I like to think of myself as a fairly tough human being, but my lack of confidence in sleeping outdoors has really been injuring my internal street cred. There are a few hobbies I have in my back pocket that one could define as outdoorsy. Mountain biking is one in particular I can confidently say I have had way more practice over my camping companions. As they are pulling me into new territory, I am hoping to return the favor. Assuming this would be a fun-natured role reversal, I started looking into a few spots where we could load up some bike packs, hit some fun trails, and then spend a night or two in picturesque locations. Every time I brought it up they made me feel like one of those old time movie villains twisting a mustache as they lie bound on the tracks waiting for the train to come. They were none too pleased about the prospect of mountain biking and were adamantly opposed to the idea of bike packing.
E: I knew she would get back at me for all the “no, you can’t bring that” and “yes, you have to poop in the woods” lip I have been giving her. For me, mountain biking involves two states: totally fucking exhausted, or in a pucker-factor blind panic. Nothing is easy on a mountain bike. They weigh approximately the same amount as a young elephant, which means uphills are a bitch, and downhills get you up to mach-rated speeds, and then you must dodge obstacles such as rocks, roots, and rattlesnakes. How is that fun?!?
D: Exactly! How is it that even when there is only one obstacle in your way with ample room to avoid that object on all sides you hit that object? Come on! I thoroughly enjoy my teeth. And don’t even get me started on rattlesnakes…
It took some doing (cocktails) and light ribbing (thanks Billy), but they finally committed to a weekend bike trip, that was quickly edited to an evening of camping that would include riding a trail or two nearby Whiskeytown Lake. We packed up some bikes and drove the whopping 20 minutes to one of my favorite beginner routes, which is a pieced together mish-mash of the Shasta Mine Loop, Clear Creek Canal Trail and Guardian Rock Trail. I was going easy on them. Yes, there is dirt, and rocks, and obstacles, but about halfway through there is a stretch of winding singletrack I could ride all day.
We gear up and set out on the trail. They are noticeably uncomfortable, which suits me just fine. A couple of dips and turns; no broken bones. A small climb up a rocky slope; nailed it. At one point we stop for a quick water break and the laughs sound like enjoyment, not manic stress. Denita shows us her ‘one bike trick’ of riding superman style which was both impressive and adorable. We get back at it and just about when I start to think I have found myself two new riding buddies (D: HA! Nope.), we come to a few hills.
m is riding my cross country bike and it starts jumping around a little on the gears. We flip it over to inspect the mechanics, and then look at eachother with shrugs. Our lack of bike knowledge means we’ll take the wait and see approach. We trade bikes and hop back on the trail.
E: At this point I’m thinking I just got screwed. I am now on Jess’s downhill bike and it weighs about the same as an adolescent elephant, which isn’t making this climb any easier.
We get through our first patch of easy downhill.
D: Easy? The crevasses in the hard red California clay are so deep, I’m not just afraid touching one with my tire would mean instant wreck, I’m afraid my whole body would be forever lost inside it. How the EFF am I supposed to ride a bicycle down a steep grade with root balls the size of hippopotami and boulders the size of small cars strategically placed throughout the route?
And yet, we made it to the bottom without failing into any crevasses or running into any hippopotami shaped anything. Then my bike made a large pop and decided to abruptly halt. I hopped off to examine the damage. My derailleur had bent into the tire, grabbed hold of a spoke, severed the chain, and popped the wheel out of its home. Oops.
E: The bike essentially ATE ITSELF! We’re talking mountain bike self-cannibalism!
We were losing the light, but being so close to Denita’s husband’s bike stable meant we could run into town, grab another bike and try again. The girls rode back the way we came and I hiked my bike through a few thickets to a nearby road. As we were headed back into town, the look on Emily’s face changed from oopsie, oh darn to an amalgamation of I hate you, why are you doing this to me, and I may poison you later. Pretty sure she was elated the bike had bit itself and thought that meant we were done for the day. On our way back from the bike swap, she let out her building frustration and told us she tried, but she was done. Since we had only made it a mile, maybe two, I bartered that we should try again and I would take them on the easiest trail I knew. The Oak Bottom Channel, which follows the north side of the lake and is basically like taking a paved path, but it is technically dirt. I believe it was her pride that pulled her back on board, but I definitely got the feeling I should check my food.
Being that this trail was remarkably easy, the ride was pretty chill. We got to meander along the lake and take in the views as the sun creeped down towards the horizon. At one point Denita issued a squeally scream. She swears there was a rattlesnake coiled up next to the trail, but neither Em nor I caught a glimpse of her slithering nemesis.
D: Have you ever ridden past a rattlesnake on a bike? I didn’t know I could coast so fast while resting my feet ABOVE my shoulders and my hands covering my eyes!
But that was our only dramatic interlude. We finished out the 6 mile back and forth just as the golden hour started. My favorite time of day! We set up the tent, kicked back some beer, and relaxed.
As we were setting up camp, I kept wiping these tiny little worm-bugs off me. Apparently, our chosen camping area was ground zero for The Great Whiskeytown Silkworm Hatching. They were everywhere; hanging from everything. And then once the heat dissipated and the sun sunk lower, all the silkworms’ friends came out to play. Every surface was crawling with something and the air was a constant buzz of activity.
Let me reiterate: there were worms dropping out of the sky. It was raining maggots. The sheer volume of swarming creatures was stupefying; solid objects took on more fluid dimensions.
My camping buddies just smiled as I sat in complete and utter discomfort. I’m sure my internal war to keep my shit together was entirely hilarious to behold. D: Hell yes, it was entertaining. The next day they admitted to being completely grossed out by the epic amount of creepy crawlies, but my reaction made sticking it out in the elements, instead of inside the tent, worth it.
This adventure was far from exciting and far from successful. We did all get to experience something a little new; mountain biking and bug-palooza. While I decided that deet is a must have camping staple from this point forward, Emily decided she will be …sticking to pavement. Smooth pavement. With a light roadie.
Our comedy of errors wasn’t entirely unpleasant, but it was a good reminder that gear breaks and things don’t always go your way. Sometimes you have to adapt and make do, while other times you just have to sit in a swarming mass of worms and ride it out.
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