The UnPavement

The UnPavement

Photo by Jeff Fox

Photo by Jeff Fox

In my travels, i have run into a problem: There is no way for me to know if i can do a trail or not. The information is just not out there. Refer to helicopter rescue in previous blog. I feel so much anxiety before going out for a ride in an unfamiliar area or on a trail that's new to me. The options are to schedule someone to go with me or stick to trails i know, but neither of those things is in the cards if i am traveling alone for a speaking gig or something. In this case, i will stop at a local bike shop and get some advice, but that is usually to just stick to the fire roads and that's no fun!

After a few mishaps, i took it upon myself to contact MTB Project. They are the number one resource for trail information for mountain bikers. If you ride, you use their app. I sent a heartfelt email about the problems i have run into, explaining the need to document trail accessibility information for adaptive riders, and they responded with a vehement 'YES!'. They insisted that this was something they have wanting to do for a long time now and The UnPavement was born.

Jeff Fox 4.jpg

Title: The UnPavement

Slogan: More Than Access

Brief Description: In partnership with MTB Project, helping adaptive riders navigate more wild places confidently and safely by providing detailed trail accessibility information because everyone should have a relationship with nature that does not depend on concrete.

Mission Statement: 'The UnPavement' is about removing the pavement of our minds. Many wheelchair users feel stuck, relegated to a life on the pavement, finding themselves staring into the wilderness wishing they could go there. Adaptive bikes get them out there, but knowing if they can do a trail on their own is the problem. That's where we come in. The UnPavement and MTB Project are out there, documenting the information necessary for adaptive riders to know exactly what they are getting into. Eliminating the surprises...and therefore the anxiety...allows individuals living with disabilities to enjoy more of the wild places this world has to offer and to get home safely when the adventure is done.

Photo by Nick Isabella

Photo by Nick Isabella

What does this mean in practice?

I will be documenting my trail experiences with video, pictures and detailed descriptions, all to be presented on a Trail Blog. This blog will be linked to by MTB Project for each specific trail that has been documented. This link will point to "Accessibility Information" and indicate a rating system:

  1. Can navigate trail solo
  2. Ride buddy advised
  3. Help Crew advised
  4. Do not attempt trail

Each description will be very detailed. "At mile 6.47 you will encounter a narrow cambered portion of the trail with an uphill rock and will need help around it. See picture."

Advice on how best to prepare (gearing, tire inflation, equipment, etc) will also be included. Not having the luxury of being able to walk your bike over technical terrain or walk it out if its damaged, makes preparation for adaptive riders that much more crucial.

The goal is safety. Know before you go so you can not only enjoy the ride, but get home safely. The concept of More Than Access is about quality of life. I want to do more than just be able get in the front door and be able to use the bathroom. I want to be able to explore the wild little corners of this earth confidently.

Photo by Jeff Fox

Photo by Jeff Fox

We kick things off in January, starting with San Diego, since its my hometown and year-round riding. We will start with the most popular trails in the most popular areas, branching out more and more, collecting information over the years, recruiting other adaptive riders to pitch in for the effort.


Stuck

Stuck

Do you know the acronym ADL's? Odds are, if you do, you've either spent some time in the hospital, work in health care or maybe sell disability insurance. Activities of Daily Living (ADL's) include things like getting dressed and feeding yourself. For a paraplegic, they also mean being able to get in and out of bed and on and off the toilet...everything necessary to survive daily life at home. After i hit a tree skiing in Mammoth, resulting in a broken femur and ulna, i was able to prove to the hospital rehab staff that i could perform all ADL's and, crazily enough, they actually let me go home six days later. I even drove myself, which meant a pull-up with my broken arm into my truck.

How green everything was after the rains

How green everything was after the rains

Fast forward three months and I'm all healed. Bounced back fast from that one! A much swifter recovery then the nine-month broken femur ordeal last year. (Yes, i am doing everything i can to build bone density and to prevent this in the future.) Learned my lesson too. Have surgery right away and over-fix everything. None of this waiting to see how things heal. Anyway, for my first adventure back in action i chose to head out for a little bike ride around the usual Los Peñasquitos Canyon. I planned on just riding for a quick hour or so, just to get out and get the blood pumping, The canyon had changed a lot since i had been there a few months prior. The last time i rode, lush green foliage bloomed over everything. Many of the trails were flooded and rutted, water flowing everywhere. It was a wild winter! Now, everything was overgrown but dried. Where there were deep ruts, people had rebuilt the trails. A different world.

I headed along my normal route, linking a few fun downhill sections with some windy trails, trying to stay off the wide roads and keep things more interesting. After finishing one of my favorite, i call it the Burm Trail (see video), i was faced with a decision: Turn right and take my usual route back or turn left and explore. I made the wrong decision and what unfolded next turned the afternoon, which was supposed to be mellow, into one of most arduous endeavors of my lifetime.

I immediately regretted my decision when i flipped over on the off-camber, steep little climb just to the left. This would be the first of several flip-overs. Once i righted myself, i had to rock back and forth to get into the correct gear in order to get over the small angled hump that caused me to flip over. The luxury of walking difficult terrain just isn't in the cards. I find little victories in getting over things like this. Something seemingly insignificant to most is a glorious battle for me. On the other side, came another decision and i chose the wrong thing again. I would have survived the day just fine most likely if i would have followed the fall line down to the right, but turned left again and ended up climbing up a downhill trail with jumps and burms, which was completely impossible, that luxury of walking my bike over stuff alluding me again.

Left to no other choice, i turned around and rode the downhill trail down. I'd be lying if i said it wasn't fun. I'd also be lying if i said i wasn't nervous about where it would lead me and if i'd be able to get out. I've run into trouble in this particular area before. These trails were built by BMX riders. They are narrow and windy with a lot of steep jumps. One jump line is completely encased in trees and a row of old pans hang from them for jumpers to slap their back wheel against in the air. Pretty cool, but there are a lot of off-camber situations and this is where a bike like mine has trouble.

Well, my fear slithered into reality as the trail thinned and thinned until lit was no longer a trail, but a small ravine running through the shrubbery. The overgrowth from all the rains this winter choking the trail into nothing and i was now upside down, underneath it all. I'm having difficulty putting into words what effort it took to unstrap from the bike, dislodge my legs, get into a position with leverage, and flip it over while pulling back all branches that grabbed the wheels. I could see a clearing through the thick bushes and proceeded to pull myself and my bike, inch by inch, towards it. It took about 30 minutes to go ten yards. I played my music loudly to scare off any coyotes and kept a watchful eye out for rattlesnakes. This is where they would be on a hot day like this. As i scooted through the rocky ravine, my pants came off, so i laid down in the dirt and pulled them back on, making sure to cinch down my belt as tight as possible.

Once to the clearing, i climbed back on my bike, which takes a multi-step transfer and requires guru like flexibility: legs over the head kind of stuff. When i finally back in the saddle, i realized that this was not the end of the fight. The clearing was surrounded by even thicker bushes and seconds later i was upside down again, underneath them. I checked the satellite image on Google Maps and it looked like i didn't have far to go to get to some semblance of a trail and after another hour and flipping over three more times, i ended up upside down a final time, with a broken chain, in a cactus full of black widows. 

I felt the tears welling up in anger and convinced myself to subdue my emotions. This would not help me get out of this situation and i could feel it later. I got myself out of immediate danger from the spiders and started yelling for help. Several minutes passed with no answer so i reluctantly grabbed my phone and dialed 9-1-1. 

Within five minutes, i heard sirens. Within ten minutes, there was an orange and white helicopter circling overhead. I relayed to the dispatcher directions for the pilot and it did not take long for them to spot me. A large siren sounded from the craft, signaling to the ground crew that i was located. It nudged slowly to a position directly overhead and lowered a rescuer on a cable down to me. I'll never forget what he said to me, "How the fuck did you get here?"

"I just kept digging myself deeper and deeper trying to get out."

"OK well, let me walk around and assess the situation and we'll come up with an evacuation plan."

"OK."

He disappeared around the bushes and came back not even five minutes later with a group of four firefighters. "OK here's what we're gonna do. The best way to get you out of here is to lift you out and these guys are gonna carry your bike out."

"Lift me out with the helicopter?"

"Yes, its gonna be way easier than trying to carry you out of here."

"Oh man. I'm embarrassed."

"Don't be. This is a legit situation."

He was right. I could have gotten myself out of there, but it would have taken hours and been dark by the time i was even to a trail. I would have had to fix my chain in the dark and possibly injure myself along the way. Besides, i was absolutely destroyed already, feeling dizzy, from the heat and what i had already been through.

Ful Uncut Rescue Video

He folded a cradle like contraption around me and, after a few quick instructions, the hook and cable were in front of us. He grabbed it, hooked it to us and up we went, the ground leaving us quickly. Just like that. Almost instant. With a birds eye view of the trails, i tried to memorize as much of them as i could. They mesmerized me. I tilted my head back and was surprised at how quickly we at the helicopter. They pulled me in, i sat on the floor, the nose dipped and the pilot began to fly us north toward an open area. It was then that i saw the seven or eight fire trucks and ambulances and all the crew that manned them waiting with lights flashing at the nearest out from the canyon. Standers-by flocked to the scene, iPhones out, filming everything. Embarrassment flooded me.

When we landed, an ambulance was waiting. They threw me onto a gurney, rolled me to the square red vehicle and drove me to the out where all the rescuers waited. A few minutes later the firefighters showed up with my bike. I wanted to fix it and ride back through the canyon to my car. When i became stuck, i was ten miles into my ride and I was parked at the extreme opposite end of the canyon. Driving around would take at least half an hour, but the chief convinced me to let them give me a ride. He said they need to make sure i was completely safe and that his men needed to get back to their homes and families. That was reason enough.

The firefighter who drove me back said listening to the relay between the helicopter pilot, the 9-1-1 dispatcher and me was very interesting. I shared my emotions with him and he assured me that i made the right decision to call by telling me a couple stories about people they rescued that were perfectly fine. He was young and strong. I told him how much i appreciated the ride and he informed me that he was getting out of making dinner for the entire station because of it. We laughed.

Once at the car, he helped me load the bike up and asked if i was ok. I assured him i was, we shook hands and he drove off. I cracked the warm beer that had been waiting for me, soaking in the view of the canyon and taking deep breathes between each sip. Its a tough pill to swallow but exploring new trails when i'm riding solo is just not a good idea. Huge thanks to the dispatcher and rescuers. I'll stick to what i know from now on unless i have a ride buddy.

Some of the fun i had before things got real


The Oh Shits!

Cobbles - Lower Half

Bowtie Rim to Rim Trail

Eucalyptus Downhill

"Burm Trail"

San Diego Snow

San Diego Snow

A few weeks ago, i decided to try and get away from the mud and rain by going out to Cuyamaca for a peaceful solo ride, but got into some serious mud and snow instead. Took a wrong turn and ended up on some precarious single track (see video below) and ended up in about four inches of snow at the top of the trail. That and didn't make it any less fun though and actually turned out to be the best part of the ride! I feel a huge sense of accomplishment when i explore new trails on my own. 

Getting around this fallen tree was interesting.

This is the Instagram story i published during the ride