Words by Kyle von Hoetzendorff, photos by Daniel Wakefield Pasley
“... The Donnos1 told the California folks that they commence to eat the dead people 4 days ago, if they did not succeed that day or the next in finding their cattle then under ten or twelve feet of snow…”
—Patrick Breen, The Donner Party, 26 February 1847
“Remind me the next time we go on a bike ride to bring a walking stick.”
—Bo Thunell, The C-Team
It was decided early on that Daniel would be the first one we would eat. He is a fleshy nutrient-packed individual with a penchant for sweets and he was, by being the organizer and de facto Captain of this expedition, the reason why we were all here. So it only made sense that if the fate of our group lead to cannibalism, he would be the first to go. We had come to Northern California to attempt bikepacking. More specifically we had come to ride to the sea. All of us had backpacked before and all of us were cyclists, but how the integration of the two would work was based on assumption. Most of us could only think about it, like we were trying to imagine orange when our experience had been strictly limited to yellow and red. Fortunately Daniel had selected a group of people who, for this adventure at least, were able to rein in a modicum of our typical hubris, to the point that important questions were deferred to the couple of group members who had prior bikepacking experience. When establishing a deference based operating structure sometimes the most obvious points, the ones on which your deference architecture are fundamentally built, can be assumed, this assumption being based on a murky history of abstract details. For future reference I will take much greater care to investigate with pointed questions the details of my better's histories. We rode in tightly packed cars, arriving in the MSOJ from the north and the south. I was coming off a cold and for the week prior had been living in an underwater/out-of-water rotating “Quil” haze in an attempt to avoid the conflagration of my sinus skirmish into a full blown Respiratory Incident. We more collided then met and it was immediately obvious that the state of disarray of our gear and the amount of prep that was still needed on the eve of our expedition would force us to take shelter in the relative comfort of a Comfort Inn.
Gear was opened, assessed, and pillaged. Bikes, clothing, maps, knives, stoves, jerky, whiskey, coffee, socks, and so much more was arranged and piled throughout our rooms and into the adjoining hall, cairns of equipment and food dotting our quarters.
We drank whiskey while we packed, we tested our knives, and we tried to figure out where to store all of Steve’s jerky. Jon Bailey, who had begun the trip as just another man, had his kit so dialed you could set an atomic clock by it and we would learn that he had done this type of thing many times before. As the rest of us tenderfoots worried about the correct balance of our gear Jon set up his bivy sack in a dark corner of the Comfort Inn property's outdoor footprint, prepared to sleep outdoors in keeping with his conditioning. That night we ate dinner at one of Northern California's Black Bear Diners. While the rest of the group consumed hulks of meat and fried blocks of potatoes like Huns the night before battle my own appetite was derailed by the still lingering “Quil” haze. Things were not good and I was dreading the possibility of spending multiple days in the wilderness in the throes of a communicable smack down. Later, after the night's meal, I decided to try my hand at a few Runts from the little quarter machine in the Black Bear Diner’s foyer and upon first bite cleaved off a piece of my back molar. The little piece of tooth floating around in my mouth felt like it was the size of a corn kernel and the pocket that it left felt like it could house a full-sized cherry (how this could possibly be I don’t know, I'm just telling you what happened). Friends, I things were not looking good. The rest of the crew continued working into the night, packing, planning, and ransacking each other's goods and I laid down to sleep and passed the night in the perverse throes of successive fever dreams, their insidiousness compounded by the dread I had built up about our upcoming trip.