Bell Canyon Marathon

The weather on this December 3rd begged one to be outside, to soak up and enjoy the beauty of the day. It was cool but clear. Only a few high clouds adorned the winter sky. Dave was champing at the bit for a ride and Ryan was eager to cross this new route. It was early (before ten) and the trio had plenty of time to complete the difficult passage. The ride starts with a steep climb that continues for nearly seven miles.

Cirrus (Son of Eric) delivered the riders to the Bell Canyon reservoir. From there the route goes immediately into a new vineyard and home construction site. This place would not qualify for low income assistance. There was no one on hand to yell at or accost the riders who wished merely to get uphill and out of sight. The climb remains steep for a couple of miles. To make matters worse, the earth was slightly soft causing each pedal stroke to be less than efficient. Despite good intentions, the inner chainring had to be employed. The Bikin' Fools don’t like to admit that such hills exist, but there they were, shamelessly in granny. Right off the bat, Ryan noticed a major problem with his crank set. The right crank was flopping noticeably on the bottom bracket.

"Oh no," He moaned, "It looks like I might have to quit." He stated with dejection. He had really looked forward to this loop, one of the more fabled of the area. A technical summit was called. All of the attendees agreed that the problem was a bummer and that the likely outcome would be breakage at some point in the not to distant future. Since it had been all uphill so far, Ryan reasoned, he could keep going until it the situation got so bad he would have to turn back.

The trio cranked up the steep hill, past the open area with the picnic table and on behind the upper vineyard. This trashed landscape is out of sight of the normal Napa Valley tourist. Here the vintner has few restraints on the raping of the land. Few will see the devastated landscape and the rearranged hillside. Local critters are displaced and erosion is huge, in spite of the token effort at soil control. In the rush to jump on the winery bandwagon, this foolishness continues to be supported by the Wal-Mart shoppers who know only the florescent lights of artificial living.

Now a couple of miles into the effort, the three had gained a significant amount of altitude above the valley. The view opened to a stunning offering of vast rolling coastal mountains and valleys. Ryan continued to lead the group up the hill. His crank had become no worse and he pedaled with enthusiasm. The trail enters a slightly flat area then continues around a hill facing the backside of the ugly vineyard. At that point a split in the trail occurs. It is possible, in theory, to travel south to Angwin or north along the ridge trail connecting many interesting points.

Once established on the ridge trail, Ryan indicated no interest in turning back. If the bike would hold together for a few more miles the Picket turnoff would be available. The route continued generally uphill with some flat and short downhill sections. Once past Machupicchu the terrain began to yield altitude. At Potato Hill the path through the thicket began. This narrow trail offers a multitude of scratches for the biker who tries riding this challenging section. On the north part of the trial, some one had cut several small trees to block the path. This action is deemed to be done by some territorial idiot who spends maybe a day or so a year in this part of the woods. At any rate, the Bikin' Fools spent nearly an hour clearing the debris from the trail. When they were finished the path could be ridden again. The quick work of the chainsaw artist was put aside and the path reestablished.

Now the bikers spent the next half hour grunting over the terrain that undulates along the high ridge. At the deck cave the trio stopped to kick it and decide what the rest of the journey had in store. Dave opted to take the Oat Hill Mine Road while Eric and Ryan decided to trek to the backside of the Palisades and do the girl scout loop. Ryan’s crank had become no worse. Now he would be subjected to a huge walk if the thing failed.

The girl scout loop from Calistoga is a tough ride. However, much of the struggle is the first six miles. It is the elevation climb that eats one up. At this point, the climb had been done. All that was left was the transit to the Cougar Pass cutoff, the cruise through Bear valley, the descent down the Van Ness creek drainage and then climb the old toll road. As the miles slid past, the day couldn’t have been more friendly. It was clear, cool and mellow. The sky presented a nice offering of thin, high clouds and the temperature never passed 65 degrees.

A very seep pitch occurs at the very top of the Old Toll Road on the north side. This was the last bit of climbing on the ride. Ryan topped the hill with his bike still in tact. He had braved impending failure, pressed on and succeeded in the face of disaster. His wish to continue overcame his concern for a break down. It is in the light of such enthusiasm that great adventure arises. Ryan provided the forum for extra points on this outing. The Bell Canyon ride alone was monstrous enough. With the added Girl Scout loop, it was truly a marathon.