September 9 – 20, 2020
With temperatures forecast for the day to push past the 100-degree mark, we met early at one of the trailheads for the River Mountains Loop Trail. And as it turned out, it wasn’t nearly early enough. We set out to do the 34.4-mile loop in the counter-clockwise direction, our choice determined solely in that we didn’t want to climb for nine miles in the middle if we did it clockwise.
Between the heat to come and the three sisters at the end of the ride, I would pay dearly for this decision. At the start, you climb an easy grade up to a Railroad Pass and eventually the overlook of Boulder City. From here you descend for nine miles (those we chose not to climb when we picked this route) to Lake Mead National Recreation Area, nearly 1.5 million acres originally established as the Boulder Dam Recreation Area in 1936, the name changed to Lake Mead National Recreation Area in. In 1964 the area was expanded to include Lake Mohave and its surrounding area and became the first National Recreation Area to be designated as such by the U.S. Congress.
As we rode by the campgrounds and facilities near the lake shore, we passed up what would be our one and only opportunity to refill our water bottles, a mistake we would reckon with as the temperature was beginning to climb from the mid-70’s when we started to close to 90 degrees. Soon we began to slowly climb out of the valley in a series of manageable hills that eventually brought us to a trailhead near Lake Las Vegas.
Our ride leader Ken thoughtfully suggested we could stop here before hitting the most challenging section of the course, the infamous ‘three sisters’, a succession of hills, three of them as the name suggests, with very, very steep average grades of 15%. This is a largest gear out of the seat stomping on pedals as your heart rate reaches a level that in some circumstances might mean an ambulance ride somewhere gradient. In other words, quite difficult.
Under normal circumstances I think I could have managed each as we regularly climb short hills that steep. But that day, with the temperature now north of 100 degrees and out of water, I survived the first of the three on the bike but was reduced to walking up the last two. I confess this as it is the cardinal rule of cycling that one finishes every hill on the bike as walking is an admission of failure so profound multiple incidents might warrant revocation of one’s license to cycle.
Topping the last of the sister’s, we now had three miles or so of slight grade to ride up before a short descent back to the trailhead. Alas, halfway there heatstroke slammed me hard enough to stop me in my tracks. This condition is no joke. One can tough out hunger, cold, fatigue, and discomfort, but heatstroke, can occur if your body temperature rises to 104 degrees or higher.
If it gets you, it requires emergency treatment and if untreated can quickly damage your brain, heart, kidneys and muscles. The damage worsens the longer treatment is delayed, increasing your risk of serious complications or death. I deluded myself for as long as I could that I could finish the ride, but reality finally sunk in and I got off the bike and sat on a rock. I felt awful in a way that is hard to accurately describe, washed out, nauseous, and a mild state of confusion.
Joanna, Ken and I (Marty and Kim had gone ahead on their electric bikes) sat there for some time, trying to assess my condition as I began to realize that I was done for the day. This was a dilemma as I obviously wasn’t going anywhere soon under my own power and having no water was exacerbating the problem. Also, we were at a point on the path where vehicle access would be difficult.
And then fortune smiled as Marty returned on his electric bike with two bottles of water and the suggestion that he ride my bike while I return on his bike to the trailhead. And that my friends saved the day. Back at the trailhead, we loaded up and on the way home hit a 7-11 for gallons of Gator or Power aide (your choice), two ice cream bars and with Joanna driving (honestly, would you want to encounter me on the road in my condition?), I began to regain my health and the day just got better.
Fully recovered the next morning, we left for home for one night in order to get to a couple of doctor’s appointments the following day. Still hungry for an omelet, we stopped at a Denny’s in Barstow where we were seated under a tent at the back of a large parking lot and served by the friendliest of waitresses. Again, to my disappointment, no veggie omelet option was available and so I settled for the Ultimate Omelet (Crumbled sausage, beef bacon, fire-roasted bell peppers & onions, mushrooms, diced tomatoes and shredded Cheddar cheese) and for Joanna, the Pumpkin Pecan Pancakes.
And so, we dug in, eating our way through most of our meal and waddled back to the car for the now routine two-hour drive home. The rest of our week would be full of familiar people and places which would give us time to reflect on the cool sights we’d witnessed during our short stay in Arizona. As we made our way west, we discussed a future return to Sedona and the fun to be had there. It’s always good to have a place close by for adventure.
River Mountains Loop: https://rivermountainstrail.org/
Lake Mead National Recreation Area: https://www.nps.gov/lake/index.htm