Saturday, August 21, 2010

Some Would Call It Summer

Its been a while so I thought I might be due for an update.  Fire season has been in sort of a lull since the Schultz fire nearly burned down parts of east Flag.   We took a ten day trip to the North Rim of the Canyon and a long 18 day trip to Northern California, only four days on fire.  Honestly fire work can be alot more boring than staging work.  The staging parts of the trip brought us to Mount Shasta and South Tahoe, much finer places than the sage and juniper country outside of Susanville where the fire burned on our first days of the trip.  So for my summer vacation I "got to" hike 2500 feet up Mount Shasta not even breeching tree line at a pace so blistering I couldn't even fathom looking around at the beauty and completely missed the waterfalls flowing off the glacier nestled on the mountain...all with my fire pack on my back and an infection in my lungs....somehow I dodged out on carrying the chainsaw that day.  We did manage to run to a sweet swimming hole flowing directly off the glacier some distance downstream to find a rope swing dropping willing flyers directly into water colder than I can ever remember swimming anywhere in northwest Montana.

Daily threats of going home turned into a trip to South Tahoe being put up in hotels and working 13 hour days doing harder work than we somehow do on most fires.  All told, our hotel was across the street from the finest sushi joint I have ever been admiration the chef made me the custom Moustache roll after recruiting me to the bar, a hilarious spectacle.   And it turns out that Sake is a damn fine beverage when served cold.  Right down the street was the Stateline Brewery...nothing to write home about, but here I am writing home about it.  Apart from battling the illness our stay was capped with an hour swim in the blue lake on our last day...then Las Vegas on the way home.   Vegas puts me in a bad mood.  Its a huge whitehead zit on the planet.  Everything wrong with the world erupted in the desert just to prove itself.  Gluttony and vanity breathe from its every pore.  I just don't get it.  It makes me uncomfortable.  And somehow I've ended up there something like nine times since I've worked on the hotshot crew on the way home from California or where ever.  Bleh!

In actuality, my summer has allowed me some fantastic bike rides and a little shop time to boot.  Riding in Flagstaff in the summer is as good as it gets.  Days are long, the sun gets up before 5:00, but outside of work I rarely take advantage of it.  I tend to fancy starting later and getting caught in the summer monsoon.  When monsoons are good here there's nothing like it.  Clouds start building over San Francisco mountain by 10:00 or so and a few hours later they can no longer contain themselves and pour themselves out with incredible violence...rain, hail, lightning, thunder, more rain.  This summer's monsoon was predicted to be weak and late, but not the case.  Days of seven inches of rain back to back to back instead making a wreckage out of the drainage where the Schultz fire burned.  Flooding in the desert.  All said this has been a summer of biblical scale.  No locusts, but plenty of Secedes.  But the point of the tale here is the riding....yes the riding.  I headed out to the west side of the mountain...a two hour ride to access alone.  Getting lost on the way, but knowing the direction I needed to go I ended up bicycle bushwhacking through the Pondos until I found myself on more familiar trails....eventually flying fish to Snowbowl road up to the AZ Trail.  I was trying to ride out to Andrew Frost's house under construction.  A place only accessed by skis or snow machine in the winter.  He's building a one room straw bale cabin with a detached shop out in Hart Prairie with the help of the Zach Attach.  All by hand, hoisting locally cut timbers with home made cranes, pretty bad ass by the sounds of it.  There's access of the new section on the AZ Trail but the clouds and lightning were building just over the route and the ground strikes made me reconsider my trek to the north.  I decided I'd take the section to the south that I'd never ridden before hoping to escape the storm.  Whatever.  It was on top of me within fifteen minutes.  Lightning, rain, hail, the works.  I rode for my life....or so it felt.  All of a sudden the trail diminished.  What had been a freshly cut bench of singletrack into the side of the mountain became a sawline of trail yet to be dug and shortly thereafter a flagline of trail yet to be started.  Flags led to flags, I thought I was following some sort of trail, and then I ended up by some science experiment involving white containers and flags of a different color than I had been following while soaking myself in the downpour.  I followed the new flags down to another trail...I'd been here before, except now the trail was a flowing river.  A problem commonly faced here.  The trails are not properly outsloped, thus turning into gutters, big ones, creeks even.  I followed this trail back to flying fish, a gusher in itself.  I've never ridden such a continuous streambed before. This stream led me to a trail I built a few summers ago with the YCC known now as Scrotus, which fared a little better against the first rain of the year.  Trails known led to trails unknown let to bicycle bushwhacking led back to familiar trails led to home six and a half hours after I left that morning, sans shirt, and almost as dry as when I'd  first left.  Awesome.

The second ride stuck in the monsoon happened almost intentionally.  When we got back from California, Lynn, my riding partner for the last year and a half, and I were due for and adventure.  We left her house under gray and threatening skies and questioned our sanity only once, briefly.  We proceeded.  Ten minutes out we passed some riders heading back to town as lightning struck ground just off in the distance over their shoulders.  We proceed.  Rain starts overhead and clouds grow darker, lightning closer.  We ride on.  Into the canyons for shelter.  We thought we'd explore into Walnut canyon, considering we had no leash today.  The strikes grew closer and closer until finally one of them made me crash my bike into the side of the trail and jump off and crouch down under the trees on the canyon wall.  Short, young pondos make the best cover from lightning, especially in low ground such as this canyon, as lightning strikes the tall trees in the open most frequently, but canyons are hardly the place to ride out the summer monsoon as we would soon remember.  No matter.  We were here, riding it out, off our bikes.  Good thing we stopped to get Tequila on the way out.  As the hail bounced off our helmets and rain jackets we crouched in a squat and drank to warm our bellies, laughing all the while.   Complaints were made, briefly, as were threats of not riding on when the storm passed, but we knew we were getting into this.  Eventually the storm passed and we disrobed, wet cotton does no good, and rode on down canyon into the flooded mess of Arizona mud.  We figured our best bet of continuing a ride would be to climb out to the rim, so we did.  A mile up to Fisher Point via the AZ trail again.  This trail takes you just about everywhere around Flagstaff.  My house is a few hundred yards from it.  Lynn's house is a half a mile from it if that.  Utah to Mexico.  800 miles.  I'll ride it someday in its entirety.  For now though we're just following it along the north rim of Walnut canyon as steam rises of the rocks in the cloudy humid warming period after the storm.  Its very surreal.  100% humidity and steam rising through the dark coniferous side canyons of Northern Arizona, like we'd been teleported to British Columbia.  We eventually wound our way back, smiling and laughing all the rides with Lynn tend to be, I can't remember a bad one, she might tell you the same.  Happy Summer.