The Bikin' Fools



A weak finish

Saturday was one of those days that was packed with chores. On the list was a bike ride. When Ryan Gracy called and requested something "epic", it seemed possible. Yet as the day wore on, the other chores gobbled up most of the daylight. By mid-afternoon it appeared that; 1. Ryan probably already left and, 2. there was a rapidly closing window on the light available for any event.

I stopped by Tone’s house to say hi. He was entertaining his son Austin and wasn’t able to get away. As we were talking, I saw Ryan pedaling up highway 29. I quickly left Tone and chased Ryan in the car catching him just as he was about to disappear up the Oat Hill mine road.

"Dude, give me five minutes to get my stuff and I’ll go with you." I shouted.

"Cool." Ryan replied.

It was more than five minutes, but shortly we were pedaling up the hill. The very first notable observance was the air quality. I have not been a fan of agricultural burn piles ever. Today underscored my contempt for this barbaric farming practice. The valley was so choked with smoke that one could smell the smoke as if it were burning ten feet away. The visibility was poor. As we gained altitude on the trail the intensity of the pollution became dramatic. The air was virtually stagnant and the smoke settled densely on the valley floor.

Soon however, we climbed above the funky crud into clear, crisp air. The view down valley was awesome. The horrible air blended into a dense fog bank just past St. Helena. The view was primeval. Vapors and mist hung on the hillsides. The sky was laced with layers of thin, high cirrus clouds. The day was cool but not cold. It was nearly ideal for riding. We had not developed our plan but we both wanted to do something significant.

Riding with Ryan requires much energy output. Ryan is a clean living, young man with his eyes on the yellow jersey of the Tour de France. He spends countless hours shredding the roads of Napa County and beyond. His post-teenage body sports musculature that is usually seen only on mountain lions. For myself, my body is closer to a bear, a bear just coming out of hibernation. On this day I would begin to think hibernation is not a bad concept.

The ride up to the Holmes place was swift. We both did a lot of walking near the top. To try all the technical sections requires too much effort on a ride that extended beyond this challenging feature. The upper section of the mine road was wet and hard to navigate, but beyond the top, the trail turned into a near perfect super highway. The miles ripped past as we headed over the backside, across the hillocks and past the wind cave. At this juncture we were on par for a near record run at this event. We stopped only once at the top to make some adjustments. I thought I had plenty of go-juice.

We powered over Cougar Pass and down to Pocai. We didn’t stop at the camp but pressed on. We stopped only briefly to do some trail work. Just past the tunnel of terror, we normally stop to offer gratitude to this wonderful, wild land. We kept riding. The trail descends through thick brush and down steep rock steps before coming to the overgrown jeep road. Because we have ridden this ride so many times, the single track is in excellent shape and we made good time. Soon we rocketed through the woods past tin cup and on down to the bottom at the girl scout camp.

As we began the final two-mile ascent I took a short drink of juice. It went dead. "OK," I thought, "I have enough to finish the ride. I was sporting the middle chainring with some confidence as we pedaled past the swimming pool, past the buildings and into the woods. About one-third of the way up the hill I started to feel the tingle of my body saying; "Feed Me!" Shortly thereafter, I shrunk into the inner chainring. The glorious feelings, the bikers high and the general optimism that accompanies things-going-well disappeared. The mode turned to; "Are we there yet?"

The difference between the beginning of this ride and the end could not have been more different. Now each turn of the crank became calculated to use the least amount of energy. The two ditch crossings were not even attempted, although they are usually rideable. The light was fading along with my energy. Ryan continued to shred. Finally the last pitch to the top came into sight. This short section becomes steeper towards the top. At the very top, two logs make the tired rider work extra hard. Not today. I simply got off the bike and pushed it unceremoniously to the top.

The six mile descent down highway 29 was delightful. It had been an easy ride up to the very end. But the power left the scene somewhere in the woods leaving this hapless rider struggling to make it to the end. I started out feeling like a hero, and finished feeling like a looser. I was disappointed to know that I failed to finish the ride with gusto. I would have to live with my limitations.

Although I struggled with this ride, it still served to heighten my senses and spirit. Things don’t always work out the way that we wish. Expectations seem poised to disappoint us. Yet if we are grounded in appreciating life on any level, these disappointments will not linger.