Every year, usually late in the summer, somebody’s underpants get hoisted up the flagpole at Longbow Forest Camp, and the freeballing owner is sacrificed over the bonfire in front of a cruel audience of hissing creeps who used to call him family. It is the most wonderful time of the year!
Longbow has been a family tradition for almost 30 years. Not technically my family, but my best friend’s family, which is close enough. A monstrous rotting stump of a tree sits near the kitchen, and all of the kids, who are now 30, used to drive their little toy cars all over its terrain. I’ve been coming to Longbow for close to 10 years*, just barely missing toy-car-stump era by about 15 years. Usually we enjoy activities such as moving huge logs, teasing Karl for bringing a gun, badminton, crawdad capturing, cold river swimming, and making the fire so big and hot that it melts our beer bottles, but this year was slightly more death-defying.
A couple days before, we had parked the Rampage at the McKenzie River Trailhead and mountain biked all 26 miles of it, so I was already feeling pretty extreme. A friend had come down from Portland to ride, and he and Eli were continuing on to Bend that weekend, so I rode my dirtbike from the Trailhead to Longbow. My fuel range was an issue, so I filled an empty gin bottle with gasoline, stayed on the pavement, and got passed by a minivan while trying not to exceed 60mph. Longbow is guarded by a gate, and as much as I love riding around gates on principle, I actually had the combination and opened it to be polite, since I was the first one to arrive. This gave me plenty of time to take very important photos of my dirtbike with the sign.
The first people to arrive that I knew well were Nicole, Cody, and their son Jesse. I am always excited to see them. Nicole rock climbs, rides mountain bikes, and is hilarious and a badass. Cody rides dirtbikes and has like a million guns. Certainly, there is more to these people than these basic facts I’ve boiled it down to, but I only like them for their muscles and guns. Jesse is 5 now, and Nicole and I were joking about whose underwear was going up the flagpole this year, hoping he would figure it out and sneakily grab Cody’s. Instead he peeled out running, asked Cody, and came back with a pair of his cargo shorts. Close. Humiliating loved ones is a craft that must be honed over time, but his passion is inspirational.
Friday was so much fun that I had forgotten to get my headlamp before darkness fell. My friend Polly and I left the bonfire to go to the bathroom, and while we were there, the lantern in the kitchen area went out, leaving us alone in the pitch black night. I bravely promised her we would get back safely. We locked arms and walked very slow, taking tiny baby steps until we tripped violently over the toy car stump. My spine conformed to the rotted out concavity, my thigh shoved itself onto a rare point of sturdy wood, and Polly’s trust had been betrayed. I was very surprised, and then immediately scared I’d broken my back, and also drunk, so I started crying. I’m fine.
The next morning I played my traditional Longbow game of, “but is Dan up yet?” Usually he fools me by stuffing all of his clothes and things into his sleeping bag in a body shape, but this morning he brazenly slept until 11am with no concern for me not checking what time it is and maybe feeling sad that I wasted the morning. Such an inconsiderate FUCK. Finally, I got out of bed, which hurt, then messed up everything there is to mess up about making breakfast, and missed almost all of the morning sun on the river.
When I finally made it down to the swimming spot, I learned that the kids (Eoan, Alex, and their cousins) had tried to set up a zipline across the river with some of Cody’s rigging supplies. The zipline was an ambitious project, but didn’t deliver the extreme whooshing sensation they were dreaming of, and actually slammed Eoan’s spine into the rocky beach on one attempt. It was so long that no matter how tight they got it, it sagged into the water. In the engineering frenzy, they had forgotten to tie a trailing line down from the tree it was looped around, approximately 25ft above the beach.
More on this tree: it was not climbable.
After I predictably failed at campusing up the thin wet nylon rope, Cody and I developed a plan. I tied a series of alpine butterfly loops into the opposite side. He would tie a rock to this end and throw it over the tree. Then I would climb up the rope ladder, undo the original loop from the tree, come down and there would be high fives all around.
He throws the rock, but it won’t stay attached to the line, so he turns to me and asks, “What are we going to do if I can’t get this rope over the tree?” I said, “If all else fails, I’ll climb the tree, NBD.”** After many more attempts, his arm is getting tired, so he tells me to climb the tree. This tree is growing at an angle about 75 degrees from the ground (in climbing, we call this angle “death slab”), and the top side has grown a shag carpet layer of moss. There are no branches, or even knots to grab, and the bark is completely smooth. I start up the tree, getting my feet super high, and pulling on the slopey underside of the trunk to keep me on. The moss is about as secure as the hair on a tweaker’s head; chunks just slough off every time I move a foot. At about 5ft off the ground I realize how incredibly dumb this is, and come down. Cody is going to have to land the rock throw.
Luckily, after resting a minute, he shoots and he scores! We anchor the rope around the base of the trunk, but at 20ft up, I reach for my last loop, and it’s too far away. I had made some dangerous miscalculations in my knot-tying, so I came down. We took a short recess. Cody crossed the river to camp and brought back beers and his phone (for photos of the inevitable bloody tragedy). While he was gone, Alex helped me beef up all of the loops. The rope wasn’t quite long enough to anchor to the bottom of the tree anymore, so we EDK‘d a dynamic rope to the system and tied a trucker’s hitch around the nearest sturdy trunk.
With everything in order, I tie a little loop in the end of the trail rope, tuck it into my swimsuit, and start climbing again. This time it goes smoothly until I’m about halfway up, and then the spinning begins! My momentum had caused the rope to start rotating faster and faster, so Cody held it still, which is the exact moment Dan captured the photo at the top of the page. Finally at the top of the rope, I hold onto the last loop with one hand, and feeling like a god damn rodeo hero, I thread the trail cord around the loop, and climb down. High fives all around! We have retrieved the thin wet nylon rope!
Feeling very relieved that I had only hurt myself extreme-walking the night before instead of while doing the legitimately dangerous thing I had just done, Saturday night was much more relaxed. Marcia and Albert came to hang out, and everyone told scary bear stories. Albert told us about how a bear sat on his foot through his tent, and he had to just patiently hold still until it got distracted and left. Nicole worked in forestry, and once a bear chased her through the woods until she collapsed from exhaustion, but when she looked back the bear was gone. After all of this, we decided to make the mile hike in the dark to The Meadow.
This was an embarrassingly bloodcurdling 20 minute journey, wherein one “friend” hid behind a bush and scared the shit out of everyone, and we also overreacted heavily to the sounds of a very large animal crunching big sticks in the woods. We persevered because The Meadow is where we go to watch shooting stars. This night, they were so vivid and frequent, the sky would have made a first-rate screensaver, even though that’s not a thing. There is always a price to pay for beauty, and we were cruelly attacked by a family of bears, watching helplessly as the mama bear taught her cubs how to disembowel Dan. Maybe Lord of the Flies was actually a fun childhood camping trip that William Golding tried to write a sappy blog post about, but thought better that others might find his joy boring.
While walking around with Nicole and Cody on Friday, we discovered a bootleg dirtbike shortcut that eliminates the stupidest gravel turn leaving Longbow, and leads directly into the sunset. I made it to Bend, and tried to follow the GPS coordinates Eli had given me showing where he parked the Rampage. When I finally arrived after some excessively complacent map-reading, he had good news and bad news.
Bad News: He was going to the middle of the Eagle Cap Wilderness for two weeks to do construction on the Minam River Lodge, and should have left yesterday. He explained to his boss that he couldn’t leave until I got back, and I’m glad I didn’t come home to a note on the door. What a prince!
Good News: Towards the end of our Spyder demo tour, we had become disenchanted with its operation. At Laconia bike week in New Hampshire, I wandered over to the Yamaha tent and asked if they were hiring. We did a riding test (to prove we remembered how to ride things with only two wheels), and they promised to put us in the schedule ASAP. Three months went by, and as excited as we were about this prospect, we hadn’t been scheduled for any events yet. Almost immediately after I left cell reception on Friday, they called and offered us work! This is a completely life-changing development, and I pinky swear that this will be the topic of my next blog post.
*Or not close to 10 years, I have no idea. What is time, anyway?
**Quotes are most likely inaccurate paraphrasings.