The Bikin' Fools



Friday’s Follies


It was nearly five years ago, late at night that four lunatistas embarked upon the Middletown – Oat Hill – Calistoga run when G.I. Joe thwarted progress. He was sporting a flashlight, a bottle of Jack Daniel’s and a pistol of major caliber. He halted the troops as they not so stealthfully had managed to blunder into the noisy brush immediately adjacent to his cabin.

Subsequent to that ride, Eric made a daylight exploration of what appeared to be a promising route. He was foiled in his quest when he ran out of time and had to abandon the search. After that search, a couple of summers ago, the Midnight Madness Bikin’ Fools undertook an effort to complete the bypass of the Hunting Camp. It was an event that was well attended by a huge mass of bikin’ humanity, something in the order of eight people. The effort was to find the passage of relative ease that would eliminate the Hunting Camp hazard from this otherwise grand mountain bikin’ experience.

The midnight quest was to remedy the earlier, failed mission. But the Chronic Ballistic Syndrome of many, many bikers can override good judgement and intuitive navigation. On a basic level, a group mentality can take over and the navigation of tricky terrain becomes sheep like. Hours into the effort, the weary moonlighters called it dinner. They spent an inordinate amount of time eating and celebrating the event. This is partially because everyone knew deeply that they were hopelessly lost and had no idea of how to continue. It would be hours of boonie thrashing down blackberry vine laced, boulder-strewn streambeds. Hours later the lunatistas would come to the mystery outhouse, an outhouse seemingly in the middle of nowhere. From this point another major streambed struggle ensued until finally, after a major workout, the midnight bad boys stumbled out onto the Oat Hill Mine road beyond the Hunting Camp.

The mission had been accomplished. But at what price? It was several hours, much poison oak and a lot of explaining for Sean to his girlfriend. He promised he would be home by midnight. It was after one o’clock when the wasted nightriders staggered out of the woods. At this point, they had almost the entire length, 10 miles of the Oat Hill to ride. They had spent hours to by-pass about one-quarter of a mile of the mine road where the Hunting Camp resided.

This scenario rested in Eric’s mind as a contradiction. On one hand, it was an epic moonride, rife with L-Factor, full of Great Adventure. It was a delightful dinning run. Yet the object had been to find a reasonably painless loop around the Hunting Camp. The loop should take less than an hour at the very most. On that fateful evening, Eric and Austin were, as it turns out, a whisker away from the deluxe passage, the short way, a ride-able route back to the mine road. But the mass of attendees stampeded in an errant direction. The rest is history.

On this day, Lindsey and Eric would set the record straight and exonerate Eric’s notion that a "stealthway" existed.

It all started with a phone call; "Hello."

"Hey Eric, it’s Lindsey."

"Far out, what’s up?" Eric said, knowing that Lindsey calls only when there is the possibility of a bike ride, and usually on exceptionally short notice.

"I was thinking about a bike ride today. What are you up to?" Lindsey asked.

"Well," Eric replied, "I’ve gotta a few quick drive-bys that I gotta do, but I could be done by 10:30 or so. Got anything in mind?"

"Not really, anything sounds good." Lindsey replied with a note of openness to L-Factor action.

"Well," Eric said, "I’ve been wanting to explore the Hunting Camp bypass situation. It might be a R.O.S.E. ride."

"Sounds good. We will have plenty of time. See you at your place about then." Lindsey said and hung up.

This Friday, November 12, 1999 was a premier offering from the Nature Gods. The sky was mostly clear with a spattering of high puffy clouds that laced the azure blue. It was a very nice day. After the obligatory visit to the bike shop, Lindsey and Eric equipped with several Luna Bars started the long, long grind up the front side of the Palisades. The Oat Hill Mine Road climbs for five miles out of Calistoga (350 feet) before cresting at nearly 2500 feet at the Homes Place. (China camp to some) Shortly up the trail, it became obvious that the day was warm enough to forego jerseys. A stop was made to strip down to the bare necessities and accommodate the arduous climb on this very warm day. This action would have negative consequences shortly for Eric.

Despite the warning on the Clif Bars that the Luna bar is made for women, Eric and Linz none-the-less purchased several. They are clearly the best tasting, most enjoyable bar made by (and for) the Clif girls. Women, generally speaking, do better in the sensory arena than us guys. We tend to go for the practical, purposeful and Spartan approach to such items as fuel for the body. Taste and sensory experience take a back seat to functional application. This would be strike two and three for Eric.

In the process of hurriedly preparing for the ride, Eric threw together a sandwich. It was an experimental item, designed to provide maximum fuel action from sound ingredients. Three slices of potato bread, cheese, honey, two fat slices of tomato, olive oil and a giant wad of intestines-clogging peanut butter constituted this survival ration of food. The modified peanut butter sandwich would undergo a transformation during the several hours of being smashed into the small camelback. In addition the sandwich would function as a distant cousin to an automotive airbag.

Frequently the Oat Hill is ridden as a fitness, maintenance ride. But with the slightly heavier daypacks, the rate of progress was slightly slower than normal and a subtle but significant inertia factor is represented in the mass of the extra gear. As one progresses up the winding old mine road, the views quickly become gorgeous. On this beautiful fall day, vast areas of vineyards had turned to scintillating fall colors. Deep burgundy, crimson red and bright yellow wove a visual tapestry that delighted the eye. The small chain ring climb produced the desired effect = endorphin overload. This condition has a way of putting the troubles and tribulations of the world on the rear burner. The entire mind, body and soul are brought into the here/now for a rare visit to the realm of Zen consciousness. As such, this makes bicycling a bone fide modus of meditation; the result of hard pedaling lands one’s spirit in the divine presence of a Greater Being. (The L-Factor, or in the case of a ride with a Luna bar it can land one in bLond mode)

Not heeding the warning on the Clif bar, Eric gobbled the tasty morsel about mile two on the five-mile climb. Suddenly and with no warning, he went blond. Now, it doesn’t actually say so on the package, but it should. Blondness can have serious consequences. Usually going blond is benign, but today as Eric approached Deadman’s gulch, being blond was not the way to be. It should have been an easy transit past this steep hazard. For reasons that only a blond could possibly know, Eric found himself trying to stop at the edge of the gulch to gaze at this monstrous landslide that had occurred last winter during the heavy rains.

Zen consciousness can be induced in several ways. For Eric, the sense of being between worlds was injected at the moment he realized that not getting out of the right cleat in time meant that his next stop was about twenty five feet downhill. For one of those rare, fleeting moments Eric was able to access his entire life in one flash. To keep Eric in the moment for a few extra seconds, he was aware only that his bike was beating on top of him as he tumbled and slid like a rag-a-muffin down Deadman’s gulch. It is a strange experience. One should perhaps sense pain. But the body has an override mode to go beyond the sensory to thoroughly experience the moment during these rare happenings.

Although a jersey or shirt would have gone a long way to lessen the notable scratching and scraping that occurred, the camelback with the strategically placed peanut butter sandwich did Yeoman’s service in preventing significant damage. This was truly a transforming event. Not only did Eric get to view life for an instant from "the other side", but the sandwich morphed from a solid towards something closer to goo.

Upon returning to the Oat Hill mine road, the extra adrenaline underscored the fact that it was a beautiful day and life, still, was good. The hardest part of the mine road, the upper section, had to be navigated. It is a balance between trying to ride the dozens of harsh technical challenges and pacing one’s self to last for the entire distance. The upper section, although the most strenuous, is less than half the climb. Once past the top of the pass, a beautiful single track rewards the cyclist. For several miles, the trail hangs on the steep hillside on the backside of the Palisades. The view changes from the Napa Valley to the east. Far in the distance, Lake Berryessa can almost be seen. On this day, there was smoke arising from an area near the lake. The CDF pyromaniacs, not content with the ending of fire season, frequently entertain themselves with what they call; "a controlled burn".

The wind cave was the destination for lunch. This unique geological feature offers a great spot to rest. It is a saucer shaped room in the rocks. It is about eight feet high at the highest, fifteen feet deep and about thirty feet wide. Inside soft grass grows along the back wall where a slight spring offers moisture year-round. The stabile temperature inside is a respite from the heat in the summer and warmth in the winter. Lindsey had the good sense to bring his larger pack. His sandwich was intact. It would be edible in the normal fashion. Eric’s experiment, although providing nourishment, also provided somewhat of a challenge to extract to material from the baggie.

The time spent in the wind cave was especially poignant. Once the concentration of riding subsided, the realization of the beautiful day and the serenely beautiful setting sank further into the consciousness of the bikers. There was the feeling of gratitude for having made the effort to get this far. Now the reward of all that work was at hand. The quietude of the remote natural setting infused the mind with tranquility and serenity. Birds chirped in the background. An occasional Raven or hawk could be heard screeching out its message. The view was no longer of vineyards and manmade molestations upon the earth, but of a clean and pure natural setting. The topography was simply to steep and remote to develop. It was safe for the lions, tigers and bears. For the better part of an hour, the bikin’ fools enjoyed their lunch break.

As the food slowly settled in the bellies of the bikin’ duo, so also did the notion that a mission was at hand. The option was to confront the Hunting Camp with two possible outcomes. A: No one would be there and passage would be simple, B: Someone would be there and the best negotiating skills would have to be employed to get through, or to explore the possibility of a viable route around the obstacle. This was the original, intended mission. The mine road past the wind cave is rarely transited. The highly traveled Cougar pass cut-off is only a few hundred yards down the road. After that point, few bikers dare to venture.

It was surprisingly easy making the climb towards the pass at the base of the east cone. From that point it is downhill to the only dwelling in the area whose access is from Aetna Springs. This house sits with a view of the mine road and is rarely inhabited. However, when the inhabitant is present, there is almost always a confrontation. So there is a slight adrenaline factor when passing by. Today, no one appeared and the bikin’ fools slipped past and down the more remote road towards the Hunting Camp. Several fences with signs warn that certain humans claim a territorial imperative to this area. However, after the first few, they start canceling each other out. Interestingly, there was a set of fairly recent mountain bike tracks in the new mud of the season. Only one set. That intrepid biker has earned extra cahones points for a solo transit of this remote country.

The trail winds through the topography for a mile or so before nearing the Hunting Camp. There is a section that is completely washed out and very difficult to navigate at night. Linz and Eric picked their way slowly along the descending trail.

"Is this Bateman Creek?" Eric asked when they approached a small stream.

"No, I don’t think so." Lindsey replied.

The two pressed on for another couple hundred yards. Another small stream was crossed, but it too didn’t seem to be the one that the moonlighters had stumbled out of. They finally came to a stream of significant water flow.

"I do believe this is it." Lindsey said.

The sun was still significantly high in the sky. There would be time to pursue some exploratory action in the woods. They had to go upstream and over the adjacent hill.

"Check it out!" Lindsey suddenly said. "There’s a path here."

Indeed there was a trail. In fact it was ride-able for the first hundred yards or so before it deteriorated to boulder-strewn streambed. Shortly, however, the trail returned and proceeded to parallel the stream. As the two walked and rode with ease up the trail, Eric noticed how rough and impassible the streambed was. It had blackberry vines, logs and massive boulders resisting passage of anything but water. Eventually they approached a large tree across the path. A flash of deja vous struck the duo. For a moment Eric peered across the log.

"We’ve been here!" He announced. "In fact, there’s the outhouse!"

Sure enough, the phantom outhouse stood in the distance.

"Now all we have to do is boonie thrash up that drainage." Eric said confidently, "The lost meadow should be just up there."

Lindsey wasn’t convinced. "Maybe we should follow the road."

"Seems we did that last time." Eric resisted.

"We can always turn around and come back downhill." Lindsey countered.

"Makes sense." Eric said yielding to the notion that full L-Factor was now in effect.

The two continued up the old, unused road, now ride-able. It continued and eventually began to turn in a favorable direction.

"This looks good." Lindsey stated.

After proceeding for a mile or so, the road came out into a meadow.

"Eureka!" Eric shouted. "This is it. THIS is the meadow. Here is exactly how far Austin and I got to. O’ ma gosh, we were only a few yards from the route on that fateful moonride!"

It was true. Lindsey and Eric had officially pioneered the HC by-pass. It was a mind boggle to realize how close the fateful moonride was from the easy path to deliverance. Yet, that is the nature of the events. That moonride sits in the annals of experiences as a classic. To miss the mark and have that much fun speaks for the unique qualities of being under the special effect of La Luna with friends of like mind.

The two climbed up out of the valley, contacted the upper Corona mine road and proceeded to descend past the old mercury mine. This derelict mine speaks volumes to the stupidity and short sightedness of the human. The earth lays scarred and oozing a toxic, funky yellow/orange fluid. Half-futile attempts to clean it up have been made. Yet, it will be seven generations before the wound is healed and the fullness of life can return in its glorious abundance.

Linz and Eric were now out of the wilderness and onto the well traveled road that accessed not only the mine, but also the Hunting Camp. In the distance behind the two, a pickup truck was sighted. Ahead, a barking dog announced a potential interface with authority. As the two approached the lone worker, they tried to size up the situation. In another brilliant flash of serendipity, suddenly the worker transformed from a potential problem to one of the Great Spirit’s kind and gentle messenger’s of brotherhood; Michael Ryge. This long time friend from Calistoga just happened to be working in this remote part of the world on this day.

After a few moments of friendly banter, the bikers departed towards Middletown with a date to meet Michael at the brewpub. He would be the missing transportation link to get the bikers back to town.

As the trio indulged in a supremely delicious pizza at the Mt. St. Helena Brewing Co. and quaffed massive electrolyte replacement beverage, the curtain on this luscious adventure drew closed. It was another great outing, a ROSE ride (Ride Of Supreme Experience)

Eric Striedieck, The Bikin’ Fool, 1999