When we get a chance to stay somewhere for a few weeks, enough time to really get to see an area, we like to spend a weekend tent camping high in the mountains (places we would never take the 5th wheel, but somehow always has better 4G than RV parks).This summer in Northern California was one of our best and most terrifying camping trips in Shasta-Trinity National Forest.
We were staying in Trinidad, California and had been for weeks. We’d seen a lot of the area, the beach, the redwoods, and were ready to get out into the Sierra Nevadas. There wasn’t much riding to be done along the coast, so we were excited to find several well documented single track trails and roads in the a section of forest (near basically nothing) only a couple hours from our RV park on Highway 36.
We dropped Sherlock off at a pet sitter’s house and headed out to the forest for an overnight camping trip. We arrived late morning and set up camp, made lunch, and had the rest of the day to ride around the dozens of dirt roads that weaved and connected throughout the forest. We found one single track trail that first day, a fun little roller coaster ride of a trail with challenging turns, hills and small logs. It was rated blue diamond on the map – a system that we would later grow to appreciate the existence of.
We arrived back at camp before dark, made dinner, had a little fire and went to bed early. We planned to get up fairly early and ride as much as we could before needing to get back to the pet sitter before 5.
We rode some of the same roads and a few new ones that morning, and despite the views and strange fairyland forest, we started getting bored. We wanted more single track trails with terrain that challenged our abilities. Incidentally, on our way to a new section of road, we came across a clear entry into the forest via a single track trail. It wasn’t on the map or list of motorcycle/atv trails, so there was no way to know how advanced it was.. but we, for some reason, assumed it wasn’t beyond our skill level or we could at least escape easily enough. I mean, we’d been on plenty of terrain over the years, how could they surprise us?! We were pretty wrong.
The trail started out with a little jaunt through the forest followed by a corner and a surprise long, steep, hill. I (Amber) was first, and rather than wimp out and try to turn my bike around, I went for it. It was loose and rocky, and a little difficult to keep going straight with roots trying to knock you off path, but I made it, then Ross followed. At the top, we looked down and didn’t really want to do it again. It was probably me who said it, but “it can’t get much worse than that” came out of one of our mouths, and we decided to keep going. Certainly it would connect to another road eventually?
The trail was ok for a while, but lots of loose and steep rocky sections kept popping up, rock stairs, roots, loose ground, etc but we were both on our feet. We made it to the top of a mountain, took a break for a photo and some water, told ourselves that we were doing well, and again, decided to go on.
Then, it got worse. The GoPro died…again, so we didn’t record the worst parts, but it would have watched like one of those over dramatized survivor shows. The trail narrowed to a rut between thick bushes with almost no room for our legs, and all downhill. At one point my leg hit a branch and I was pulled down into the bushes, completely trapped with my head and upper body in the bush and leg pinched between the bike and bush. My face was inches from a massive cobweb filled with carcasses of flies and spider skins, and I couldn’t move an inch to save myself. Luckily my leg wasn’t being burnt. I rocked back and forth, I tried to remove my helmet, but I was literally wrapped in branches. I don’t know how I’d have gotten out if Ross wasn’t there. He leaned his bike on a bush and lifted mine enough for me to crawl out, unscathed.
We continued down the winding trail until it finally opened up again, but not for the best. We dropped elevation again and again, steep sections that we wouldn’t dare try to get back up again in some cases, unwalkably steep with loose rocks that rolled and popped under our tires. Finally we came to a steep section that I had to size up before continuing down. My bike was getting hot and stalling more and more, so I considered whether it needed to be running at all or if it would matter at this point. Either way we’d be riding the brakes and depending on our balance. This section was steep and uneven, loose grit, and at the bottom became a near 90 degree turn at a bunch of trees, with a slight burm but nothing that instilled any sort of definite safety. If I went too fast I’d miss the turn and end up in the trees or down some steeper non-trail section full of logs, or, I might just drop the bike entirely. At the last minute, I decided to start the bike back up and take advantage of engine braking, but just as I rolled away at an already steep angle it stalled on me again and I dropped it rolling onto my helmet. I was uninjured, I can’t say enough how much I love full gear, but my helmet was significantly scathed, and to this day. Photos never really do a hill justice.
There was no place for Ross to put his kickstand down and the bike was too awkwardly angled, and ground too loose, for me to get mine up alone. After we picked up my bike and Ross helped me walk it past the first corner, boots skidding on the loose rock, I continued down the section with the bike off. It dropped a couple more times, with no angles at the bottom, before finally leveling out. At that point I was probably 1/4 mile past the point where I dropped it. I got off the bike and still didn’t hear Ross’s bike running. I tried to walk back up the hill, boots slipping, and the day, although cooler than it could have been in June in California, was still pretty warm. I made it about 200 feet up the trail, nearly crawling, before I finally heard him coming down and stepped out of the way for him to pass. He had picked up his heavier bike alone, dropped it, picked it up again then took on the hill. He stopped where we saw my bike and we both rested on the ground for a while and contemplated out decision. We were both exhausted from fighting to keep the bikes on track, picking them up, and the stress of our unknowable outcome, but we knew we didn’t want to go up that same hill.
After we recovered ourselves and it came to light that we had no choice but to keep going, we looked at google maps (because despite being in the middle of nowhere, we had cell service the entire time) and it looked like the trail did indeed meet up with a forest service road, and sooner than it did by attempting the impossible, aka, turning back. Once again the trail dropped and dropped til we were almost down to the level we started at. Then came the point where the map became confusing and the road that was supposed to be there was not, and the only way to reach it, assuming GPS was just off by a bit, was up yet another very long and steep, loose rocky hill. We went for it, barely making it up in 1st gear, to find a truck transmission and a pipeline marker – and – another big drop down the other side, which led to another steep hill up. We had found our way to the path of some installed pipeline that probably ran across the forest and it didn’t resemble any road any normal vehicle could ever drive. From the top we looked down in dread, the hill started out extra steep and became very loose at the transition where it was almost approachable. We were both physically exhausted and didn’t look forward to picking up bikes ever again. Ross went first and decided to use his rear brakes as little as possible. My rear tire (or brake) had started locking up a lot since we started this trail. My rear tire would drag and I’d be forced to ski down sections or get off at intense angles to check my tire for rocks – so glad I’m done with that tire because regularly at low speeds rocks would get stuck between the tire and frame (I found a better fitting Perelli tire in Portland this July).
I got about halfway down this hill without falling when my tire started locking up again, I got off, holding my bike up with one hand as I ducked my head down and again found nothing, I tried again, got about 5 feet and it was locked once more. At one point I dropped it while trying to look for a stuck rock, but was able to get it up myself without issue. After the third time checking I just tried to roll the bike down with the tire locked up, it wasn’t getting me very far (you can kind of see me trying to drag it in the video below). The bike was off again because it was consistently stalling on me, and I’d already gone off trail to avoid the loosest section. The grasses and logs were thwarting my momentum, but eventually something gave, and I finally rolled freely the rest of the way. Seriously, nothing ever looks that bad on video or photos and it drives us crazy, and makes us feel like liars,but… here it is.
At the bottom we expected to finally see the forest service road but again GPS said “just a little farther!” which was an even worse hill up. I was finally able to load satellite view and luckily saw a road to the left that was no longer on a map (if it ever was). From the look of it, it would lead us to highway 36, where we could get back on our “hopefully still safe to ride” greatly abused bikes. We were tired, but relieved to be on a road again. It wasn’t well maintained if at all and sections were rutty and washed out. I was going about 20 when I came across a rut that went across the road and off the side to a huge drop off, in my tired state rather than try to stop, I stood up and just tried to gun it over the top, but my bike had another plan. The front tire jerked in line with the rut, my weak arms unable to resist, and I went flying – which wouldn’t have been that bad really, we’re padded to the nines, however.. the right handlebar caught my left hip and the full impact of a 20mph thwack was upon one of the only unprotected parts of my body. I can’t describe the pain but it was insane, I was sure I was bleeding and had broke my hip bone. I stayed on the ground for a while before again having no choice but to get up and get back on the bike. Less than 1/4 mile and we reached the highway…I had almost made it unscathed.
We made it back to camp, going 30 in a 60 zone, because in addition to being in a lot of pain, I also didn’t trust my bike after the beating it had just been through. The bruise showed up immediately and we picked up some frozen corn on the way to pick up Sherlock. Overall the bruise was bigger than my head (no pics, sorry) and I was unable to sit up straight or walk very far, I finally went into to get it looked at once the numbness didn’t improve and became worrisome. I attempted to go to urgent care but they turned me away saying I needed an ultrasound and should go to ER, at ER, they told me almost nothing, did almost nothing, and charged us $1500 ..which in October, is still not paid for by our insurance company. It really makes me never want to go to a doctor for anything short of a broken bone. I wasn’t going to go in but with the persistent numbness I had started to worry about blood clots.
During the whole ordeal, we learned a lot about ourselves. We can ride better than we gave ourselves credit for, we are physically stronger than we thought we were (despite not really working out, only riding, walking, and hiking), and when we’re put in a situation where things feel pretty dire, we get into a state of mind of “no choice, let’s do this” pretty quickly. We considered what ifs, what if one of us broke a leg, what if a bike stopped working, and it was pretty scary to imagine, but we didn’t and the bikes did awesome, despite being about 100lbs heavier than most bikes on trails like that. We knew, while we were doing it, that we would laugh later and be more confident in our riding, and we have and are. When I hurt my neck skiing I really never wanted to ski again, when I tried it gave me a lot of anxiety, but I never really loved skiing. We both really love riding and despite our (usually my) injuries, it doesn’t put us off going back out there. However, we also learned to maybe turn back while we still have a chance when we feel unprepared. Lessons learned, mostly good ones.