It was a perfect day in May, the sun was shining, the birds were chirping and there was a little moisture left in the dirt. It was a epic day for a ride........
The crew consisted of 4 solid riders: Jon, Stephen, Cracky, and myself. We were off by a respectable departure time, and we headed straight for the stash. The stash of course being the trails beyond the whooped out, criss-crossing freeways of the weekend warrior. The lesser known, obscure trails of local lore. Trials that have names like Squirrel Bait Canyon, The Big Nasty, Broken Cock Canyon, Brook's Crossing, The Tail Dragger, and The Iron Maiden. Its very important that trails have names for story telling and bragging purposes.Trail names should typically be determined by existing historical place names, geological features, or a mishap of story worthy content taking place on said trail.
The charted route was fairly simple, the idea was to hit up a quick 60-70 mile loop and be home in time for SX on Fox. I wanted to incorporate some fun existing stuff and investigate a few brand new, never before ridden sections.
We ripped along at a brisk pace, everyone was smiling and the temperature was perfect. We headed down the extremely off-camber Como Mines trail, which follows an old water ditch down to the ruins of a neat old mine. This is one of those trails where you do not want to drop a tire, as hauling your bike back up to the trail would be a struggle. Luckily, everyone managed to negotiate this just fine, so we regrouped by some old ore cart tracks. Jon had mentioned earlier he had an appointment and would need to peel out early. After some verbal hazing for leaving early, he headed for the truck. At this point we were only about 30 miles in, so really the day was just starting. I had found an old wagon road during a previous ride which winds its way into a hidden valley. This was a real picturesque spot, a small meadow surrounded by a thicket of willows and dense Pinion Pines. On the side of hill above the meadow were the remnants of an old stone cabin and vertical rim-rock lined the canyon walls above. Heading downhill from here the foliage became so thick you couldn't see 2 feet. This was somewhat problematic for a solo adventurer. When I first discovered this spot, I noticed fresh Mountain Lion tracks in the soft mud. In-fact, they were so fresh that spring water was still seeping into them. That's certainly one of those situations that will make the hair on your neck stand up so I quickly left this spot for another day; today was that day.
We got off the bikes and scouted around for a bit. There didn't appear to be an impending cat ambush, however bear sign was everywhere. Trees were clawed, pine needles were mounded, and berry filled land mines were everywhere. We cautiously busted though the thick willows to discover a perfect motorcycle sized tunnel heading down canyon. It was the perfect bear engineered single-track, so we got back on the bikes and into the thicket we went. We muscled our way down the drainage, over logs, through neck ripping vines and down rocky ledges. We finally reached the the bottom and a dirt road. I was expecting to have some kind of run-in, but there were no sighting of lions, tigers or bears. "Oh my! That was gnarly!" Steve said, as we took a moment for a little H20, some gummy squirrels and jerky.
For backstory, I am riding a fuel injected 350 which gets about 70 miles a tank. I am packing an additional liter on this day, which is good for probably 10 bonus miles. Stephen and Cracky are riding KTM 2-strokes which get an undetermined amount of mileage per tank and at this point they were starting to become a little worried. When I say undetermined, fuel mileage depends on if you can prevent Cracky's senseless braaaaping. If he see's a log gap, rock step up, or other natural off-trail obstacle, (doable or not) -rest assured he's going to attempt it.
At this point, it looked like they had plenty of gas left to me so we continued further away from the Shire's boundary. At some point I was blazing up a epic sand wash and noticed the 2-stroke banshee cry behind me was gone. I looked back and noticed the boys had stopped a mile back and were sitting at a crossroads. It was the crossroads of what to do since we were reaching the fuel point of no return. It was also an actual intersection, one road leading towards home, the other towards more sweet trail. Did I mention that this was truly a perfect day for an epic ride? Why should a little thing like gasoline ruin it? We started heading back and soon came upon a man cutting wood. Perfect! We explained our situation to the man, possibly over-exaggerating the need for gas. He kindly offered up some premium Homelite blend at no charge. The gallon jug split between Cracky and Steven was enough to ride another 40 miles I figured. We thanked the man for his generosity and saddled up. As we were leaving he said "If you fellas are headed south, be careful. Looks like there's been some nasty mud slides down that way"
After a relaxing 5 or 6 miles dual sport cruise down a major gravel road, we rolled up to the mouth of the once epic single-track known as Puke Canyon. It was obvious something was strange. The alluvial plain leading away from the mouth of the canyon was completely covered with dirt. I'm talking about so much displaced dirt, it easily covered a square mile and had completely covered all the Sagebrush. Sadly, the year before a forest fire had completely scorched the mountains above, leaving them void of all vegetation. It was obvious that some major flash flooding had ravaged the area. Who could say what we were going to find, but it looked kinda fun. We made our way across the wasteland and entered the canyon. The first obstacle we encountered was a trench about 6' deep. It was just narrow enough that a jumping it looked possible. We decided have a snack and make a plan.
When confronted by probable unknown difficulty and you happen to be riding with Cracky, there really is little to no discussion. The answer is always, "come on wussys!" So, we began picking our way up the burned up devastated canyon.
At first, it was fun. There were giant rock step ups and logs to boost over, it was natures perfect Enduro-cross course. A mile or so into this, it seemed something was a miss with the weather. The sun was now covered in a dark grey overcast and the temperature seemed to be dropping rapidly. Looking up the canyon, the top of the mountains seemed to have vanished into a black cloud mass. A storm's a brewing I thought, as I looked up to see Cracky perched on the top of a 10' waterfall. "How the heck did you get up that Cracky"? I asked. He said, "just hit the knuckle at the bottom and pin it!" One of Cracky's favorite words is "knuckle". Knuckle refers to any object really, a big rock, a log, a root, or anything which could be used to get front tire lift.
I made an attempt to hit the "knuckle" and boost my way to the top. Looking back on it now, I believe that my mistake was not utilizing the spawning salmon technique. I was wedged between two large boulders but luckily they were holding me from falling backwards. After critiquing my form, Cracky hoped down and gave me a hand. We muscled my 350 up the chute. Steve pulled up to the bottom and just started shaking his head. His attempt was slightly better than mine, flaming out just before the top. We both helped wrestle Steve and his bike the rest of the way up. During all the excitement, I don't think any of us noticed how dark and cold it had became. We didn't notice until the moment that it started snowing.
Now I'm not talking about a light snow, I'm talking about full on falling chicken feathers. We continued battling our way upward, the rocks were now wet and slippery. The going was slow and the snow was rapidly sticking. This was causing heightened attack speed, but the difficulty factor was growing exponentially. We were rapidly burning though gas and energy, every tip over was a struggle. Cracky was picking the lines, but following a Crack Squirrel over snow covered rocky gwar is pretty hard, trust me. It seemed just going ten feet was difficult. Now and then we would get to a waterfall or washout too difficult to make. Teamwork became key, it was one bike at a time; push, pull or drag. To intensify the situation, our light springtime gear was now soaking wet and the temperature was now somewhere between arctic chill and hell froze over. Things were getting a little desperate, Steve had a strange look in his eyes, -sort of a mix of fear, anger, and Donner Party. All the smiles from earlier were gone, desperation was setting in. We pushed on, finally reaching some rider friendly terrain. By this time, the snow was nearly 6" deep but at least we were very close to the top of the mountain. Only one long hill-climb and we'd be home free! I hit the hill pinned, bouncing over snow covered logs, deflecting off burned out stumps but I ran out of momentum about 20 yards shy of the top. I got off the bike and started pushing, digging deep into some hidden energy reserve. I collapsed at the top, slumped over the seat of my bike attempting to catch my breath in the frigid air. I looked back to see Cracky carving some sweet slalom turns through the powder, almost making the top. At this moment, we knew without saying a word the situation was bad. It was freezing, we were completely exhausted, soaking wet and not a jacket between us. To top it off, due to the time it took and amount of rear wheel spin required getting to this point, the sun was setting and Cracky was about out of gas. Crazy adventures like this are typical with our crew, and always end well. This was a little different, we were all feeling a bit nervous about our safety and well-being.
Wait, where's Steve? We peered down though the falling flakes to see a meager figure resting his head on his bars. I'm sure we offered some positive encouragement, however it seemed only colorful adjectives could be returned. We managed to get Steve and his bike up to the saddle, and quickly began our decent down the other side. On a positive note, the west side of the mountain range was far easier to negotiate; we were making good time. On a negative note, somebody had decided to knock down all the burned up trees with a bulldozer. As far as the eye could see, it looked like a giant game of snow covered pick up sticks or a slippery labyrinth of doom! The only way though was direct assault. Luckily the fire had burned off most of the branches, so for the most part we were just battling over tree trunks. Some were flat on the ground, some were elevated laying on others, but all very slippery and tricky. We wheelied, hoped, and simply busted our way through the log matrix to finally arrive on a jeep road. I think we all felt a bit relieved at this moment but we were by no means to safety. We were all shivering, soaked to the core, 2 of 3 cell phones were dead, and 2 of 2-strokes were out of gas. Step one: fire! We gathered up a tender of dried twigs and pine needles from under the snow covered logs. Crap!... no matches or lighters between us. OK, pull a spark plug, who's got a spark plug wrench? Cracky had something resembling a plug wrench. He managed to wrestle the plug out of his motor while I took a piece of paper towel and soaked it with the teaspoon of gas he had left. I held the paper against the plug while he hit the magic button and poof! Ignition!
Once we got a good blaze going, Cracky was able to get a call out to our friend Keith just before his battery died. Cracky explained that we're stuck on the west side of Puke Canyon and to "please haul ass"! With help on the way, a feeling of relief replaced the anticipation of possible cannibalism. As soon as I shook off the Hypothermia, I thought I should ride out to meet Keith to ensure a speedy rescue. You know, just in case he decided to second guess his questionable navigational skills. I was about 5 miles away from the fires warmth when I ran out of gas. Not a big deal, Keith will be coming up the road anytime now I figured. To keep warm, I started walking. I was down in elevation now and it was a little warmer. The blanket of snow was already melting. Did I mentioned we have this clay based mud called Pine Nutt Gumbo? This is the kind of mud that sticks to anything. When you walk through it, it sticks to the bottom of your boots and builds up with each step. Thus making you taller, and your feet grossly heavier. When you are forced trudge though this in Gaerne's, each step was a battle of will. I trudged on and on, "Keith will come along any time", I kept telling myself. The sun went down, and the temperature began to drop. The only sounds were from howling Coyotes calling their kin to dinner. I continued on through the frigid twilight, loudly singing gangster rap to keep the Coyotes at bay. To my dismay, I entered a clearing to find fresh tire tracks make a U-turn in the gooey mud and go back the way they had come. NO!!!!! I immediately knew Keith figured he was on the wrong road and turned around. I kept on, one 50lb boot in front of the other until I reached a main road. OK, main road, Keith or somebody will come along I thought to myself. I continued on through the silent darkness, imagining some headlights coming around the bend. Imagining the Swedish Bikini Team with a St.Barnard and a cask of Schnapps laced hot chocolate. Physically taking a step became increasingly more difficult, I could feel giant blisters on the pads of my feet and a burning sensation from my toes. I was about ready give myself to nature when I heard the low rumble of a motor. I turned around and could see glow of light through the trees. "About time Serpa! Did you bring beer?"
I crawled into the cab and melted into the seat. "what took you?" I asked. As it turns out, he went on his own adventure. After turning around, he continued further into the mountains on the wrong road. The snotty gumbo caused him to slide off into a ditch, getting completely stuck himself. He jockeyed the truck back and fourth for quite some time until finally freeing himself. At least he had a heater, tunes and beverages. All I had was mud, cold and freestyle rap battles with the Coyotes. We 4-wheeled out to find Steve and Cracky warm and cozy with a raging fire. They seemed a bit puzzled as to why the rescue took so long. I explained my trek and Keith's adventure while they got the bikes loaded. We had a little trouble finding my bike darkness, but eventually found it and headed for hot food and drink. We made it to civilization on fumes, (both our physical state and the fact Keith neglected to fill the truck with gas) but it didn't matter! We had escaped Apocalypse Canyon alive!.....Of course, explaining this to the wife could be another story.
Random facts and thoughts from the adventure:
I am convinced that Jon is clairvoyant. I have been riding with the man on several occasions, on each ride he has left just before some kind of treachery has occurred.
If you are deep in BFE and somebody offers you all the gas they have, take it.
We could have turned around when it started snowing and headed for civilization, but what's the fun in that? It was an epic adventure, -fun all the way to the end.... well, depending on who you ask.
I ended up walking just over 8 miles in motorcycle boots in the mud. This actually bruised my big toe nail, causing it to die. It took over a year to grow back. Ouch.
Puke Canyon has been officially changed to Apocalypse Canyon for future story telling purposes. I had recently returned to see if restoring the trail will be possible, it does not look good.
Its possible Cracky may be out there now searching for the perfect knuckle.
Stephen has not ridden with us since...........
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