An admitted shoe geek waxes philosophical about running, triathlon, and life in general.
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Monday, February 29, 2016

Joint Base Lewis McChord ride

February has been another wet month, but it did allow a few days of respite, and some unseasonably warm temperatures.

My wife and young daughter took a week to visit her family out of town, and I took advantage of the weekend with outdoor extended riding each day. This culminated in a day on the exercise areas of Joint Base Lewis/McChord (JBLM), hundreds of acres of wooded and meadowed lands laced with service roads and no big hills. Perfect for a nice long cruise.

I'd been out in these areas twice before, both times relying on the "easier to ask forgiveness than permission" factor. I figured the worst that could happen was that I'd be escorted off the range and sent on my way. With some recent happenings in Texas, where riders were being fined and having their bikes confiscated, I'd take the higher road and actually get permission to ride.

I was clued in by another local rider that the process was simple, and free, though a little time consuming. Contacting the Range Command office at JBLM, I found where to go and made the trip in to get my permit. Aside from that, it was just a matter of seeing which zones were open on the day I had to ride, and mapping out a route that avoided the areas closed for exercises and endangered insect breeding (yes, seriously, there are areas that are closed indefinitely due to being breeding grounds for certain endangered insects).

The weather on the day looked to be perfect, climbing to near 60 at the warmest, and mostly cloudless. A welcome change from the last few months of near constant rains. I embarked on my 50 mile route at about 9:30, with temperatures hovering in the low 40's.

After a few miles of pavement, I turned north into the woods and gravel roads. Quietness and solitude. 

As I rode, certain things caught my eye, and I found the theme of the day -- trees and water. The gravel roads were mostly dry and in good shape, but several have fairly fresh gravel laid down, so the going was slow at times.

Second water crossing,
not conducive to riding.
Right at the half-way point I hit my first water crossing. A concrete ramp on both sides made it easy, and it was only about a foot deep, allowing me to ratchet the pedals one-footed and stay completely dry. But just a short distance later, I met up with a more challenging stream. Paved with concrete blocks spaced about six inches apart, and an undetermined depth, I decided to doff my shoes and socks and carry the bike across. Riding through this would have been disastrous. So I strapped my shoes onto the bike, hoisted it onto my shoulder, and carefully picked my way across.

Fortunately this one ended up only to be about knee deep. But this is February, remember, and temperatures had only elevated in the couple days previous to this, and the water was running at a fair clip. My feet were numb by the time I was half-way across. Thank goodness for wool socks! I got feeling back within a couple miles, and continued on my way.

Third and last water
crossing -- deep
and cold
This view never gets old.
About ten miles later, I saw a sign up ahead that read "Approved for..." For what, I wondered. As I neared, though, it became apparent. "APPROVED FORD." Meaning another water crossing. This one running faster and deeper. Like the first, though, it was paved with concrete ramps on both sides. Again, I doffed my shoes and socks, strapped them to the bike, and started across.

Slowly the water got deeper. Past the knees... Still downward. Feet numb all over again, I hoped that I didn't step on a sharp rock. Finally the water level stopped at just below crotch height (whew!), then began ebbing again. I dropped the bike on the other side and let the water run off before putting my socks and shoes back on and continuing on my way.

Fortunately that was the last water crossing. I was able to keep my shoes on the rest of the ride, winding my way north and east, finishing back where I started in the Walmart parking lot.

Two McD's cheeseburgers for the road got me back home.

My permit is good for two years... I'll definitely be back.