Beelining the Wild Lilac
The first rain of the season had perfectly conditioned the Wild Lilac trail. The late October day offered perfect weather. The grand assortment of bikin' fools filled the glass of gratitude to overflowing. Eight intrepid riders volunteered to stretch the limits of enjoyment, revel in outrageous biking and share a full dose of awesome camaraderie. Outside of two flats and an insect incident, it couldn't have been better.
Group prepares for the shuttle to RLS
The riders met at the parking spot in Calistoga. Originally there were slated to be five riders; Celia, her friend from Canada Joanna, Eric (A.D.) Jim and Patrick. However a surprise addition arrived in the form of Eric (Fuzzy), Lisa and Alan. After the usual banter, the group coalesced and drove to the start of the ride.
Bikes are debarked from the shuttle
The first part of the ride is perhaps the worst, in that it starts with an unforgiving climb. One becomes quickly warmed up, like it or not. The ride mellows slightly before another gnarly climb, this time unrelenting to the top, which is perhaps a mile. The first rest stop provides spectacular views. On this day there were no clouds or fog. The visibility was nearly unlimited and views were clear from the East Bay to northern Sonoma County and to the north well into Lake Co. The temperature hovered around 70 degrees.
Required rest stop near the top
Then the fun begins. There is a long section of downhill, interspersed with many technical sections. It forces the rider to pay attention. Traction was good and all of the riders swiftly made the decent. It consisted of a variety of challenges. There were several areas of notable drops, tricky lines and loose, rocky sections. Once past Stonehenge the riders continued to mob the downhill to the W.L. turnoff. Some near level, but tough riding took the riders to the watershed divide at the top of the Wild Lilac. There the trail drops all the way to Van Ness creek with too numerous to mention interesting features. This part of the ride is pure fantasy. It offers a full spectrum experience.
Despite recent rains, the creek was still an easy crossing
A short stop was taken. While waiting for the group to assemble, the first to arrive noticed an annual feature of this wilderness setting. Thousands of Lady Bugs were assembled. They, perhaps like the bikers, were simply having a lovefest, a social gathering that happens rarely.
Hey, no spots. What's up with that?
From the creek the ride mellows. The ride is on an old jeep road for the next couple of miles. The route eventually exits the woods and enters Bear Valley. The group decided to take a lunch break at the lower section of the valley. The spot offers unparalleled beauty and a nice rock backdrop to lean against and avoid the sun if one wishes.
Photo captured everyone in mid-bite
There was some discussion about riding into Cub Valley. This scenic detour offers an area that is seldom seen by anyone. It has a pristine, sacred feel to being there. But not today. The riders continued up Bear Valley, across Van Ness Creek again (with some wet feet this time) and up towards the signpost. It had been decided that the next stop would be the wind cave. The usual stop at Pocai Camp didn't happen. By the time the main group arrived at the camp, the front runners were not seen. Some discussion followed about the possibility that they missed the signpost turn. A call was placed to Patrick. They were simply way ahead.
Dynamic downhill ladies deep in the woods
The riders made the grunt up the Igneous Meadow. This rock surface resists passage with its rough surface and steep slope. Fortunately it doesn't last long and yields a brief downhill before the trail exits out onto the Oat Hill. The group pedaled for another mile to the wind cave and took a break at this unique feature. The day had remained nearly perfect while the 'fools basked in the glory of it all.
The wind cave is roughly half-way through the ride
Riding the Oat is generally easier than much of the previous sections, though still challenging. Several technical sections keep the rider from getting lazy. When one can take the time to look around, the views are special. There is no sight of civilization. The terrain is mountainous, at times stark and always beautiful. The group quickly made the transit to the Holmes Place, where the Holmes brothers dwelled a century earlier. They too, must have appreciated the serenity of this spot.
Bikin' bodies beginning to be baked
From the Holmes place, it is "all downhill", as people like to say. But not for the bikin' fools. They could have been in front of the badly needed electrolyte replacement beverage in just a matter of a few minutes had they bolted straight down the Oat. But the group had decided to opt for the little known options at the saddle.
Waiting at the saddle for a flat fix
Things began to get interesting. The single track requires precise bike handling. The trail is cut into steep hillsides and is very unforgiving of errors.The group fragmented from the start of the options. The trail twists and winds through the woods and across steep fields. There is a split in the trail at one juncture. The main path seems to go left when actually the ride stays up on the ridge. Fuzzy was between groups and flashed downhill and found himself on the Oat. Meanwhile Jim had flatted just out of sight. The rear guard caught up with the front runners with Fuzzy missing.
Once under way again, the faster riders shredded out of sight. By the time A.D., Lisa and Alan reached the Indian Warrior trail, there was still no Fuzzy. They could hear voices below on the Oat. Yet no response was heard from the calls and whistles. Jim, Patrick, Celia and Joanna had mobbed on ahead. The rear guard proceeded to process the most of the remaining options. Eventually they rejoined the front runners including Fuzzy who had rejoined the pack.
The riders, now tiring, headed down the last of the ride. It would have been routine. But there was an unpleasant surprise at the most difficult corner of the lower trail. The first three riders safely passed the obstacle. On their way past they pissed off the bee's who had recently decided to build a nest on the trail. The subsequent rider all got stung. Alan won the grand prize with three stings. One bee had gotten under his shirt requiring a rapid disrobement.
Quaint little town of Calistoga from the Oat
The ride finally exited the Oat. A car shuffle was required while the others sampled beer at the Calistoga Inn. After the cars were retrieved and more beer processed, the group minus Jim and Patrick relocated to Puerto Villarta for a satisfying meal.
The day had been supreme.It represented the confluence of all the great factors that are associated with mountain biking. It could have been the greatest ride ever, except that sentiment is offered nearly every time the 'fools process the Wild Lilac trail.