All Over the Map

by Eric

On this December 24, 2000 I was feeling the urge to go on a deep ride. It can be therapeutic to spend several hours exhausting oneself in the boondocks. This Christmas Eve day provided the perfect opportunity. It was cold in the morning, but the sky was mostly clear. A tribe of cirrus clouds gathered in the west hunkered down and kept watch over me all day.

In the ten years that I lived in Middletown, I never rode my mountain bike all the way to Calistoga on dirt. I had ridden part way on the pavement. I had ridden the Van Ness creek ride a few times. But I had never made the connection that was just out of my back yard. Linz captained the break-through route out of Bear Valley to Middletown, the missing link. With that piece of the puzzle in place, it was now possible to make the ride.

A good possibility to do the ride arose on Saturday when Dave and I intended to do Boggs. But the frigid cold early morning air encouraged us to select something a little warmer. The default selection was the Mt. Mill House/Oat Hill Mine Road. At the completion of that ride in Calistoga, a friend of Dave’s was coincidentally driving past. He offered a ride to the car at Mt. Millhouse. However I initially elected to travel to Middletown, then ride back to my car at Mt. Millhouse via the Linz/McGuire peak route. A last minute bad/good decision put me at my car with no choice but to drive back to Calistoga. I would forgo at the moment my desire to ride from Middletown all the way to ‘Stoga. I would spend the rest of the day restless, frustrated that I chose not to go to Middletown and hence not do the McGuire peak ride. Although it would have been in backward order, none-the-less it would have represented the entire distance from Middletown to Calistoga, never done before by any mt. bike.

As Sunday approached I firmly began to plot my day to cover an extended outing on the bike. I had to go to Middletown anyway, so it deemed a perfect day to pioneer the new route to Calistoga. By ten o’clock I was pedaling out of my back yard in Middletown and towards the creek. The path dropped into the creek and the riding across the rocks was amazingly easy until I was suddenly looking at the sky. Wham! I hit the deck so fast it boggled my mind. But there was no damage; it was one of those ceremonial communing-with-the-earth routines that help ward off the big earthquake…

I sped across Dead Horse Flat and up into the hills above the Lipscomb place. The climb is steep. In very short order, very beautiful views opened of the Middletown area. The trail remained abrupt until nearly seven hundred feet had been climbed. Then there was a section of faster transit that climbed to the big metal gate. This gate required a climb, much to the consternation of those people who post those "no trespassing" signs. However the spirit of such transit is definitely not in the ‘trespass’ mode, but simply of getting past any civilization with a minimum of fuss. There is a house nearby, but this year it seemed to be sitting empty. Only a few tire tracks indicated that part time attendance was occurring. The route is never in sight of the house and once off of the drive it quickly disappears into the boonies. From this point forth, contact with others would be very unlikely until proximity to Calistoga.

The ridge varied between a few near level spots and very steep climbing. For a couple of miles the trail would work its way to the upper western flank of McGuire peak. The area of trail-less trail was now a bulldozed freeway. There could be little confusion about navigation. Finally Bear Meadows rolled under the wheels. This lovely spot is the high point of the ride between White Point and Middletown. From the meadows, the route traverses the mountain for a half-mile or so then begins a direct and very steep drop. It is impossible to ride up this section, but going down is fun. The trail was still in excellent shape from the passage of the fire crews during the summer conflagration. Small areas of erosion indicated that the condition would radically change with the onset of winter storms.

Now two hours into the ride, the dirt trail climbed past old mine tailings and eventually arrived at the Ansel Ridge road at White Point. Up until now, I had debated about which way to get to the Oat Hill Mine Road. It seemed that the original Linz option was the most direct. Upon further thought however, I began to consider the route that Austin and I had taken on the extended Hunting Camp Bypass ride. The more I thought about it, the better it seemed. It would be downhill all the way to the Oat Hill Mine Road. The connection would be near the hunting camp as opposed to meeting the road near the wind cave, several miles closer to Calistoga.

The factor that made this decision was the urge to take a risk and to go beyond a normal ride. I would be as deep as one can get on the Livermore property. As I continued from White Point, I noticed a very fresh bear stool. Fresh prints in the mud indicated that this bear had been here a very short time ago. After a mile of riding up and down, I came to the high ridge turn-off. At this point I could have taken the more known way, but the downhill seemed more appealing. I rocketed down several miles of decent jeep road. The vegetation changed from high ridge chaparral to taller trees and darker forest. As I reached the Bateman creek drainage, tall grass grew densely on the flats. Berry bushes and periwinkle covered the ground. At the headwaters of Bateman creek, the lost trail curved to the west and seemingly the wrong way. This trail, recently discovered by Admiral Linz on a scorching summer day, was a link missed on a fabled moonride many months ago. On that night, nearly a dozen Lunatistas stumbled in the dark for hours before finally spilling onto the Oat Hill Mine Road. I would have the luxury of blitzing through in only a couple of minutes. This terrain that took long, confused hours to transit was one of the Bikin' Fools greatest outings.

The trek from White Point to Bateman creek took about a half-hour. It was still early in the day. Now my thoughts turned to processing the Oat Hill Mine Road. I had to face the Blue House. This feature represents the only civilization in the area. The house doesn’t appear to be occupied all of the time. The approach to the house is partially out of sight. Once in view, the intrepid rider has to sprint for a couple hundred yards before disappearing back into the wilderness. As I approached the Cougar pass cut-off, I tried to imagine if my choice of route had been quicker. I decided it was a wash. I shredded past the wind cave and on towards the Holmes place, now firmly convinced that I had enough juju left to take the Bell Canyon route. I was becoming tired. I had already ridden for three hard hours. I had covered fifteen miles or so and climbed more than two thousand feet.

But my ego wanted a trophy. As much as I was thoroughly enjoying the experience, and despite the fact that I was about to complete a sizzling new route in the area, I desired more. I wanted to do something that would be significant, something to herald the season, something big that would stick out as a spike on the chart of my rides. This time of the year is a time of renewal. It is when the season changes from the old to the new. It is a time of rebirth and time to work on the inner changes. This solo ride would give me bragging rights. Yet, with so few people involved in the sport, and even fewer familiar with the terrain, it seemed as a fruitless effort: To be a big shot in an unknown arena. The bottom line became clear. This quest, this big ride was only for me. There was no audience, no cheering at the end and not even a witness to acknowledge this feat. But it did not matter. For what really matters is what we each carry inside. It is how we see ourselves on the stage of life. This ride, this effort would act as a solid joist in the structure of my well being. To know that I had the courage, the ability and the skill to pull it off gave my spirit a giant boost. It told me that I was OK, that I was still tough and that I had enough life going in my soul to sail across the miles.

The ego was only one part of this day’s gracious offering. Making the day so easy was the awesome weather, the gorgeous skyscape and the lovely soft earth with her soft green carpet of fresh, new grass. The day was one of California’s gifts to mankind. In December to have such a beautiful, warm day is a treat of immense magnitude. It was simply pleasant to be outside. That made the bike trip all the easier. There were distractions abounding. From the fresh bear stools to the abundance of mushrooms, the woods seemed to be teaming with life. An unfortunate reality of bike riding is that one must take great pains to look at the scenery. Most of the vision is occupied with the area of the ground ten to twenty feet ahead. Many critters likely see bikers. Bikers rarely see the critters.

As I passed the Holmes place at the top of the Oat Hill Mine Road, I felt excited to be making the turn to Bell Canyon. This is a big ride by itself. Tacking it on the end of the Middletown run made the day huge. I climbed the last hill before the Cave deck. There I stopped to take an extended break. I ate the other half of my peanut butter sandwich drank most of my remaining water and sat quietly gathering my power for the final twelve miles or so. As I left I had the feeling of being tired. My power was low and I wasn’t shredding at the rate I would like to be able to. There was no hesitation at the ridge road turnoff. I could have bailed at that point with an easy run down Pickett to town, but the ego called…

I had to climb another thousand feet before the route would finally yield the last descent to the valley. As I climbed towards Lindsey’s faceplant traverse, I started to have dim, dark thoughts. I started to consider turning around. I was too tired. Now I didn’t have the confidence to continue. I knew that my blood sugar was low. I had hoped the peanut butter sandwich would be kicking ass, but it sat in my stomach like a lead balloon. I pushed on.

Life has an interesting way of juxtaposing differing elements of existence. As I was fighting with the inner turmoil about continuing, I looked up to see that I was approaching the intersection that caused so much confusion on the Penumbra Shadow ride. That moonride had been dedicated to finding a crashed military aircraft. Although the general area of the wreckage was known, the site was never revealed on that fateful night, when Mike, Eric and Lindsey experienced some of the strongest L-Factor known to mountain bikin’. The East – West, North – South thing just wasn’t cooperating. Plus the wind was blowing from the wrong direction. Stars appeared that didn’t belong in the Northern Hemisphere sky. On that night, the Lunatistas simply had no choice but to yield to the outrageous and overwhelmingly confused energy. What they didn’t know was that they could have spit on the aircraft from that point of major bafflement.

I had a brief conversation with another person recently about this same site. He conveyed more information. Suddenly, I was filled with an overwhelming desire to take a brief sortie down the path towards the area of major confusion. Even though this was the wrong way, the impulse to look for the aircraft overtook my flagging state of condition. I rolled downhill towards the "open meadow". I couldn’t recall what, but something about that meadow had significance. BINGO! Before I exited the young woods, the flash of aluminum caught my eye. There it was. Just off the path. We had passed it several times on the moonride, but just didn’t see it. I took the time to collect small samples for the museum.

What I had least expected to find now welled up in my body. This serendipitous occurrence boosted my spirits and re-energized my trip. Now I felt strong again. I had climbed much of the remaining altitude and had only to get over ‘Machupicchu’ before the long, long descent to the Bell Canyon reservoir. I was nursing my little bit of water. Then I ‘discovered’ a mandarin orange in my pack. I had forgotten about it. Now it tasted absolutely delicious. The sweet, cool tangy taste exploded upon my palette. Its juiciness satisfied my need for a drink.

Finally the last descent on this ride began. Now it was truly all down hill. At least to the pavement. I had dreaded the final six miles on the road, but I found they sailed by with the greatest of ease. Compared to the struggle of the previous 25 miles, the road was pathetically simple. There was no fight, no struggle, and no technical challenges. It was simple, easy, smooth pedaling. In my altered state of mind the miles flew past. In fact the road provided a soft landing for the end of this epic jjourney in my mt. bikin’ career. The last miles allowed me some time to savor the moment, to reflect on my luck for having this immense facility at my disposal. In the process of those six hours, I traveled from Christmas Eve, all the way to glory: All by myself.