Let's Ride: Apache Trail & The Broken Man

Pictures by Jeff Ambrose and Chief Cyclery, Words by Chief Cyclery

Check out the route cut short in Strava

Sometimes life seems to be on cruise control. Steady job, house projects, family events, kids activities, riding and so on. You get in a groove and become content with the status quo. Being content in life can be an admirable quality, but can also lead to numbness and tunnel vision if you are not grounded. If you let your guard down... boom

I'll be the first to admit it is difficult to balance being a man of faith, loving husband, passionate father, dedicated worker, and a fit athlete. Maybe I am not as disciplined as some, or maybe I live in a reality where usually something takes second and third fiddle. (Did I even add making time for friends and community?) The problem is I have a perfectionist personality and I strive for perfection usually to the detriment of one of the above. After long weekends and late nights working my boss tells me "well I have seen someone do it better..." it drives me to prove him wrong. Hearing my wife say "We need more alone time to refuel the fire in our marriage..." has me finding ways to get out of work early or find babysitters for the kids. And on and on the list goes competing with one another.

Last spring I was cruising through life, reaching for perfection in a job that was asking something beyond perfect; the impossible. I had become numb to a lot, and I was having to sacrifice everything to try to exceed the impossible expectations. Riding was one of the things that kept getting pushed off and riding with Jeff Ambrose and Zac Coolman was something I was really missing. I don't ride in groups much, as my riding time is sporadic which leads to a lot of solo rides; but riding with Jeff and Zac is my all-time favorite.

Summer started and we were having abnormally cool weather for June in Phoenix. It was supposed to be in 70-80s, cloudy and rainy. Jeff hit up Zac and I to see if we were down for a ride with a bit more adventure that the inner-city loops we normally enjoy. I am always excited to hear from them and committed without even really pondering the risks.

That Saturday morning we all loaded into Zac's truck and drove the 45 minutes to far East Mesa. On the drive Zac re-lived his weekly race on the Apache Trail to Tortilla Flat. We were all getting pumped for the ride. It had rained the night before and the roads were still wet. Also being a Saturday in June there was lots of boat traffic out to Canyon Lake. With a little more fore-thought we probably would have taken a "Rain-Check" on the Apache Trail idea and just gone on a normal loop but the thrill of adventure gave us tunnel vision.

The beginning of the ride started normal. Our legs were getting warmed up with a little bit of climbing to get to Canyon Lake. Cars and trucks were flying by and mostly being respectful. The scenery was green and lush for the desert this time of year. We were all on a high. Right as we began our first descent it started to pour again. We happened to ride up to a picnic canopy/lake lookout just as the rain began to flood the drying ground. While under cover we watched as it came down hard for about 10 minutes and then cleared up just as quickly as it had come. We smiled at our luck for the short rain and jumped right back on the descent.

The descent leads to  a quick hair-pin turn before a steel-grated bridge that spans over the entry to Canyon Lake on the way toward Tortilla Flat. The bridge is one-way and car traffic was building up on both sides. You can really build some speed before the bridge and we caught a gap in the traffic just as we hit the bottom of the descent. I was being conservative and feathering the brakes at the warning of our veteran Zac, but none of us were expecting the unexpected. Because of the rain and high-volume car traffic the oils and water on the bridge were not mixing well making for an abnormally slippery surface. I followed Zac with Jeff following closely behind as we hit the bridge. (Did I mention the bridge was steel grated? I would compare to a human size cheese-grater.) About a quarter of the way on the bridge I started to see Zac's rear wheel drift and then all the sudden I was sliding out. I turned my head to warn Jeff and the next thing I know....dead stop...head first into the bridge....Black.

My head was spinning but I knew I needed to get off the bridge. I looked up and saw Jeff made it safely around me. I thought to myself "Thank God he didn't hit me and get hurt as well" I stumbled off the bridge with my bike, bleeding, and not having a chance to examine the damage. I sat down on the side of the road as cars drove by slowly as drivers rubber-necked to see what was going on. No one asked if we needed helped of course. I laid down and blacked out for a few minutes. Zac told Jeff he was going to get the truck and booked it back on his bike. 

After coming to from blacking out I remember laying there when all the sudden everything in life flashed to the forefront of my mind. Seems cliche, but it is the truth. My priorities were jacked! And this wreck jolted the end to my tunnel vision and numbness of being content. I remember thinking I need to call my wife and tell her I really love her. A quote my boss had used to manipulate me in a recent meeting flashed into mind "I know you have been working hard and you might think life is too short for working until 10 o'clock at night and every weekend but just stick through it with me..." Yes, life is too short.

I regained my composure and Jeff helped me examine the damage. Overall I was fortunate. It could have been a lot worse. Zac made it back to us in record time and we headed back to the valley of the sun. I spent the rest of the day dealing with doctors, nurses, and hospitals reflecting on everything going on. All of the sudden everything that was numb was starting to become clear. Maybe being concussed was like a computer reboot. Either way this ride was a defining moment in my life. The clouds from the ride had literally been covering my life, but the brightness of the Sun was about the burn the clouds for picture perfect clarity. Changes were coming.

Oh, and Tortilla Flat, as Jeff and Zac both recently reminded me, we have an upcoming rendezvous to get past that damn bridge.