Monday, January 7, 2008

Double-black Diamond ...

My friend Chris & I had been watching the weather forecasts and it was obvious that we HAD to go dirt riding on Tuesday (Jan.1st) or Wednesday. The big-ass storms were due in on Thursday.

We selected Hollister Hills as our destination
Chris & Artyom had been down there recently for their 1st time. I hadn't ridden there in ~17 years, so I didn't remember the place to speak of.

Hollister Hills SVRA - Lower Ranch Map

We arrived about 10AM Wednesday and staged in the Lower Day Use area next to the Vintage Track & the entrance. We warmed up on the east hill section in the upper right side of the map. These hills are covered with sparse Oak trees, occasional bushes, and dead grass. This area has a unique adobe soil that packs down under heavy use on the established trails.

These trails *looked* like they were paved. Blue grooved from edge to edge. The surface was hard & smooth. Berms around the outside of every curve and frequent water bars to jump off. Studder bumps at the entrance of down-hill curves and whoops at the exits. All hard, smooth, & black. Weird. This surface apparently becomes like ICE when its wet and they close this area. Most trails are one-way and just wide enough for ATVs.

Every marked trail is criss-crossed by many unmarked trails. These are not packed; more loose dirt & some moisture in the shaded areas. Fun play area, but it wasn't technically challenging. Unless you tried the killer hillclimbs. Most of these blue-intermediate trails would be marked green-easy at Carnegie or Stonyford. We then rode into the western section (left side of map) that climbs the ridges to the top of short granite mountains. These trails, or roads as they are labeled, are mostly one-way also, but very wide. Wide enough for an ATV to pass another ATV in most places. These well-traveled roads were really whooped out at the corner exits, so you had to run the berms FAST to be quick enough in the whoops to stay on top. Or, slow way down to weave & dodge 'em. The dirt is a gritty granite sand with some fine dust when dry. At the higher elevations, the Manzanita were thick and 4-6 feet tall; a rare tree here & there. In the bottom of the canyons, there was more trees & bushes.

The views were pretty good, but we were getting bored with the dusty, easy "roads". We tried a couple black-diamond trails, and these weren't motorcycle single track either. These were jeep-width trails, and I'd only rate as blue-intermediate on the Carnegie/Stonyford rating scale. These trails were a little steeper & tighter, but not very challenging either. There were very few unmarked trails in the Manzanita zones. Obviously WAY too much work to cut through that stuff.

While eating some lunch near Tule Lake, we noticed that the double-black-diamond trails were the only ones noted as single track on the map. The closest one to us was the upper entrance to Troll Trail. We took Badger Trail to Long Ridge Rd, and Olive Orchard down the ridge. At the T into Lake Rd., we turned left and climbed the ridge back up to North Canyon Rd, and the start of Troll Trail .

Troll Trail was definitely single track It was VERY narrow through thick gnarly Manzanita up top & slowly descended the ridge. It was an old trail. The Manzanita was growing back and needed trimming again most everywhere. Where it was cut near the ground, the rigid stumps were footpeg & boot height and VERY close. Countless stumps and big rocks required your foot well above the footpeg to keep it from being pinched or smashed against the footpeg. Many places required a quick zig-zag of the handlebars at walking pace to clear heavy branches on both sides.

In the steep downhills, the rut was so deep & narrow that neither foot could stay on the pegs. The pegs were folded up and widening the trench. You needed rear brake, but couldn't reach it. This is when I straddled the rut with my feet & walked down the hill bent over & holding the handlebars. The engine off, transmission in 1st gear, and I'm using the clutch to modulate my pseudo-rear-brake. When the rut ends, the short-interval deep whoops start again. Gas it if the trail opens up, or feather the clutch to keep just enough momentum to not stall as you rock & roll your way through. Most switchbacks around trees were eroded down to a set of steep spiral stairsteps of exposed roots.

Did I mention that this was very slow going and I'm getting warm. So is the WR450. I stopped at the 1st T in the trail to rest. I didn't hear Chris' DRZ400 behind me. Pulled off my helmet & camelbak to get some air. I yelled for Chris and didn't get a response. I started walking back up the trail to see what's up. As I get closer, I hear him running his electric starter several times before it finally starts. He comes to the T and we take a break. Going down a side-hill section, a root wrestled his front tire away from him and he & the DRZ fell 3-4 feet down-the-hill. He wrestled his DRZ back up to the trail himself and appreciated a chance to rest & cool off.

We decided this trail was too much work for us old farts and elected to take the left (SHORTER!) route named; "Troll Trail Early Out". It was double-black diamond also. This trail wasn't quite as bad as the 1st section, but as the map shows, it was twice as long as what we'd
just done. Chris led down this trail. We reached another T that the map didn't show and both are equally used from looking at the moto tracks. We stopped for a rest and walk both trails a little ways to see which we liked best. We took the left fork again.

Nearing the end of this trail I'm tired again & need a break. I just get out of a long downhill rut when I notice that a rise is ahead. I want to stop & have a sip of water in this low spot. As I slow on the side of this steep hill, I'm looking down at the narrow trail to verify that my up-hill (right) foot will reach the ground when I stop. What I failed to notice was that my up-hill handlebar/bark-buster was about to WHACK into an overhang on that side of the hill. As I put my right foot down while not-quite stopped..., the bark buster hits the overhang and turns the handlebars into the hill. The WR & I fall the other way (air!) & off the side of the hill, head first!

"We" only descended about 12 feet before accumulating ground vegetation and a tree caught us both. Somehow the WR passed me and stopped with the tires oriented down and lying sideways on the hill. The rear tire was against a tree. I was helmet-first into the WR seat when I stopped. A quick inventor of movable body parts proved promising, so I turned off the gas & ignition, and climbed back up to the trail. It was steep, loose dirt. Required many handfuls of vegetation to pull my way back up. I panted, took off most of my gear, and called out to Chris several times. He responded from afar and I yelled back that I needed HELP! I was amazed that I appeared to be unhurt. He walked back to me this time.

We surveyed the situation and I asked if his tow strap was long enough to reach the bike. He said he thought it was. I said we needed MORE help. As he headed back to his DRZ to retrieve the tow strap, we hear a dirtbike at the bottom of the canyon below us. Looking down through the trees, we see the bike and the rider about 100 feet below us. He stopped & turned off his motor for some reason. Chris & I both yelled to him and explained my problem. He said the rangers have an ATV with a wench that could probably work. I told him that this is a moto single-track up here & no ATV can get here. I asked if he could walk over to the bottom of this trail & come up to help us. He elected to climb straight up the hill below the WR through the brush! WhattaGuy!

Chris was back with his tow strap and down to the WR. "Steve" arrived from below and introduced himself. Chris tied one end of the strap to the WR handlebars while I wrapped the other end around waist while standing on the trail. We lifted it together about 6 inches up and
I'd hold the bike with the strap while Chris & Steve reposition. Then 1-2-3 LIFT and we'd get another 6 inches up the hill, rest, & repeat... It took several minutes, but we finally got the WR back to the trail. YEAAA!!!

It was a little after 2PM and we were beat. I thanked Steve for his help and he slowly descended the hill. Chris & I rested for a bit. We then geared up and finished the "early out" trail. North Canyon Road was twisty & FAST! It had been de-whooped recently and QUITE
enjoyable! We noticed many unmarked trails coming down to this road as we passed by them. Hmmm... I really like the idea of these one-way roads and trails. Headed back to the staging area for a potty break and a snack.

We both wanted to ride more. Our last riding session was back to the eastern hills with the "paved" berms again. :-) I now understand why Chris liked this section better than the larger western area. With only a few other folks around, we could really rail around these trails without worrying about traffic at unmarked-trail crossings. We found and rode most every trail in this section until the sun dropped below the next hill. Rode back to the truck and was pulling onto the road just before dark.

The Lower Ranch of Hollister Hills is made up of two sections with very different surfaces & terrain. Its not quite big enough to entertain us for a long weekend and I suspect it would be too crowded then, but its a good alternative for a weekday ride like we did.

I'm very thankful when I get a little good luck, after having some bad luck first.

Catfish ...