Before Whiskeytown National Recreation Area gave official names to all its trails, local mountain bikers coined descriptions for their favorite park rides.
These homegrown names – monikers such as the Gas Can, Couch, Recliner, Ice Box, and Satan’s Crack — stuck, making their way into regional biker lexicon and published mountain-biking guides. You won’t, however, find them on Park Service maps, a disconnect that sometimes confuses out-of-town bikers.
“People from the Bay Area used to comment, hey, the names on your map didn’t match the Park Service map,” said Ron Bresolin Jr., a longtime organizer of the Shasta Lemurian bike race that attracts several hundred cyclists to Whiskeytown each spring. “So we developed a mountain-biker-to-Park-Service ‘translation guide,’ like English to Spanish.”
What the guide doesn’t include is explanations of how the trails got their names in the first place.
Bresolin shed some light on the origins of the Couch and Recliner, two well-known, strenuous rides in Whiskeytown (known to the park as the Salt Gulch and Kanaka Peak Loop trails, respectively).
“I was told that two local mountain bikers discovered these old logging roads and went out with hand tools and cleaned them out,” he said. “When somebody asked what they were up to, they’d joke that they were on the couch or recliner all day.”
He noted that bikers at the starting line of a race will often downplay the amount of riding or training they’ve been doing. The Couch and Recliner names are basically a play on that, he said.
Some other notable Whiskeytown trail name explanations:
The Chimney (along Brandy Creek Trail, connecting to Rich Gulch): One section of this trail required hiking your bike up a steep, chimneylike rut to get from one level to another. (Note: the “chimney” part of the trail is now blocked off after the trail was rerouted.)
The Ice Box (lower section of The Chimney ride): It’s about 25 degrees cooler on this trail than in heat-baked Redding.
Taco Stand (also known as the Kanaka Cut-Off): This trail has a downhill so steep that hitting level ground at full speed can “taco” your front rim.
Gas Can (also known as Monarch Mountain Trail): The trail’s early riders reportedly found an old gas can nearby.
Satan’s Crack (also known as Logging Camp Trail): Before this trail was rehabilitated, it contained a nasty rutted section.
The Wall (Crystal Creek/Mill Creek roads): Incredibly steep; part of the original Whiskeytown Downhill race course.
Poison Oak (also known as Buck Hollow): This trail on the south side of Whiskeytown is characterized by a proliferation of the infamous plant.
Rod Brauer Memorial: Brauer was an engineer from Reno who would sometimes join the Wednesday night mountain bike rides started by CH2M Hill employees. His no-holds-barred riding style on the descent into the park’s N.E.E.D. Camp prompted this trail name.
Former Redding resident (and now a Chico city planner) Shawn Tillman, one of the area’s early mountain bikers, noted that the invention of trail names is usually a joint effort. “It’s conversations that happen when you’ve been riding for a while – before the beer and after the water’s gone,” he said. “It definitely evolves.”
These early names spread by word of mouth in Redding’s relatively small mountain biking community. They gained more prominence when Redding resident John Shuman published them in his 1995 book, Mountain Biking Whiskeytown: A Guide to Backcountry Trail Riding in the Whiskeytown Recreation Area.
In fact, Shuman named some of the trails himself, said John Stein, bike shop manager at Sports LTD and a longtime area rider. Stein, who said none of his own trail names stuck, acknowledged that name creation “is a mysterious process – there’s no committee.”
In 2006, Redding’s Max Walter also mentioned many of the trail names in his book North State Singletrack: A guide to the best mountain bike trails.
Bresolin and Steve Piles, a Redding real estate broker, logged many hours exploring old motorcycle trails in the French Gulch area, west of Whiskeytown along Highway 299, resulting in rides such as Peanut Butter (P for Piles, B for Bresolin), the RPM (both a play on three riders’ initials – including Ron and Piles – and the acronym for revolutions per minute), and Car Wash (“it’s brushy, and it scrapes you,” Piles explained).
(A wildfire in 2008 destroyed many of the trails in French Gulch, including Peanut Butter and Car Wash, Bresolin said.)
“I can’t tell you how many dead-end trails Steve and I went up and down,” Bresolin said. “Our success rate was probably 15 to 20 percent – two out of 10 would actually work out.”
Piecing together – and naming – new trails by exploring old logging roads and motorcycle paths could be considered one of the perks of mountain biking in the north state.
“I think Redding probably has more trails per capita than any other place in the country,” Piles said. “And there’s so much connectivity now.”
Candace L. Brown has been a newspaper and magazine writer and editor for almost 20 years, including eight years at the Redding Record Searchlight. Though she appreciates the creative thought that goes into trail naming, she suspects dehydration might have played a part in the naming of Deadwood Doggy Style, another French Gulch ride. Candace lives in Redding and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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