At just a bit over π miles to the next campsite, it should be an easy day, in spite of almost exclusive single track. We’ll ride from Crater Peak to trails among the Marble Creek headwaters then around to Lost Lake, another of our original brother ride campsites.
We laugh as Jeremy describes the creatures he imagined behind noises he heard last night until finally he got up and found a bit of tent rustling in the wind. We’ve all been there. The midnight brain is a funny thing. Who hasn’t found themselves awake, concocting a brilliant idea in the wee hours only to realize in the light of day what idiocy it was? I hope it’s not just me.
We also commiserate (like old men?) over some struggle we had staying warm. We have the right gear — just need to add another layer tonight.
“Stand there a sec’ while I get a picture,” I ask Joel before we depart. He was showing off his new camping slippers yesterday. They’re sparkly on the inside. Next he’ll offer to interpret our dreams and we’ll have to throw him into a pit. (If you didn’t get enough Sunday School, that’s a reference to the Bible story of Joseph and his brothers.)
The sun is well into the sky by the time we’re packed and on the road — no hurries here. Our next campsite is only 3.4 miles, as the bird flies, from last night’s spot.
Single track days have sometimes pushed the envelope of what’s fun on gear laden bikes. I used the nearness of the next site to reassure my brothers it wouldn’t be like that today. We can always bail and make it a short road trip.
This trail defeated us once before.¹ Well, to be fair, it defeated me on the GS. Tight switchbacks and rock steps were more than I could manage. I expect it to be a lot easier this year.
The narrow path switchbacks over rock slabs and through stands of thinning evergreens as it leads quickly up the shoulder of Widow Mountain. Hearing our dad say “above the treeline” of this area took on almost magical significance when I was little. It was a threshold beyond which we were so far away that everyday things couldn’t survive.
We pass the previous terminus without pausing until I stall against a rock in a switchback. Joel and Jeremy stop to see how I fare.
Made it. I walk back to the worst stretch to have a hand ready in case one of their top-heavy bikes gets narcoleptic.
Taking Trail 52 to the ridge isn’t the day’s planned route. It didn’t seem smart to rely on ridge trails. Those often get gnarly. The direction I routed is through forests below, Trails 273 and 261. But we’re going to check out 52. It’s a big shortcut if we can make it.
The initial climb was probably as challenging as we care to endure today. In a pinch we can help each other through harder (God knows we have) but it’s not really “riding” at that point.
Just as we’re feeling sufficiently self-satisfied, five guys on bare two-strokes zip right up and around our impromptu parking lot. “Well, it’s gotta be pretty easy on a naked bike,” we tell ourselves, whether true or not.
From there the trail is fairly level on the wide ridge and behind Widow Peak.
“Even if we have to turn back, this is still worth it,” we agree. We’re having a lot of fun weaving through trees and gliding across clearings in crisp air filled with forest smells.
The trail gets harder then harder again as we approach Lookout Peak. I’m bouncing over loose, angular, volleyball sized rocks after Jeremy and Joel stop to watch from below.
I know I’m screwed when I stall on a section that’s rougher still. Even if I can get started again, I just don’t have the skill to keep up the speed needed to roll over these rocks. I turn around and descend a hundred yards back to Joel and Jeremy.
“Do you think we could help each other through it?” Jeremy wonders.
“Well, I guess,” I answer hesitantly. “It’s a lot harder than this, though,” I say, nodding at the rocky ground.
We aren’t excited to turn around but it sounds better than basically pushing all three motorcycles up a big rock climb.
Typical disclaimer applies about it being steeper than it looks
We stop on the way back to look down at Lost Lake, our expected campsite. “We could toss our gear over the hill and grab it later,” I joke. “Make it easier to ride.”
I pause for a picture of the trail fork to Widow Peak where I rode with my friend Brett 26 years ago.¹ Someone has annotated the sign, I guess in regard to the gnarly Lookout Peak climb. Go Widow, not Lookout.
Then I notice my skid plate is hanging. Nothing about it is broken yet there it hangs. I don’t see how that’s possible. Oh well. I guess it did it’s job. I release the quick-fastener, slide it back into place, and tighten it again.
“I’ll keep going unless it looks like there’d be no way to return,” I assure Joel and Jeremy as we turn onto the day’s planned Trail 273 below Widow’s Peak. We burned some time on that Lookout Peak detour and don’t care to make this one of those set-up-camp-in-the-dark days. We want to keep open the option to exit to the road and beeline to Lost Lake.
The initial Trail 273 descent from Widow Peak was a bit rough. I wonder if my brothers think I forgot my commitment. But after a mile it has settled down to a nice meander through the woods.
The trail here is like the parts we enjoyed earlier on the ridge. Gentle curves flow among tranquil trees. It’s nice that it’s maintained but not wide and poof-dusty as ATV trails tend to get.
We splashed through a lot of tiny creeks on steep hillsides or brushy areas before reaching an idyllic water filtering spot with room to park between giant cedars.
I have been borrowing sips of water from Joel all day after using the last of mine on coffee this morning (priorities!). I’m ready for a refill.
We avoid redundant gear when hiking but on these rides we have Jetboils and water filters for everyone. We sit facing each other on dark, moss covered stones to draw from the clear water flowing among them.
I don’t usually imbibe the caffeinated Crystal Light that’s a staple in Jeremy’s camp pack but this year I join in with the round of pink Nalgenes. We don’t know what’s ahead. We’ve seen it can be tough-going and had best be energized.
According to Friends of the Clearwater, “all of Grandmother Mountain should be closed. Trails 275, 261, 251, and 273 are already seeing extreme damage from motorcycles vehicles [sic]. Trails 52, 34, 35, and 36 are also already impacted, and should be closed.”¹ That includes everything we’re riding today and everything connected to what we’re riding.
I support empirically driven behavior modifications. If the forest ecosystem is damaged by something we’re doing then we should change our behavior. Rookeries disturbed by noise or creeks unable to sustain fish because of sediment or cattle feces are evidence of impact.
But hyperbole isn’t evidence. I’ve seen unauthorized tire ruts that caught and redirected water, forming a large ditch² but that’s not what we’re seeing today. These are all planned, maintained trails. Yes, wheels make grooves in dirt, as did the first wagons on the Oregon Trail.³ But a groove is not “extreme damage” in any relevant sense.
No side of an issue — left, right, up, down, open, closed — deserves a “pass” on empiricism. We can’t allow policies based on prejudice.
You know it’s a deluxe trail when it has bridges. We cross many, maybe half-dozen.
I stop a moment to assess the Homestead Creek crossing, the largest so far. I’m not sure how far behind my brothers are. I hate to do something dumb then have to lay in the water or something until they arrive.
I decide it looks simple, cross and set up to photograph my brothers’ crossings. I trust seeing me perched with the camera will be all the signal they need to head into the water.
“This way,” I motion with my hand when Jeremy seems to consider an untested traverse. He’s always thinking outside the box.
The remaining trail up to Homestead Creek Road is quite fun. It zigged and zagged but just enough to be exhilarating, not slow. “What a perfect way to end it,” we agree.
We follow the road through a recent burn and back to the other side of the Lookout Peak ridge.
We stop and look back at the trail that stopped us. “Yeah, it would have been cool to make it,” I muse.
“I’m glad we did the other trail,” Joel says. “It was great.”
It starts raining as we speed along the forest road. Better here than when we were back on the trail. We planned a stop into Fish Lake since we haven’t seen it but the rain and already longer ride time urge us onward.
We cross Lost Lake Creek to the final two-and-a-half mile ATV trail into the lake. The rain seems appropriate since it was the same weather last time we rode in.¹
The ATV trail ends above twenty feet of steep and narrow, switchback descent. Last time we stopped above and carried our things down to the first campsite. Now that we’re pro riders (ha!) I just keep going. And when I see the first campsite a bit torn up with cut trees and brambles, I keep going again.
I can’t tell that Joel and Jeremy share my inclination to surmount obstacles in order to drive right into the best site but I don’t care. A little ride anxiety staves off alzheimers.
A series of shifting logs lain across the creek precede a steep and crooked, rock lined hop to the campsite. Joel and I walk our bikes across then Jeremy just rides it. That’s why he’s the cool brother (and maybe the only one who’s broken a bone).
Like a macabre scene from an arthropod horror film, crawdad carcasses are scattered around the site. A few remain perched atop a slab lain over the fire. We clear the carnage and settle in. The rain we had earlier has past.
Jeremy wasn’t here for last time’s crawdad wrangling.¹ We don’t have any bug eaters with us this time so we aren’t going to catch any but we try to spot them in the water. This lake is full of them.
Joel and Jeremy had a band when they were young (oh sorry: younger). I wish I could tell you more about it but I wasn’t much into it then, especially when they practiced in the garage below my bedroom. I’d be totally into it now. I collect and enjoy all of their music I can.
Lately they’re working to revive the dream. Okay, that’s a pithy way to put it. They and their drummer friend Todd are working seriously on creating and performing some pieces. A lot of our campfire conversation is about that collaboration.
We will button things down a little tighter tonight and wear extra layers to bed. We don’t know what cold or rain the night may bring.
Joel breaks out a stick of homemade elk summer sausage and string cheese and we luxuriate late into the night in heat reflecting from the stove-configured fire ring. There’s no “remember when” tonight. Tonight we face the other direction.