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A memorable afternoon at Hagg Lake

After living in Oregon for over a year, I finally decided to make the trip out to Hagg Lake last Thursday after reading about some excellent mountain biking in the park.

Now, I'll admit to being the classic definition of the 'weekend warrior' when it comes to cycling, but all the reviews I read suggested that the trail around Hagg Lake - all 15.6 miles of it - offered some of the finest single-track mountain biking in the greater Portland area. And, having found most of the trails within the city limits to be weak at best, I simply couldn't pass up the opportunity to sample the track at Hagg Lake.

The day was gorgeous - 95 degrees and sunny, with a slight breeze - and the scenery was equally impressive. But about halfway around the lake, things began to go awry. By the time I made it back to my car - almost three hours later - what should have been a relaxing and enjoyable afternoon away from the office devolved into a trying and frustrating ordeal that nearly saw me toss my bike into the lake on more than one occasion.

The first part of the ride was quite pleasant - a well-manicured trail with plenty of twists and turns, some nice climbs and a few exhilarating downhill stretches. After crossing the dam at the southeast end of the lake, the trail continued to provide plenty of challenges while still remaining enjoyable. Then things got hairy.

About six miles into the ride, I met a sign warning that the upcoming bridge had been washed out. There was a detour out to the hard road, but never being one to heed authority, I elected to ride down to the washed-out bridge and hike across. It wasn't a particularly big deal - someone had laid a log across the gap, making the creek easy to traverse. On the other side, there were footholes carved into the embankment, making the 80-degree incline manageable.

After the washout, however, the trail got steadily worse. The smooth hiking trail of the first six miles was replaced by a rutted, rooted disaster. The blackberry brambles and thorn bushes had claimed much of the trail, making it a harrowing ordeal to coast downhill, and the uphill sections became steeper and more frequent, often appearing right after a blind curve, causing me to brake hard and kill any momentum I had.

A few miles of this and my rear end felt like I had just pulled an 18-month stretch in Federal prison, plus my legs were aching from constantly dismounting to avoid potholes, downed trees and nasty ruts.

By the time I reached Boat Ramp C, I had had about enough. Then, as I was riding through a rutted field my front tire veered into a large hole, sending me headlong over the handlebars, augering my face into the ground.

That was it. I decided I would ride back out to the hard road and pedal back to my car, forever leaving Hagg Lake behind. As I patted the dust from my clothes, I noticed something missing. I patted my pockets again and they were empty - I had lost my cell phone.

Perfect.

I had traversed nearly 10 miles of trail since I last remembered seeing the bulge of the phone in my pocket. If I backtracked, there was no guarantee I would find it, plus I would be adding several miles to a ride I probably wasn't capable of doing in the first place. But if I didn't look for it, I was basically throwing away money, not to mention the hundreds of phone numbers stored on the SIM card.

Frustrated, I elected to press on. If I made it back to my car in one piece, I could report the phone missing at the Ranger Station, or perhaps even come back and look for it another day - a day when I wasn't battered, bloody and physically exhausted.

I bailed out to the hard road and continued on for about two miles, but being a mountain biker and not a road biker, I found the long, gradual uphill stretches to be grueling. After one particularly long climb, I pulled into a parking area for a breather and a pull from my water bottle, which now contained a liquid that was, at most, five degrees shy of boiling.

Undaunted, I put the tires back to the pavement and pedaled onward, but I noticed that the steering was a little mushy. I looked down at my front tire and, sure enough, it was as flat as a pancake. Frustrated, dehydrated and about ready to mercilessly bludgeon the next person I saw for absolutely no reason, I started walking. The sun baking the blacktop, my shirt soaking through with sweat and fresh out of water, I was the very definition of pathetic - but I was determined to not let Hagg Lake beat me. I would make it back to my car, even if it meant walking the rest of the way.

And I did.

I walked four miles back to Boat Ramp A, pushing my useless bike alongside me the entire way. When I got back to my car, I slumped against it and guzzled the bottle of water I had stashed in the trunk and weighed my options. I could return home in defeat, minus my cell phone and my dignity, or I could suck it up and start the search for my phone in earnest. I chose the latter.

I drove back across the dam and started at the trail head, walking slowly and scouring the ground for any silver flash that might be a phone. What I found was a disconcerting litany of discarded beer cans and candy bar wrappers; what I did not find was my cell phone.

After about an hour on foot, I came to the sign warning of the washed out bridge and accompanying detour. If I pressed on, I was only walking further away from the car with no way to get back that didn't involve retracing my steps. Unwilling to accept defeat, I pressed on once again.

I marched down the hill, around an inlet, across the makeshift bridge and there it was - a silver cell phone gleaming in the sunlight, resting in one of the footholds on the embankment. I raced over to the phone, scooped it up and silently celebrated. Now all I had to do was call someone to come pick me up.

Except there's no cell phone service at Hagg Lake. So I walked back to the car. Again.

All totaled, I probably rode about 12 miles of Hagg Lake's trails and walked another eight. Some of you are reading this and thinking, 'Big deal, I could do that any day of the week.' Those people have obviously never seen me with my shirt off (nor would they want to).

The memory of my visit to Hagg Lake will stay with me for a while. I took my lumps but refused to throw in the towel, and maybe some day I'll be back to give it another try.

But not until I can sit down again.

Zack Palmer is the News-Times' sports editor. He used to enjoy mountain biking.