My lack of roll chart and Gwynne’s desire to have an easy weekend led us to put Sam in charge of navigation. I’m not gonna say that was a bad decision, but I’m sure Sam will agree that he’s less than an expert-level roll chart navigator. The possibility that Bungee’s charts were not ultra-precise exists, but to be fair, I didn’t hear any other tales like ours and it could just be that his odometer is more accurate, or maybe differently accurate. Whatever.
Sam: Bungee tells us at the riders’ meeting, “Don’t go up the rock hill,” and this sticks in my mind for some reason.
“Trust me, guys. Avoid the rock hill.” Photo: Surj Gish.
We get off to a good start by glancing at the map and assuming we’re heading north on 108 before noticing that the roll chart says to go south and button hook onto Lyons Creek Road. We turn around, take the aforementioned turn and it goes relatively easy for a while—but my odometer is off by about a quarter mile, give or take a quarter mile. Hard to say. I tried to reset it as we were approaching Long Barn…
So I’m not really sure if we’re on the right track as we roll past a group of dudes plinking at trees. Fish’s pack falls off his bike and almost takes out his turn signal. He and Gwynne talk about how she’s hanging back, giving him room.
“Thank you,” says Fish. “You understand that when you’re riding a piece of shit, sometimes throttle is all you have.”
Fish: My bag was “held on” with Rok Straps, as the Hawk lacks the provisions to attach it that the Buell it came from offered. While I re-attach it, we discuss technique. I mention that riding the Hawk in these conditions may warrant the use of momentum, and Sam agrees to move over if he encounters such an obstacle. That way, I can get a good run at it, and we’ll simply swap positions when things smooth out. It seems like a good plan, as I’d already acquainted myself with the kinds of speeds required to get the Hawk up loose dirt and rocky hills on the Nevada side of the Sierras in preparation for the Backroad Bash.
Sam: A few riders pass us and I figure we’re on the right path, so I keep looking for the left turn we’re supposed to take. We come to a more-or-less vertical pile of dust and rocks and I stop.
Fish pulls up next to me momentarily and at that instant I’m on the fence about several things: “We probably definitely missed the turn. Let’s see what they think of turning around or going ahead. This does look like a fun challenge, though. Jeez, are roll charts ever very accurate? Do I just like getting lost? Hmm. Probably. I should definitely stay out of Fish’s way so he can jam up this hill if he wants. Coke or Pepsi? Bush or Gore?”
Fish: You know where this is going. We’d inevitably missed a turn and rolled right up to the foot of the dreaded rock hill. Sensing that this was not the correct direction, Sam had pulled to the right and stopped, which upon rounding the turn, I mistook as the previously discussed “move over.” Facing the ridiculous incline covered in loose round rocks lubricated by fine dust (which Bungee had also warned us about), I grabbed a handful of throttle.
I manage to make it to the less-steep break in the middle of the incline before realizing that no one is following me up. I’m ready for a break, so I stop and wait for a second, before deciding to walk the 1,000 or so feet down to consult with my companions.
I then discovered what a poor decision I’d made, and how much worse I could make things by attempting to ride the Hawk back down this loose, steep hill. We consult our map, discuss, and decide to press on, in hopes that we’ll eventually make it back to the highway. Sam saddles up his DR and makes a run for it, gets about 200 feet before he succumbing to the rocks the first time. Undaunted, he picks up the bike and goes at it again, netting another 100 feet before parking the DR in some thicker vegetation.
Sam: “Shit, if he can do it on a Hawk GT…” Like Fish says, I made it about halfway up before I crash for the first time, right before Gwynne finds us.
I get my bike righted and Gwynne offers suggestions about how to get it up the hill as Fish barrels the Hawk to the top. I ride the clutch up the hill for a while, with pretty good momentum, but bounce off enough big rocks that I’m forced to admit I’m not picking a line but merely hanging on and hoping. This is when I find the side of the trail and plant the bike in a manzanita bush.
I fall off the bike, which hangs briefly before slowly falling on top of me. I can’t help but think: “Well, I’m doing better than that guy who played Chekov in the new Star Trek movie.”
Fish: So Sam offers up the DR for me to take to the top. This gets tricky, as the thing was already halfway up the first incline. I must have looked like some sort of hack-freestyle MX guy, holding on to the DR with legs flailing as I struggle to get myself pulled up on the seat. I’d like to remind you that I am no dirt wizard—I just possess a rare combination of minimal self-preservation and distorted views of motorcycle capabilities—a winning combination for this particular day.
Once the DR is at the top, I slide back down the hill to the Hawk. Luckily, the downhill still looks scarier than the up, so in a fresh cloud of dust and a shower of rocks, I spur the Hawk to the top of the hill.
Sam: Fish is giggling this whole time, as he wrangles bikes up the rock hill. We take a break at the top, sitting in the shade watching the butterflies and looking at the sizable dent in the Supertrapp header on the Hawk.
“Don’t worry, it’s only one of fifty,” he says.
“Oh, so there’s 49 more is what you’re saying?”
Fish: The trail continues from there in a tame, reasonable fashion: loose dirt, small rocks, and ruts—but the fun comes to an abrupt halt when we arrive at the inevitable descent required by the previously mentioned rock hill. This is a much more civilized trail consisting of smooth but deep holes, and a random three-foot rock face drop off. I go first on the Hawk, and have a surprisingly smooth trip, managing to safety-wheelie off the drop and trace a smooth line to the bottom. We then determine there’s a completely reasonable bypass to the drop—possibly handy information, but why think something through when your guns are a-blazing?
Gwynne finds her mojo at this point, as speeds increase a bit and smiles get bigger. If you’ve never experienced third-gear wheelspin at 40 mph on loose gravel, you’re really missing out.
Sam: Gwynne buys us popsicles at the Cold Springs gas station where Bungee had told us to gas up, and we sit in the shade there too. My takeaway for the day so far is conflicted: “Never ride up something you don’t want to ride back down. But then again, you’ll never feel the thrill of escape if you don’t get a little trapped.” Or maybe it’s more like: “You’ll never feel the joy of being found if you don’t get a little lost.” Choose your own adventure… either way, the ice cream is good.
A random Harley rider pulls up and removes his puddin’ bowl.
“What are all those chicks doing here?” he asks, grinning and pointing at a group of female riders fueling up their cruisers at the pumps. “They should be in San Francisco.”
We stare at him blankly.
“Cause it’s Pride Week, there,” he says, digging himself further.
You don’t have to go very far outside of the Bay Area to take the nation’s temperature… “Not that I’ve ever been. My friend wanted me to go down there with him and sell waters one year. I told him I didn’t wanna be seen on the news.”
After a brief, uncomfortable pause I say: “That must be tough.”
What I really want to say is: “Hey man, if you’ve never kissed someone of the same sex, all I can tell you is you didn’t get the good ecstasy.” It’s neither the time nor the place for comments like that, but then, when is it?
Gwynne cooling off along the road to Donnells Dam. Photo: Surj Gish.
And Then There Were Two
Sam: Gwynne decides she’s had enough fun and leaves Fish and I to continue on together. We cruise up 108 toward Sonora Pass, which I sincerely recommend if you haven’t had the pleasure. It’s extremely bikeable.
We take the turn for Eagle Meadow, still attempting to follow the roll chart. At some point I’m definitely not in sync with it, but I at least I remember the route from the year before and we make it to the first water crossing. Neither bike is thrilled about the dousing of cold water, contracting from the chill and missing ignitions at idle, sputtering. But Fish’s Hawk has taken a little water down the exhaust pipe and it burbles out as he throttles the engine.
Fish: We’re too late for the photographer Bungee always stations at the water crossing, but Sam is thankfully prepared to document the hilarity of the Hawk GT partaking in such hijinks. In short order, I learn that the tail light isn’t sealed, and the ensuing splash somehow shatters my taillight bulbs—just a heads-up to anyone who might be thinking of following my bad example.
There’s probably some joke about Fish and water and Hawks to be made here, but we’re stuck. Photo: Sam Devine.
Pressing on to the Bennett Juniper, the road is fairly tame, giving me all the opportunity I could ask for to wring the Hawk’s little neck. Together, we found a good groove skipping across the gravel at high speed.
Sam: A little more water dribbles out as Fish flies in front of me. I hang back a bit to let the dust cloud settle and take note of the dark patches where the Hawk is scraping its way through. “Damn, Fish, get it,” I think. Then the lines get darker and become more obviously wet streaks in the dry dirt.
“Damn,” I think. “How much water got in that pipe?!”
Cresting another hill, I find Fish next to a broke-down Ford Bronco, the wet streaks in the dirt leading obviously, painfully to its undercarriage. Two dudes and one young lady with a pit bull and a husky are experiencing backwoods transmission trouble. No enviable position, to be sure, and I’m secretly relieved the fluid loss is affecting another party’s vehicle.
I join Fish by their bumper to discuss the situation. They’ve lost forward mobility and ask that we travel to their friend’s cabin at the end of the main dirt road to alert the occupants of the Bronco’s plight. Just follow the paper plates that say “Cabin” in pink writing, they say…
It seems reasonable but after the morning’s mishaps I am unabashed in saying: “Well, we’ll try, but I can’t guarantee we’ll be able to find it.”
Beggars can’t be choosers and my paltry offer sounds good enough to them. Before we leave, I crack a joke about hitchin’ the dogs to the bumper and it actually goes over well. Nice folks, really…
And so Fish and I set out for the Bennett Juniper, one of the oldest known junipers, possibly over 4,000 years old. We switch bikes before we depart and I get to experience the fabulous insanity that is a street bike rigged to roll on raw soil.
At the pre-Jesus-age tree, we chat with caretaker Ken, who spends his summers out here. He’s an affable gent with a large brimmed hat, a white beard that approaches his belt line and thick glasses. We ask if there’s anything he can do for the broke-down Bronco and he says there usually would be but his cell signal dropped off a couple of weeks ago for as-yet still-unexplained reasons.
“If you get to the steep rocky part, you’ve gone too far,” he says of where the cabin may be. “Well, at least for the cabin, maybe not for what you had in mind.”
Nope. Actually all good on steep and rocky for the day, Ken, thanks.
Off we go in pursuit of the mysterious cabin. Gosh, sounds an awful lot like a Scooby-Doo plot: the old caretaker tells us about the treacherous road ahead… jinkies!
The Cabin In The Woods
Fish: From here, the path to the cabin is straightforward enough: a couple more water crossings, some snow, but mostly smooth terrain. The road seems to wind for longer than expected, and we’re just about to give up and turn around when the pink writing on the paper plate appears, followed by another less than half a mile later.
What lay beyond was something I’d never seen before. The “cabin” was maybe 200 feet square, and sitting on some of the sketchiest footing I have ever seen.
Sam: What a magnificent and enviable shit-pile this thing is. Perhaps it’s a grandfathered-in silver miner’s stake. Perhaps it’s been raised to beat the snowy winters. Whatever it is, it’s earthquake-ready to slide a solid thirty yards if hit by a good temblor and I simply have to get me one someday. Of course, I suppose I’ll need a shotgun and a well-rehearsed “Git off muh land!!!” if I’m to properly own such a dwelling.
This thought raises the possibility of defensive fire and I start yelling “Hello?!” in a slightly concerned manner.
Photo: Sam Devine
Fish: The scene has a real “The Hills Have Eyes” vibe—we’re in a grove of trees, with many high vantage (sniper) points surrounding us. The hodgepodge of digging and gardening tools, oddball collection of vehicles ranging from a dilapidated Vanagon to a modern Tahoe, and makeshift tent-like shelters add up to just creepy enough for concern. Against our admittedly limited better judgment, we poke around and call out a bit more. No dice.
Even though I know from the movies to never split up, I leave Sam briefly to wend my way down the road to search for signs of life. I happen upon a couple in a truck and flag them down. When I inquire if they know the inhabitants of the cabin up the road, they ask “which one?”
“The sketchy one propped up on logs.”
“They’re all like that.”
So, no help there. I return to the cabin to discuss options with Sam.
Sam: There are antlers and kerosene lamps in the windows, and the “yard” is a mess of party paraphernalia. But most notable are two things: a proper suburban poolside-style glass bar and a full-size goddamned hot tub. Upon further investigation we discover the tub is heated via garden hoses attached to a radiator rigged to rest above one of three fire pits. God Bless America right here. The hoses also seem to run into the main cabin as well as to an outdoor shower setup.
Fish has spied something of interest. Photo: Sam Devine.
Fish points out the bottle of Angel’s Envy bourbon sitting on the outdoor bar, and mentions that it is a fine, fine whiskey. I mumble vague protest about it seeming against the backwoods rules but seeming a shame not to break the rules… At any rate, we take a swi… leave a note, that’s it, we leave a note. Yessir. And what a smooth and delicious note it is.
Seriously, we did stumble upon a small yellow tablet, with several pages of diagrams detailing the hot tub heater set up. We come to a blank page, and Fish writes:
Your friends in the Bronco are broke down about 7 miles down the road. Not far past the Bennett Juniper.
Two random motorcyclists.
Fish: Sam slaps the note on the door with some conveniently provided duct tape, and we mount up to head back down the hill. The snow we’d passed earlier was on my mind—there was no way I was going to miss an opportunity to ride a knobby-tired Hawk GT through snow in June.
Once again, not my finest moment—turns out early summer snow is quite slick. I proceed to fall on my ass, and lay there for at least a minute laughing at the entire ridiculous situation. Here I am, crashed out in leftover June snow, moments after riding a knobbied-up Hawk GT in a rather questionable area. Furthermore, I’d just willingly entered into a B-movie horror scene, playing the role of “disposable character #1.”
Photo: Sam Devine.
Once I recover my wits, Sam proceeds to attempt the snow pile with his DR. Sadly, he meets the same fate, although he’s not overcome with the same level humor as I was, so his recovery is much quicker.
Sam: As we head back, I realize we’re on the downslope of the day, metaphorically and literally. Beyond learning that June snow is like pea-gravel made of ice—slipperiest substance known to man or woman—there’s nothing else very eventful on the way back to the lodge in Long Barn.
Fish: As we park our bikes, Sam looks at me and we ask each other, “Did today really happen?”
We then have to explain ourselves to the rest of the group, how we managed to turn the easy morning route into an all day and beyond affair. Luckily, no further questions are asked once the tale of the cabin comes to light.
If you’re unfamiliar with Bungee Brent’s Backroad Bash, let me enlighten you: Saturday night is a hell of a party. Bungee books a band, brings in catered food, and provides a great space for motorcyclists to do what they do best: talk about riding. The band is fun, the food’s great, and despite feeling like I’d been beaten with a baseball bat, I manage to stay awake through it all.
Sam: The next day brings the same feelings of “I wish this wasn’t ending” as Saturday afternoon, as the crew whips around a blind, right-handed curve on 108 with Fish sweeping in an old VW-based dune buggy. After months of searching for a song to sing as I hum through my days, the words “remember me now” jump into my head suddenly and my mind is filled with music again. Check it out: “Kate is Great” by the Bouncing Souls. There’s some Robert Frost bouncing around my head, too: “knowing how way leads onto way I doubted that I should ever…”
Fish’s idea of “sweeping” in the buggy. Photo: Bungee Brent.
Photo: Bungee Brent.
Sam and Fish are the two halves of CityBike’s 2017 Dakar team in training. Both are currently locked in our top secret dev facility, experimenting with the right tires on totally, completely wrong bikes while theorizing about who (or what) really lives in that cabin.
This story originally appeared in our August 2016 issue, which you can read in all its high-res glory here.