Separation Anxiety

10.12.2015 | 11:48 am

Before I get started on this story, I should apprise you of two important facts:

  1. This story is completely true.
  2. Everyone survives.

I felt it might be necessary to enumerate these items, because at some point you will likely not believe item #1, and — during the actual event — I sometimes had my doubts about #2.

It Started Out Innocently Enough

Early October is the very best time to be a mountain biker in Utah County, Utah. The weather goes from hot to perfect. The trails go from dusty and loose to packed and tacky. The colors change from greens and browns to yellows, oranges and reds.

And, for some reason, about 85% of the people who had been on the trails…stop riding. Which leaves the amazing network of singletrack on the Ridge Trail Network free and clear for those of us who know what an incredible (albeit short — we generally have just four weeks before rain and snow will shut down the trails above 5000 feet) window of riding we now have. 

The training for the year is over. There are no events planned, no KOM/QOM hunts in our minds. It’s time to ride for fun.

And so yesterday morning — after a no-alarm wake-up and a lazy breakfast — The Hammer, The Swimmer, and I loaded up our mountain bikes: the Cannondale Scalpel Team Edition (which The Hammer has adopted as her own), my Cannondale Scalpel 2 (which The Swimmer has adopted as her own), and the Cannondale F-Si Carbon Black Inc. (which I love more than you could possibly imagine).

[Note: I did not mean for this post to go so Cannondale-centric so quickly. But here’s the thing: Cannondale is making unbelievably great mountain bikes, and they’re what we’re riding pretty much any time we go out.]

We parked at the Timpooneke trailhead, planning on a fun ninety-minute ride: Timpooneke to Ridge to Joy to Summit to Ridge and back. 

And, at first, fun is exactly what we had. The weather was perfect, the pace was fun and easy, and we took lots of photos.

Here, let me show you.

Thumb IMG 0116 1024

Thumb IMG 0110 1024

Thumb FullSizeRender 1024

Thumb IMG 0128 1024

Thumb IMG 0131 1024

We were having a great time, and both The Hammer and I were marveling at how The Swimmer can pretty much crush both of us on descents since we moved her from a seven-year-old, beat-up, hand-me-down hardtail to the brand new Scalpel 2 I won

We had no idea that everything was about to go pear-shaped on us.

Helpful, Yet Alone

We were about three-fourths of the way through the ride: having gone down Joy, we were now climbing up to the summit parking lot. I was in front as we crossed the paved road a quarter mile from the summit of the Alpine loop. I looked back to see that we were all together, then rode onto the short stretch of singletrack that leads to the summit as The Hammer told me about the race she had done the day before. 

We were still chatting as we reached the summit parking lot maybe three minutes later. There, a man on a mountain bike had a question about the trail network we were on; he wanted to know what would be the best way to ride singletrack down to the American Fork Canyon road. 

Happy to oblige, I explained there were two really good routes, both involving taking the Ridge Trail to Tibble Fork trail. The only question was whether he’d want to detour onto Mud Springs trail, which would mean an additional (but fun) climb and a somewhat more technical descent (the best descent in the network, according to both The Swimmer and me).

I finished describing the forks and turns he’d need to watch for, and the man thanked me and began his ride.

And then I was alone.

Which is to say, neither The Hammer nor The Swimmer were anywhere in sight. 

I rode around the circular parking lot once to make sure, and by the time I finished I knew what was going on: The Hammer had gotten tired of my jabbering, and she and The Swimmer had gone on ahead of me.

I confess: I am chatty and enjoy talking with folks I meet on the trail. I further confess: I lose track of time and don’t always know how long I’ve been talking with people.

Without a doubt, The Hammer and The Swimmer had taken off, and now it was my job to go as fast as I could ’til I caught up. It’s a game The Hammer and I have played many times when riding together.

I was a little disgruntled, though; today hadn’t been about cat-and-mouse riding; it had been about enjoying a family ride together. And besides, I needed to pee, and there’s an outhouse at the summit. 

I knew that this would mean it’d be a close thing as to whether I’d catch them at all before I got back to the truck, but I didn’t care. I’d start my chase once I took care of business.


My bladder now much more comfortable, I began my chase. I tried to get into the spirit of the thing, but I wasn’t really into it. The Hammer hadn’t even told me when they left, and I wasn’t in a mood to race; that part of the year was over.

Still, my legs felt good — it’s been a while since I have gone truly at race pace — and within five minutes or so I had caught the man I had given directions to. Which meant The Hammer and Swimmer had stayed ahead of him. No real surprise.

I flew down the downhill segments, bummed that I was doing these alone; I’ve been loving the fact that The Swimmer can stay right on my tail on these descents and had been looking forward to riding them with her.

I started formulating variations on what my terse-yet-cutting remark would be once I caught up with them. Most of them were along the lines of sarcastically saying, “Hey, great riding with you today.” Although I was also toying with a long diatribe around the central theme of how I had waited for them multiple times during the ride, and was it really too much to ask for them to wait just once for me?

I had a pretty good head of steam built up as I got near the end of the trail. Not terribly surprisingly, I hadn’t caught them. I noted with a little bit of angry satisfaction that since I was the one with the key, they couldn’t have gotten inside the truck and would have to just be standing around outside it. I fiddled around with adding “I hope you had fun just waiting around outside the truck for me instead of riding with me” into the outline of the speech I would make.

And then I got to the truck…and — I know you saw this coming, but I didn’t — nobody was there.

The realization hit me: I hadn’t been chasing them. Somehow, I had left without them.

Oh no,” I said aloud. “It turns out that I’m the jerk.” (Except I didn’t say “jerk.”)

Revisionist History

Knowing that they hadn’t been ahead of me, I concentrated back to when I had last seen The Hammer and The Swimmer. 

It had been when we crossed the paved street onto the short stretch of singletrack just a quarter-mile before the summit.

I then had been talking with The Hammer as we rode to the top, and remembered her standing by me in the parking lot while I talked with the man…but I didn’t remember seeing The Swimmer ever coming into the parking lot, and especially didn’t remember seeing the two of them head toward the Ridge Trail.

The Swimmer had never gotten to the top (at least that I could recall), and The Hammer had just…disappeared.

In a flash of inspiration, it occurred to me that The Swimmer must have gotten a flat or had a mechanical somewhere in the quarter mile. The Hammer, wondering where The Swimmer was, must have gone to look for her. 

And I knew for a fact that I was the only one riding with any tools or a patch kit.

I quickly loaded my bike onto my truck and tore off on the pavement toward the Alpine Loop Summit parking lot, where I was certain I would find them.

Except I wasn’t certain at all I would find them there. 

A Switch of Perspective

And now, let’s go back in time just a little bit. But this time, let’s follow The Hammer. 

After arriving at the Summit parking lot with Fatty, The Hammer stops and patiently listens to Fatty explain every turn and trail feature in the entire trail system to an increasinlgly dazed-and-confused-looking man. Really, all he needed to hear was “Take Ridge to the four-way trail intersection, then turn left and take Tibble down to the reservoir.” One sentence.

But Fatty was going on, as is his wont. 

After a few minutes, The Hammer begins to wonder: Why hasn’t The Swimmer gotten here? Maybe she’s crashed? Maybe she’s flatted? Probably it’s a good idea to go check.

The Swimmer can’t be far, it’s only a tiny section of trail since we’d last seen her. So The Hammer rides back the way they’d come, expecting to return in a moment.

After going a hundred or so yards, she comes to an intersection in the trail. An intersection we never even think about anymore, because it’s so close to the summit parking lot. You can practically see the parking lot from the intersection. Plus you just crossed the road that goes to the summit; it’s clear as can be that you should go up and to the right.

But…that’s only obvious if you already know it, really.

The Hammer chases down the trail — the “wrong way” fork — a quarter mile or so, shouting out The Swimmer’s name the whole time.

Then she realizes that this might take a while, and she’d better let Fatty know. 

The Hammer charges back up the trail to the Summit parking lot.

And Fatty is gone.

Somehow, in the course of three minutes, all three of us have gone from riding in a close group to being completely separated, with nobody knowing where anybody is.

Another Switch

Jumping back just a hair in time, let’s now look at where things are from The Swimmer’s perspective.

It’s been more than a month since the last time The Swimmer’s been on a bike, but Fatty and The Hammer have taken her on a monster of a ride, complete with this current big ol’ endless climb. And they’re talking, talking, talking as they ride, not noticing that they’re pulling away and out of sight.

And now, here she is, at a T in the trail. Which she does not recognize and they did not stop at. Which way should she go? 

Down — left — sounds good.

So she goes down. And keeps going. It’s a nice trail, but it seems a little odd that she hasn’t come across either of them yet.

So when she comes across a couple hikers, The Swimmer stops and asks, “Have you seen a couple mountain bikers go by, just a minute ago?”

No, they haven’t.

So she turns around, and goes up. Up, up, up.

After a while, the trail opens up into a parking lot, and there’s her mom. Nearly in a panic.

Fatty’s nowhere in sight.

They start riding back to the trailhead, expecting that Fatty will be waiting for them somewhere along the way.

Except, of course, you know that he’s not.

One Final Switch

Finally, let’s jump back to my perspective.

I drove maybe fifty yards before my doubts override my decision to drive to the summit, a picture of a dog chasing its tail coming to mind. If they are on their bikes and on a trail, I will absolutely positively not find them by driving on a paved road, I say to myself.

So thinking, I find a pullout on the narrow road, turn around, and head back to the Timpooneke parking lot. I unload my bike, put my helmet back on, and get back on the trail, retracing my steps. 

This isn’t as fast if they’re still at the summit, I think to myself. But if they’re somehow on the trail we had agreed we’d be riding, we’ll run into each other.

I’m hauling. At race pace, again. Just tearing my way up the mountain. Which explains why, about a mile into the trail and coming around a blind corner, I very nearly have a head-on collision with The Swimmer, who yelps.

I start laughing, I’m so relieved. They’re laughing, too. We ride back to the truck, load up, and for the entire drive home, piece together exactly what happened.

“I know what tomorrow’s blog post is about,” I say.


  1. Comment by RoanokeRick | 10.12.2015 | 12:24 pm

    You left out the moral of the story!

  2. Comment by leroy | 10.12.2015 | 1:14 pm

    The moral?

    My dog informs me it’s:

    “A full bladder means an empty head.”

    I agree that explains a lot.

    I also agree it excuses missing riding companions on a trail.

    But I’m not buying his suggestion this excuses indoor territory marking.

  3. Comment by EricGu | 10.12.2015 | 1:50 pm

    Perhaps the Hammer and the Swimmer could have you equipped with a GPS tracker…

  4. Comment by Brian in VA | 10.12.2015 | 1:57 pm

    It makes complete sense to me, from everyone’s perspective, and I’m amazed that you all sorted it out as well as you did.

    Another well-spun yarn!

  5. Comment by Heidi | 10.12.2015 | 2:03 pm

    Next time, everyone wear a whistle…

  6. Comment by MikeL | 10.12.2015 | 3:09 pm

    You at least had the excuse of being on the trails. This is the kind of adventure my wife and I can have on our road bikes if she sees a stray squirrel.

  7. Comment by Maggi | 10.12.2015 | 3:24 pm

    If only we had small, portable communications devices — you know, something small and light and flat that would fit in a jersey pocket.

    Oh, wait.

    And in fact, at least two of us (i.e., The Hammer and I — I’m not sure about The Swimmer) had phones with us (that’s where all the pictures came from). But as soon as you enter American Fork Canyon (where all of the Ridge Trail network is), No Service is a given (but I did check, as did The Hammer). – FC

  8. Comment by bob in denver | 10.12.2015 | 3:28 pm

    Anytime you start a story with “Everyone survives” it’s not good!

    But it’s for sure better than one that starts with the opposite. – FC

  9. Comment by Anonymous | 10.12.2015 | 3:45 pm

    Something I would do. Maybe that’s why my family always leaves me to ride alone. (Sniff)

  10. Comment by AKChick | 10.12.2015 | 3:57 pm

    LOL! Leroy!!! So much awesome in that comment. :)

    I really love this cool little gems that come between contests and race reports. So glad that everyone was okay and you all found each other. :)

  11. Comment by *** | 10.12.2015 | 4:19 pm

    It’s good to have these little episodes end “with everybody laughing.” Sunshine and friends went right on the Wasatch Crest Trail when the instructions were to go left, and ended up at the Jeremy Ranch Albertson’s, while the car was at the Park-n-Ride at the base of Mill Creek Canyon, with my cell phone in it. Left, I say. Left.

    I still hear about it. Not anybody was laughing, in the end.

  12. Comment by Jeff Dieffenbach | 10.12.2015 | 5:17 pm

    Throw in a flash forward and you’d have LOST beaten for the use of time in story arc plotting.

  13. Comment by Cyclingjimbo | 10.12.2015 | 6:18 pm

    My wife and I have this experience almost every time we go into a grocery store together. I, driven by the need to follow the list we so carefully put together (as an archtypical male, I am a buyer, not a shopper) motor on, turn around, and she is gone, driven by the need to find something that didn’t quite make it to our list. Sometimes we end up laughing about it. I like the idea of GSPs for both of us – or maybe helium balloons on strings.

  14. Comment by Mark in Bremerton | 10.12.2015 | 8:31 pm

    Entertaining post, as usual, about pretty much day-to-day events around here.

    We have figured out how to not lose each other on the bike, however: tandem. (Fatty, this is one bike I don’t think you yet have. Maybe Cannondale will comp you one for all the great publicity you’ve given them).

    The Hammer and I ride together often enough that a lot of people have suggested we try tandem. I confess, I do not feel the draw of tandem at all. – FC

  15. Comment by John Elliss | 10.12.2015 | 11:51 pm

    Very good story about cycle riding. I am cycle rider and i like to participate this type of event. I experience on of the event that is in spain. It is very nice and all over friends making fun and ejoy the cycling holidays spain.

  16. Comment by davidh-marin,ca | 10.12.2015 | 11:59 pm

    @Mark in Bremerton
    We know you love living on the edge. But not all as strong as you and your wife.

    Elden saw some tandem mtb couples at Boggs Mountain last May. That may be as close as he wants to get.

  17. Comment by Tom in Albany | 10.13.2015 | 5:36 am

    We once lost my then 4 year old daughter at a public place. The fear and panic is something I wish on no one!

    Also – I also have framed those snarky, sarcasm-laced monologues in my head, only to have them quickly disappear when, I, too, realize I’M the one being the “not a jerk but, well, you know…”

    Yeah, even a moment of not knowing where your toddler is in a crowded public place spikes the HR like nothing else I know. A few years ago (when the Twins were little girls, not teenagers), we went to NYC around New Years, and I don’t think I ever saw the city; I spent more or less every moment swiveling between the girls. – FC

  18. Comment by Jacob | 10.13.2015 | 6:13 am

    I’ll never understand a lot of the cyclists and runners either when it comes to weather. It seems like that, as a runner, just when it starts getting to be the time of the year that I know the good weather is over is when I see the sudden explosion of people out for a run. How do these people know that running in 60 degrees is SO much better than running in 80 degrees? Given that I’m in southern Georgia and our typical highs in January are around 70, why aren’t they out more in the winter than the summer? Makes no sense.

    I’m a lot more active between October and March than I am May-September, although I do run more in the winter than ride. Cold weather is colder on the bike.

  19. Comment by Jeff Dieffenbach | 10.13.2015 | 6:24 am

    Some have speculated that Fatty’s reason for steering clear of the tandem is his not being 100% thrilled with being assigned the stoker’s seat.

    You know, I think I’ll write a blog post about why I am not interested in the tandem. – FC

  20. Comment by Miles Archer | 10.13.2015 | 7:17 am

    Do you have cell phone coverage where you were riding? I guess probably not.

    Tandem = divorcecycle

    Nope, no cel phone coverage in AF canyon. – FC

  21. Comment by Peri | 10.13.2015 | 8:19 am

    Any chance you are going to finish the Hammer’s story about Lotoja? I think you did this to us recently with another race report that you never finished. These loose ends are keeping me up at night imagining the different race scenarios.

    The Hammer’s Lotoja race report is actually complete. Here are links to part 1 and part 2. You’re right about my needing to complete my race report for the Crusher in the Tushar, though. That’s embarrassing. – FC

  22. Comment by Jeff Dieffenbach | 10.13.2015 | 9:29 am

    @Peri, you are forgiven for being confused by the Hammer’s being able to complete a race report in a mere 2 parts! [grin]

  23. Comment by davidh-Marin,ca | 10.13.2015 | 9:47 am

    Spot on about Fatty and the Tandem assignment. So miffed he probably ‘wouldn’t pedal’ back there.

  24. Comment by JL | 10.13.2015 | 10:21 am

    My favorite loop in AF Canyon, EXCEPT from the Summit parking lot take Horse Flat (#250) to Snow Gauging (#189) to Salamander Flat back to Timpooneke. The Snow Gauge trail is narrow, fast and not torn up by motorcycles (they are verboten). Try it, I think you’ll like it.

    I have never ridden those trails — didn’t even know they exist! I will look for and try them out pronto. Thanks. – FC

  25. Comment by Augustus | 10.13.2015 | 8:49 pm

    I skipped to the comments do I could mention I ride a Cannondale Trail. It is a much lower end bike, but I am just a janitor not a world famous bicycle blogger.

  26. Comment by Dudsbait | 10.13.2015 | 9:51 pm

    Even when it goes wrong, riding bikes is awesome!


Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.