They had either seen things that can’t be unseen, lost companions, or limbs, or all of the above. Working with wounded soldiers isn’t something for the faint of heart. All had some new limitation to either mobility or confidence because of either emotional or physical injury.
I couldn’t tell you where I stood in the lineup of who was there to help. I wasn’t sure that my volunteering had much to offer. I usually add assistance when there are mechanical issues. But the second day came around and I started to understand why I was there.
Carlos had several C-vertebrae discs fused. His injury and recovery left him without confidence that he could ride like he used to. He stopped dead on a moderate climb and kicked himself for feeling so out of shape and limited. We encouraged him and coached him to keep on with the climb in order to overcome the weakness. The more he did this the stronger he’d become. It was all he needed.
At the end of the descent off the backside of that climb, he came up to Cole and me and thanked us for what we had done for him. I didn’t understand but then it hit me. I was volunteering to support this crew in a way I never had. They needed fellow humans to believe in them, to tell them they could do it.
That was what it was about. Kind of a life lesson if you will. Most of my time I spend with athletes or recreational athletes who suffer pretty basic injuries. I may never know what war does to the mind. What I saw in those individuals, maimed emotionally more than physically, was sadness and activities in groups like that had power to heal.
One more thing, I got to chase Johnny Tomac for a while on Monday. I’ve idolized that guy for a long time and met him briefly once before. I’d never been able to ride with him though. The only reason I could keep up was because there was a slower guy in front of him that day. I watched, really watched, and I could see that riding with company for him was like playing dominoes. He flicked rocks off the trail with either tire and manualed over rocks, large ones… and rollers. Generally, Johnny T is a legendary rider and in my eyes a living myth. I was stoked that he was part of our ride.