With special dispensation from Jessica, I hastily changed oil, cleaned the chain and otherwise prepared the bike for what may be the last ride of 2015. I rode hard until dark, meeting along the way fiddling friends, Mickey and Moose, for whom are named popular flats above the South Fork of the Boise River.
I have been wanting to complete the loop I attempted this spring,¹ up Lava Mountain, across Bear Gulch and back down Rattlesnake Creek. I loved riding Lava Mountain in 2013 and haven’t been able to get back.² I was a bit too early this spring. The ridgetop trail was blocked by deadfall and snow. Now I wonder if it’s too late.
I leave town, as always in this direction, along the Oregon Trail behind Micron Technology where autumn rains have initiated road rutting season.
I am trying some grip mitts today from OBR ADV Gear,¹ modified for my HDB fold-out mirrors.² They were easy to fit and have kept my hands warm on this brisk morning while allowing me room to be on the pegs coming up this hill. Nice.
I pass by Bonneville Point without stopping, for perhaps the first time.¹ Short winter days are upon us. If I’m to dilly-dally I’ll save it for something I haven’t seen. I snap my visor down tight to speed along Blacks Creek asphalt.
My first view of the mountains above Smith Prairie reveals a lot of white. It looks like I’ll be riding plan B. Lava Mountain will have to wait. I saw a nice looking ride John Aiton did a couple days ago on the Danskin trails.¹ I’m happy to make a day of that instead.
I like riding along Willow Creek. It’s kind of low-key technical. I hope to take its Danskin trail 400 as far as 412 to pop over to Little Fiddler Flat and return along Bender Creek. We’ll see. Right away I’m impressed by the fancy new fence and gate at the trailhead.
The Danskin area has over 150 miles of trails.¹ I’m hoping to see some new ones today.
Trail 400 winds back and forth across Willow Creek more times than I care to count. If you like that kind of thing (I do), it’s a lot of fun.
I enjoy the diverse little ecosystems hidden among these hills. Coniferous or deciduous, dry or marshy, it’s all here. I could spend hours in each one.
I pass two bicyclers coming down the trail, geared up and smiling. I want to give that a try sometime. I say hello but with in-ear monitors, I can’t hear what they say back. I’m sure it’s something complimentary.
The Danskin riding area was closed for a year-and-a-half after the Pony Complex fires of August, 2013, involving almost 150,000 acres.¹ Today is the first time I’ve seen it since then.
The climb I see must be trail 412. That’s a nice way to begin. I’m going to start off easy with the route on the left.
The route on the left is a trick. It hides its steep part around a bend. I lose speed when I hesitate picking a line and have to give up when the front gets kooky.
I descend, turn around, and have a proper go at it. That’s better. It looks like 412 will be a series of climbs along ridges — good times. The OBR ADV Gear grip mitts and the bags I’m using today are a world different from my first longer ride here on the KTM, when everything was flopping around,¹ making a hassle of trails like this.
I still wonder if I’m over-packed for a day ride but I’m not sure what to give up. The side bag has water, first aid, tools, hand saw, air pump and a tire patch kit. The top bag has lunch, a tripod and heavy gloves. The tank bag is all camera stuff. All together, it’s my man-purse.
I am able to keep speed up and wheels down the rest of the way up to trail 424. I took pictures of most the climbs that I’ll post to Google Earth.¹ Let’s just say I’m getting a workout. I stop at Fiddler Peak to cool down and eat my peanut butter and jelly sandwich sitting on high rocks in the steady autumn wind.
My version of a selfie involves a tripod, remote control and several takes to get the framing right.
We may, with Susan Sontag, wryly observe photography’s tendency to make the ugly beautiful and the beautiful ugly, until sunsets and rainbows are trite while images of rust, decay and deformity hang on our walls.
But I don’t think that’s quite right. We marvel at the macabre not because it’s beautiful but because it tells us something about the nature of beauty, the nature of mortality. It is a foil for the ephemeral. It is not beautiful, it is meta-beautiful, a reminder of the fullness (“muchness” if you like) of things beyond pretty and cheerful Facebook moments.
I notice my phone has signal so I call Jessica to let her know I’m riding plan B. I try to get out of the wind but the signal fades if I’m not standing atop the rocks, so we talk just a moment.
Daily concerns shrink as my thoughts and vision compass the view across Big Fiddler Flat to the Boise River South Fork canyon and mountains beyond. This link between physical and mental spaces is good reason to regularly surround yourself with distant horizons, look and breath deeply.
From this vantage point I can see Lava Mountain is just below the snow line. I probably could have ridden the loop I planned. Oh well. I’m having a wonderful time on this route.
I have only ridden Danskin half-dozen times so before leaving I made a quick plan B route I could follow but the Internet fairies failed and it didn’t sync to the tablet. I take advantage of the faint data signal to make my phone an Internet hotspot so the tablet can update.
It is really neat to get to live in the future like this.
This riding area is named for Danskin Mountain which in turn is named for John M. Danskin,¹ a successful area businessman who was born in Canada, raised in New York, and twice served as a popular Boise County sheriff before dying in 1889 at the age of 47.² Now you know.
Idaho Statesman, “Peak for a Sheriff” (8 December 1940)
Idaho Statesman, “Death of John M. Danskin” (17 June 1889)
I should know better than to bring bottles on rides like this. The caps don’t hold. It’s good I won’t be needing my heavy gloves because they’re soggy with beer now.
“I’m glad I didn’t have to come up this,” I think to myself a few times as I continue along 424. I’d probably think the same thing if I was riding the other way.
I cross ATV trail 317 to ride out the rest of ridgeline 424.
The ridge top trail descends back to ATV 317, which continues onto Little Fiddler Flat. I pick up speed on the wide track. Dick d’Easum, author of Sawtooth Tales and other books, wrote the story of Big and Little Fiddler Flats for the Idaho Statesman in 1934.
Moose Morgan came west with the Boise Basin gold rush. His enthusiasm was greater than his geography. Fuddled in his directions, he struck a claim on the south fork of the Boise river instead of More’s creek and established himself near the mouth of Big Fiddler creek. A few miles up the river was Mickey Morgan, hermit miner of Little Fiddler creek. The Morgans were not brothers, although several versions of their adventures link them together in blood relationship. Their binding tie was music. Both played the fiddle with such lively zest the water fairly bubbled to keep time and the wind blew in tune.
Mickey was a little fellow, hence his claim was called Little Fiddler and the creek the same. Moose was a brawny man, two hands and an ax handle broader than a village blacksmith. That accounted for Big Fiddler creek. They named the streams themselves. Mickey didn’t care at first for so much population on his stamping grounds as the addition of another miner provided, but he put up nicely with Moose Morgan when he discovered the big ox could draw a squeaking good bow.¹
Idaho Statesman, “Three Fiddler’s Ghosts” (21 October 1934)
The small meadow at the bottom of the trail descent is chaotic, rutted and littered with white boulders unearthed by last year’s flood of Buffalo Creek, ongoing aftermath of the Pony Creek Complex fires that denuded the hills. Trees and rocks were dumped into the Boise River below, creating a temporary class V rapid out of the usual family float.¹
U.S. Forest Service, “SF Boise River Flow and Channel Has Changed Creating Dangerous Conditions” (14 August 2014): fs.usda.gov/…/news-events
Young aspens seem to have found strength in numbers against the fires and floods.
Moose and Mickey, by then good friends, moved on to working claims around bustling Idaho City when there was nothing more to be found on the flats here.
In all the glamor and violent living of the mining camp there were no more popular men than Moose and Mickey. They played for nightly dances in the biggest saloon; they fiddled for themselves during the noon hour, and in the evening when their work was done and there was no crowd clamoring for their music, they fiddled for the sunset, the first peeping stars, and the sheer joy of fiddling.¹
Idaho Statesman, “Three Fiddler’s Ghosts” (21 October 1934)
Two large ponderosa pines stand near each other on the flat, well away from others and much older, a visage of the two fiddlers who no doubt stood around these very trees.
If d’Easum’s tale can be believed, Moose and Mickey were killed together years later for a claim they were digging near Warm Lake, suspected of a “strike,” by a fellow fiddler they’d befriended from Texas, Aubrey Blackburn.
Aubrey sneaked up another rod, rushed out in the open and fired twice at Mickey. The fiddle slipped from the old man’s hand and the bow made a final discordant screech as it passed over the strings. Mickey slumped into the pit dead. Moose whirled around, leaped out of the hole, swinging his pick, and roaring like a bull. Blackburn fired again but his aim was jittery. He missed. As Morgan swung a mighty blow, he pulled the trigger again. The bullet took deadly effect. At the same time the pick came down on Blackburn’s skull. They fell together in a heap and lay still.¹
This is, of course, a reconstruction of events based on what was later found. Over the years, those looking for the gold the two were thought to have hidden reported the sound of fiddles wailing in the night.
Idaho Statesman, “Three Fiddler’s Ghosts” (21 October 1934)
From the Moose and Mickey ponderosas, I follow an ATV track to the overlook I haven’t visited since Jessica and I stood there seven years ago.¹ It’s much more pleasant today.
The South Fork of the Boise River is here a dark ribbon below high, sparse cliffs. I see Buffalo Creek sediment still impinging on the river’s normal course. It may end up being a nice beach.
A nearby archeological site known as the Danskin Rockshelter is “unique for its rock art motifs, including a shield-bearing warrior, uncommon this far west into Idaho, and a spectacular representation of a heron or crane with a human figure dangling from its beak,”¹ artefacts of those who worked this area a thousand years before Moose and Mickey began prospecting.
A channel of moss mottled black rock is another of the distinctive microenvironments found here, dark and fluid against the surrounding light and angular terrain. I crawl within and run my hand over the smooth rock.
I am, not surprisingly, falling behind the schedule I suggested when I had Jessica on the phone. I’ll have to hustle a bit to be out of the hills before dark. I’d like to visit a few other spots around the flat but those will have to wait. I return to trail 317 and make haste for the climb out the opposite end of the flat.
A late 1800s boiler, used to produce steam power for mining equipment, has been rusting near Little Fiddler Creek for the last hundred years. I find the cast hearth décor curious considering how much unnecessary weight it adds. Mickey Morgan must have worked to keep the firebox under its belly fed. Could he have imagined this future?
The climb up 317 is trivial on the KTM. I pause to look at the switchback that nearly killed Jessica¹ then continue up and over the little cattle guard that tore the stock GS skid plate from its rubber mounts. That bike didn’t like this trail.
Leaves of grass and tree are luminous in the low sun’s golden light. I follow 317 down the other side of the ridge along Cottonwood Creek then turn west on ATV 321 to make my way home.
Gold and blue twilight is the beautiful harbinger of nightfall. I’m glad to be on fast ATV trails as darkness descends.
Singletrack 421 takes me from Big Horse to the upper reaches of Willow Creek that I’ll cross to continue southwest over the hill on singletrack 319. Downstream crossings were simple but this looks deep and muddy. The last thing I want is to bog down as night falls.
I circle once to see if there are tracks to an easier crossing but see nothing. I guess this is it. I get a run and hit it. It’s only about axle deep until I’m nearly to the other bank then the front drops into a hole and I’m pushing water up to my shins. I gas it and churn out. Phew.
Shapes take on new meanings in the waning light.
The little rock scramble on the 302 singletrack shortcut between ATV trails 301 and 300 is fun. I happened upon it the first time I took this bike out.¹
I know I should stay on ATV trail 300 out to the trailhead on Blacks Creek Road but a final bit of creekside singletrack (510) looks too good to pass up.
A belief that I can still see well enough is belied by unexpected rock deflections.
Jessica and I first rode Danskin seven-and-a-half years ago. We didn’t have a map or plan so it was a nice surprise to encounter a mine shaft as we were following singletrack along a nondescript creek.¹ I’ve thought a few times about finding it again but never have … until now, boarded up and mounded with dirt.
Riding in the dark feels to me like moving through an alien atmosphere, just a helmet and suit between me and asphyxia — dangerous exhilaration. Familiar trails and Blacks Creek Road below assure me home is inevitable now, in spite of pressing darkness.
Sometimes I stop for a photograph, move on ten feet, see a better angle and hit the brakes to shoot again. Although ride friends always assure me, “that’s fine,” when I warn them of my frequent stops, I feel more relaxed shooting on my own, not holding others up.
Guilt-free photos aren’t the aim of most rides, though. I usually enjoy sharing the experience with friends and family. Jim Eldredge is one such person I rode with a few times.¹ Cancer took him this week. He was fifty. Others knew him much better but I can say, in the moments we shared, he conveyed an unwavering, quiet joy. He joins the prospectors and ancient indigenous people now whose lives are forever part of this land.