I felt a tiny sting above my left elbow and instinctively slapped at it. The carcass of a mosquito came away on my right hand and a tiny splatter of blood was left behind. “These ‘squiters are eating us alive!” At the Cannell trailhead at roughly 9,000′ in elevation I didn’t expect to see so many of the blood thirsty bastards.
After an hour and a half shuttle ride up from Kernville our group of 11 were eager to get on the trail. With clear skies and temperatures at this elevation in the 60’s we would be descending down to 2,500′ and temperatures around 100° F.
Cannell trail started with a quick singletrack descent and I struggled awkwardly to find my flow. A few years with my butt firmly planted on a road bike has left something to be desired in my MTB handling skills. Plenty of trail lay ahead for me to work out the kinks. The dusty trail quickly gave way to a small meadow. We snaked our way around its perimeter and then continued to descend. I kept to the left to avoid a dry rain gully that had developed in the middle of the trail when I came upon a handful of well placed rocks. As I cursed my instinct to brake, my front wheel wedged solidly between two rocks and brought my bike to a sudden halt. Elegantly, my momentum carried me directly over my handlebars and threw me into a thorny bush. More embarrassed than injured, I picked myself out of the dust and quickly checked my bike. My brake levers were a little askew, but nothing was broken. My right hand stung as I threw a scraped and dusty leg over my bike and got moving again, thankful that no one had seen my blunder.
After a few short lung burster climbs and more technical descents we dropped into a small camp and then made our way along a fire road for a few miles. To our left stretched a large meadow. We stopped to refill our water at a natural spring that our shuttle driver had assured us was clean.
After more climbing and descending (this is the abbreviated version of the story) we came across the barb wired fence that indicates the start of the plunge. In the next 8 miles we would drop 5,000′.
We descended for hours. With each foot of elevation loss we felt the temperature rise. Breathing dust and warm thickening air I smiled ear-to-ear. The trail was a plethora of singletrack, sand, rocky sections, switchbacks, short technical sections, and long fast ones.
My fingers hurt from braking. My hand and leg hurt from my fall. I coughed dust from my lungs. My feet burned from newly found hotspots in my shoes. I couldn’t have been happier.
Six hours after our shuttle drop at the top, we rolled back into town and went directly to the Kern River Brewing Company. We were greeted with air conditioning, cold beer, and friendly service.