Popular Post Marty Backe Posted April 27, 2017 Popular Post Share Posted April 27, 2017 (edited) The story of how I and two fellow wheel riders became lost in the mountains and lived to ride another day. As I begin this, it must be said that I'm the one with poor judgement in this story. Well intentioned, but... The Cogswell Dam, as I've previously written about, is a gorgeous area to ride an EUC. It's basically a canyon ride on the northern side of a mountain ridge. I've ridden it twice before. Throughout this region are countless trails, large and small. One of the most well known is a four wheel drive capable trail called the Rincon Shortcut OHV Trail. It stretches along the southern side of the ridge that is shared with the Cogswell Dam. The Rincon trail-head starts about an 1/8 mile south of the Cogswell Dam trail-head. Up in the mountains there is a connection between the two, and that's what I've been itching to try. Complete the approximately 30 mile loop that joins the two trails. So I coordinated a group ride for Saturday morning, and my long time riding buddy @jrkline was the first to commit to the ride and not too long afterwards @Ando Melkonyan eagerly committed to the adventure (he had his newly acquired ACM). We were to leave by 9:30am, traversing the southern (Rincon) route first, taking advantage of the coolness of the morning air. Eventually we would meet up with the Cogswell Dam trail high up in the mountains and return by way of the shaded northern trail to avoid the extreme heat of the day. Oh, and today was the peak of a mini heat wave in Southern California, where the temperature was predicted to be in the low 90's. Maybe we should have brought more water. Hmmm. @abinder3 joined us at the very beginning. He didn't have time for the entire route (regardless of his reasons that was a good decision in hindsight) and therefore was just going to ride to the dam and back, about a 20 mile roundtrip. But it was nice that we could all meet at the beginning and share a few stories before we went our separate ways. In the picture above, from left to right: @abinder3 (Allen), @Ando Melkonyan, @jrkline (Jeff), and myself. Don't we look happy - if only we knew what was forthcoming I had my Monster which I had previously ridden here twice before. Jeff had the FrankenACM - I know, I know, his world famous 2040wh ACM. As would be demonstrated throughout the day, his ACM never fails. It may not be pretty but it's a faithful workhorse. And Ando brought his 3 week old ACM with a 2-1/2" tire that he managed to fit on the wheel. He had to cut away parts of the shell to make it fit, but he turned it into a really nice trail machine. We finally began our journey and after a few hundred feet wished Allen well as he exited for his trail head. We continued on the two lane highway until we came upon the locked trail gate, representing the entrance to our grand adventure. After bypassing the gate we began our journey in earnest. On a previous outing to Cogswell Dam I had ridden this part of the trail for a mile or so and was hoping the whole trail would be as I remembered. And for the most part it was, perhaps a little steeper in sections. But remember that this is a four wheel drive trail so certainly any path that a truck can take we can tackle easily on our EUCs. In this video you can see me struggling a bit as the ACMs zoom past me After a few miles of steady uphill climbing I was beginning to think that I should have taken my ACM too instead of the Monster. I've ridden my Monster a lot in the mountains now, but never for extended uphill pushes. We were on a trail that was to continuously climb for over 3500 feet. And this wasn't a paved road. It was gravel and sand mixed with large rocks and various ruts. So there was a lot of maneuvering involved, slips, slides, near stalls, and periodic jump-stops for the wheels. Although I have experience with the Monster and know that it's capable of ascending any hill that the ACM is, it does so extremely slowly and with much effort. As Jeff and Ando zoomed up the trail sections with hardly any physical effort, I was in a near constant crouch and heavy lean. Plus all of the effort required to steer the 70 pound Monster ... But I was hanging in there despite the ridicule coming from my fellow riders ;-) Fairly early on we had our first crash. I must say, anybody who wants to keep their wheel pristine should never do off-road trail riding. It's a messy business. My Monster requires a wide berth and although I always have my trusty helmet mirror, I have some rather large blind spots. Jeff was apparently unaware of these facts. As he was overtaking me on my left I was slowing sliding left. Our pedals locked and in the next moment we were both sprawled on the ground. Jeff's bloodied forearm and my bruised ego provided good entertainment for Ando :-) Here's a couple pictures of the aftermath: We continued the long climb, but I was getting tired. At one point Ando offered me his ACM while he pushed forward with the Monster. And then he proceeded to demonstrate a new technique (to me) for getting the Monster up hills fast. Jeff and I had great fun watching this and I think Ando was having fun to. It looked like he was riding a horse, but indeed it really moved fast. When I started riding the Monster again I used this technique and it really helped. But it was still hard on the body because of the lean, and steering was proving difficult. Eventually I discovered that if I was in a squatting position and squeezing the wheel between my knees, AND using my knees to force the wheel forward, the Monster really moved. This was exhausting however. We were still having a good time, enjoying each others crashes and Ando's music Somewhere near two hours we finally arrived near the peak. I was beat. Now we needed to find the trailhead that led back down to the Cogswell Dam. We came across a lone mountain bike rider that pointed us in the general direction that we needed to take to begin the descent to Cogswell Dam. In the following thumbnail you can see the Dam far below us. Here is where I made the fateful mistake of picking the wrong trail. It went down and looked to be in the general direction, so let's go for it. I really should have spent as long as I needed to be sure, but in the back of my mind I figured if it was wrong we'd probably realize it fairly soon and just backtrack. What I didn't take into consideration was my failing body :-( As we proceeded down this trail it slowly got sketchier and sketchier. First there were small dead falls (trees that fall across a trail) and then bigger and bigger ones where it took minutes to carry and or drag the wheel across. I was getting weaker. I had no more food and none of us had any more water. Remember that I said it was going to be in the 90's today. I felt like I was beginning to get symptoms of dehydration - shaky legs and arms and extreme fatigue. I could only ride 20 feet before I would loose control and had to stop and rest for a few minutes. By this time I had a few more rather severe falls which further hampered my ability to ride the wheel. Besides my difficulties, it had become clear that we were somewhat lost. This was certainly not the trail to the Cogswell Dam. I could simply not go further. At this point I was with Jeff. Ando had explored further along the trail and when he returned he said that he found water (we could hear a stream in the distance below). You don't know how excited I was to hear this. I felt that maybe if I got some water I may recover enough to continue at some level. Jeff took my empty water bottle and disappeared down the trail to return with water. I was feeling a bit mentally refreshed. While Jeff was away Ando and I tried to figure out exactly where we were. I had offline Google maps in my phone and a Garmin 60CS handheld navigator. BTW, GPS reception was not great within these mountains. But we eventually determined our exact location. Miles from the trail that we should have taken. I had arrived at a difficult decision. Like the sailboat captain in the middle of the ocean that grapples with the decision to press the emergency beacon, knowing that when he does so he will be rescued but his boat will be left behind, gone forever. But I knew that I could not continue back uphill to retrace our steps by a few miles and then down another 15 miles. Impossible. So I told Ando to leave me and get back to the area where we made the bad turn. In that area there was a line of site to the greater Los Angeles area and there was cell phone coverage. "Tell them that a person was suffering from exhaustion and dehydration. Call 911". Now by this point at least 15 minutes had passed and Jeff probably should have returned within 10 minutes since Ando knew the water was only 5 minutes away by wheel. But we continued to wait. While doing so Ando took my Monster and rode/carried it up the trail past a few of the sever dead-falls. And then walked back. Amazing, and as you'll learn in a bit, very important that he did so. Still no Jeff. Instead of sending Ando to look for Jeff I suggested that he go the other way, and I'll wait for him. So Ando disappeared with his ACM and I was alone in the middle of what felt like nowhere. I think it was about 3pm at this point. I lay on the ground and was anticipating a bottle of water with great joy. Maybe another fifteen minutes went by. Nothing. Then I started thinking, "Maybe something happened to Jeff. Was there an accident. Did his ACM break". I slowly started walking down the trail. 20 steps and then lay on the ground to recover. 20 steps, lay on the ground. I did this for maybe 15 minutes but realized that if he was hurt or the wheel was broken I was in no condition to help. And I had told Ando that if possible I would try and walk back to the trail junction at the top of the mountain. So I abandoned Jeff and ever so slowly started walking up hill. 20 steps, lay on the ground, ad nausea-um. I still had hopes that Jeff would return with water. I would have given away my Monster for water at that point. It really was horrible. At this incredibly slow pace I managed to get past the large dead-falls. I never would have been able to get my Monster past these obstacles in my condition. Eventually I found my Monster and could not believe how far Ando had taken it for me. I then proceeded to push it and myself up the trail, in spurts of low speed energy. A trolley handle may have helped, but just the effort of pushing the Monster and walking was too much. After maybe an hour I decided to abandon the Monster, knowing that I would never see it again. I wasn't worried about someone finding and taking it. First, nobody sane travels this impassible trail, and if someone did they wouldn't know what it was, and at 70 pounds I don't think they would try and carry it out. No, I would never see it again because I would never be able to get in here to recover it. That would entail hiking 15 - 20 miles which is a long hike on flat ground. I just didn't see myself being able to do that. I marked the location where I did leave it, in my Garmin 60CS thinking that I would post to Facebook and the Forum with the coordinates and anybody who thinks they could retrieve it could keep it. No bad feelings on my part. Anyway, it was load off my mind when I fully committed to never seeing it again. Let that be a strong reminder to what not to do in the future. I continued the painfully slow march. I was worried for my health because I know dehydration can be bad. But I tried not to exhaust myself too much. Walk for a few minutes and then lay down. Walk, lay down. Minutes turned to hours. I was thinking maybe if I eventually got to that magic "cell phone coverage" area that I could call 911 in case Ando wasn't able to. It's amazing what goes through your mind when you can't communicated with people who are trying to help you.What happened to Jeff? Did Ando make it out yet? Knowing where we had last all been together I was thinking positive and assuming that Jeff decided to explore that path beyond the river and went so far that he decided not to return with water. I knew that particular trail wound its way back up to the top of another mountain range to the 2 freeway which then led to civilization. So if he got out he would be able to call. But I had my doubts that we would have enough remaining power to climb another couple thousand feet and maybe 20 miles. I kept think that if I get rescued I'm going to have to tell them about Jeff so that they can search for him next. After maybe 3 hours I came across these maintenance trucks and construction equipment that we had passed on the way down. I opened every truck and door I could get into and FOUND WATER. Two old water bottles with maybe a 1/3 full of water each was an amazing find. First I sniffed it to be sure that they weren't storing fuel and then guzzled them down. Water had never tasted to good. Although it did not help with the exhaustion in my legs, it did help with the thirst and made me feel like I actually wasn't going to collapse somewhere up here in the mountains. I continued to walk, imagining what might be happening with Ando and Jeff. And then of course I was worrying about my wife because in the absolutely worst case I probably should have been home by now. But there was nothing I could do. She did know the general trails that we were taking (at least I got one thing right), but it would probably be very dark before she pulled the trigger and called 911. So I was still prepared for a very much longer day and night. Dusk was approaching when I started to hear a helicopter somewhere in the distance. That was the first mechanical sound I had heard for hours. I thought I heard a plane too. I did see the helicopter at one point but it was miles in the distance. Amazingly I had made it back to trail junction where we made the bad turn. And then I heard and saw a large search and rescue type helicopter hovering over me, but very high. I was in an area where there were power line towers (thus the maintenance equipment found earlier) plus I'm sure they generally stay far above the trees. I waived both my hands for a little bit and then it moved off to the distance a bit and hovered again. Then it left. "Well, that's it. I've been found and now help will be on the way". That was a huge psychological lift for me. So I continued to walk, and walk, and walk. It was now totally dark, after 8pm. Fortunately I had small pen flashlight so I could see the path in front of me. No longer fearing collapse from dehydration I could start contemplating coming across bears or mountain lions, both of which live in these mountains. What joy! I then spotted a brief flash of light followed shortly by a truck rounding the corner ahead. You can imagine what I thought at that sight. It eventually slowed to a stop beside me and I was asked my name (I guess they didn't want to pick up the wrong guy) and let me in the truck. There were four uniformed men in there, all volunteers for the Sierra Mountain Search and Rescue. They gave me all the water I wanted and bagged peanuts. Life was good. Shortly after I got in the crowded vehicle I asked if they happened to know about any other ..., and before I could complete the sentence they told me that all three people have now been accounted for. So Jeff was alive ;-) I assumed Ando was good because otherwise I probably wouldn't be sitting in the truck at the top of the mountain. Now get this, they then asked me, "do you want to go get your 'bike'?" Are you kidding me? I tried to suggest that I didn't want to put them through the trouble (I really didn't), but they insisted. They said that they were already up there so why not. It probably took another half an hour and a locked gate to get within a few hundred feet of where I left it. The last bit had to be walked since the trail conditions were too severe for the truck. So I actually got my Monster back. It felt like I just received a new wheel because in my mind I given it up for lost. As we drove down the mountain for the next 1-1/2 hours I learned that Jeff had been recovered on the 2 freeway, and Ando was the one that called it in. Eventually I met up with Jeff as we were brought together at the base of the mountain to be driven back to our vehicles (20 miles away). There Jeff told me how he amazing made it back up to the highway on the other side of the mountain range and then down towards town, almost on a zero battery charge. His 2040wh ACM truly has been an amazing wheel. I also learned from the rescuers that the helicopter had not seen me! Amazing. The guys said that in the future you should lay on the ground and move, otherwise all they see from above is a head, and that's hard to distinguise from everything else. So they found me based on what Ando was able to tell them. You can read some of what Jeff encountered here: And then when I finally got home around midnight (having left in the morning at 8am) I eventually read about Ando's experience which was amazing in itself. His ACM has also proven to be an amazing wheel. Essentially going 10 miles down mountain trails with almost no battery power remaining. You can read is account here: And here is the dam (it was not Cogswell after all) that Ando got to: And the 911 help that arrived after he made the call So there you have it. I think none of us will forget this ride. It's been four days and I'm still having difficulty riding, which really surprised me. When yesterday I hopped on my KS14C for a short utilitarian trip I almost crashed as the wheel was very wobbly. I had a hard time turning. It was then that I realized that my legs were still weak and uncoordinated. Amazing. Although I declared that I wouldn't do this again, time heals all wounds ;-) I know Jeff is up to doing it again, and maybe Ando will be to. We will be better prepared next time. More water, food, maps, only ACM's or the like, and a bigger breakfast. Oh, and Jeff says he'll bring his ham radio (which hopefully will not be needed). I hope you enjoyed my little adventure story Edited January 18, 2019 by Marty Backe 1 37 Quote Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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