Running in My Heart

Running in My Heart

How many people can say “I have found my life’s purpose”? It took me 42 years, but here i am, finally understanding what my contribution to this world is. Did it happen by accident? Well, it happened because of an accident. I was paralyzed in a motorcycle wreck in 2001. The desire to get out on the trail led me to get my bike. My bike is how i get out on the trail. I have run into trouble on the trail. Now i am mapping trails for adaptive riders. Boom! There it is.

First year playing football at 12 years old. (I can’t believe i shared this!)

First year playing football at 12 years old. (I can’t believe i shared this!)

In recent years, I have struggled to get up in the morning, feeling semi-purposeless with little direction. Now, i find myself at dinner, thinking about getting back to work early the next day…one trail at a time.

Incorporating my personality into it all has been an interesting part. You see, i sort of missed my calling as a thespian. My life took a turn when i decided to play football instead of following my heart, which pulled me towards running and theatre. I did not have the parenting that equipped me with the tools to find the true man within. It was a free-for-all, directionless survival. For most young people, the most powerful influence is whatever breeds expectance, being cool, having friends, people liking you. There are a select few who seem to have a preprogrammed nature that compels them to rise above all that nonsense, but I was not one of those. Never have been. Whatever i do, i need to work very hard for and, without direction as a young man, i just followed the current.

As i turned the corner on the road to manhood, in my middle school years, i started fighting at school and with my younger brother. Early in life, my father had shown me that anger and violence were the way to solve problems and i followed suit. When football came into my life, that all ended abruptly. I gave it my heart, winning Most Dedicated every season. I took pride in my role as a special teams head hunter and third down specialist. My one claim to fame occurred when Michael Pittman, our star running back who ended up playing the game of his life in Super Bowl XXXVII, came up to me after practice one day and said, “I’m kinda afraid of you, McGhee.”

Football was good for me. It gave me an outlet for my aggression, but i was injured a lot and i rode the bench my junior and senior years on varsity, despite having the most sacks on the team (I had to throw that in there). My body was just not built for it, a lanky stride and slow feet obvious evidence that my aspirations of playing college football were far fetched and high school was the end of the road for this sport in my life.

The garage studio

The garage studio

I could run though and i really enjoyed drama class. If only i had the parental guidance to help me see, understand and accept these things. What would my life look like if i had chosen to run on the cross country team and had joined the drama club?

Fast forward two and a half decades and i am making videos for adaptive mountain bikers. If you have watched any of these, you will see that I narrate some of the story from a studio in my garage, but recently, I have been watching other mountain biker YouTube channels in an effort to learn how to do things the best i can. I started trying to do the same as them, talking to the camera on rides, narrating my experience as I go, eliminating the need for a post narration element. Then, i caught myself, the inner thespian clawing his fabulous way out of a pickle. “Not this time!” he claimed. I am different than they are. My videos are more than just mountain biking and they totally have an acting element to them. I get to be myself, goofy in front of the camera and have fun with it.

The latest video

I have found a way to be fully myself with a clear direction and this gets me up in the morning with excitement, something my life has been missing for a while. Also, the tech nerd in me gets to learn about video editing and gadgets and cool computer stuff. And of course, the inner runner gets to get out on the trail as part of all this too. Not literally running, but I am running in my heart, the way i can.

Feeding the Beasts

Feeding the Beasts

The 13th Weekly Ride episode tells the story of the last ride on my green bike and it made me think how far my bikes have come. It inspired me to write about the different bikes i have had over the years and the progression of each one…

In 2004, I moved to Mammoth to put my full energy into skiing. I thought this the best thing because, at the time, skiing was the only action sport i thought i could perform completely solo. There was always road biking, but that was just a default when i needed exercise. It was never something i enjoyed as much as getting out in nature.

In moving to the mountains, I relished in surviving through the elements. I celebrated things like shoveling snow, de-icing my truck, building fires and cold walks with my dog. These types of things sure made the coffee and scotch taste better! What i did not anticipate is what happened in the summer…the mountain bike culture. People in the mountains ride mountain bikes when there is no snow to ski.

Who am i? Rigid bike with full face helmet? Bike #1

This is where mountain biking began for me. Now, its important to remember that i do not consider myself a mountain biker. I am a trail runner and this bike is how i get out on the trail, BUT if i am going to do it, might as well REALLY do it. Hence, the full face, pads and downhill riding. So, I’m a trail runner and equally a downhill rider, disciplines sitting on opposite ends of the spectrum. On one side is the glutton for punishment. How much can i make myself hurt? At the other end is the adrenaline junkie who feels a huge sense of accomplishment when he scares the shit out of himself and survives.

The desire for my first bike was born purely out a desire to walk my dog on the trail and get my surfboard across the sand…and that’s entirely what is was meant for. Now, a volunteer ski instructor and ski shop employee does not really make the type of cash to afford a $6000 bike, but with the help of the Challenged Athletes Foundation and some good friends, i was able to get this first bike and get out on the trail!

This thing had crazy granny gears and could climb anything. It was fully rigid though, no suspension, and I quickly realized that it was not meant for riding the bike park at Mammoth, my back getting jarred with every rock drop. In all fairness, at that time, i was in my twenties and the adrenaline junkie side overrode the desire to work my heart and lungs.

Launching to new heights. Bike #2

The life of my first bike was short lived and i put her on the market after only a few months, knowing that i needed something different.

Enter my second bike, a full suspension beast of a downhill land spider. It took some serious smooth talking, all the cash from the sale of my first bike and then some, plus all the lint in my pockets and i drove home, proudly, with the bike hanging off the back of my car.

This bike took me to new heights. Literally, i launched that thing. I rode the bike park every day and surprised myself what i could take that thing through. Till this day, i will never ride as extreme or as hard as i did in those days, with that bike. She was broken a lot though and i spent months riding my rode bike while she sat in machine shops. My friends also had to push me around. She had no drivetrain, gravity driven only, and the Glutton for Punishment, the desire to simply trail run, came creeping back.

Glutton for Punishment on Bike #3 in Moab

One random day, I was researching off-road wheelchairs and came across something that looked similar to my first bike, with a drivetrain, but also with full suspension, like my downhill bike. You mean i could have both? I could satisfy the trail runner and the downhill rider? One bike for all? Within a couple weeks I sold my downhill bike and wrote a check, emptying my bank account. This third bike was twice the price and i lived incredibly simply in order to afford it.

Bike #3 was yellow before it was white. Adrenaline junkie smashing Kamikaze here.

The eight week wait killed me, but when she finally arrived I quickly put her together and the adventures began. I cranked through ligament straining climbs. Then, turned around and jumped off rocks, all in the same day, on the same bike. I spent sleepless nights, geeking out on trails on Google Maps and getting friends to take me on cool rides. I went to places like Moab, Colorado and Boulder City, NV and rode all over the Mammoth area. I got so much attention with this bike that the manufacturer asked me to help sell them.

Then, the next generation came out and i had to have it. Green bike enters scene. It was stronger, lighter, had more clearance…AND…the big difference…a power assist. Complete and absolute game changer. Rides with my previous bike were five to six miles and, in all honesty, i still had to get a lot of help. If i was on climb, whoever was riding with me might as well have been on foot. I was left in the dust. Now that was all different.

Fundraiser at Revolution Bike Shop. Thanks guys!

I can’t go on without giving thanks to Revolution Bike Shop, 2XU, my loving community of friends and everyone (even strangers) who donated to the Gofundme page for this bike. After selling the previous bike, i fell ill with an unexplained bone infection and had to have my lower spine replaced, the infection had eaten it away. When i was finally admitted, i was down to 119lbs and drove myself to the emergency room one night with a fever of 107. It was bad and i am lucky to be alive, but the hospital bills were payed with all the money i had, including what i had set aside for my next bike.

With Bike #4, my rides went from five or six miles to twelve, fifteen and further. My longest ride right now is 24.8 miles! Thanks to Spinergy, the bike could accommodate fat AND downhill wheels. Talk about one bike for all! Now i could “trail run”, ride the bike park AND ride out on the snow with the fat wheels. With the power assist, i was no longer left in the dust and felt more like a part of the pack rather than a burden on the pace.

Just part of the pack! Bike #4 in DH mode

I could navigate more terrain with the power to crawl up rock gardens and the ability to still propel myself while having both hands on the handlebar (off the hand crank). More of the world became open to me. The learning curve has been to still get “the pump” and find a way to satisfy the glutton for punishment by getting my heart rate as high. There is a fine balance of how much to let the motor help and i have discovered that cranking harder in a lower gear enables me to do more of the work. I am getting significantly into the red zone for duration on all my rides now and it feels good!

The down side: In order to have the ability to switch between fat and downhill wheel sets, the bike needs an external drive train. Without the luxury of being able to step off the bike and walk it over obstacles, if i find myself in too big of a gear with the external drivetrain, then i am stuck. There is a solution to this problem: The Rohloff Speed Hub. This is a German engineered internally geared hub (14 gears!), which goes into whatever gear you switch it into without moving. Did you hear that? WITHOUT MOVING! That is huge for an adaptive rider. This means that if i get stuck in too big of a gear, all i need to do is drop the gears all the way down and i am free to crawl.

Newest bike enters scene.

Meet LL Cool Grey

Without the external drivetrain, I have lost the ability to switch wheel sets, but have gained an entirely new freedom with the Rohloff. it switched gears like butter! I have learned so much over the years of riding these bikes that have made many other upgrades to the parts as well. In my opinion, because of those upgrades, this is the best of these bikes in all existence and it is so exciting to be on the front lines of discovery. The evolution, itself, has been a fun ride!

It is also exciting to be using this bike for others. My days of self promotion and striving to be a professional athlete are over. Its not about me anymore. Its about making the bikes better. Its about helping people get these bikes AND teaching them how to take care of it, all while providing the information they need to ride safely.

Enter The UNPavement (www.theunpavement.com). It is my goal to set a platform in place that stays in motion long after I’m gone.

I’m excited for the next generation of these bikes and for a world that possesses trail information for them. In the meantime, i’m gonna keep feeding the beasts…both of them. Thanks for joining me on this ride. Its been fun!

Coast to Crest Trail

Coast to Crest Trail

The Coast to Crest Trail

The Coast to Crest Trail

I have become obsessed with the Coast to Crest Trail in North County San Diego. It follows the San Dieguito River Park and spans over 70 miles from the beach in Delmar through Fairbanks Ranch to Lake Hodges and then east to Julian. When I first heard about it, I geeked out on Google satellite to all hours of the night, drove around like a trail creeper scoping trailheads and exploring trails section by section. I quickly realized, however, that the Coast to Crest only exists in segments and is not a trail that connects through at all. It would be amazing, but what I have discovered is that it would actually take an act of God to get it done. The City has plans, and it will be cool when those are complete in the far off future, but the plans call for a dirt path along a busy road in order to bypass a section of existing trail that passes though private land in Fairbanks Ranch. I went out there, on my own, and found all this out the hard way.

Section 1: Delmar

Super nice and maintained

Technically the trail starts off Jimmy Durante Road by the Delmar Fair Grounds. The trailhead is clearly marked with ample parking and the trail is very well maintained, but there is one big problem. No bikes allowed. What!!! Now my bike is considered by the FDA as an off-road wheelchair, specifically “an off-road three-wheeled carriage for person’s with disabilities.” That cracks me up. When i think of a carriage, i think of a fancy horse drawn wagon used by British aristocracy in the Colonial Era. The literal definition “a means of conveyance” actually works though. I guess my bike conveys me.

The next problem I discovered was a huge wash out making it impossible for me to get through and ending my ride for that day. I haven’t been out there since, but hoping its been repaired because some day, I plan on riding the whole thing and having apple pie in Julian at the finish. This will take having multiple batteries, a bike trailer, solar panels, a generator and most likely an overnight. Exciting!

The wash out

When the trail gets to the polo fields, technically it ends. There is trail there, but it is officially not a trail according to the San Dieguito River Park officials. Not sure what the plan is here. I’m assuming things will continue the way they are and what is an unmaintained infrequently ridden trail will stay as is.

Section 2: Fairbanks Ranch

This is the section of the Coast to Crest that exists already but is illegal because of private easements. I went out there and riding meant being a little sneaky. At the end of the golf course there is a chain across the trail and you are supposed to divert to San Dieguito Rd where the City plans on building a path. That totally sucks though. I had been scrupulously studying the trail from a satellite in space that took pictures of it (a.k.a. Google Maps) and the investigator in me just could not obey…so I ducked the line.

No one has been here for a long time

On the other side is nothing more than an old unmaintained fire road running along the creek between housing developments. Its ugly and it seemed like I was the only person to be there in months. No tracks. Overgrown. Nothing. An occasional dog barked at me from the neighborhood. I feared some old white rich conservative would yell at me from their manicured yard, but then i thought, “These people don’t go outside.” The only person who would see me would be a grounds keeper from a sit-on-top mower and why the heck would they care!

The area is ugly and it is sad to me that it is sitting there, protected by people who don’t want to share it. Just a little bit of work and what is an eyesore, if any eyes ever get to see it, could become something beautiful for a community to enjoy. Its existing trail! The City is planning on building NEW trail in order to bypass what is there already! Doesn’t make sense to me.

Existing trail that we can’t use

The trail then dead ends at a florescent green pond under a bridge at the edge someone’s private ranch. It looked like the trail maybe continued on the other side of the water, but i didn’t dare go through it. I imagined overgrown crawdads nipping my toes, contracting some weird infection or growing a third nipple. I turned around and rode home crestfallen. I kept running into dead ends.

Recently, I rode as far as I could from the other direction, east to west, again through private property, and actually got to the edge of that same private ranch on the other side. Two large weimaraners frolicked gangly with awkward paws in the rolling green grass. A pony sat dejectedly and lonely with what looked like a bag over its head, against a bright white fence. I was the stranger, an intruder. I tired to figure out where I was by looking on my phone, but couldn’t quite figure it out and I was scared someone would call the cops on me. The sun was also getting low and I had a ways to go to get back. It wasn’t til i got home and studied the map that i realized i was just on the other side of that ranch. It, realistically, would not take much physically to connect the trail, but to get those people to agree to it, that would take the act of God.

Section 3: Lusardi Creek & Lake Hodges

On the other side is Lusardi Creek Preserve. Lusardi is a fun area to ride, even if you are not connecting through to the “Coast to Crest”. There is a popular 9.3 mile loop that I like to do. The area connects, via easily accessible trail, to Los Peńasquitos to the south, Black Mountain to the east and Lake Hodges to the North. I did a big loop from PQ to Lusardi and back through Gonzalez Canyon once. Pretty cool to link up the different areas.

Watch my latest episode of Weekly Ride about Lusardi Creek

Connecting to Hodges from Lusardi means continuing from coast to crest. I’m assuming this section of trail had a big influence on inspiring the concept of the Coast to Crest Trail. Its well maintained, picturesque, unique and an absolute pleasure to ride. it takes you over cool bridges and has an intricate switch back section.

Riding along Lake Hodges is sweet too and then you cross under the 15 Freeway…

Section 4: Raptor Ridge

Raptor Ridge - One of my favorite trails i have ever ridden in San Diego

After crossing under the interstate, the trail is pretty boring and flat until it gets to Raptor Ridge, which is best ridden east to west, downhill. It is crazy fun and one of my favorite rides in all of San Diego County. The problem for me is a large rock cropping at the bottom, west side, that is a deal breaker for me. I got myself over this once, but it was not pretty and took about an hour. I thought about sending it off the rock on the right (see pic) and i probably could have pulled it off, but a newly found sense of self-preservation has come out of nowhere lately and my usual reckless abandon has fallen prey to it.

Rocks at the bottom of Raptor Ridge

On the other side of Raptor Ridge is some more unmaintained, overgrown fire road that leads back to the 78 near the Wild Animal Park and that is as much of the Coast to Crest as I have ridden. There is more to it, but it does not connect. From what i gather, some of it is not do-able for me until you get closer to Julian, where its mostly fire roads. In Julian, the apple pie flows like wine.

Some day soon, I will ride the rest. I think my days of exploring solo are over though. That whole wanting to live thing! I might even do an overnight with my Burley Nomad trailer and bike pack gear too! Eventually, the Coast to Crest Trail will connect all the way through and it will be fun working with the San Dieguito River Park to make sure it is all adaptive bike accessible. It probably will not incorporate what an act of God could make happen, but we can do our best to push for it be hopeful.

First episode EVER about Lake Hodges