Who? Nick Kohn, aka @strokeofstoke and founder of Yews, Views and Brews.
What and where? Old mate is having a crack at bikepacking as many dirt roads as possible to get him from California, up through the States, and then across Canada. In this story, he is in Cronan Ranch, on the South Fork of the American River, California, USA.
Highlights? Making the most of dud weather by exploring the wildflowers and near-tame wildlife while no one else is around.
Recommendations (who and when)? This ride (bike or horse) or walk is definitely accessible to anyone or any age. Besides a few patches of mud, the terrain was all very manageable and grades never got out of hand. If you are happy to get a little wet and uncomfortable, it’d definitely be recommended to head out while the weather isn’t at it’s peak. It’s heavenly on the nose and with no one around, all the animals roam freely and without concern
Essential gear? Nothing out of the ordinary that you wouldn’t typically take on a ride or walk - you’ll need solid shoes, water, some snacks and a thermos full of a brew or two.
Home: Sydney, Australia
Favourite activity: Bikepacking
Favourite brew: Coffee or Shiraz
Favourite snack: Peanut butter.
Nick Kohn is an outdoorsman who spends most of his time bikepacking, though he has hiked, dived, motorcycle toured and travelled throughout SE Asia, the Indian subcontinent, Central Asia, Europe and Australia.
He has cycled through Italy, France, Spain and across the Silk Road from Mongolia through to Turkey, as well as a little in Australia. Next stop - USA and Canada.
I sit squatted, under the grove that has protected me from the wind, rain and cold for the past few days (again).
The trangia is losing heat as its fuel reservoir runs near empty, wasting energy as the gusts of wind distribute the heat into thin air rather than onto my pot. It’s making a sloshy and popping noise with a smaller flame - trying hard to get my soon-to-be finished coffee to a boil. It’s a big difference from the usual long orange flame that licks all the way up the pot.
The sun attempts to break through but the canopy is too thick. The ground in here is so soft and slippery that it is as if it hasn’t been dry since last summer.
The pot begins to steam and the lid rattles, being pushed up by the pressure as if to purge the delicious scent of beans on a chilly morning like today. Birds of all sorts and species are singing and performing their symphonies, as the do uninterrupted, all day of every day. It doesn’t seem to end. Not that I’d want it to.
I choke out the flame and pour the brew into the thermos with a little left in the pot for me to enjoy now - once the grind sinks to the bottom - but hey, that’s bushranger coffee for you.
There is a distant metallic twang and a constant front from the sheep on the hill. They and their Shepard have been brought in by the Forest Service to eat an uncontrolled weed up before summer takes off too much.
The dampness seems to have attached itself to my nostrils, as my nose leaks - adding further to said moisture.
Ive grabbed.a jacket and the thermos and am off for a stroll. Within metres of the tent, I get stung and cut by the same evil looking plant with a sharp, pink spikey flower that has already gotten me twice before. It has thick, aggressive looking leaves, which are contrasted against the beautiful vibrancy of the flower atop.
My legs are plagued with cuts, scratches and scabs from those plants and the others like it that seem to be common here in California.
I follow the single track through the gnolls and towards paradise. Some of the hills are forested with trees growing on obscure angles, which look bizarre when comparing them to the straight-standers.
Orange, green and burgundy moss coats the rocks that have fallen and rolled and sat into depressions in the landscape. Here, the water gurgles and sucks over them. Besides one old pile of horse poo, the trails are left unmarked by any sign of life - at least since the heavy rain of days past.
As the negative grade gets steeper, foliage becomes more dense. The air seems more thick as though the wind struggles to penetrate the more humid sky. Broken trees that have fallen over the trail lie motionless besides the ants, bees and other critters that have gathered on a flat section above a know when something seems to have died.
As I watch this ecosystem at play, I hear a crunch behind me. A deer hops, or more so floats, over the ground scrub, making almost no sound at all.
I watch it disappear into the trees, smiling to myself, excited to be surrounded by such beautiful nature. Then a squeaking noise catches me off-guard on my behind. A tiny baby fawn, no taller than my calf, stands frozen, half hidden in the scrub and obviously lost from its mother.
I attempt to convince her to come out so I can get a more clear look at her beautiful white spots and pricked up veiny ears that let some light through the thin skin, as well as her comically small while and fluffy tail - something I’d more picture on a rabbit than deer. She remains still, standing dazed and confused, unsure whether to make a bolt for it or not.
I try to slowly edge my way forward, but before I get too close, the noise of a pine cone dropping, knocking two branches on the way down somewhere within the depths of the forest spooks her, causing flee.
I trudge on, continuing further down the hill, feeling the mud pull at the heel of my boots as if trying to remove them. I come to a fork in the trail, choosing right for no particular reason. I dance my way down the rocks, grateful to feel so loose and free from taking the time to stretch out after being cramped up in the tent.
The river begins to grow louder and soon it is there. There’s whitewater around two rocks, set centred in the body. Their shape is contorted and more rounded on one side than the other, after being eroded for Lord-knows-how-long. There are pools of water that look deceptively calm, however the ripples that gently move along the surface tell another story of a secret strength. As I look for somewhere to sit, I spot a butterfly. It’s pastel yellows and oranges are highlighted by the rose lenses I am wearing in my sunglasses. It’s kaleidoscope patterns are contrasted with black and four blobs of blue down the bottom, towards the tail. It reminds me of those kindergarten artworks when you paid one side and fold over the other. I used to really enjoy those - probably still do. She silently flaps away, the wind and the water disguising any sound she may have produced.
I get a rush of excitement as I approach the water. I rip off my Blunnies and socks and sink my feet into the frightfully cold water in a cove that is a little less turbulent. I go straight for my newfound favourite past time of sipping steaming coffee while the cold pierces my toes. I sit and blow through the thermos lid, mesmerised by how the river moves. The up and down-Wellings, breaking of caps over rocks and the trees that have somehow planted themselves in the middle of this rapid mess.
I take my top off to enjoy the sun and sit, confused for a minute as I remember my tattoos. With all the cold weather of late, I’ve been so covered up all the time and it took a moment to realise that they were mine. I lie back and let the sun warm my skin while the brisk wind does its best to prevent success. I doze under the light, seduced by the rumble of the river.
Suddenly, I awaken to an uncomfortably cold splash, just to the left of my belly button on my bare tummy. I wonder what may have caused it, and how far it travelled to reach me. Melted snow, a fallen rock, river bed giving way causing the current to alter? I sit up to watch the geese, cruising downstream like rafts, while some ducks on the shore chase each other with an aggression that I wouldn’t want to stumble across.
Behind me, I felt a presence and turned to see a very jolly looking lady, covered in paint, grabbing for the collar of her dog that is about to pounce on me for an involuntary kiss. Janet introduces herself and I invite her to sit down with me. She pulls out a thermos of her own and we cheers while discussing my adventure compared to her lifetime of ‘being the dirtbag that never stopped’. She told me how just two weeks ago, at age 69, she returned from a 24 day river rafting trip with her husband and best friends through the Grand Canyon that she had been entering the lottery for over a decade. I sat in awe, listening to the stunning descriptions and the ways to which she spoke about her near seven decades with absolute joy. She called me inspiring and I responded the same to her.
She finished her drink and said she best get going, as she was having her kids over for dinner and had to prepare. I was left once again alone, enjoying nothing but what was right in front of me. I played with the ring on my left middle finger, twirling it in a continuous counterclockwise circle. I sip the dregs of my brew and think of what a beautiful experience that was. The full Yew, View & Brew package!