For some of you who have never ridden these trails, the big question is why should you care. For me it is easy, I've had some of the most memorable experiences out exploring our "wild backyard." Maybe sharing some of these memories will inspire you. So here's one adventure from one of last year's trail clearing outings.
Wait, what's with the Blue Joint title? Wasn't this week's ride Buttercup? Yeah it was, but since I figured you were tired of lame posts, I decided to write about something more memorable. Not that there was anything wrong with Buttercup. As usual it was fun and I was meh. I neither crushed the climbs or slayed the descents.
So as pleasant as Buttercup was, it will ultimately blur into vague happy memories. Our recent Blue Joint adventure, in contrast will not share that fate. A ride that ended with my glowing rump a beacon to every baboon in the vicinity. As the number of simian propositions fade, so do the memories of misery. Leaving behind in it's stead only fond recollections of adventure. No wonder we do such stupid shit.
So a few weekends ago, while everyone else in the local posse was glued to their computers watching a bunch of red dots move across the map from Fitzgerald's to Red Barn, I managed to talk Jeff and Rob into a 30 mile trail clearing mission on Blue Joint and Little Blue Joint. It's hard to believe it had been five years since the previous debacle when I managed to shear off my rear brake lever in the first mile. Since the fires and downfall had left most everyone reluctant to journey past the 8 mile meadows. Yet i, naively as history would show, was determined, to reverse this abomination. The whole single track loop deserved to be returned to our collection of big rides.
Having climbed both Little Blue Joint and Blue Joint, we decided to break with tradition and climb the more mellow grade of Blue Joint rather than hike-a-bike up Little.. Everthing started out so well. We had our silkys , great weather, and great trails. Blue Joint had already been cleared to Jack the Ripper. Last Year's Gold Pan fire had burned through the Ripper and down around Blue Joint for about a mile of trail. I had heard tales of a non-bikes sign at the junction. If it ever existed the fire took care of it. Heading up to the meadows, we easily dispatched the fallen lodgepole . Heading past the meadow we kept climbing and about two miles past we ran into the first jumble of trees. Not easy with hand saws, but manageable. As we kept climbing, more trees; quite a few that seemed to have been there since my last venture. We kept diligently clearing, and the trees kept getting bigger. Heavy firs and spruce replacing the dried out lodgepole. Eventually we realized that if we had any chance of making it Little Blue Joint we would need to give up on the last four miles.
Ahead we plodded, and the more we plodded the worse it became and it short order we abandoned all attempts at riding as climbed up, over, and around over hundreds if not thousands of trees. At one point we were forced trail for about a quarter mile. It there that we saw someone else had done the same detour putting blazes on the trees for a reroute.. So glad they were carrying an axe, but not a saw.
Eventually we stumbled out onto Deer Creek and the dead end road at the upper trailhead. Rumor had it that Razorback had been partially cleared, but sage Jeff pointed out that we didn't know from which trailhead the clearing attempt was begun. Not interested in more climbing over endless deadfall we decided we would ride up the trail just far enough to see if it had been cleared. We ran into trees within 100 yards and wisely decided to take the road back around.
Unfortunately, that wisdom didn't last long. Riding back towards Woods Creek Pass we noticed a sign for Deer Creek and an unexplored trail heading downhill. There were signs the trail had been cleared at least in the last couple of years, and a quick reconnoiter revealed no downed trees.
With only a couple of miles of road riding, we were already bored with the idea of close to 30 miles of gravel and pavement back to car. Displaying an incredible amount of common sense, I figured how bad could it be. After all, the Forest Service website had reported that the bottom four miles of Deer Creek were already cleared and it's all downhill. Rob was also willing. Jeff, on the other hand was reluctant. Jeff was always up for exploration, and let's just say that Jeff's exploration rides have developed a certain reputation. I should have realized that if Jeff wants to stick to the road, we should stick to the road.
But no, the lure of finally getting some sweet downhill was overwhelming. So off we went, and it was so good. Tempting us farther and farther in. Encouraging us with the occasional small downed lodgepole, enough that we could justify this part of the ride as trail clearing. Abundant huckleberries nourished us. Then slowly and imperceptibly the downfall got heavier, but still just lodgepole. If we could hop them they stayed, otherwise they went. Then the downfall started having branches. Then the downfall was a Jenga challenge. It was about then that we realized we were screwed. Miles to go, and the only option was forward. Saws were sheathed, water replenished from a creek, and couple more handfuls of huckleberries tossed back for energy.
Those who have ridden Blue Joint may recall the trail side hilling across fields of loose degenerated granite. Stuff that just sloughs off the hill, giving way on the downhill side, and covering up the trail on the uphill side. Now image similar hillsides, but with the trail high above the creek. Now imagine that those hillsides never seemed to stop. Got all of that. Now add Ponderosas. Not the picturesque upright ones, but the the massive rotting, too big to climb over fallen ones. Good there were dozens of those. Remember that degenerate granite again, imagine that no one had been on this trail for years since the the fallen ponderosas had blocked the rare visitor. The trail was nearly gone, and when it was present you could see where a horse had stepped and the hillside had accelerated its race to creek bottom. At this point the DZ nuts had long wore off and walking seemed to exacerbate the chafing. Still riding seemed like a appointment with the man in black.
Now mostly walking and getting the occasional chance to coast until the next obstacle. Looking and hoping for that pile of fresh saw dust indicating that you had reached farthest extent of the rumored trail clearing.
Finally, a freshly cut log. Only four more miles to the road. Then 15 miles of racing the fading daylight back to the car on the other side of Painted Rocks.
Adventure, Wilderness. Backcountry. Some days you need to leave the buffed manicured trails, risk the monkey butt and go explore. That's what we are losing when these trails are closed.