Winter’s Wrath


The early part of December offered some of the nicest weather of the year. The days were bright and sunny, the nights clear and cold. It was perfect weather for the annual Bikin’ Fools winter camping trip. Unfortunately, the trip wasn’t slated to happen until Dec. 27th, the day the weather came thundering out of the doldrums and hammered the California north coast with the biggest storm to date. Shawn cheated by being prepared, Jim Korte brought enough stuff to reconstruct the World Trade Center, Michel arrived with questionable equipment and tons of food. He was a rolling Deli. Eric tried to talk Shawn into driving the course instead of biking. Lindsey wisely opted for the abridged version which started on day three at Orr Hot Springs and ended hours later at the Ukiah Brew Pub.

The four bikers tumbled out of Christmas, rubbed their eyes and fat tummies then somehow managed to convene at the airport in Ukiah. Somewhere around ten or ten thirty, the four began a ritual which would carry through the entire trip. Shawn loaded his yellow bag onto the B.O.B. and was ready to go. Jim Korte, though mostly ready to go, would spend several minutes tightening a variety of bungee cords, cords and ropes to make sure that his entire load would remain intact, even off a cliff after tumbling hundreds of yards down a rock strewn canyon. Jim’s load was massively anchored to the trailer, much like chaining the hoe onto the flatbed trailer. Eric would prefer to arrive a day later and hence had to deal with the confusing reality of actually starting this annual winter camping trip after a week in Tahoe which vanished in a swirling, "did this really happen?" holiday haze. One too many trips in the P.T. Cruiser. Michel would scramble to rearrange his mountainous piles of stuff. He filled the panniers to bursting, then, in a fashion much like a Cirque du Soleil act, pile an enormous gym bag on the top of his already overloaded seat post rack and ride. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the sketchy rack was already broken and required a wooden ‘peg-leg’ to keep the thing from going I.C.F. (instant catastrophic failure)

As soon as the three finally began to roll down the road, Eric complained about being hungry and insisted at stopping at a restaurant to eat. Shawn rolled his eyes as if to say; "Will this trip ever get going?" The four bikers invaded the Windmill and proceeded to have breakfast, missing the breakfast special by fifteen minutes. Properly nourished, the four finally began the 2004 winter bike mission in earnest. The day was cold and gray. Clouds hung over the peaks of the mountains, there was a chill in the air. Eight wheels rolled north on State St. past the Ukiah Brewing Company, the court house, and several blocks until Low Gap St. appeared. The four made an interesting left turn, each trying to avoid the traffic in their own manner. Now established on Low Gap, the four began to climb into the coastal mountains.

The road was paved. It narrowed as it left town and began a mild climb. It cut into the hills while Ukiah began to disappear in the folds behind. Within a few miles a sign for a school appeared. The peaceful countryside offered a safe harbor for the little people to learn just how screwed up the rest of the globe really is. The pavement ended and the road continued to climb into the hills west of Ukiah. The road surface was in excellent condition and made the fully loaded riding easy. The B.O.B.’s were happy on the dirt and Michel seemed to be doing a good job of keeping his rig from turning into a junk pile. His smooth riding style kept the machine in one piece. The elevation profile indicated that a climb of nearly two thousand feet had to be accomplished before the ride would level or go downhill. The dirt road remained smooth, free of ruts and climbed at a reasonable rate.

For the next four hours the four rode deeper into the hills. The road climbed and descended for short periods and had several sections of level cruising for the tiring riders. Shawn checked the topo at critical junctions and kept the mission on course. Most of the route was in the trees making it difficult to see the surrounding lay of the land. An occasional mile marker appeared to clue the group about progress. The sky remained threatening though rain was not falling. As the afternoon wore on, the group began to discuss the notion of camping for the night. Two items that were desirable were flat ground, preferably with some trees and water. Near four o’clock the expedition came to a bridge across a paved road. This was the Industrial Road that had been considered two years previous. Just on the west side of the road the terrain seemed OK for an encampment, though the water situation was not great and the flat area was muddy. After several minutes of muddling around the group decided to continue. Time was becoming a factor and soon the riders would need to stop to get camp set up in the daylight. Within a half-mile another spot was considered, this one with a pond of water and a small redwood grove.

The four each became busy setting up their individual tents. There would be no communal tarpology for the tents. Rather, the group set up a tarp in the redwood grove next to a giant stump that would provide the setting for dinner and the evening hours. Once the tents were up and the day was growing dark, the crew gathered firewood and started a fire with the help of a Presto Log. The fire burned hot and long. The coals would make it until the next morning. Thus far the weather had cooperated, yet just before the group stopped to camp, the rain began to fall. It rained for several hours stopping sometime in the wee hours of the night. Everyone stayed dry and warm.

Bodies emerged from the tents shortly after the first light of the day. The usual morning rituals began. Several types of coffee appeared ranging from Jim’s scumbag brew to Michel’s Cordon Bleu, rocket fuel. The fire was rekindled from the evenings coals and provided heat and drying capacity for wet items such as gloves. Within moments of starting to pack up, Shawn was ready to go. Jim was ready next with Eric a close third. Michel struggled with his mountain of goods. In addition his seat post rack suffered another failure requiring another repair. This time the cleaver Frenchman fashioned a redwood stick to support the deck of the rack. It needed only to last for a few more hours of riding.

The sky showed some inclination towards clearing. Bright sunshine appeared in the tops of the trees though clouds still peppered the heavens. The group finally gathered all the goods and began to ride again. It was unknown how far it would be to the Comptche road, but the map check indicated that it was only a couple of miles. It was not certain whether the road would come out on the up or down side of the big climb out of Comptche. Great luck intervened and delivered the group to a raging downhill run on the Comptche road. The group traveled for a short distance before passing Shambala (Scam-bala) a retreat for burnt-out city slickers who find no good juju in their urban settings. After another couple of miles the four approached Montgomery Woods. This beautiful forest sports a significant number of big redwoods. It was decided to stop and have breakfast in the tall trees. Shawn had mentioned cooking up a pot of oatmeal earlier, but the proximity to beer altered his plans. The group decided to munch on trail type goodies along with some of Michel’s groovy coffee. After enjoying the special surroundings for nearly an hour, the crew continued the last two miles to Orr Hot Springs.

Within minutes of arriving at Orr, Megan, Audrey, Pat and Linz appeared. Shawn had reserved a room, while Eric, Jim and Michel would camp out for the night. The weather remained funky with periods of rain and drizzle. But it mattered not on this night, for even in the worst case scenario, the not-so-happy campers could simply find shelter in the lobby or kitchen if need be. Jim Korte and Michel decided to take a bye on the tub experience. The rest of the party rallied in the healing, soothing waters. Megan had prepared a deluxe meal for the evening. The chicken enchiladas were far beyond what a camper could reasonable expect on such an outing. The evening was replete with comfort and good company.

The rain continued to come down. It was pitch dark as the campers made their way to their tents near the stream. Jim had pitched his tent near water’s edge while Eric and Michel were at a higher point. As the night wore on, the rain increased. At times the rain thundered down with tremendous intensity. Streams appeared on the paths and flat areas. The rush of the creek increased. It began to threaten Jim. He had carefully prepared his camp sight to protect from the rain, but with only a few inches of increase in the stream, he would be washed away. Michel’s tent took on water and he would have to spend a miserable night. Eric made enough adjustments to keep the water away from his sleeping bag, though it was impossible to keep the water out of the tent altogether.

Although far from comfortable, the campers survived and rallied in the morning when it was light enough to see. The non-campers awoke refreshed, invigorated and ready to rally. After breakfast and another round of tubs (for some) the group began to assemble their equipment. This day would be unique. Not only would Lindsey join the ride, but no one had to carry any camping gear. The plan was to take the Orr Springs Road to a point only Shawn knew and find an alternative way to access the Industrial Road and then back to Ukiah. The weather was again funky but not raining. Portions of blue sky appeared from time to time, but it was not encouraging. Around noon the five bikers set out. The first three miles from Orr are a punishing climb. It was a treat to not have all of the camping gear. The five slowly climbed. It took the better part of an hour to reach the point that Shawn thought would lead to the other road. Shortly before arriving at the private ranch road, a vehicle was seen driving down the lane. This could be a problem for the trespassers.

The road descended moderately as it twisted and turned downhill. With each turn it was expected that the group would come upon a remote dwelling. Then a junction appeared. The truck tracks proceeded uphill and the seemingly correct road continued downhill. This part of the road had not been traveled in a long time. The only passers on this lane had been cows, who nicely trashed the ground with deep foot prints. The road continued. It was obvious and easy to follow, at least for the first mile. Then the road lead into the forest and became a little less obvious though still defined. The group continued for another twenty minutes before reaching a spot that seemed confusing. Lindsey took the initiative to declare a direction and started chugging uphill into the forest. Occasionally a slight view could be seen through the trees. The group needed to reach the drainage at the bottom of the hill, Yet the terrain would not cooperate. The proper direction lead to a steep, non negotiable slope. The riders returned to the woods and attempted to get around the shear part of the hill. This lead to serious bushwhacking and grumbling among the ranks. Jim was convinced at this point that they would spend the night in the woods, wet, lost and doomed.

Eventually the loosely formed group arrived at the bottom of the hill at a stream. There was easy passage along the streambed, though Eric insisted that they needed to cross the river. Several attempts were made, none successful until they found a slippery log that crossed the creek. Eric carefully placed his bike sideways on the log and then crawled behind it. It was not an easy passage. The others seeing Eric’s difficulty decided to try traveling further along the stream, looking for an easier place to cross. At this point Eric traveled parallel to the others. Eventually he was forced to scramble uphill and became separated from the four others. Eric climbed the bare hillside to reconnoiter the lay of the land. He saw the paved road. Unable now to communicate, Eric returned to the stream to find the others reaching the pavement about the same time.

The anxiety turned to joy. They had managed to transit an interesting chunk of land and had succeeded, though not without some doubt and some boonie thrashing. The crew took a well earned break on the bridge. Several beers were unpacked and the party enjoyed the sense of well-being, in part earned by being lost for a while. Now the ride was practically over. The road would be mostly downhill with only a few level spots. The miles flew past. The Orr Springs road came back into sight on the other side of the river. Soon Ukiah came into view. Now it was simply a matter of pedaling to the Ukiah Brewing Co. Pat had been waiting for a long time and was happy to see the bikers. After several pitchers of beer and a hot meal the riders returned to the vehicles and to the end of this year’s winter camping trip.