Sunday, September 20, 2009

So, US Forest Service mountain bike patrol.. what's that like?

I can't believe I actually get paid to do this.

Background: I do bike patrol on the Virginia Creeper Trail for the US Forest Service. I'm a wilderness emergency medical tech and I can fix bikes.Me with Brit, my spirit animal on the VCT

My section of trail is very popular in the area and sees over 130,000 tourists each year, mainly due to the fact that you can rent a bike in Damascus, get shuttled up to Whitetop Mountain, and ride back to Damascus 17 miles DOWNHILL.. yes, downhill the whole way. The VCT, an old railroad bed, winds through some impressively beautiful countryside (all national forest) along secluded rocky mountain streams, through dank wooded Appalachian hollows, over about 30 high wooden railroad trestles and at a downhill grade of about 2%, is seemingly manageable by even the most ill-suited for any type of outdoor experience whatsoever. I mean, what could possibly go wrong?

It's a favorite vacation activity for families, obscenely large groups of fearlessly unprepared and overweight boyscouts, church groups whose average member hasn't touched a bike in about 20 years, and for the most part, in general, North Carolina city folk.
That's where I come in.. on any given day there are flat tires, broken chains and wrecks with injuries of all kinds and in all places. There are screaming kids and fighting parents that like to scream and fight all the way the down the otherwise pristine and placid trail. I am their shepherd.
The following story is true..
It's 9:00am on Saturday morning and I'm starting my day.

That's me, on the red Gary Fisher mountain bike with the two bright orange rear panniers full of camping gear, tools and first aid supplies- Black helmet, dark sunglasses, olive drab shorts and a very official looking Forest Service uniform shirt complete with very official looking Forest Service badge. The trail will be quiet until about 11:00am, when I meet half-way with the hoard of tourist headed downhill my way; a pyroclastic flow of pudgy cyclists destroying everything wild and holy in its path. "Yer goin' the wrong way!" some of them like to say as I trudge up the mountain.

At about noon I round a corner on the trail and see three people hunched over a bike turned upside down on its handle bars and seat: two men and a woman. Bike trouble, and I'm more than happy to help out.

"Is everything alright?" I ask rhetorically.
"Oh thank goodness! Are you a ranger?!"
"Yes." (Though technically, "No." would be a more accurate answer) "What seems to be the problem?"
"Well I was just ridin' along and then I started to notice that I was slowing down and then about 20 minutes later I looked down and realized my front tire was flat!" (it took you 20 minutes to realize that?!)
"Ok, it appears that your tube is shot, I've got an extra I can replace it with."
"You can fix it!? Oh, thank God! You've saved our vacation! We are so blessed, God has sent us a guardian angel to fix your bike, Jerry! Oh, thank you sweet Jesus!!" (Because God hates everyone else whose flat tires I'm not around to fix)

I get the tube in place and I'm pumping it up, all the while making small talk with them about where they are from, what kind of group they are with (church group), had they been here before etc etc..

"Are you single?" the woman asks.
"We sure do appreciate your help! You should meet our daughter (17 years old), she's jus' down the trail a ways at Green Cove station. She's gorgeous, wearing them tight bike shorts and all, you ought to check her out." She makes a hand gesture which alludes to the fact that bike shorts are terrible at hiding sumptuous feminine curves.

And then, she winks at me suggestively. I stop what I'm doing momentarily and glance at her husband who, with eyebrows perched and wearing a mischievously hopeful grin, is nodding slowly at me.

Queue awkward silence.

Thanks, but no thanks.

Towards the end of the day, the tourists start to dwindle, the sun sinks a little lower and I slowly make my way down from Whitetop to my favorite hidden campsite just above Straight Branch. I pitch my tent and unstuff my sleeping bag and head to the water. The air is alive and I'm all alone sitting on a rock in the middle of the river. I rinse the dirt off of my legs and decompress for the evening as the sun dips behind the horizon in a blaze of abalone and orange.

I can't believe I actually get paid to do this..

1 comment:

Aliese said...

Ryan, this is so funny. Your writing really cracks me up. For now, I'm going to live vicariously through your adventures, but we are working toward a point where we can do some big trips with the kids. Jim and I are proud of you and never cease to brag about what a fantastic person you are.