Dirt Rag Magazine

Readers Write: A Halcyon Road Trip

Editor’s Note: Readers Write is an occasional feature of reader-submitted stories. Do you have a story you’d like to share? Send it to [email protected].

By James Murren

Halcyon is a kingfisher. It is also a fabled bird that had supernatural powers to calm the sea and turn the sky blue so that it could lay its eggs in tranquility. Hence halcyon is also a word used to describe a time of peace and calmness, but it is often associated with the carefree days of youth. Mixed up in that is usually an air of nostalgia, a looking back on the days of yonder yore with a smile and slight dream to feel it all over again, if only for a fleeting moment.


No thanks. If I’m going to experience halcyon as an adjective, it’s going to be in the future. And for me, the idea of being carefree and experiencing some sort of inner calmness, well, that often happens while riding a bike on a dirt/rock trail in the mountains. Fortunately there are other people that desire the same thing. Fortunately-er there’s much trail to be ridden.

Six of us from around the USA met up to ride bikes for a week and some extra days, road tripping our way across the beautiful landscape of the American West. Destination: Sierra Buttes, aka the Lost Sierra, and its surroundings.  A lot’s been written about the area already, and it’s all true, from what I experienced. Yes, it was rugged, rocky and raw. Sure, it had some flow too. For certain, while there we were creating halcyon.

Our only immediate responsibilities were: wake up, eat breakfast, drive to the trailhead, ride bikes, drink beer, eat some more and go to bed, Then we’d get up the next day and do it all over again.

The sky really was blue and the weather was calm. Lots of laughter kept things carefree, until thoughts of work next week crept into our minds. (Other) Reality.

A rundown of keeping (other) reality away day-by-day:

Day 1: Take the bike out of the hard plastic shipping box, build it up and head to the Lagunas east of San Diego for a shakedown ride. Lucky 5 and Pine Mountain up to Champagne Pass was enough of a proving ground. The bikes were ready. It is so darn pretty up there.

Day 2: On the road at 5 a.m. with Lower Rock Creek of the eastern Sierra Nevada on our minds—and Van Halen. We parked at the lower trailhead and pedaled the road to the top. Aspen groves and the sound of water running over rocks, with some tech, during the first two sections was pure bliss. That lower section is a different kind of bliss—gnarly rock bliss, if that’s to your liking. It was to us. More rock bliss was found in Mammoth at a festival in town featuring David Lee Roth’s favorite Van Halen cover band. Spinal Tap? Yes!

Day 3: Mammoth two-track grind to single track. With scribbled lines on a basic map picked up at a local bike shop we wandered around the sand and gravel above town thinking we were lost but never being so. Eventually ended up on Mountain View flow back into town via the super flow of Uptown/Downtown.

Day 4: Sierra Buttes Lake Basin. By far, this was our favorite day. Grueling riding enhanced by rugged, raw natural beauty. A hike-a-bike up the final push of Mt. Elwell and then down its steep, nasty upper reaches was what mountain biking is all about for me. The views of the lakes, riding from one to the next, cleaning a few spots I had no business cleaning—i.e. I got lucky—put a permanent smile on my face.  A good tired.

Day 5: Countyline to Sheepdog to Mills Peak Downhill. We shuttled it and we had a blast despite that I gashed the rear tire near the end. Go do this ride!

Day 6: Downieville Downhill via 2nd Divide, with some Pauley Creek thrown in. Butcher was the highlight. That is some fine riding, even if I did unclip and walk when I got caught up in a bad line. Better to walk and ride tomorrow than …

Day 7: Hole in the Ground. We wanted to check out what Truckee had to offer. We were glad we did. More rocks that we could ride, more ruggedness, and the most diabolical descent over water bars that we had ever experienced. Madness. Crazy.

Day 8: Donner Lake Rim Trail. It’s a work in progress, but what is done is worth venturing out on. Yes, more rocks, and how this trail was built is pure rock art perfection. Fun, fun riding. We then made the long haul back to San Diego.

Day 9: Oakzanita Peak and its environs in the Cuyamacas. This is one of my favorite little trails in the Cuyamacas. The view up top is spectacular and the descent is a bit hair-raising in spots. We then meandered over to Deer Park to get in some remote riding. It sure is purty back there.

Nine days. Nine rides. One flat tire. One broken chain. One broken spoke. Zero broken bones. Six happy humans.

Bummed to be departing and going back to (other) reality we asked at lunch: where are we going next year? Maybe we can make it a two-week trip?

Spirits lifted.

Creating halcyon.


  • Smithneck Farms in Sierraville has a tasty breakfast burrito.
  • The Brewing Lair in Graeagle is an idyllic setting for drinking pints.
  • Yuba Expeditions in Downieville is top notch, as is Howling Dogs in Graeagle.
  • Canyon Ranch in Sierraville has basic cabins with a creek that makes for perfect sleeping conditions.
  • Support Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship when you’re in the area.

About the author: James Murren is a Dirt Rag contributor and independent writer. Read more about his trip at his website, jamesmurren.com.


Readers Write: Kingdom Trails Summer Roadtrip

Editor’s note: We love hearing stories from our readers, so if you have an experience you’d like to share, send it to [email protected] with “Readers Write” as the subject line. 

Words and photos by Rob Whelan

This is a story about three dudes from the flat city of Kingston, Ontario. A story about riding bikes with the bros and breathing mountain air. And one thing more that was unexpected: community.

Everyone has visited ski towns and experienced what it’s like to be among a real crowd of enthusiasts who keep the town’s economy alive. The experience at Kingdom Trails in Vermont was the same, except this town is kept alive by mountain bikers. This was the first time I’d ever experienced a town so mountain bike-centric. Yeah, it was pretty great.

Young families and work obligations meant that the trip had to be a quick one, but we could get a few days away without causing too much resentment. So we packed up the Subaru with enough bike gear to last a few rides, a whack of Clif Bars and, most importantly, an appetite for adventure. Five hours later after an uneventful border crossing into the U.S. we pulled into Easte Burke, Vermont. As soon as we rolled down East Darling Hill Road into the heart of the town, it was clear that we were in the right place. Bikes everywhere! Like, nice bikes! There might have been a little bike envy going on.

From this point on, the story is pretty simple. Ride, eat, ride again, drink good beer and sleep. Repeat.

With the simple plan we had the days passed at a mellow pace. We stayed at the Village Inn, which just like the rest of the town, is built for riders. It has bike storage, a hot tub, ample rooms and best of all, the property sat along the river’s edge, the perfect spot for post ride brewskies.

So, what about the trails? There’s a reason many have said this is the best trail network in North America. Really, it’s pretty unbelievable. Big berms everywhere, flow and Velcro soil. The trails range from greens to double blacks and possibly the best feature was the lemonade stand at the drop-in for one of the most fun trails I’ve ever laid rubber to, Sidewinder.

So that’s it. Call up your friends, pack the car and hit the road.


Click the magnifying glass at the bottom right to see images full size.



The Ultimate Ride to the Ride – Part 1, an introduction

By Chris Reichel

I have decided to do something I have dreamed about since I was a kid. I’m going to ride across the United States.

Yeah, I know what you are thinking, me and 10,000 other people this summer. But that’s just it, I don’t really want to do one of the same old cross-country routes and I’m not concerned with going ocean to ocean. I want to add my own twist on a long US tour and have a truly unique experience exploring my country.


I already have a habit of turning simple ride ideas into what I like to call “great bad ideas” and this particular bad idea has been a long time in the making. It originally started out as a scheme to ride touring bikes between skateparks while towing trailers full of camping gear, skateboards and BMX bikes. I’m a little older now and I don’t bounce like I used and I now have a full-fledged mountain bike addiction. So singletrack sounds a lot better than cement these days. So why not tow a trailer with a mountain bike on it? Better yet, a singlespeed!

The only thing left to do was to pick the route. I was chatting with some of my friends from Oskar Blues Brewery about this idea when the light bulb went on above my head. In addition to their headquarters in Longmont, Colorado, they have a new facility in Brevard, North Carolina. I will use the breweries as bookends for this ride and I try and hit as many trail zones as possible across the middle of the country. Now this is a great bad idea.

I have spent the better part of the last decade trying ride in the most remote places I could find. I have chased solitude from the deserts of the southwest to the Himalayas and I have loved every minute of it. But this tour is going to be the exact opposite of that. I am seeking out smaller, less popular trail systems. Places that aren’t necessarily destinations but the trails that people would ride on a weeknight after work.

All trails are good and I want to ride all of them. I want to get my legs ripped off by the locals and then have long conversations over beers at the trailhead afterwards. Basically, I just want to go mountain biking and to get to the trail by bicycle.

So I quit my job, moved all my possessions into storage and I have hit the road for the Ultimate Ride to the Ride. Follow along as I drag my junk show across Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Southern Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee and Western North Carolina.

About the author: Chris is the chief stoke officer and head cat herder at drunkcyclist.com.  He has recently escaped the grip of Corporate America and set out to see all that FUNemployment has to offer a mountain bike addict. Follow him on Twitter: @dirtybiker, and Instagram: @dirty_biker. 

Keep reading

Continue reading this series in part 2 here.


2014 Dirt Rag Literature Contest: ‘A Break in the Weather’

Editor’s note: Each year Dirt Rag solicits readers’ fiction, essays and poetry in our annual Literature Contest. In Issue #182 of Dirt Rag you’ll find the winner of our 2014 Literature Contest, but we received many submissions worth sharing, so we will be posting some of the finalists here over the next few weeks. We hope you enjoy the creative contributions of fellow readers.

A Break in the Weather

By Thomas Gada

Running in the summer feels like failure. It’s a missed opportunity to ride. But come winter, my perspective changes. While I never enjoy running, I accept it during the cold months. I’m often told a fat bike is the solution I’m looking for, but in reality its oversized tires won’t lengthen the short days so that I can keep riding before work or make me more tolerant of sub-20 degree weather. So I run. I run to stay in shape. I run so that I’ll be ready when the weather breaks.

If there’s a good thing about my reluctant morning jogs, it’s that I can let my mind wander in a way I can’t when I’m picking my way through a twisting singletrack. As my feet pound the pavement, I look forward to the adventures warmer weather and a winter spent tuning my bike will bring. But today, the salt-stained streets and icy patches on the sidewalk remind me that this is not the first time I’ve waited for winter to loosen its icy grip long enough for me to sneak onto the trails.

My ongoing feud with old man winter started when I was just a kid. I got my first mountain bike in 1988 for Christmas, during a time when most of my 12-year-old friends were hoping to see a new BMX under the tree. But not me. I had wanted a mountain bike since I had witnessed my older brother and his friends return from a ride with mud-splattered smiling faces the previous summer.

That Christmas, I woke to find a Mongoose Switchback waiting for me, and it was glorious. Twelve speeds, 1.5-inch tires, and upright handlebars complete with puffy foam grips. Hardly a mountain bike by today’s standards, but to me it represented endless possibilities. Despite the bitter cold, I had to take it for a spin.

I didn’t know where to pick up my local trails, but that was okay—they would be covered with snow. And to be honest, I knew I wasn’t ready to tackle them yet. Instead, I hit the neighborhood’s biggest hill, eager to see what my 12 speeds could do. Clumsily shifting my bike into the lowest gear, I spun my legs until they were jean-clad blurs. I was a bit perplexed as to why it was taking so long to get to the top, but that was okay. I knew I’d figure it out eventually. I was far more concerned with the adventures to come—I just needed to get through winter.

By the time I got home, I was struggling to brake and operate the above-bar thumb shifters with numb hands. I hobbled in, stiffened by the cold. “I loved it,” I mumbled enthusiastically to my mom through frozen lips. That night, and every night after, I dreamt of leaving the pavement behind.

Winter seemed to drag on, but I didn’t stop. Weekends or after school, I’d hop on the Switchback and see how far I could go. Then it finally happened. A few warm days melted much of the snow. The temperature quickly dipped again, but not before two previously hidden ruts carved into the frozen ground revealed themselves, winding away from the paved roads of the civilized world. A stubborn layer of snow clung to the ground, but I was sure I could ride it. I felt ready.

I stepped off my bike and lifted it over the curb.

My heart seemed to hammer against my ribs as I bounced down the doubletrack into the thickening trees. The trail dipped toward a pond. I paused to take in the sight. As silly as it seemed, the discovery was intoxicating. None of my friends knew it was here, and I wouldn’t have either without my new bike.

The trail meandered up a small hill. After a few tractionless spins, I realized the knobs on my tires were more for show than function. I got off and walked. The snow instantly penetrated my sneakers, numbing my already cold feet.

Eventually, the crude ruts connected to a crushed gravel dirt road. A plow had come through at some point, but left behind a compressed layer of beige snow. Even though it wasn’t a trail, it also wasn’t pavement, and I was eager to continue my exploration. The road twisted past some lonely summer cottages that overlooked a lake covered with ice that looked more like glass. The sand on the empty beach swallowed my tires as I pedaled past the unused lifeguard chair. My world was growing.
Then I came to the hill.

This was like no hill I’d seen before. Dirt, steep and punctuated with ice and snow. Technically it met the minimum requirement for being called a road, but just barely. There was nothing on it—no houses or driveways, no mailboxes or trashcans waiting for pickup. Just trees to my left, a stream babbling somewhere down a hill to my right. I needed to see where it led.

I began rolling. That’s when I first learned about different wheel sizes. By today’s standards, 26-inch wheels are small. To a kid just coming off a BMX, they’re wagon wheels. My bike gained momentum with startling ease. I flew down the hill with no idea how to handle a bike. My ass was firmly planted in the seat. Every bump radiated through my spine. My arms were locked like steel. Beneath my gloves, my knuckles must have been whiter than the snow.

Something in my mind started to tell me to slow down, but a voice in my heart talked over it. Just a little faster, it begged.

Cold snaked up my sleeves, leaving my arms red and angry. The cuffs of my jeans snapped against my cranks. My ears burned, even beneath my wool hat. Tears streamed from my eyes as I sped down the hill beneath a ceiling of overhanging pine trees.

Logically, I have to assume I’ve topped the speed I reached that afternoon many times over the years. All I know is that I’ve never felt like I’ve gone that fast again. But who knows? Maybe my finest moment on the trail was my first.

Then, I was on the ground, skidding across the dirt and snow. I suppose it was good that it happened so quickly; there was no time to be scared. Rocks and gravel bit my icy skin through layers of clothing. My bike skipped over the hardened dirt, grinding to a stop a few feet away.

I instantly realized how reckless I had been. Snowy and stung, I scrambled to grab my bike and get us both to safety on the side of the road.

The Switchback didn’t look new anymore. The pristine white paint was chipped in places, and the plastic front brake lever was dangling from its cable. My heart broke.

I began coasting down the hill again, this time feathering my rear brake to control my speed. The dirt road eventually turned to pavement. Sights began to look familiar. I soon realized I was near a friend’s house who lived in an entirely different neighborhood. The discovery of this secret new route softened the blow of the damage I had done to my bike. Just like my brother and his friends, I was an explorer. My pulse quickened at the thought.

Before I could revel in my accomplishment, I had to deal with my mom. I had nagged her for a new bike for months, then I crashed it after a few weeks of ownership. But as I pedaled closer to home, I realized something: it was worth it. Sure, I had dinged up my bike, but I also learned something. I learned what not to do. I learned something about limits and common sense. But I also learned about the exhilaration that could come with mountain biking and discovery.

I walked into my house and pulled off my hat with a gloved hand.

“How was the ride?” My mom asked. “You were gone long.”

“Amazing,” I told her. Then I proceeded to tell her a sanitized version of my story, with the crash occurring due to black ice, not my stupidity. She wasn’t happy, but I gladly dealt with the consequences. After all, I had lived an adventure. I hadn’t just watched one on TV or read about it. That was certainly worth a few stern words.

The next weekend I was at the bike shop getting my lever replaced. I asked for something metal—the first step in a lifelong upgrading obsession. Milling around the shop while they did the repair, I noticed big mushroom-like helmets on the shelf. Everyone in the magazines I’d been reading wore them. None of my friends had one, but I wasn’t like them anymore. I needed one. My mom happily footed the bill.

It’s funny. Not much has changed. I love riding in the winter, but I simply don’t get as many opportunities as I’d like. Running keeps me in shape better than those rides around the block, but it’s admittedly a poor substitute. While it gets my blood pumping from a fitness perspective, it doesn’t get my blood pumping with thrill of adventure.

The fact is, when I’m out there shuffling along on those short winter days, I smell the same frozen air as when I was a kid dreaming of doing great things on my Switchback. The cold bite on my cheeks—that’s the same, too. So if a break in the weather comes next week or next month, I’ll be ready to pounce. In the meantime, I listen to my footfalls on the frozen sidewalk and let my imagination go wild, reliving past adventures and plotting future ones.

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