The JB Vault // Stupid Canyon

When the rules get tossed, the stupid get lost.

 Art by Jerry Bernardo

Art by Jerry Bernardo

 By Jerry Bernardo

By Jerry Bernardo

I’ve never been a fan of hurrying to squeeze in a ride. In the back of my mind where the broken Oreo crumbs live, I just feel that when you rush to get out on the bike, it tends to backfire. This could be something as simple as forgetting to check the pressure on your tires or only filling up your drink system halfway, thinking you’ll just go out for a quick spin.

Then—quite unexpectedly—all hell breaks loose and you end up getting beat down with Satan’s hammer.

When I lived in Southern California, we dirt bikers always prayed for rain—any rain. The dirt in the high desert is usually as dry as a popcorn fart so with minimal moisture it comes to life and hugs your tires with every turn. We call it ego dirt.

One particular day it snowed and a bunch of us got on the horn and organized to go for one of those ill-fated “quick rides” up in the Marianas, the hills above Apple Valley, California.

The usual suspects at this time included Kris Keefer, Travis Preston, Joe Oehlhof, Dana Van Stee and myself. There were a couple of unnamed stragglers along as well, so we had about seven guys busting to get up above the 5500-foot mark where the snowline began.

The hills of the Marianas are a complete candy land of off-road. That area consists mostly of scrub trails and ridgelines all crisscrossed with cart roads and a lot of steep hills. This is where famous desert racers from that area go to punch Mother Nature in the face with their brand-new knobbies. Larry Roeseler, Ty Davis and every other swinging moto dick from the high desert have spent years cutting trail up there and the trail network is endless.

I owned a Yamaha YZ250F at the time. I don’t recall the year, but this was the blue bike that didn’t like to start when it was pissed off at you. Ask Doug Henry—he’ll certainly remember the bike’s model and year. We launched ourselves up into the snow around 4:00 P.M., and once black knob touched white powder, it ignited into mixed-race spousal abuse worthy of some solid jail time.

During the day my bike stalled a few times; as previously noted, it failed to ignite straight away. I kicked furiously while my trail partners sat and waited.

Before long, I started to steam up like a schoolboy on the ride to the prom. It felt as if I was trying to get a five-year-old to eat broccoli for the first time—it was just not happening.

"Trying to bumpstart a bike with boots on sucks. Trying to bumpstart a bike on a hill in a gully in the snow is even less fun—not! It was so much fun that I can compare it to a good night in a sweaty cell at Guantanamo Bay."

But the ‘250F finally started up and we took off. Somehow, a bit later on, Dana and I got separated from the group as he had hung back with me—and my not running, annoying blue piece of shit. We were in a bit of a gully when one of the boys came back and asked, “What’s up?” We explained, and he said they too had a mechanical issue a few hills away so we told him we’d be over there as soon as we got the turd going again.

Trying to bumpstart a bike with boots on sucks. Trying to bumpstart a bike on a hill in a gully in the snow is even less fun—not! It was so much fun that I can compare it to a good night in a sweaty cell at Guantanamo Bay. I mean the battery clamps on my nipples were that refreshing!

The sun had begun to set, and it was just Dana and me. The rest of the crew was out of sight and far from earshot. We were both hungry, thirsty and my bike was only starting sporadically. When it ran, I was constantly pulling in the clutch and revving the fucking thing to the moon in fear of it dying again.

I don’t know who came up with the next bright idea, but this is where the fun started and any logical thinking stopped.

We could see the lights of Hesperia down on the valley floor and elected to head down the ravine we were in. Sounds like a plan: Head downhill, eventually pop out into humanity and blaze the roads like illegals back to the trucks. The main rule we broke here is the “never split up the group” rule. When trail riding, if you do break off from the group, always tell them of your plan.

 Riding the "blue bike that didn’t like to start when it was pissed off at you." Photo: Joe Bonnello.

Riding the "blue bike that didn’t like to start when it was pissed off at you." Photo: Joe Bonnello.

Okay, we broke two rules. This shit was compounded by fading light, no more water, no food whatsoever and a bike that was as fickle as a spoiled trust fund baby trying to decide what color Audi her dad should buy her for her 14th birthday.

We poked along and went down some technical stuff you really wouldn’t have wanted to go back up. By the standards of today’s extreme enduro world, it was baby crap. For Dana and me at the time, it was tricky rock waterfall downhills about 15 feet long that led to a nice sand wash base. Going back up, the traction would be shit in the wash and even worse in the rocks.

I began to fade after the four hours of messing around in the snow, the genesis of bonking making me daydream about chocolate cupcakes floating angelically around my head like cherubs circling a dead buzzard.

The sun was almost all the way down and we had no idea how far we had to go or what peril lay ahead. We dragged our bikes under fallen trees. We skirted loose off-camber hills (when my bike would run) and we yelled some pretty bad words.

The final straw was a wall of vegetation that completely blocked the wash we were in. The closed captioning below my steaming head read, “Fuck.” in Helvetica Bold.

Dana gave the side hill a quick look, dropped the clutch and went for it. This is the part where I inform you that Dana Van Stee is a former AMA 125cc Expert Hare & Hound National Champion and holder of numerous AMA District 37 championships—12 in all. The kid is no slouch on a bike and attacked that hill sans fear, arcing up and around the tree line that blocked our forward motion.

So yeah, that was awesome to watch and now he’s over there and I’m over here. Great.

I was a disheveled mess. If I was a child’s toy, three of its four batteries fell out long ago and I had nothing left. It was pitch black and I was pissed off, hungry and had about as much energy as the guy who did the original courtroom sketch of Rip Van Winkle sleeping in a gutter.

We elected to walk. We abandoned the bikes and plodded off into a black abyss without one spec of a mental GPS heading. I had my helmet in one hand and my fanny pack in the other, Walking Dead style.

How tired was I? We came across a tree about waist high blocking the trail and I just flopped my belly on it, fell over and just dealt with the standing up part later. Put Jell-O in a balloon and ask it to plank. It’s not going to happen.

"I was a disheveled mess. If I was a child’s toy, three of its four batteries fell out long ago and I had nothing left. It was pitch black and I was pissed off, hungry and had about as much energy as the guy who did the original courtroom sketch of Rip Van Winkle sleeping in a gutter."

This is the part I hate about the story because when I think back about it and what we faced that night, someone could have gotten hurt, like badly. The ravine was blocked with thick brush and trees. It was so thick we had to climb up the side of a rocky ledge while carrying our stuff. I would guess we were up about 60 feet or so just above the tops of the trees and Dana quite casually warns, “Jerry, be careful; everything we are on is loose.” He was only 10 feet or so in front of me and I couldn’t see him.

Did I mention it was black as licorice out?

I grabbed a piece of rock and pulled, imagining that he may have been wrong. The fist-sized rock popped out and bounced down the wall to the bottom, something that seemed to take forever. Cue gut butterflies.

I could just see me falling and impaling myself to death on a treetop. Remember that scene in one of the Charles Bronson Death Wish films when the bad guy falls out the window onto the pointed wrought iron fence? An olive in a martini fared better than that guy.

We eventually made it down to a dark and dodgy looking house at the apparent end of the ravine. Dogs were barking and losing their shit and suddenly the house’s outdoor lights came on. A guy came trotting out, obviously less than happy. We told him about the broken dirt bikes and he dryly replied, “You’re not supposed to be up there.”

We kissed his ass (figuratively), he calmed down and we asked to use the phone. The whole time I thought, “He's generous, but is he an eccentric recluse who lives in the middle of nowhere for a reason? Will he stab us?”

 Kris Keefer (left) and Francis “Murfy” Rose in the snowy Marianas.

Kris Keefer (left) and Francis “Murfy” Rose in the snowy Marianas.

Dana got on the phone to Keefer, telling him to come and rescue us somewhere out on Deep Creek road that (we guessed) was further down the dirt road.

I spied some bananas on the counter in a bowl and they began talking to me. I didn’t really want to ask the homeowner for one; I just want to steal one and rub its nourishing potassium all across my pasty white face. In reality, I could have eaten a live rat at that point, but I was too tired and mentally fucked to try.

The guy offered to take us in his truck down to Deep Creek Road, informing us we were still about three miles or so away. We gladly climbed into his ratty truck with me in my gear, stuck in the middle all compressed and queasy. He dropped us off and we thanked him way too much for the water, the ride, the phone, blah, blah, blah.

Dana and I weren’t even talking by now. It wasn’t a mad thing; it was just a “fuck my life” thing. Keefer arrived before long and we climbed into his rescue ship to a volley of questions. Dana cut Keefer off and huffed, “Just take us back to our trucks!”

In the end we didn’t die, we didn’t win any trophies and we didn’t gorge ourselves on a fine buffet. That trail ride was the end of a bad week and we fucked up and paid the piper big time.

The next day I was working at my custom paint shop and got a phone call. It was my buddy Murfy’s brother Erin. The Rose brothers live at the foot of the hills and ride in the Marianas all the time. Erin started out with, “You guys are stupid!” and quickly segued into him explaining that he was in the wash looking at our bikes at that very moment. He had hiked down there when he heard through the grapevine what had happened to us.

“What the hell were you two thinking?” he laughed. Later that day, Murfy, Erin, Dana, Bill Maxim and I all hiked down—and I do mean down—to our bikes. In a cruel twist of dirt bike irony, my bike lit up first kick up like a happy dog who had just chewed up your fiancé’s expensive wedding dress with a very “not guilty” smile.

The five of us had to muscle the bikes back over what we couldn’t ride up. The 15-foot rock waterfall turned out to be one of about three or so we bobbled down. Erin just looked at us and mumbled “stupid” every now and then.

Back at Murf’s, I put my bike in the back of my truck and told Dana, “I will never ride that fucking thing again!” I spit on it and sold it a few weeks later.

The moral of this story is short and sweet: If you are going to ride off-road anywhere, don’t be stupid.

In memory of Francis “Murfy” Rose

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