There is a legend in the Mythical State of Jefferson that tells of an old-timer named Wiley Jeb. It’s said that Wiley Jeb was a big time stockbroker in New York during the Roaring Twenties: top hats, Fitzgerald, the whole nine yards. But when things turned Steinbeck Jeb found himself rotting in the Big Apple, kicked to the curb. He’d lost everything in the crash. His wife left him for an employed cabbie who could afford soup, his society club friends deserted him, even his dog no longer answered his calls. He defined “down and out.” But one day, while he lay face down in the gutter willing his life to end, he noticed the street water cascading through a grate and into the sewers below. Watching a tiny twig spin slowly in the brackish gutter current, he had a vision. He imagined himself doing the same, floating blissfully in the primal embrace of a lazy watershed. This was his life’s calling, to ingratiate himself into the the arms of a welcoming river, to find a clean-running eden, to float in meditative tranquility while welcoming spiritual and emotional transcendence.
From that day forward he was on the hunt, bindle over his shoulder, bumming his way from state to state in search of the swimming hole he saw in his vision. North to south and east to west he scoured the countryside. For more than two decades Jeb bummed across America. Of course, in this great nation there are many fine swimming holes that tempted his fancy, but they all seemed lacking: too fast, too slow, too dirty, too clean, too hot, too cold, too many people, not enough beach. Wiley Jeb had his vision, and he was a determined to manifest it.
Eventually his search led him to what is now the Shasta-Trinity National Forest in what should be known as the State of Jefferson. It was here that Wiley Jeb found his swimming hole Shangri-La. In the cool, clear waters of the North and South forks of the Salmon River, the Klamath River, the Trinity River, and the area’s countless streams, creeks, brooks, lakes, ponds, and springs, Wiley Jeb found the paradise he was looking for. From that point forward he spent his summers in these idyllic waters and his winters in a ramshackle cabin in the middle of the forest, soaking in a wood-fired hot tub he continually refreshed with the waters of a nearby river. ‘Course there were other places in the states where you could float all year long, but Jeb was after quality not quantity. He spent so much time immersed in these rivers that folks said if you stumbled upon him he’d be naked as Adam and so wrinkled you thought he was a fat man with the air let out of him. As the MSOJ became more populated, sightings of Wiley Jeb were fewer and further between. No one knows exactly what happened to him, but most believe he just blended into the water, becoming one with the river and truly becoming his dream.
Yonder Journal heard of this legend from some some old corn dogger—or maybe we read about it in a crumpled and torn journal in someone’s attic. We don’t rightly recall, but we believed in the legend and set out to find the magical swimming holes that called Wiley Jeb all the way across the country. But in order to do so we needed a guide, a local not only familiar with the area but who had the power to divine its secrets. Fortunately we’ve got a guy. Mike Cherney is a wizard, alchemist, sage, and shredder who lives in Hayfork and knows his way around the MSOJ. He’s our friend and he agreed to guide us. In exchange, he asked that if we did find these mythical swimming holes, that we pay them respect by taking our time, lounging in them as much as possible, not moving on too fast—we were happy to oblige. An expedition of this magnitude and scope needs a strong team so we called in a crack crew of corn doggers (corn dogging being the catchall phrase for swimming holing, camping, goofing, pit-stopping and generally just enjoying the world in lieu of banging out 120 mile days). With our team assembled we set out in mid-July on a four day bicycle excursion. We equipped our Sequoias and AWOLs with all the necessary provisions: coffee, GORP, swim trunks, and… other stuff. We were prepared for anything; from slightly fast-moving water to completely still water, we had our bases covered.
Did we find Wiley Jeb’s mythical swimming holes, did we bathe in their waters, lounge on their beaches, and ride miles upon miles of singletrack to get there? Yes. Yes we did. Before reading ahead, know that what you will see will probably cause you to quit your job, grab your bike and your swimming costume, and hightail it to the MSOJ.
If you’re going to go on a swimming hole tour of the MSOJ (or anywhere, for that matter), it helps to get yourself a Magical Local Wizard who lives on a beautiful compound and wants to A) guide you to the best spots in the region and B) host a fully-catered jamboree get-together before the ride.