Fear & Loathing in Squirrel Bait Canyon
Posted by Nathan Delaney on
Sometimes, even a leisurely day of laying out new trial turns into an episode of fear and loathing in the forest. As so goes the tale of Squirrel Bait Canyon:
Cracky The Crack Squirrel was amped to show me this new canyon of "ultra gwar." He explained it as being so heinous that mere dirt-bike mortals would never make it. I knew it must be pretty bad if he was asking for help, its completely out of his character to ask for chainsaw grooming or any sort of trail improvement.
The prelude goes like this: Cracky and a friend from Lake Tahoe found themselves high atop a ridge of sheer volcanic rim-rock late one Sunday afternoon. Below them was labyrinth of Pinion covered ravines, all draining in the general direction of Illinois. (Illinois Canyon that is, Illinois the state is the opposite direction) In true squirrel fashion, he dropped though a crevasse in the rim-rock and began bashing his way downward. He explained that the going was highly difficult due to countless downed trees and steep canyon walls. To make things more difficult, the landscape was littered with loose volcanic boulders covered in soft silt-like fluff, making an exit of the drainage nearly impossible. They battled their way downward, bashing over and dragging their bikes under trees and around waterfalls until dark. They made it out to Illinois, and rode to safety in the twilight.
Cracky told me the story with excitement in his voice, so I was pumped to check out this new torture-test. The day before, Mrs. DDC talked me into getting a flu shot. I had never gotten a flu shot in my life, but with the recent outbreak of the Swine Flu, it seemed like a good idea. The nurse mentioned "you may feel a little run down, but its nothing to worry about."
The next day Cracky and I started in from the bottom of the canyon; the plan was to work our way upward clearing and smoothing only impossible obstacles. Why not start at the top and work downward? Well, suffering from SADHD, (Squirrel Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) he wasn't completely sure which drainage he had dropped into. I was lugging a very heavy and under powered piece-o-sheeeit chainsaw, plus extra gas and tools. We made it about a quarter mile upstream and the canyon split. I asked, "right or left?" Cracky said, "it was almost dark, I didn't notice there was a split." The left fork looked to be more exciting, so we left the bikes and continued on foot to investigate. We hiked upward for a quarter mile or so to find a rock the size of a semi-truck blocking the canyon. "I don't remember this, it must have been right," Cracky said. We returned to the bikes and began fighting our way up canyon right. I was trying to pick a natural line, only stopping to cut slots though downed trees at strategic locations, while Cracky was braaaapping up the canyon walls and hitting excessively hard transfers to add to the overall technical difficulty. We continued our upstream battle, finally rounding a corner to be faced with what seemed to be an impossible waterfall. This was a vertical rock ledge about 6' tall which flattened off just for a moment, then went vertical for another 6'. Cracky said "Oh yea! I remember this spot!" After surveying the scene, we decided we could stack rocks at the bottoms of the vertical sections building make-shift launch pads. The problem being, once you cleared the first vertical section you'd have to land on a flat area which was just about the length of your bike. Then, without hesitation in true Cody Webb fashion; un-spool a perfectly timed splatter against the next rock face. This was going to be tricky!
We clambered up the sides of the canyon and began tossing and rolling rocks downward. Cracky began to arrange them in launch pad configuration while I climbed up and begin collecting rocks for the next kicker. I was at the top of the next waterfall and rolled off a rock about the size of basketball. It hit a larger rock below which bounced it right off the next ledge. In this exact moment, I calculated the trajectory was perfectly inline with Cracky's melon. I yelled, "duck!!" He caught a glancing cranium blow and stumbled backwards. He stabilized himself against the canyon wall. I could see the cartoon squirrels circling his head, then everything went Southpark "Oh my god, you killed Cracky!" "You bastard!"
We sat there for a bit, letting his anger dissipate and discussing trail building safety protocol along with a complete concussion screening and analysis. Once we determined the rock had sustained the brunt of the injuries from hitting Cracky's skull, back to work we went. The next section of the canyon was a rocky crevasse which was blocked by numerous downed trees. I began an attempt to cut my way though, but each cut seemed to take excessive effort and strain. My arms were feeling like Jello, and I had lost the focus required to maintain any sort of chainsaw safety. This was especially difficult because I had to use the perfect amount of throttle finesse to keep my Harbor Freight chainsaw running. I think at this moment the realization set in that spending a little extra for a Stihl is worth every penny.
I killed the saw to hear Cracky say, "'bout time, you're making it too easy!" I said, "Hey dude, I'm not feeling very well and I think we should call it a day." He said, "I was just bashed in the head by a boulder, and you don't hear me wining!"
From this vantage point, it looked like the top of the canyon was just ahead and it looked clear to the top. We decided to call it a day and hike back down to the bikes. I began to feel worse and worse with each step, simply putting one foot in front of the other seemed to become a mental and physical challenge. The weight of my boots plus the weight of the chainsaw seemed to be sucking the life from me. When we reached the bikes I said, "Hey Josh, I think I'm getting sick." He replied, "That sucks but this canyon is sick...and we gotta ride it!" I was thinking it was time to get the hell off the mountain, but I was feeling guilty for nearly killing the poor squirrel. I couldn't let the little fella down, so after a good rest I said "lets ride around to the top and take a look."
We mounted up, and rode up Illinois to gain access to the ridge tops above. Just getting this far was difficult, it required some well timed log hoping and skillful hill climbing. Neither of which are easy to pull off when incubating some kind of Malaria strain. Looking downward, it would appear we were directly above the canyon although the folds in the landscape below made it impossible to say for certain.
We decided to go for it; tree-slalom freestyle skiing towards the canyon floor. I figured we were less than 1/2 mile from the spot we turned around on foot. We were able get the bikes over or around several trees when it suddenly became obvious that we were in the wrong canyon. By now I was feeling delirious, I was running a fever and this was clearly not the place to be. The only option was to forge onward and hope we didn't encounter something impassable. Just around the very next bend, we came up against the semi-truck boulder from earlier. This was good news since we'd be hitting our fresh cuts around the next corner...but first; how do we get by this rock?! There was a small channel on the left side which the last flash flood had cut into the mountain. It was almost wide enough to squeeze a bike though, but there was one really tricky step down about half way though it. Cracky said, "I'm just gonna send it up the canyon wall and boost off that knuckle!" He lined up a run and somehow managed to make it. I'm still trying to figure out what a "knuckle" is exactly, but it always seems to work for him. I tried to wrangle my bike through the slot, but only managed to tightly wedge myself in it. Cracky was able to get his hands on my front tire, and was able to pull me to freedom. From here, it was an off-chamber decent by animal trail. I think the onset of H1N1 now had the best of me as my conscious ability to maintain balance and throttle control was gone. I went tumbling down the hillside numerous times, at some point between dry-heaving and being stuck in a fetal position, I remember laying on my back looking up at the clouds. They looked so peaceful floating though the sky, this seemed like a great place to stay. I told Cracky "just leave me, I'll be fine." I have no memory of getting up, or of the ride home. I think Josh must have ridden my bike though anything difficult, I don't know. I was bed ridden for the next several days and probably as sick I can remember ever being.
Since this adventure, Squirrel Bait Canyon has had its share of victims. Its now fondly referred to as Squirrel Bite Canyon by some. Our buddy Brook, the star of Brook's Crossing ended up with a flesh wound resulting in multiple stitches.
Others who have attempted to conquer Squirrel Bait have ended up with busted engine cases, smashed pipes and various busted bike parts. The good news is that the trail has become easier in recent years, although its certainly not easy. My advise? Wait at least one week after a flu shot ......and probably 20 minutes after eating, -and you'll be just fine. :)
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