Brother Ride 2013

Part 2 of 3
Larch Butte Exposure
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August 9, 2013
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We are ready to ride, year six. We point our three motorcycles east from Pierce to Weitas Creek across forest roads and trails. What should be a short day of riding turns into something else.

Clearwater Gulch
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Clearwater Gulch
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/12424526034
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Our youngest brother Jesse¹ realized at close to the last minute his new job wouldn’t accommodate time off for our ride. We were all disappointed but didn’t hassle him much. We understood the priorities.

After loading up our bikes at Jeter’s RV Park, Joel, Jeremy and I head east over the hill on the same meandering dirt route out of Pierce we followed three years ago to the Lolo Motorway.²

  1. A little about Jesse: Trail Image, “Brother Ride 2011: Tunnels to Loop Creek”: trailimage.com/…/tunnels-to-loop-creek
  2. Trail Image, “Brother Ride 2010: Camp Martin”: trailimage.com/brother-ride-2010
That’s our route?
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That’s our route?
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We cross French Saddle to Hemlock Ridge which we follow to the head of motorcycle Trail 167. I learned a lesson from the trail routes of 2011¹ that beat us into exhaustion every day. Although this year’s route has narrow trails again, the distances are short and I’ve loaded the GPS with a plan B for each stretch. I won’t let my brothers down this time.

  1. Trail Image, “Brother Ride 2011: Exercise and Elsie Lake”: trailimage.com/…/exercise-and-elsie-lake
Larche Butte trailhead*
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Larche Butte trailhead*
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The bees here at the trailhead are thick — big fellas, bald faced hornets (I suggest “panda bee” would be a more pleasant name). Jeremy records one attacking a small, helpless yellow bee (see the video, below). Not very nice.

  1. starPhoto by Jeremy Abbott
KLR through it
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KLR through it
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/12424220883
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The trail meanders pleasantly through a mix of dense evergreens atop the ridge.

Storm brewing
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Storm brewing
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The wind is picking up and the sky growing dark as we thread our way through the trees. I assure my brothers we aren’t far from the first campsite. Weitas Creek is just down the hill.

Attitude*
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Attitude*
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From pleasant to puckering, the trail falls off the ridge toward Hemlock Creek with switchbacks sharper than we can easily navigate on our gear-laden bikes.

  1. starPhoto by Jeremy Abbott
Could have been worse
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Could have been worse
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Joel takes one for the team by testing one of the worst case scenarios, the full-on downhill tip-over. Should you get hung up while riding and try to dab ground on the outside you might instead find your foot in space as you begin the long fall.

Lucky for Joel, deadfall is positioned perfectly to catch the KLR before it flips and tumbles far.

Back to it
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Back to it
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Although we heft Joel’s bike back onto the trail with typical merriment, inside we’re a little shaken by the possibilities, especially as it grows darker and the exposures appears to worsen ahead, in places a steep, a treeless drop to the creek below.

R.I.P. Jim Willis
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R.I.P. Jim Willis
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“Let’s just stop and help each other through” the risky spots, we agree. It doesn’t matter how slow it makes us. Better safe than sorry.

I am running ahead of Jeremy and Joel a bit, stopping after scary spots to walk back and help as needed. In one place particularly narrow and rocky I notice a bit of front fairing left in memorial to a fallen rider, as if to emphasize our peril.

Members of the motorized recreation group Public Lands Access Year-round¹ are mourning the death of their president, Jim Willis of Orofino, who was killed while trail riding in a remote area near Weitas Guard Station on Saturday.

Willis, 64, suffered a broken neck after his motorcycle left the Larch Butte trail for unknown reasons, according to Clearwater County Sheriff Chris Goetz. Willis was wearing a helmet and other safety equipment and was accompanied by three other riders, none of whom witnessed the accident.

‘He had all the right safety gear on,’ Goetz said. ‘I’d say he wasn’t going that fast because his bike was only a couple of ... feet off of the trail. It was definitely a low-speed thing.’ Other members of the group known as PLAY confirmed Willis was a stickler for safety, and was certified by the Idaho Parks and Recreation Department to teach safe trail-riding techniques.²

  1. Public Lands Access Year-round: accessplay.com/www.accessplay
  2. Lewiston Morning Tribune, August 3, 2012, “Motorcycle accident near Weitas Guard Station kills Jim Willis”: m.lmtribune.com/…/article_ab8d0a1d-ed49-5e43-8425-4da8b7293326
Resting in a “flat” spot*
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Resting in a “flat” spot*
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As our confidence frays we stop repeatedly to run back and forth, scrambling to find footing on the low side of the trail in order to keep a reassuring hand on the other’s bike as he passes the hardest bits. I’ll say one thing: it’s good exercise.

  1. starPhoto by Jeremy Abbott
Hoping we get there soon*
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Hoping we get there soon*
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Somehow “just down the hill” to our first campsite hasn’t gone as planned and the dual HIDs in the Lynx Fairing¹ finally get a workout. They really light up the forest.

  1. starPhoto by Jeremy Abbott
  2. Britania Composites: britanniacomposites.com/www.britanniacomposites
Resigned*
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Resigned*
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It is nearly dark when we reach lower ground and the Larch Creek (small Hemlock tributary) crossing. The TW catches a stick and throws its chain spinning up the opposite bank (see the video) but we’re able to use a rotting log as a center stand and headlamps to see well enough to put things back together.

Night is falling like a thick blanket under so-far impotent clouds. We can only see what our headlights show us so we’re surprised when the trail spits us out in the middle of someone’s camp. Horses in a simple rope corral to our left begin to spook before we can cut our engines. A lady approaches quickly through the darkness from a wall tent as I offer apologies and explanations.

She is understanding and, hearing our plight, offers pointers to nearby campsites while calming the horses.

  1. starPhoto by Jeremy Abbott
Along Weitas Creek*
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Along Weitas Creek*
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We apologize again and thank our lady of the night for her patience and advice before continuing down the trail to the larger Hemlock Creek. Our attitude is a bit fatalistic at this point so even though we can’t assess the crossing in the dark, we plow through.

We are far from picky at this hour so as soon as we sense a clearing alongside the road we’ve come to, we pull in and park for the night. We’ll figure out where we are tomorrow.

  1. starPhoto by Jeremy Abbott
A little giddy to have made it
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A little giddy to have made it
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Jeremy’s realization last night that he had no tent poles couldn’t diminish our gladness at having arrived somewhere safely. It was probably the best circumstance under which to realize you don’t have a working tent. Naturally, the notion of buddying up for the night was neither offered nor requested. The TW200 made a suitable tent frame.

Morning priorities
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Morning priorities
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Easygoing would be the order of the day.

  1. starPhoto by Jeremy Abbott
No more cliffs*
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No more cliffs*
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/12424157665
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Last night’s unexpected steepness inspires me to look closely at the topo lines along the day’s route.

  1. starPhoto by Jeremy Abbott
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Slow walk
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Slow walk
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Two groups of people stop to chat with each other right where Joel has stepped into the woods for some business. Now that’s funny. I walk over to join them.

“Was that you last night?” I ask the couple with mules. It was. I mention the marker we’d seen for Jim Willis.

“He didn’t start riding until he was 18,” a girl on an ATV remarks, as if to explain a lack of skill. I’m not sure what to make of that so I let it lie.

ATV, mule and motorcycle riders having a friendly chat. I think nothing of it myself — just people talking — but some forest plans seem to assume there can be no cooperation among us; the land must be divvied up, cordoned off. You go here; they go there.

Well, it’s about time to pick a direction and see if we can balance yesterday’s toils with leisure.