A day in Church

Photo Gallery:  Part A,     Part B,    Part C     All   

Lazy Lens Cover  


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The congregation gathers to celebrate

Eight mountain bikin' enthusiasts and two happy hikers gathered in the Grand Maacama Cathedral near Calistoga to bask in the benediction of the glorious day. The gray and wet winter days had relinquished their grip and this beautiful day slipped in. It dawned clear and cool.  The chosen ride was the Wild Lilac backwards. Lisa, Eric S., Cowboy, Robert, Chris, Eric (A.D.) John and Marisa met at the trailhead early Sunday morning. The start of the ride placed the eager pedalers on Hy. 29 northbound for two miles. Very light traffic made the passage easy and ideal for a warm up. Then the route turns on the Old Toll Rd. and begins an earnest climb into the folds of the magnificent Palisades. The old toll is a favorite among local roadies. It is steep, beautiful and has virtually no traffic once off the flats at the bottom.


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Cruisin' the Old Toll road

The ride proceeds through beautiful oak laden hills. It climbs steadily in full sight of Table Rock. This great rock is popular amongst the climbers and it is also popular with Peregrine falcons. The Lasky driveway appeared after nearly thirty minutes of riding. Eric (A.D.) made an immediate navigation error that sent the troops uphill until things didn't seem right. Once on track the group proceeded to the mushy meadow and the beginning of the mega-climb. This point was the only exposed part of the ride on private property.

"YOU THERE!" The voice from near the house called out. "This is private property!"

The group hoped briefly that by ignoring the voice, it would go away. The bikers, unable to ride in the schlogg, trudged upward.

"HEY!" The voice wasn't going away.

""We have permission from the owner." A.D. yelled. A brief silence followed.

"I'm the owner." The man yelled. "Stay there, I'm coming down."

The man, his toddler son and the border collie approached the group of bikers, two women and six guys. The man stated that he did not recognize anyone and that our story that we had talked to a gentleman who gave us permission didn't seem to hold water. After several rounds back and forth, the gentleman, although annoyed didn't seem hostile and allowed the group to proceed. It seemed too nice a day for the adventure to be thwarted. The bikers began the long push to the top of the terrain. Very little was rideable on the way up the old, deteriorated jeep road.

The vistas began to open and the sun began to warm the spirit. The temperature remained delightfully cool. Eventually the bikers crept past the towering Table Rock and into the gap where it joins the Table Rock trail that originates in RLS (Robert Lewis Stevenson) park. It was serendipity defined when Shawn and Megan walked into the midst of the bike event. It was a unique moment as the two parties joined momentarily to celebrate their great luck to be in such a beautiful place on such a beautiful day.  

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Shawn and Megan miraculously hook up with the bikin' contingent

Once beyond the Table Rock trail, the riders were actually able to ride the bikes for short periods until they reached Arrowhead pass, the anointed place for lunch. From this point, the watersheds split between San Pablo bay and Lake Berryessa. The view is commanding towards the east and the west. The day continued to be near perfect. The group luxuriated in the sun and ate an assortment of chow. John brought his specially crafted 'war' cake to fuel the hard working bodies. A.D. offered chocolate covered espresso beans. They would become more popular late in the ride.

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Lunch and sun time

The trek down the Wild Lilac had brave men crying. It is somewhat rideable in places, but the California Buck thorn brush was brutal. It ripped and clawed at flesh as the bikin' fools made steerage towards the rest of  the ride which was navigable. The creek that comprised most of the trail was wet, slippery and mud lined. When not in the creek, the hillsides were saturated with water, making the ground very soft. Yet the serenity of this remote and wild area soothed the battered riders with abundant scenes of lovely flora and inspiring landscapes.

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Eric S. powers over the massive downed tree

The next challenge was the water crossing. Van Ness creek runs strong in the winter. To cross each rider had to pick a rock line and stretch one foot at a time while using the bike as a crutch. There were mostly dry feet. Finally the riders were able to mount the machines and do what they are supposed to do. The pushing through the bushes was mostly over. The ride up the valley went smooth and uneventful. There was the usual offering at the signpost, a place that helps orient the lost soul.

A brief stop was taken at Pocai camp. Then the contingent made the punishing climb to Cougar pass and descended to the Oat Hill mine road. Now the miles would melt away at a quicker pace. Several technical challenges occur as the ride approaches the Holmes place at the top of the Oat. A view of the Church cave indicates proximity to the top. Discussion about visiting the deck cave turned towards a pass on the subject. It would have to be on another ride. There was talk about visiting the options on the way down. The crew made the effort to climb to the well/spring and rejoined the Oat at the saddle.

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Happy bikers back on the front side of the Palisades

At the Middle Way, the group again exited the Oat and traveled down a series of options that lead eventually to the sweat lodge. From there the newly formed sweat lodge by-pass gave access to the very bottom of the ride. Everyone arrived seven hours after leaving their cars.  All that was left was to visit the Calistoga Inn for electrolyte therapy and food.

The ride was a rousing event. The ride was ill-advised, but provided the forum for a very interesting day. The shear magnitude of the terrain, the conditions and the camaraderie forged a lasting memory for everyone involved. It was truly a religious experience.

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