The Ramblings of 4WheelBob
America's premier wheelchair hiker speaks.
Behold! The Behemoth

At 5 AM my alarm went off. This was a day I'd been anticipating for a couple of months, the 7th Annual Mt. Diablo Trail Adventure. This event benefits Save Mount Diablo, an organization determined to preserve, educate, acquire land and enhance the Mt. Diablo experience for everyone.


My kind of people, without question.


So I got my eyes working, made a trip to the store for some things, and dropped them off with my wife, who wholeheartedly endorsed this outing. She knows I've been tearing my hair out, as the last several weekends have passed without my usual day hikes and outings. Since she's been home from the hospital, she's needed a lot of care. Staying home each weekend wouldn't have been so tragic, but I couldn't even get the courtesy of a Bay Area football team winning a game during that time. No hiking + bad footbal = a toothe gnashing, sackcloth renting 4wheelbob.


Today would be different. I was going on a 10K interpretive hike, as I'm neither fit enough or fast enough to attampt a Diablo marathon or half - marathon. The family interpretive hike was just the ticket, as it would be slower paced than the races and I'd get several hours to roll around, explore a new trail and mingle with some fun people. 


I arrived 45 minutes before the hike was to start, checking out the REI booth full of giveaways and friends from their Concord store. We talked for a time about my slide show (which will be 11/6 at 7PM in the Concord REI) and today's event. I was pleased to see so many people, especially those familes with strollers or small kids,  lining up for the start. I had no expectations that I'd keep up with even the slowest hikers, and was content to do the 7 mile loop well behind the large group in front of me. We left the start line and I was excited to see a flat start, as my shoulders had not loosened up yet. An upturn or two slowed me, and the group went on ahead to explore this wonderful trail, the Pine Canyon Trail. As we went on, I was bringing up the rear with two families; one eventually left and returned to the staging area, but the other family stayed near me until the hills got BIG. They were the kind of people I wish I knew better - husband and wife both had a great sense of humor, and their daughter (Sophie) and her friend (Diana) became fast buddies with me. As we went on, Sophie would loudly protest that SHE was going to hike with BOB if they got too far ahead. So I went into naturalist mode, explained some of the differences of certain trees, and where coyotes and bobcats could likely be seen. As I forded a small creek, Sophie declared that she would walk through the water, too. Her parents talked her out of that. She was a girl who could respond to reason, and Diana was a thoughtful listener. Oh, they were about 7 or 8 years old. Sophie spotted a huge wolf spider on the trail, and gently watched it as it tried to look inconspicuous in the dirt. It was clear by the way he rparents spoke with her that she was exposed to the outdoors at a very young age, and reveled in it. Both girls were similarly acquainted with the outdoors, which was comfoting for me to see. Far from a bother, they were a high point of the hike.


As we hit the big hills, I fell back and the girls and Mom 'n Dad took off over the sheets of sandstone that made up a good part of this trail. I reached the top of a challenging slope, welcomed by several half - marathoners coming from the summit, and a short downhill so I could catch my breath. A water station topped off a steep hill, and provided a good vantage point for viewing the communities south of Mt Diablo. The SAR people and I talked for a bit, leaving me with "and you better cathc up with those two little girls - they were worried you weren't going to make it." Now, it's been rare when I've shut down mid - hike because I felt I couldn't finish, and this one seemd a piece of cake even though it was rolling range land and came with some fairly daunting grades. But here's where life for the next month or two changed...


A long, gorgeous downhill followed the rest stop. It was probably only 1/3 of a mile, and I sailed down the nicely graded, soft dirt road. This felt good, and I needed a break. The shoulders weren't sore yet, but this was going to be a challenge to finish with anything left. As I got to the bottom of the hill, however, something was amiss. A soft "clunk, clunk" came from the chair, so I stopped to peek at the undercarriage. Nothing amiss, no loose screws or anything. Braces were intact. Wheels were still straight and true. I kept going. The clunking got louder, and I noticed the left front wheel kicking out dramatically when I hit a bump. I'm 2 and a half miles from the finish, and all of a sudden the wheels was dragging, creating a huge amount of drag which really taxed my shoulders. I stopped and dismounted. Turning the chair over, I saw the culprit and became instantly depressed - the frame had cracked broken completely through aon a primary load - bearing frame member. There would be no quick fix, no way to get back to the finish. I saw the next rest station manned by SAR people from the Contra Costa Sheriff's Dept. about a half mile away - uphill. The drag of the front wheel was so severe i could only push a few yards before having to rest. The dynamics were somewhat akin to trying to push a bowling ball through a keyhole on a door. It would not simply be difficult to go on, it would be impossible.


The two SAR deputies at the aid station called in for transport, and while we waited, we talked a bit about this parkland, the huge contiguous area around Mt. Diablo State Park, and the blight iof almost unchecked development building up to the park boundary. It's the reason I'm so supportive of Save Mt Diablo and applaud their land acquisition feats. As the truck showed up, I got on board for the ride back. I felt bad that I didn't finish, as I have a tendency to question myself instead of giving the broken appliance some credit for causing me to bail. We drove and talked of the ranches, the various parks, the broad spectrum of users. Soon we came across the girls and their parents, Sophie staring in complete disbelief that I would allow a vehicle to shuttle me back to the start. I made my explanation, and we passed by them en route back to the start.


We got back to the event staging area, which had emptied in a hurry, apparently. Not a lot remained, but enough apple chicken brats were left to make my day complete. The girls and their parents showed up soon after, and we had lunch together shaded by one of the huge coastal live oaks at the site. I had a chance to meet and speak with the event chairs, the SMD director (one of the really good guys, by the way), and we took some pictures. I was sad to have to leave, as this was a perfect day on the Mountain.


Back to the title. The Behemoth? Yes, I had to drag it out of the garage. Unlike my now - broken ride, The Behemoth is a foling chair, quite uncomfortable but passable in the absence of other options. It's big and clunky, and is too wide to get through the bathroom door. It's an off - the - rack, one size fits all monster. And it's home for the next month. I haven't gotten too depressed about losing my old pal yet. There's no defect in the frame, I'm sure - it's been almost 2 and a half years since I last broke one, equating to hundreds of very rough, highly enjoyable miles on the trail. So I'm on The Behemoth now, for the forseeable future.


But bet on this - despite the lack of The Behemoth's amenities, I'll make the best of it. And maybe run into Sophie, Diana and a couple of great parents on the trail.

2007-11-05 04:32:03 GMT
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