Monday, August 8, 2011

Big Cedar and Cedar Hill

My Dad and I have been working all week and only been able to get together afterwards, but this morning we had all day and we were up bright and early with bigger plans than usual.

He'd been telling me about this trail called Big Cedar that we've just got to ride. Poking around on the DORBA web site, I discovered that it was right next door to Cedar Hill State Park. The first time I came to Dallas with a bike, I rode at Cedar Hill. I've only been back once, and that was probably ten years ago. Given their proximity, and that we had all day, it didn't seem reasonable to ride one and not the other. So that was our plan.

We got to Big Cedar about 10:30.

 Big Cedar Sign

It turns out it's on a huge piece of land owned by a church. You actually drive through the church lot to get to the trailhead.

It wasn't yet a million degrees out, and there were a bunch of cars in the lot.

 Big Cedar Lot

Everyone was coming in off the trail and heading out though, so maybe it was gonna be a hot one. Still, the novelty of the heat hadn't yet worn off, and thus the warning implied by the exodus had little effect on me. I was happy to be there and looking forward to riding something different.

 Me at Big Cedar Lot

Most of the trails in Dallas are relatively flat, really twisty and occasionally punctuated by drops or really short, steep climbs. Big Cedar isn't really like that. The soil and the foliage were familiar but the terrain was more like what I'm used to seeing in Georgia.

The trails basically run up, down and all around a limestone escarpment in one of the hilliest regions in the metro area. No opportunity to gain or lose elevation was wasted. There were occasionally drops and kickers, but there were also switchbacks, long runouts and much longer climbs.

My Dad popped a few spokes last weekend and he's been running a loaner front wheel and a tire he's not used to. He'd slipped once or twice at Rowlett the other day but saved it easily. Today, the terrain was less forgiving.

 Rider Down

We thought he was unhurt, but later it turned out that he'd landed on a little stump and cut his hand through his glove. It wasn't bad enough to need stitches, but it was bad enough to check and see if it needed stitches. It was in a good place though. Gripping the bars held it closed and it didn't seem to bother him at all while he was riding.

Like all Dallas trails, Big Cedar alternated between twisting through the woods and meandering around in open fields.

 Big Cedar Scenery

In the midday sun, it was much hotter out in the open than it has been all week. It was hot in the woods too and with the terrain, we were working harder than we've had to. We took a couple of breaks.

 Water Break

There were some seriously difficult climbs and we pushed more than a few times.


But we made more than we pushed.

 Exposed Climbing

Oh man, that just looks HOT.

There are about 10 miles of trail out there, but it feels more like 20. We rode most of it. There were some bypass trails that we skipped and two downhill runs.

We even hit a brand new trail that was just opened the day before which definitely needs to be ridden in. There was an extremely sketchy spine running across a set of limestone boulders, half natural, half constructed, that could use some adjustment too. It's somewhat precarious, you have to commit without being able to see all of what you're committing to and there's no good direction to bail in. My Dad sketched going into it, got in the wrong position, couldn't get his feet back on right and generally just made it through on instinct and momentum. It was scary, but it turned out ok.

When we got back, the lot was empty. We were the only ones foolish enough to be out in the heat.

 Closin' 'em Down

It had been about 102 when we started, and it was then 106.

But we were just getting started.

Cedar Hill was just up the road.

 Cedar Hill Sign

There were two cars in the Cedar Hill lot. One was owned by a guy who was coming back in from his ride as we drove up. We parked next to the other. Not 3 minutes later, two young teenage girls came jogging off the trail, jumped into the bed, grabbed big chunks of ice and took off jogging back down the trail. Then, a few minutes later they appeared again, doing the same thing. Then, again a few minutes after that, this time with a third girl.

We talked to them for a minute. It turned out that they were with a group of hikers, including their parents who had no water. One of their moms was sitting down on the trail. My dad had brought a cooler with like 5 full Powerade and Simply Orange bottles and we'd filled it with ice on the way out. He'd done this the previous couple of days too. It seemed like massive overkill to me and though it had been nice to have the cool water at the end of the ride, I certainly wouldn't have gone to that trouble if I were out by myself. Then and there though, however massive, his overkill turned out to have been a really good idea. We gave the girls two bottles, full of ice-cold, filtered water and a bag of Cherry Blossom Honey Stingers. Ten minutes later their entire crew walked out. The bottles were empty and they'd eaten all but one of the gels. They didn't appear to have brought any water with them at all and they'd been out on a 5 mile loop. I've seen that more times than I can count. I even did it once or twice myself, way back. It just doesn't seem that far until you get into it and it's easy to get within a mile of the end, dehydrated and exhausted, and take as long to get out from there as it took you to get to that point.

I imagine that water must have tasted good. Like "God's own mercy."

Unfortunately, as it turned out, we'd given them the bottles that I'd filled from my dad's fridge, which has a filter. With the drought they're experiencing, the tap water in Dallas these days tastes dirty and moldy and though it's apparently safe to drink, it's not what you'd choose to drink if you had a choice. I'd filled my bottles with fridge water that morning, but they were empty and all we had left in the cooler were bottles I'd filled from the tap earlier that week before I discovered the fridge. Yay. Mold-water.

Whatever, it was getting hot and we had some riding to get done.

What I remembered of Cedar Hill was that it was more of the same meander through the prairies then twist through the woods action that Dallas is famous for, that there is more gradual climbing and descending than the other local trails and that it's almost completely devoid of drop or kicks.

All that turned out to be pretty close.

In the woods, it was twisty, but not as twisty as I remember. I remembered having a hard time fitting between the trees last time, but since then the corridor had really been opened up.

There were endless switchback too. I remembered some climbing from ten years ago, made technical by erosion and exposed roots. Now it's all switchbacks. Endless, endless switchbacks. If you're in the woods, you're riding switchbacks.

Out in the prairies it was less twisty, but only marginally so.

 Semi Prairie

There were a couple of distinct landmarks that I never saw too. I remember a creek crossing with a chain-link fence on the ground to give you traction coming out the other side, and a long run through the prairie where you come around a corner and Bam! there's a great view of a huge field with rolling hills heading off into the distance as far as you can see. In spring, the field is covered in wildflowers.

I never saw either of those today. Looking at a topo map later, I think I see where the trail's been rerouted around the big field-view, but I've got no idea about the creek. Maybe there's a bridge across it now.

There was a nice view of one of the inlets on Joe Pool Lake.

 Dad at Joe Pool Overlook

Later, we ran along the edge of it for a mile or so too.

The heat started getting to me about halfway around. It had definitely been getting warmer all day.

The one thing that's really struck me all week is that when it's warmer than body temperature outside, your frame is warm when you lean your knee against it. That's just weird.

The water felt like hot tea in my mouth. Hot, moldy tea.

To make matters worse, my dad appeared to really be recovering right about then. Now and then it even seemed like he was attacking me. I was always able to respond, but I don't usually have to dig to keep up with him. I was digging today. When we got back I was glad to be done.

I think the novelty of the heat has finally worn off.

It was fun riding Cedar Hill but it just wasn't what I'd remembered it being. It was good riding, but after a while it was just anonymous singletrack. It always seemed like we were climbing too. There were plenty of long climbs, but no long runouts or downhills of any significance. I know it's geographically impossible, but I swear that we climbed from the time we left the lot to the time we got back.

Big Cedar was tough and really fun. Cedar Hill was a little anticlimactic. Either way though, until the heat started getting to me it just felt really great to be out in some unfamiliar woods, spending time with my Dad. This might be the last ride I'm able to get in on this trip. If it turns out to be, it wasn't a bad way to end it.

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