Last Saturday was my second chance to ride some Jamaican singletrack.
The pickup procedure would be the same. I would walk across the street from our resort to get picked up. Then we would go get Sanchez (my personal guide), and head for the trails.
But this time, Jon (co-owner of Singletrack Jamaica) picked me up instead of Norval, his shuttle driver.
After loading the bikes, Sanchez returned to his house to get a few more things. His two year and two month old son (SJ) took that time to show us a few skills on his Strider.
He grabbed his strider, pushed it across the yard, and promptly rode it down over a large root protruding a few inches out of the dirt. At one point he had both wheels off the ground! All this before I could get my camera ready! Wont be long before he is enjoying some great Jamaican singletrack!
After a few minutes of driving we dropped SJ off with Andy (the other co-owner) for the day and headed to the trailhead.
When we had traveled about a half hour Sanchez asked if Jon could stop the truck so he could get something to eat. Jon said he didn’t think there would be any such places before we arrived at the trailhead and something else to the effect that Sanchez needed to do a better job of planning ahead. Within two minutes we were at the trailhead.
When we arrived Jon unloaded the bikes while Sanchez and I put on our packs, helmets, and gloves. No more was said about food.
Jon gave me a quick rundown of the trails … John Crow’s Gully went left, Pressure Drop was in the middle, and Carlton Pass went to the right. Seconds later Sanchez and I took off on John Crow’s Gully.
We instantly rode straight into a vegetation tunnel, encountered a smooth trail with some ruts, roots, and rocks, … ducked under a few low tree limbs, and popped out of the tunnel.
I did have to stop once near the top to remove my sunglasses. Two days earlier I found my glasses were just too dark for riding under such thick foliage. I do have a pair of clear ones but, of course, those were at home.
We were able to maintain high velocity as the trail merged onto a smooth, dirt road.
Looking ahead I saw Sanchez approach a large, well dressed, middle aged, local woman on her left side.
Suddenly the woman jumped a foot in the air and a foot or so to her left, right in front of a racing Sanchez, who made a subtle move to the right and barely avoided crashing into the woman ( a lesser rider would have crashed, but Sanchez has unbelievable bike skills).
Based on the lady’s reaction you might have thought he had hit her.
She cut loose with a loud barrage of words, none of which I could understand. Sanchez tried to explain how he was going to pass her on the left and she would have been okay if she had not jumped in front of him … but I think she was claiming he tried to run her down. She wouldn’t let him complete a sentence before she began to rage on!
Finally the lady cooled down and slowly walked off down the road. We parked our bikes against the bridge and waited a few minutes for Jon to pick us up in the truck.
Once back on top we did the same run again … this time much faster. We didn’t run over anyone and spent some time with some of the local kids on the bridge.
One of the boys was closely inspecting Sanchez ‘s bike so he let the boy ride it around while we waited for Jon. I thought about letting one of the other kids ride mine but since the bike belonged to Jon I thought I’d better not.
I did get a good photo of Sanchez with the kids on the bridge.
As the truck cruised up to the trailhead we noticed a couple of different boys with some ripe coconuts and machetes had arrived.
I gave Sanchez one of my Nature Valley almond bars when we climbed out of the truck and I ate my apple. I went to the back of the truck to help Jon unload the bikes and Sanchez went to speak to the boys.
The almond bar must not have been enough for Sanchez for when I looked around the truck he was eating one of the coconuts, using a piece of coconut shell to spoon out mouthfuls of the meat.
Jon then began to explain the trails we would be riding (Pressure Drop and Carlton Pass) saying there were some man made drops and jumps on each. He reminded me to be careful as I was in a foreign country, in the middle of nowhere, with no cell reception or ambulances anywhere around.
I was all ready to go when I spotted something very unusual. One of the boys was busy hacking off the top of coconuts and handing them to Sanchez, who was busy pouring them into his Camelback! Of course I had to get a video!
Then Sanchez offered a coconut to me and I drank heartily (my hydration pack was full and already on my back). The liquid was clear and tasteless, just like water. I drank as much as I could but did not drain the nut. Sanchez paid the kids and they were quite thrilled.
The Pressure Drop Trail started out with a short, steep climb. Once we’d ground to the top we were ready for the fun to begin.
Down, down, down we traveled on Pressure Drop, cutting through the dark shadows of thick trees broken by glaring flecks of burning white. Visibility was the limiting factor as far as speed went.
As I was rounding a turn at pretty good speed, the canopy disappeared and I was temporarily blinded by the sudden sunlight.
My quickly adjusting eyes told me I had better hit the brakes hard as I found Sanchez in an odd crouched position, slowly rising to his feet.
“I hit a donkey.” he muttered.
“What?!” I asked thinking maybe I had not heard him correctly.
“Yea mon, I come around da corner and see his rope cross the trail! See my mark?” He said as he pointed to a 20 foot long, inch deep furrow in the ground.
I looked at his skid and asked, “You okay?”
“Yea mon. When I hit da donkey I twas not moving fast, but da donkey try to climb over me and my bike. I had his foot in my hand. He was not a big donkey.” he explained.
Then he showed me his shin and said, “Look here.” showing me a long red wound where either the donkey’s hoof had scraped or the rope had burned.
I suddenly looked around and saw no animal in sight. “Where did he go?” I inquired. Sanchez pointed to my right but when I looked, I could not see him in the thick foliage. I never did see the donkey, but we came across another later in the ride.
Pressure Drop then zig-zagged down the grassy shoulder of the mountain, offering tremendous photo opportunities … a great chance to show the contrast of the green carpet below with the deep blue sea even farther below.
Sanchez stopped and told me we were at the perfect spot to capture an action photo. We messed with our phones trying to get the “burst” mode to work. Jamaican Vultures circled overhead. I wondered if they circled all Jamaican singletrack riders.
Finally I got a good photo of him (on his phone) riding a wheelie around a corner. The photo of me was a lot less spectacular.
We turned onto the Carlton Pass Trail which we followed back up to the truck (the truck actually wasn’t still there since Jon had gone down by the beach to ride his road bike while waiting for us).
We did quite a bit of hike-a-biking since the Carlton Pass Trail was steep, completely overgrown, extremely rocky, and studded with roots the size of large water pipes.
At one place we passed a large goat tied up next to the trail. We talked about being alert when we came down. I asked Sanchez if he was going to take on a goat in addition to the donkey. He laughed but probably didn’t think it funny.
Riding down the Carlton Pass Trail was a fun challenge. As Sanchez reminded me, “This stuff is a lot easier to ride FAST. The faster the better.” As I bounced over the rough terrain I thought to myself, “This entire trail would have to be walked by a lower level mountain biker.”
I laughed to myself as we both shot by the goat.
I really enjoyed this trail, and I did hit some of the jumps along the way. I might have tried some of the others had I not been thinking about Jon’s warnings.
We stopped at one of the better jumps to take another photo.
While getting a good angle Sanchez explained some photographic principles to me. “If the light is low the lens stays open longer. If you follow the rider (with the camera) the background will blur but the rider will look clear. That gives you a cool effect.”
The Carlton Pass Trail eventually dropped us right onto the beach. But Sanchez stopped at a trail junction just before and asked me if I wanted to ride to the waterfall. “You bet!” I exclaimed. Unlike some, I mountain bike to explore, not just to ride as many miles as I can.
We had to carry our bikes up a slippery slope studded with dozens of trees … but Kwaaman Falls was worth it!
Since I have a waterproof case, I was able to swim out and take some photos from behind the waterfall.
After a good swim we got back on the trail.
Shortly after visiting the waterfall, while following Sanchez down the smoothest piece of trail we encountered all day, I heard a grinding, crunching sound and watched Sanchez ‘ s bike skid to a stop. “What the heck was that?” I yelled as I, too skidded to a stop. When I looked at Sanchez’s derailleur I knew we had trouble, major trouble!
As he looked at the back of his bike Sanchez just began repeating, “No, no, no, …”
His derailleur had twisted around the axle clockwise so it was pointing in the ten o’clock position. The cage holding the bottom gear had snapped off and the derailleur hanger was bent with the alignment screw ripped out. I thought Sanchez was going to cry … he was so upset. That bike was his pride and joy, and fixing the derailleur was going to take a lot of money from a guy who doesn’t have much!
We removed the derailleur and secured the loose chain to the frame (neither of us had a chain tool to remove it) so he could at least coast downhill and use his feet to push on the level terrain. I walked and coasted with Sanchez for that last mile or so. He was very quiet.
We found Jon waiting with some of the locals in their small village. We purchased an orange juice while Jon loaded the bikes into the bed of the truck.
After we got back on blacktop Jon headed to the Jerk Center, where we each ate some delicious jerked chicken. Sanchez and Jon also ordered some food to go. Eating the chicken seemed to make me hungrier so I followed their lead and ordered chicken soup to go.
The smell of the soup caused yet more hunger, but I didn’t want to spill in Jon’s truck. So I would unsnap the edge of the lid (the top snapped on and off like a soda drink), take a sip of the delicious liquid, and re-snap it.
When the broth was all gone I removed the lid and looked in to see the solids I would spoon out. “What the heck are those?” I asked stiffening, “Some kind of worms?” Then, all of a sudden I knew … chicken feet! Three of them! I ate all the potatoes and onions in the cup but left the feet. Later, I found out Chicken Foot Soup is a Saturday dish in Jamaica. I guess I was supposed to eat the feet.
After picking up SJ ( who was very reluctant to leave the beach) we dropped Sanchez, and the bikes at his house. I felt saddened as I said goodbye to those two knowing I may not see them again for a while, if ever.
Riding with Sanchez was like riding with a son, best buddy, and mentor at the same time. I don’t think I have ever been on the trail with such a skilled rider who cared so much about how I was doing.
You can read about my other ride in paradise by clicking Jamaican Mountain Biking.