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The Epic that Wasn't Quite

By Bob "Howling at the Full Moon" McCarter

Photos by Bob "Howling at the Full Moon" McCarter
and John "Keeps What Happened" Early

Holy Jim 2001 My fellow Warriors, my brothers and sisters of the proud tradition in which we gather, it was my desire to bring you this day a story of man victorious against the obstacles of nature and his own human frailties, a tale of facing down the infirmities that accumulate with the passing of age, a testimony triumphant of noble deeds accomplished..... but, alas, this is not the account I bring you today....

The call from Lare Dog came early in the week. He was more than aware of the coming full moon. The pull of our Earth's mistress, bright in a night sky, controls him at the deepest level, a quickening of the blood that demands to be satisfied and can only be fulfilled by basking in the full glory of that light in the night, that second sun. This is a pull that runs deep in my DNA as well, so I was all ears and ready to follow where the Dog led....

His plan was to get our tireless Warrior leader out and away for an evening, back to the simple joys of frolicking in the nature we all love so much and have sworn an oath to protect and nurture. Dances With Hornets, hard working, tireless and Noble leader of our clan, has far too few opportunities to just ride in the joy for which the Dog Soldier yearns. A night under the moon and stars, with fellow Travelers in the pursuit, a trip into play that keeps us all alive and full of joy. For me to be invited into that circle was an honor that leaves me humbled.

It was going to be a ride up Holy Jim to Main Divide. We discussed a probable continuation to the South along the Main Divide. To the top of Trabuco, where we could check out the trail clearing of the week before. This has always been a favorite ride of mine, one where the energy I get back from the trail is always far more than that expended. Under a moon high in the night sky, this is always a ride that is nothing short of mystical.

Meeting at the entrance to Trabuco Canyon, I offered that I would drive us up into the canyon to the Holy Jim parking lot. Upon my return, I knew it would be great to be able to settle my spent body into a seat as soon as possible. So, we threw the bikes into the back of my truck and started the long bumpy ride up Trabuco Canyon.

At the parking lot, Lare pulled out the safety manual for review. It wasn't long until the lessons contained within the Sacred Manual filled my mind with a more relaxed and contemplative view of the evening. I'm slow as it is, but when safety is the main concern, I can become downright glacial in my movements. Dances with Hornets and the Dog were getting impatient, so I told them to get underway and I would catch up presently, as soon as I got my stuff all packed. They headed off into the gathering twilight of the evening.

I packed, checked and rechecked my pack and, assured I had all I would need for the evening, struck off. I caught up to them (only because they were waiting) at the Holy Jim trailhead. The creek was flowing moderately, from the recent rains of just a few weeks back. The air was cool, but not chilling. We hopped on our bikes and started churning up the trail.

Up Holy Jim As we came to the many water crossings on the trail, I was very cognizant of the importance of remaining above the water and dry. Wet can be deadly in the cool of a winter's evening in the wrong locales, and can certainly become quite uncomfortable even in our relatively benign So Cal climate. So, keeping dry, even dismounting when necessary, was foremost in my mind.

But, the magical state of the safety mind can sometimes result in a lack of proper focus for me. So, on about the 3rd or 4th crossing, following Dances and Lare, who flowed smoothly through the stream bed, I found myself losing confidence as I approached the darkened water and, as I tried to pull up, found my body traveling in a nicely described arc over the bars of my Fisher and straight into the stream's deepest parts.

Shitshitshit - I jumped up but it was too late! Gloves - soaked; shoes - soaked; socks - soaked; jersey - maybe not soaked, but wet for sure. Not 20 minutes into the adventure and I've had a horrible lapse in judgement already. And no replacement clothing with me, wanting to travel light for the evening. Nothing to do but remove the offending wet clothing, wring them out, strap them to the pack and continue on, hoping it doesn't get so cold that hypothermia becomes an issue.

Once again, Dances and Lare waited graciously for the addled old man with them. I'm sure this wasn't quite what they had envisioned for the evening, but the gentlemen that they are wouldn't allow them to comment negatively. Souls old and wise enough to have learned patience, for sure.

We continued our trek up the trail, Dances in the lead and me bringing up the rear. It was getting darker now under the towering oaks of the lower trail. A beautiful carpet of leaves could be heard under our tires and despite the earlier mishap, the eve's odyssey was turning into a pleasant outing. We passed the last of the streambed crossings and set about climbing the many switchbacks of the Holy Jim trail.

The moon was just beginning to rise above the ridge high above and while the hillsides were starting to glow in that ethereal light, the trail surface remained crouched in darkness. Travel was uncertain in the dark, running without lights, unable to see the rocks and obstacles of the trail. We picked our way along, Dances and Lare took command of the trail while I started to wrestle with my failing eyesight, and fatigued legs.

The 800 mg of ibuprofen I had taken earlier worked to keep the twist in my back at bay, but the muscles of my thighs were not to be so easily placated, having reached the point of exhaustion 24 hours previous and containing a build up of lactic acid that would fell a horse. I struggled to maintain my momentum, being tossed left and right on the trail from obstacles unseen in the shadows. For much of the trail I was off the bike, unable to remain in control of my balance upon it. It was easier, not to mention quicker, to just push the bike up the trail. I figured that once the moon reached a point in the sky high enough to illuminate the trail, all would be well.

Lare and Dances kept shouting out 'another switchback' to me, as if in my weakened state I had no idea where I was. And maybe I didn't. Never mind that I've been traversing Holy Jim since the days of my youth (back Going down Holy Jim in the late 19th Century), tonight the trail was not quite the familiar path I knew from my youth. On I pushed, off the bike, back on, then off again. Progress, if one could call it that, was slow and labored. All the while, my comrades waited patiently, eager to charge off into the night, but reluctant to leave a man behind.

Ultimately, I reached a point where it was obvious that I was not going to be able to complete the ride planned - I was stopped, off the bike, leaning over waiting for the blood to clear the acid from my legs (though it could not tonight) and just knowing I didn't have it in me tonight. Cursing my age and infirmities, not knowing if it was the pain in my body that was sapping my will and ability to continue or if it was the laziness and senility of mind that was preventing me from commanding obedience from my beleaguered body.

Not wanting to disappoint my brothers, I told them I was going to turn around and they could continue up, no worries, but Lare wouldn't hear of it. 'We stick together' he said. I tried to assure them that I could make it down fine and there was no need for them to cut their ride short. We argued back and forth about it, but neither side was giving in. I didn't want to ruin their ride, so I finally just agreed and said if we're going to ride as three, then we will continue up. I threw my leg (literally had to throw) back over my bike and forged on, this time turning on my light so I could at least see the trail, and continued up.

Lare and Dances were shouting at me to turn around as I rode off, that they were turning back to accommodate their weakened partner. I wasn't listening and kept on. Turning the lights on proved to help quite a bit, as I at least was not expanding what precious little energy I had fighting to stay upright. With the trail well lit from my light, I found a renewed, if not expansive, vigor that allowed me to continue up.

I continued for a half or three-quarter mile, all the while Lare and Dances screaming at me to turn around. I tried to ignore them the best I could, but couldn't bring myself to just ride on disregarding and disrespecting them. I turned around and rode back down to the spot where they had remained. 'Look', I told them, 'if we're riding the three of us together, then you're going to have to follow me up 'cause that's the direction I'm heading. Or, I can go down and you two up, but those are the only choices I'm allowing. So I'm heading back up now.' (As an aside, my wife thinks I'm a control freak - not so!) I jumped back on my bike and charged up the hill as fast as my fatigued legs would carry me, which, with my lights on, turned out to be much quicker than Lare and Dances with their lights off.

On I rode, without looking back, for 20 minutes or so. I reached a point above the trees and the moon was out, full and so bright in the sky. I looked out on the forest, basking in the glow, and stood silently observing the fullness of the wonder before me. Quietly I listened for the sounds of the night forest, and for the sound of tires on trail. It Lare Dog was mostly quiet, so quiet, the occasional rustling of the brush below as some creature of the forest made its way about, and I heard the screech of an owl off in the dark distance. But mostly the quiet sound of my own thoughts, deep in contemplation.

For many minutes I waited for the sound of Lare and Dances making their way up. Nothing but silence returned to my ears. I was beginning to think that they had, indeed, turned back, having had enough of my overbearing demeanor. I was considering my options, push on to Main Divide or turn back (hey, turning back was my idea to start with!) when finally the sound of their tires on dirt crept into my consciousness. They were still traveling slowly in darkness, but within minutes now they were to me on the trail.

By this time, I had been waiting there for maybe 10 minutes and the blood in my legs was coagulating into a thick syrup, heavily laced with lactic acid. At least another 20 -30 minutes from the top, I was not going to be able to muster up the energy to continue up. Hell, there was no guarantee I had the energy to make it down. I probably could have slept on the trail that night, under the moon, if I only had some effing dry socks! So, tucking my tail between my legs and choking down what was left of my pride, I turned downhill and started back to the truck, flanked fore and aft by Dances and the Dog.

What is it about this thing we call mountain biking? No matter how beat up, bruised, exhausted or tired, there's something about traveling effortlessly, silently down a trail, rolling along on two wheels that just brings the karmic reality into focus. I am usually able to find and enter that space where trail, bike and self all merge and become just one single entity in the Universe of One. Tonight was no exception. Moving down the trail, fatigued but focused, blissfully unaware of the pain and weariness which drove me down to start with, I flowed along with the other two spirits, who were guiding and protecting me, ensuring my chance to see another day and ride then.

Back at the truck, spent but happy for the adventure, shortened as it was by my weaknesses, we off loaded Dances' and Lare's bikes back into their trucks. Off to dinner at the Rose Canyon diner, where we enjoyed good beers, good food and good conversation. My friends swore themselves to secrecy about the evenings trials.

But I could not let it be so. Praise of their magnificent and helpful spirits must be sung. Such is this tale, one which proudly and loudly proclaims the generosity and helpful spirit of these two Warriors from whom such a good example is offered. God smiles broadly on these two, and I am humbled to count them as friends.

-Bob McCarter

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