Swags Saga

Swag’s Saga

by Chuck Sun

Pining for a Grounds pour over, a Hood River staple, the first person I noticed was Swag, arm in a sling, engaged intently over a building project. “Hey, Swag howzit?” Although wing incapacitated he gratefully exclaimed “At least I can use my mind for business” pointing to his skull.  Offering a thumbs up, I held back;

“If only he would have used his mind riding…”

Or is that fair to say, let’s break it down, shall we?

The Hood river rats and one stray cat from Las Vegas comprised an eager group of nine good, not all seasoned riders anxiously looking forward to the challenge of McCall Idaho’s mountainous trails. Trees lay scattered like fallen warriors from an ancient forest, bones waiting to be gnawed away by whirring teeth of our buzzing saws.

Mixed firs, pines and tall lush grass hid rocks delineating Roosevelt’s CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) created trail. The vertigo-inducing trail quickly traversed skyward, anticipating obstacles required a backward tip of your helmet as if you were looking upward at a passing plane. Departing Salmon’s South Fork far below an hour behind, the switchbacks incessantly ascended rocky steps, one feisty rock away from careening to an off-trail abyss.

Swag made a move on a particularly difficult steep switchback, embedded rock resembling stairs of a ladder, the turn provided no room to build upward momentum. Aided by exaggerated bar forward position paired with an ultra tractable hybrid gummy tire held by a scant 4 pounds of air pressure, Swag beamed of confidence refilling a once confident empty reservoir, his comeback made real by cleaning the tough section to everyone’s amazement.

18 months of multiple surgeries caught out daring a Mt. Adams avalanche, compounded by a knee surgery infection and risk of a drug non-withdrawal, it was a moment of sweet redemption. Swag’s moniker is fitting, the hook up coming in the form of Swag giving freely of his good-natured personality and everyone was pumped to witness his return to glory.

After a brief rest, encouraged by the group Swag began to apex the summit picking up tempo and confidence when Rory rolled up on him.

This is the point where we began to piece together a WTF happened forensic, ciphering marks in the dirt to Rory’s horrifying eyewitness account and small bits from Swags own foggy recollection. In dirt bike mishaps it’s not always one action identified as the cause, but a number of causes culminating into what could be referred to as a “Darwin effect” Quite often its the 2nd or 3rd causes creating an effect, but as we’ll soon see in our hero’s case it may be as many as 6! Ironic as it may be, 4 of the causes would be deemed a positive if each was considered independently.

Counting as a cause is confidence, well let’s say newly re-instilled confidence, to begin with as cause #1. Compounding the puzzle was the scenes lack of obstacles or difficulty, in fact, a flat surface, a turn then a tailing slope. A previous rain had left a Velcro-like traction (#2) accept the greasy shaded root in the turn where Swag placed his front wheel cutting loose sliding towards the wooded edge. #3 Remember those high bars that created a hero status climbing earlier? High bars amplify ‘turn in’ quickness to the point of too much, the quickness pushing Swag further back on the seat resulting in a less than optimum cornering position. On Instinct and correctly so, Swag got on the gas in order to pull the front out of its slide. #4 Remember that 4 pounds in the rear tire? Swag initially slid outward, onto the Velcro surface of the trail providing immediate response to Swags throttle input, a sharp turn only the French champ Marvin Musquin could pull off by design. Front wheel executed in a full stop turn followed by a powered rear tire fully hooked up, sliced across to the complete opposite side of the trail pitching Swag further back on the seat as this train wreck continued to unfold.

Crazy isn’t it that one of the points in which we hang onto a dirt bike also creates its propulsion, the throttle, now a wide-eyed Swag hanging on for his life sliding off the back of the bike experiences cause number #5, ”Whiskey Throttle”. ‘There it is’, the final cause, you would say, but you would be wrong.

Neatly stacked logs seemingly out of harm’s way lying just outside the trails line would become the prop comprising causation #6. They perfectly formed the face of a supercross jump catapulting Swag into the air like a clown shot out of a circus cannon. Rory’s witness explains: “It happened so fast, I was horrified!” Rory went on to share Swags desperate flailing arms and legs as if hoping he could take flight out of his worst nightmare, then oddly went limp, almost lifeless as he completed his trajectory to the ground with a bounce among fallen trees as Rory uncontrollably winced.

Remarkable the human mind, complete concepts scrolling as a collage of swirling hospital trauma’s encapsulating time much greater than the brief seconds of a threatening episode. Why am I still on the throttle?, then “snap” the mind subordinate to subconsciousness higher commands, shuts down, to save this one another engram of pain from the unavoidable carnage coming forthwith.

Our adventure now transformed to a rescue missions concern. Most stout among us, Rory, astride KTM’s 500 torque would ride Swag out, but which way? Backtracking was quickly discounted as riding down treacherous switchbacks would be tough solo let alone a gimpy patient strapped to your back. Unknown, up ahead, this time of year you could easily come across scattered trees like toothpicks exploding from an angry winters cloudburst. Will rode wing-man, assigned to fight off mountain lions sensing an easy meal from flight vibrations of injured prey.


Rory prepares to ride Swag out, with Will riding wing to fend off Mountain Lions looking for wounded prey! Photo Credit: Colby

Phillips took his chainsaw to the front determined to blaze the route out, along with Craig in tow as log thrower. Craig, when clear would hustle back to camp retrieving the truck ready for a hospital run. Jonathan, Colby, Nate and I leap frog-ed Swags bike nine miles out to the road. If a trail is worth riding once it’s worth riding 3 times, albeit one of the 3 trips riding double, no small task on techie trails teetering dark ravines under emitting black clouds.

With stable precision, Rory masterfully rode Swag down to the South Fork road where timely, a veterinarian took a quick look at Swag and smartly tied a t-shirt into a sweet makeshift sling for Swags two hour drive to the doc. Sensing accomplishment the Hood rats swarmed a riverside hot springs scuttling romance of a wary couple, cracking beers to Swags quick recovery!

Hood rats ragtag adrenaline junkies galvanizing into a rescue team, though not wished for, was a cool adventure to take part in. A double clavicle collarbone break, Swag opting out of the knife is an evolved survivor escaping Darwinian’s spell, nor was lack of thought at play, just 6 causes, not all bad, ply-ed in a scrabble of fate. Swag will be back in the saddle tempting fates call, the Hood River crew willing in no time to be sure. Cheers!