Nick told me a while back that he had picked up a project bus—had anyone else told me this I’d have to see it to believe it, but this was Nick and a project like this was right up his alley. I was stoked he was taking this on.“AK. Spring 2016, you in?” He asked me in a conversation. I honestly didn’t know where I’d be in spring of next year, but I was down. When someone asks you if you want to co-pilot an adventure-mobile to the Great Land, you pretty much do whatever you have to in order to make it happen. “Uh, yeah.” Alaska is still a year out though, and to be able to drive a bus on the Al-Can, several test runs are required.
Test run No. 1, Nick decided was up north to Mt. Shasta. The land of a single massive volcano, hippies, a whole lot of weirdness, and the occasional Sasquatch sighting.
The Blue Bus had many quirks, however my favorite was the uncontrollable honking during left hand turns. We all agreed that this was our karma for idly watching as some moronic woman at the first gas stop slowly yanked the pump off of the terminal. We couldn’t manage a sound between the 4 of us, we were in such disbelief that we were going to get to see it go down. The drawers had a mind of their own, so Travis and I had to hop up and close them, uphills were a waiting game and the honking got progressively worse. This bus was turning out to be a real head turner, especially on the highway. Despite the honking and 30 miles per hour we were putting down on the highway uphills, Travis and I sat in the back on folding beach chairs up on bed platform, sunglasses on and our hair raging with the wind—I can’t think of a time in my life when I’ve felt cooler.
The four of us honked on into the campsite around 9 p.m. and the next morning we took our time waking up; basking in the glory of being able to open the buses back door to an unspoiled outdoor kingdom and a mountain so massive that the rest of the landscape seems to just be present for the view of her was pretty awesome.
We skinned a respectable 3k of the mountain’s offered 7 the first day out, wandering around Avalanche Gulch in awe of the snowpack’s condition as compared to our home Sierra Nevada’s snowpack, which by this point was pretty much non-existent in spots. I wondered early on whether I was in shape enough to skin any more vert than 3k, but seeing as Travis snapped one MTN Approach ski and a ski pole in the first 5 minutes of the day, and was still able to hang in there, I bottled up the fatigue of a first day workout and kept moving upward. After we all ate leftover breakfast (OK, only I ate some of my leftover breakfast burrito) and slugged a beer on the ridge separating the sled zone from Avy Gulch, we took turns dropping in.
The shred was amazing—the bowls acted like gigantic halfpipes and transitions. It felt like we had climbed into a skate park of enormous proportions, complete with grade A California corn snow that was up to 6” deep in spots. We hollered and laughed our way down…because that’s what you do when you’re having that much fun. The runout back to Bunny Flats where we had parked that morning was less of a ski back trail and more of a rocky, filthy, low-speed banked slalom. While most people would have simply walked the last half mile back to the lot, we found joy in pumping and turning through, what us Sierra locals considered to be the epitome of our season. We aren’t scared of a few scrapes and dings—that’s what p-tex is for.
Day two on the hill was an earlier start. My alarm didn’t go off, but luckily Nick was on top of things as usual. Add to that that we all slept lightly due to some really odd, and at times terrifying, yelling noises in the forest throughout the night, and you can understand why we were so easy to get up. We cooked breakfast in the bus as Nick headed up the road…
…Just kidding, we aren’t that skilled yet. If we were able to get to the parking lot without having the mountain bike smash anyone in the back of the head, it was an accomplishment.
Breakfast was eaten in the lot and we were geared up by around 6:30 a.m. We were shooting for the Trinity Chutes, though realizing we were behind schedule by an hour and the top of the chutes sat at around 13k, we had a hell of a pace to keep. We ended up topping out at around 12,500 ft, a little short of our objective, but a stout skin nonetheless.
Realizing the three of us were on display for the entire camping crowd at Helen Lake (10k ft) we ripped as hard as we could. Snowdrift gaps, big old euro carves and possibly a 3 off one of the bumps, it felt good to know everyone was watching. It made us ride harder. We also hollered and laughed with joy the entire time again, just in case there was any confusion as to how much fun we were trying to have.
That night we tried our hardest to polish a keg of beer with my Mammoth fam (who happened to be camping and climbing the mountain the same weekend as us) and devour a package of 24 hotdogs. Not the best recovery meal, but it did the job. On day three, we decided to take it easy. We’ve so far climbed about 8k total and we could feel it in the legs. Naturally, a lake bath was in line and maybe a cool down hike around the Castle Lake area. By cool down hike I mean bushwhack and scramble around for 2 hours. So much for getting any decent rest. Later that evening, we fired up the park BBQ and hung out until dark. The bus was even generous enough to cook the crew chocolate chip cookies (Blue Bus comes equipped with an OVEN!)—a perfect conclusion to the first day messing around in the surrounding Shasta landscape.
Day four we met up with Nick’s brother, JC, and his fellow guide buddies. Guides are not normal human beings, their “off days” consist of biking uphill, bouldering, downhill biking and then full on climbing. I’m not very proficient in any of those disciplines, but I was down. After huffing and puffing and quads that burnt like it was some kind of punishment straight from Hell, I quickly decided I’d rather skin 6,000 ft than ride a bike 4 miles uphill. I slowly squeaked downhill on a borrowed women’s bike in last place, careful to only take one digger that would snap my shades and leave my knee and shin battered and bleeding. My first downhill biking experience was a success, measured by the number of bones broken—zero! Maybe I’ll try this again, though not without a ride to the top.To complete our “off day,” we ventured back on to the mountain to find a local climbing spot based on cryptic directions from one of the books. After a 45 minute hike, we found a rad lookout and the wall. We drank more beer, climbed a few routes and wandered back to the bus in the dark, pausing every once in a while to listen to the various gatherings in the assorted distance. This was the land of weirdness, so we weren’t exactly bothered by the crystals strewn about, the loud chanting coming from every which way or even the enormous stone “portals” that littered the Mt. Shasta foothills. We capped the day off with 3 extra-large pizzas, which turned out to be excessive. Don’t order when you’re starving and don’t scarf down 6 slices of pizza if you plan on sleeping through the night comfortably.
Day five: The Lightning Bolt Chute on Shastina.
Shastina is the smaller peak on Shasta, though still well above the 12k mark. We felt good putting down a thousand feet per hour, but we still lagged an hour and a half behind Cobi, Mike and Razor, three of the guides who were ridiculously fast. Maybe they were hopping portals to the top…who knows? Another standard issue beer, a few cold leftover pieces of pizza at the summit and before we knew it, we were sending a full on party wave down the chute. This is what it’s all about—the suffer-fest on the way up is always worth the ride down, several times over.
Given that the bus outperformed anyone’s expectations, I’d say the first trial adventure was a huge success. We racked up close to 14k of shreddable feet, about 6 tanks of gas, a dozen packs of beer, a free bottle of tequila and way too many hotdogs and slices of pizza to be considered remotely healthy. Lassen was next on the list, but due to some weather blowing in, we decided to head back to Tahoe a day early. Although we didn’t see a Sasquatch (damn it, that was on my list of things to check out), I’m already looking forward to next season’s pilgrimage to the late season riding mecca that is Mt. Shasta.
After about 2 full pages of notes for bus additions, modifications and ideas, I’ve got a good feeling about the next trip this Blue Bus takes.
Writing by @Alex Garcia
Follow the adventures: @bluebusadventure