This last Saturday, June 30th, we went for a drive up Blue Mountain in south Missoula and found an ATV trail in the forest. We walked down the trail about 30 feet and decided that I would have no problem on it with my new bike, a 1979 Enduro, on road/off-road bike. We returned the next day with my bike and noticed that a couple of guys with full motocross style gear, and light weight “real dirt bikes” were in the parking lot. I didn’t see this as a sign for some reason and went on my way down the trail with only minor concerns.
At first the trail was easy, bumpy and rough but easy, when suddenly it turned into a trail more advanced then I was used to, with really sharp switchbacks, banked sides, huge loose rocks (like grapefruit sized), really loose gravel and thin dusty dirt (slippery). The farther I went down the more I felt like turning around but between the seep decline and the narrow trail, there really wasn’t anywhere to do that. When I finally got to a place where I could stop the bike and turn it around, it was right past a really ugly loose rock switchback and the flat area was a mass of loose gravel and dirt. I couldn’t get up enough revs to even start the bike for long since I would have to take it slow around that first sharp corner up, and because the loose ground just slides under your tires like jello, I just could not get up and going to get back up the trail. I started to feel like an ass and lose confidence, probably the worst thing to lose when you need to get up the guts to ride a 300lb bike up a steep loose hillside.
After stalling like 5 times trying, I called Ross (somehow we had service up there), who would have to basically find me in the forest and help me push the bike to a place I could ride from, or help me find another way out. Ross was having a hard time finding me, thinking I went down a different trail to start since I couldn’t explain where I was, so while I was waiting I thought I could meet up with him closer to an old unused road just south of me and he could meet me there. I started the bike and continued going downhill. The switchbacks had stopped for a time and the trail was nice and mostly flat. I almost thought I might really be able to just make it to the end of the trail after I met up with Ross if it went on like this, and not have to push the bike uphill at all. Just as I started to get my hopes up, I looked ahead on the trail to see it blocked by a huge tree, and the only shortcut was a steep incline with super loose dusty dirt. I felt my confidence in my riding die again. I knew if I couldn’t make it up that sharp turn from a stop, I certainly couldn’t make it up a straight up a loose hill either. The bike had been having rev issues in first gear since I got it and without speed I can’t climb with it, an issue I didn’t anticipate being a problem as most roads I’ve gone down I’ve been going at least 20mph the whole time. ATV trails are apparently not what I was looking for in a trail with my moody old bike.
There was no room to even turn the bike around and go back to the spot I originally stopped at and where I was stopped was also where bikers from the other side of the tree would come down, possibly onto my bike, hurting themselves, me and our bikes. I felt my only option to protect the bike was to get it pointed the right way so I could go back to where I was before. Because the trail was too narrow for a proper turn around I had to rock the 300lb bike back and forth moving the front wheel over it a little at a time to face it the right way. About the time I got the bike sideways on the trail, I had to basically pull the bike backwards up a hill for a few inches to get the front tire turned and pointed the way I wanted to go. I gave it one big shove when my foot rolled on one of the many “grapefruit sized rocks” on the trail and the bike and I fell to the ground. The rock had been hidden under the inches of dusty dirt I was wading in, just waiting for the opportunity to attack.
Since I was holding the bike, the added weight of rolling my ankle became the real issue and I heard a distinct pop sound as I fell. I let the bike down as softly as I could as I fell and sat on the ground clenching my fists in annoyance and pain. I’ve sprained my ankles numerous times and expected this was the same and that it would be tolerable in a moment. I had been sitting there frustrated and pissed at myself for a while when I noticed my bike was leaking fluid, possibly gas but maybe oil or battery acid, I had no idea except that I had to get the bike up if I expected to ride it out of there if needed. When I fell, the bike had rolled forward and the front tire was now over the lip of the trail and pointing down a large hill, a hill I did not want my bike to go down.
I stood up as best I could, still assuming my ankle was sprained, and tried every angle I could find to get a handle on the bike and lift it up. Like lifting up a refrigerator, these things take time, but eventually I got it up just to find that I was now stuck holding onto the brake as there was no way to put the kickstand down while the bike was on the edge of the trail. I was on the “wrong side” of the bike so I leaned over and pushed the bike into gear with my hand, which for some reason seemed to do little from keeping it from rolling. I managed to get to the other side of the bike whole holding the brake and continued my struggle with turning the bike the right way, or at least till I could get the kickstand down and go find Ross who was by now even more lost trying to guess where I was.
I got on the other side of the bike somehow and kept rocking it and putting all my weight into pulling it backwards up the hill behind me to get the front tire turned. Eventually I managed to get the bike facing the right way and pull it to a place where it was visible to other bikers. It helps that it’s bright yellow but not if it’s hidden behind a hill or tree. My ankle was still hurting pretty bad but I needed to go look for Ross since the trail had started turning east and I knew he was on the west side of it by now, I was worried he would walk right next to it and never see it. I hobbled up and down the loose dirt shortcut made by the other bikers and down the trail on the other side of the evil tree. Just a little ways down the trail, I saw him jogging through the forest. Both of us had been yelling but neither of us could hear each other so we got lucky that we found each other before he went off the wrong way. My motorcycle’s horn had stopped working after I dropped it so my plan for signaling him with it was out.
Unfortunately the ordeal was not over. Although I was worried the bike wouldn’t run anymore because all electrical things had stopped working, we got it started, first kick starting with my hurt ankle, then passing it off to Ross to try. I rode back to the place I had called him from and showed him the problem. The trail was at a junction but I didn’t know what was up the other trail, something worse or was it a way to the abandoned road? He ran down that trail see where it went and found it was pointless, not only was part of the trail a rocky death trap for a bike like mine but the road had a gate that was basically impassable.
After all that we still had to try and push the bike up the steep hill I came down.
With Ross in front and me pushing from behind, we ran it up the straight parts and took slow “one foot at a time” spurts on the steep sharp corners. If I kept my foot straight and pushed down on my heel it didn’t hurt too bad but we were both using all our strength to push it over the rocks, over roots, loose ground and it was starting to catch up with us. Whenever it seemed possible I would get the bike started and ride it to the next steep, loose switchback, where we had to push again. After about 4 of these runs and turns, the trail straightened out a bit and I got the bike going and was able to take it the rest of the way up the hill without any issues.
When I finally got the bike to the ramp I was so exhausted I could barely hold the bike up to park it, nearly dropping it a couple times before getting the kickstand up. When I started to walk back towards the trail to meet up with Ross, I started to notice how bad my ankle hurt.
We went to get some dinner and a beer afterwards and by the time we finished my ankle was a baseball and I could barely walk back to the truck. My mom told me to go to the doctor, and again on Monday, finally by Tuesday morning she was on her way to pick me up to take me herself. It certainly wasn’t feeling any better so I went along.. to find out I had broken my lower fibula, a leg bone but the break is often called a “broken ankle”. I was so pissed and felt about as stupid as humanly possible. Had I just waited where I was or left the bike rather than look for another way out, I wouldn’t have run into tree blocked trail at all. At least no one rode by me and laughed at me I guess. In fact I was trying to prevent an accident by moving my bike out of the way when not a single person rode by at all. I could hear people off in the distance but everyone must have known that the tree was there already and avoided that trail.
Ross probably ended up running about 3 miles just trying to find me and both of us felt like we’d been run over by cars the next day. My muscles feel a little better but my leg is getting increasingly painful as the days go by. Supposedly it’s a “clean break” and in a “good place” – though online it’s hard to tell when everyone has different health conditions, pain tolerance, weight, etc. exactly how much time I’ll be laid up. I plan to eat nothing but calcium rich collard greens and orange juice for the next 6 weeks and hopefully by Glacier I can at least walk around a bit and have my foot on the ground.