This is the big one. The one that matters most.
Day 4, 10% chance of rain. Waking up lakeside from a sound sleep to a morning in flux. After the cloudy display the day before (the 20% day), I was keeping a weather eye. The sun came right up, like it will, and there was a promise of a leisurely day filled with swimming and cliff-jumping (well, it is a rock outcrop with about 8' of vertical but it's not too much of a stretch to call it "cliff" for the sake of hype) and napping and snacking and reading and sitting around.
We had settled on J deciding the order of things on account of it was his birthday. Yes, I dragged him out into the woods on a week long camping trip in which fell his birthday. 8 years old on the day. I was willing to abide with whatever he chose, but kept in the back of my mind the idea that we should really get back up and over to Kelly Lake to sleep or risk biting off a big piece of climbing all in one lump on the last day. He wanted to walk back to the cliff and swim. I was hoping the clouds would blow through. Instead, on this 10% day they settled. More and more fog came billowing down the ridge. Tendrils of Winter unfurled over our Indian Summer. We reached the cliff and checked on the cherry offerings we'd left for whatever creature was visiting (no change) and turned around in short order to break camp. J had decided we would head back to Kelly Lake, which was warm and inviting in his memory.
We packed up, filtered water and rode singletrack. At the fire road it began to spit. As we climbed, the drizzle became apparent, intermittent, and finally consistent. I began to worry. In packing for this trip, I had intentionally left out the tent (20%!) and- here's the kicker- told myself that skipping the rain gear was a legitimate idea because (a) 20% and (2) "if we need rain gear we'll already be so fucked that it won't matter anyway". Yes, really. I look back and marvel. The rotten part is that at some point in my future I will make an equally crazy decision based on whatever blend of immediate convenience and deeply rooted ignorance I happen to be sporting at that time. I can't be taught.
Idiot! It pains me to admit this.
So, because of my ineptitude, my boys were standing at the top of one ridge looking across a deep valley at the fire road on the other side as it disappeared into fog. I knew that fog would be just as full of precipitation. Several thoughts occurred to me at once. We had no tent. We had no rain gear. We could shelter in the outhouse (ew. I have done this before. It is as bad as you think.) in the hopes the fog would pass. The fog was not going to pass, and we'd be there overnight at least. We were standing about 7 miles and several steep climbs from our car. D could wear his poncho over his cotton hoody (cotton? idiot!). J had a synthetic fleece hoody so he'd be OK if we kept moving, but not if we had to stop. I had a cotton (idiot) shirt and a down jacket (idiot).
I told the boys we were leaving a day early. I told them that we had to get to the van as quickly as possible.
I did NOT tell them that I envisioned abandoning J's bike and some camping gear in the bushes and riding him out hypothermic on the deck of the Big Dummy. I pictured us finishing in the dark.
Man, did I underestimate my sons.
J had one solitary instance on the climb up out of Kelly Lake on Coit Road (which is a bitch) when he started to whimper with each exhale. I am familiar with how that progresses, and it is not long before it breaks into crying. I shut that down and reminded him to breathe, to take it as easy as he possibly could while still riding as much as possible, to not take it too easy on yourself and to ride whenever you could (not just keep walking because that's what you have been doing) To ride whenever you could. To ride whenever you could. After that he was solid.
D just turned it on, quietly kicking ass with no fuss. I tried to balance pushing them with encouraging them. They understood the urgency without being frightened. Which is because they don't know how badly wrong things can go, but is also morale boosting so I'll take it and stay upbeat until- well, hopefully until we pulled it off successfully.
The mileage dropped away. We took zero extended breaks- we stopped to help each other push up some steep pitches and the boys waited in the lees for me to go back down as needed to bring bikes up. And that was it. Movement. At one cold stop, I told J he was a badass. His eyes got big and he asked "What is that? Is it good?" Yes. Yes, it is. He asked me several more times about "what did you call me?" and "what's that word you said?" just so he could have it repeated. I told him what he wanted to hear, my 8 year old little man, but that in the interest of decorum at school we shall say "B.A" and know what we mean by it.
We climbed and then stayed ridge line into that sideways rain until we hit Wasno Road. Jackson Road brought us, torturously, to Jackson Field. We shot a giddy birthday video there:
Whiteout conditions. After that we dropped Jackson Trail (so sick) and lower down the fog was less and the rain decreased significantly. I was soaked to the skin, so I broke out the down jacket I'd been saving and was happy to do it. It was cold.
The boys were such heroes. They were unfailingly positive, and I flattered myself by thinking about Shackleton. We will read Lansing's "Endurance" aloud for our next bedtime story.
By the time we reached the bottom, my down jacket was a soggy sad sack. The previously held title of Greatest Camping Trip Ever had been re-bestowed in honor of this trip. We got to the race van in broad graylight, with all our gear and digits, covered in mud and Glory. It did not take long at all to pile in and drive straight to Margie's Diner for some onion rings and milk shakes. A hero's reward.