“I hit so hard, I peed my pants! Good thing it’s raining, huh?”
On 17SEP16, we headed out to Gifford Pinchot National Forest for another attempt at Blue Lake. We tried earlier in the season, but it was too early and there were just too many blow-downs. We spent all day getting probably 8 miles of riding in, constantly stopping to drag the bikes over fallen trees. Not much fun.
My kids are tougher than most. I expect most parents would say that. That’s sort of a requirement, right? My kids are better than your kids. Still, I doubt most parents take their kids out in 50-degree rain for the better part of 8 hours to ride dirtbikes on 37 miles of gnarly trails. When you have a 9-year old who can wrestle a Honda XR100 all day, through multiple crashes, pissing rain, on rough terrain requiring full concentration, and he stays generally positive and still has gas in the proverbial tank…that’s a tough little dude. All three of them are.
It’s sort of the norm for us though. I just never really think about it until we hang out with other people who are blown away at how hard these guys can work. Sure, they’re a pain in the ass around the house because they’re constantly in each other’s faces, but it’s awesome to see them put out work and come together as a team when the occasion calls for it. I can’t get them to clean the back yard without it turning into Lord of the Flies, but often, I’ll come around a corner to find a kid wadded up under a bike and another one already dismounted and working to pick the bike up. The crap-talking will have already begun as well.
I’ll come around a corner to find a kid wadded up under a bike and another one already dismounted and working to pick the bike up. The crap-talking will have already begun as well. Hey Nate, what’re you doing underneath The Blanket [your bike] again? Taking another nap? Hmmm?
In preparation, the kids spent Thursday and Friday afternoon going over their bikes. Nate got his hand-guards re-installed, and tires and oil were checked. Of course, Friday night as we went to load the bikes, Lex found she had a flat front tire. Aaagh! Pulled the tire and there, big as life, was a split next to the valve stem. Nope, not patchable. It’s 7pm and we leave to ride at 5am. Dammit! Just goes to show, it doesn’t matter when or how you prep. This tube previously had problems leaking around the fitting there (had to crank down the inner clamping nut), and now it tore. She’s not a hardcore rider and doesn’t go around at low pressure potentially spinning the tire on the rim, so what the hell? While she once had to ride it flat for a couple miles due to the leak at the inner clamp, I looked closely and saw no damage at the time. Guess I’m done with STI extreme heavy duty (3mm) tubes. Luckily, I hardly ever throw anything away (witness my rack of take-off tires), so we found the original standard tube under the workbench and stuffed it back in there. Good to go!
Of course, it rained the whole 100 miles down, and with the tetris-truck fully loaded with 4 bikes, the interstate presents a constant battle not to hydroplane in the water-filled troughs worn by the big trucks. We met up with the bros down in Randall, then headed to the staging area. By the time we unloaded, we were plenty wet. I don’t even bother with rain gear on rides like that, as we’re generally working so hard, we end up soaked no matter what.
Last time out, we ran into some crazy woman camping (probably living) in her ratty little truck in the middle of the trail just a half mile from here we started. She got pissed at the noise when we rode by a couple times searching for a particular trail, then started throwing things at the kids. Probably best I only learned of that from the kids 20 minutes later when we stopped, because there would have been violence.
So, no crazy lady and no encounters with blown down trees in the first five minutes. Well, that’s certainly an improvement! Trails were amazing! Without running into dozens of blow-downs, it sure is nice to just ride. We surveyed the destruction of NF-23 where it was washed out early this spring. Can’t help but wonder how much that will cost to repair, because the damage is massive. The Cispus River now bend through where the road was, and the road was already sandwiched between the riverbed and a cliff.
We climbed into the rain and clouds, popping out at one point for a photo of the river valley below and the clouds with the mountain backdrop across the way. I’m continually impressed at the amazing scenery you can find just an hour or two away from the house in the Pacific Northwest!
Jeff and Robbie and Todd would leap-frog ahead, riding at their pace (which is faster than even mine), and the kids and I would eventually catch up. I felt bad about the overall pace, but if had been bad enough, they would have agreed to split up and meet again somewhere else. The trail up to Blue Lake was steep and muddy, with alternating rocky sections and greasy mud smeared on some of the creek crossing concrete forms. Nate, ever-challenged by dead start uphills on his CR85R managed to get frustrated while stuck at the bottom of one and absolutely looped his bike. Just as I was hopping off my bike to survey the scene, Todd showed up after doubling back to see if we needed help. As he came around the bend, he saw Carl trying to tug a bike up from the rocks in the stream bed. A couple steps later, he realized there was another kid squashed under the bike and hollering. Pure comedy! A couple of kicks and a bit of pushing, and Nate escaped the creek and rode on to crash somewhere else.
Carl, other than stalling once, managed to clean that section. It always amazes me to watch him crush a bit of terrain like this, only to crash on something simple–especially downhill. I think part of it is that he’s lazy with the clutch. Admittedly, the clutch pull on the XR100 is brutally shitty, but he just won’t pull it in. So, he ends up rocketing up anything uphill! Probably doesn’t hurt that he has a 19″ front tire while Lex and Nate are on 17″ fronts.
Once at the top, we paused for a few photos. Even with low-hanging clouds obscuring the view, Blue Lake is gorgeous. The campsite even has a sandy beach! Thoroughly soaked anyway, we waded out ankle deep for a picture to prematurely celebrate victory. After all, we were less than halfway done with the route.
Robbie changed his rear brake, Jeff demonstrated the world’s most expensive Austrian goggle-dryer while the kids wolfed down a power bar, and we departed.
The trail again offered some serious uphills, but other than a few fits and starts, the kids rolled on through. We approached a comparatively open area (some of the trail was single-track not much wider than a front tire–excellent!) and I observed an excellent place to show off for the kids. Uh oh… Dad absolutely launched himself off a small rise and came down in an enormous puddle, sending a tidal wave of muddy water of Lex and Carl. I’ll bet the video would have been awesome! Woops. Sorry I’m not sorry guys.
Otherwise, the biggest highlight for the return trip was Carl awarding his bike earning a new nickname. Nate’s is “The Blanket” because it often covers him like one. Carl’s had been “The Tractor” because, for better or for worse, it just doesn’t want to stall. This time, as we cruised a fairly simple trail headed back to the truck, we encountered a series of those draws where the trail basically hairpins into a low-lying water channel and back out. The first couple were fine, and Lex and Nate quickly disappeared while Carl plodded along, weary but unwilling (and certainly unable) to quit. We rounded one without difficulty, but the next included a bit of a downhill approach–clutchless Carl’s kryptonite. As I neared it, trailing by a minute or so, I remember a sense of relief that I couldn’t see him. I assumed he must have successfully negotiated it. This relief was quickly dashed as I reached the turn-in and spied a tangled up mess of boy and machine about 20ft down the embankment in the undergrowth to the left.
As I virtually threw down my bike and lept off the embankment, much hollering and yelling was on-going, and I had to shout at the top of my lungs in Angry-Dad voice for Carl to shut up and tell me what was wrong. On first inspection, I could have sworng his leg would be spiral-fractured, because it was twisted in a way that would cripple an adult. His right foot was jammed between the chain and the swingarm tightly, he’d twisted nearly all the way around, and gravity was dragging him down, making the snare nearly impossible to escape. Once I figured out that he could move fingers and toes and wasn’t in danger of a spinal injury (he was wearing his neck donut!), I had to pick him up, turn him around, and then loosen the buckles on his boot to pull it out. Wow! He remarked, “Good thing those trees were there, or I never would have stopped!”
Next came about 10 minutes of cursing and scrambling, smashing all the small saplings and roots which conspired to hold or drag us down the hillside. Of course the rope recovery kit rides in Nate’s pack, and Nate was nowhere to be found. Ironically, I could see the road just 75m below us, but that way would have required Hurculean effort to drag the bike. Sitting down to drink water for a moment, I realized we could push/pull/drag the bike forward a few inches at a time until we reached the rocks of the water course, then manhandle it relatively easily back up that way with nothing reaching out and grabbing us and no loose 70 degree slope to contend with. Sure enough, 10 minutes later, Carl was back on the bike no worse for wear and had just rounded the bend out of site when Todd showed up to see what was taking so long. I just shrugged and pointed, but I imagine the thrashed up brush and hillside combined with skid marks heading out into space painted the picture pretty well.
Carl’s bike’s new name is Spaceman Spiff.
We quickly caught the rest of the group and woke up Nate, who’d fallen asleep on his bike. We paralleled NF-23 on the trail until confronted by a massive washout that destroyed the trail by essentially sloughing the entire hillside off. The power of water here is truly incredible to behold. I would not want to be nearby to see this happen, but I’m certainly fascinated by what the experience must feel like. I imagine it would make a person feel mighty small.
Speaking of small, the kids all made it back to the truck. We ran the last 5 miles at our own pace, with Lex and Nate stopping at the major trail intersections as we’ve practiced over and over again. I played leapfrog with Carl and nearly launched myself off the hillside as I came around the corner to discover two tracks…and chose poorly. The higher track was full of rocks and shelves, but the lower track was crumbling. I’d have been OK had I not stalled on the way out, but at that point, my rear tire started pointing the course out. I quickly dismounted, set the bike over, and dragged it up to the higher area. *phew*
At the truck, teamwork (with a lot of Dad prodding) carried the day, and the bikes got loaded while I enjoyed a frosty beverage with the rest of the adults. The Tetris theme got hummed for a bit as we demonstrated the “proper” way to load a KTM 450 XCW, Honda CR85R, Yamaha TTR-125, and Honda XR100R into the back of a Nissan Frontier. Yeah, definitely time for a new truck.
37 miles, Gifford Pinchot trails 270, 271, 272, two spectacular crashes, one set of handguards fallen off, one broken clutch lever (switched on the spot in under 10 minutes), and rain that never stopped. As usual, the kids pulled through and rose to the occasion as we rode probably the hardest 37 miles they’ve ever done, due to a combo of rain, mud, and exposed climbing and descending. I’m proud of the 3-ring circus for working hard, and I look forward to another awesome winter season of riding.