Between storms – almost!


The task for the Bikin’ Fools for the November ‘blue moonride’ was to do the girl scout loop backwards from RLS. In daylight under ideal conditions, one of the attendees has ridden this ride in 88 minutes. It would take the seven lunatistas over six hours to process the same territory. Included would be a raging dinner fire, slippery conditions, and bikin' straight into the jaws of the biggest winter storm of the season.

Sketchiness dominated the leadup to the event. The original date was set as Thursday, the 29th. This would be the best for the moon, but weather reports early in the week called for Friday to be the better day. In addition Michel would not be able to make the Thursday date. A surprise late addition to the ride was Azule. He would navigate the wet, dark backcountry with the greatest of ease. He laughed at the rain. He laughed at the darkness and the slippery spots on the trail. He never had to break out a GoreTex jacket or put on gloves. Like his two legged companions, (Grant, Eric, Michel, Jim Korte, Sean, Matt and Morgan) he lives for these outings. For some strange metaphysical reason, these sorties transform apparent hardship to personal liberation. Thinking about it is the hardest part. The doing is automatic and easy because once thrust into the arena, one must play the game. The game (riding in tough territory at night with no lights) is fun. (Hey, the brain works in funny ways!)

The change in date sloughed off a couple of riders who would have gone on Thursday. Thus it was a wash in that department. As Thursday unfolded, the skies cleared and the day became nice. The storm that was supposed to arrive would miss and the second, bigger storm would hit Friday. Perhaps it was La Luna’s way of indicating that this would be a ride for the hard core, the bikers willing to take the giant leap of faith and step onto the playboard of the spirit world. It is here in unpredictable ways that the deeper layers of life (and flesh) are exposed. To step outside the normal bounds of our constricted lives gives a perspective that illuminates the dark corners and allows a breath of fresh air to stagnant places.

Seven riders packed two Toyota trucks and motored to RLS under dark and threatening skies. The weather people had promised a ‘big’ storm for Saturday. All day Friday the sky grew darker and heavier until, at sunset, it seemed to be ready to burst.

"Maybe the rain will hold off until the early morning hours." Eric mused, hoping for a miracle.

Even though the sky was thick in cloud, the full moon would provide enough light, even though that wasn’t obvious when the crew arrived at the RLS parking lot. It was so black that the woods had no depth. What woods? We could barely see the Lake Co. tweeker in his Camero who shared the parking lot with us. Good grief, the change of date seemed to loom as a growing disaster. From the parking lot, the trail drops into rather thick woods. It went from no light to even less. It looked bad.

Real hazards exist. Sean found one right away. While not yet warmed up, he managed to find an exposed root slippery enough to wrest away control of his vehicle. Sean instinctively put out a leg to prevent stackage. Whatever his foot landed on caused it to roll, make funny popping sounds and cause a temporary crash of all brain function while all circuits were dedicated to the transmission of pain. The rest of the crew awaited the verdict below. After several minutes while minds whirred with thoughts about how to bury Sean, he appeared. He displayed willingness to go on.

Once established in the woods, the light became brighter. The ride down to the girl scout camp was mostly uneventful and reasonably swift. It still wasn’t raining. The ride up the paved part of the loop lasts about mile. Matt shredded the mild uphill on the single speed. The mud a little later would make life hard for the one-speeder. The seven bikers continued to climb the lower ‘stairs’. The air continued to be so thick with moisture that it finally began to sprinkle. The rain began light.

For the better part of an hour the lunatistas steadily worked through the darkness and mud towards Pocai camp. (Pronounced: poke-eye). Seven more bikes would help maintain the sweet single track that traverses the territory behind the Palisades. At the stream crossing while Eric lead the way, tip-toeing around the edge of the small pond, Morgan displayed another method for crossing. He simply burled through the deep stream and made it safely across.

The next part of the ride is where the lions and bears live. This deep, narrow valley between the hills provides perfect cover for the big critters. It is centrally located. It has access to the pond, the berry bushes and the grazing areas of deer. (And access to the Bikin’ Fools favorite ride) The stone steps lead to a hike-a-bike up to the signpost. Then a quick rip through the tunnel of terror, a short downhill, a short uphill, presto: Pocai Camp. The rain was now moderate.

Jim and Morgan both pulled fire starters out of their packs. Pocai has tons of dry firewood immediately available. Soon a small pile of wood began to catch. It quickly took and a raging fire warmed and soothed the jazzed bikers. Distance-wise, this was about way in the ride. Psychologically, it was well beyond the halfway mark. During the day, under ideal conditions, Calistoga can be reached in less than an hour from Pocai camp. Pocai camp is noted for the ancient bike that is impaled in a tree. The crew cooked a variety of items and lounged about. After a leisurely meal, the crew Daved the fire several times before deciding to press on, into an increasing storm.

The first section from Pocai is a steep, narrow section through tall brush. This leads to open flats through a rocky section then crosses a stream and begins a category II grunt. This uphill challenges the best and causes all to break into a sweat, like it or not. Then the ride crosses the Cougar Pass where Jim and Shane made a wrong turn years ago. They got to spend the night, something not on the Bikin’ Fools wish list. After a short downhill, the cable gate greeted the wet bikers to the Oat Hill mine road. The rain was steady and occasional gusts of wind blew through.

All night the light had been subdued, but adequate. At times it provided strange optical illusions. When in the bush or under trees, areas ahead often seemed to be illuminated by bright lights. The contrast played strange games with the mind. More than once, we thought we had stumbled upon vehicle lights deep in the boonies. Now, the ride was less glorious. There was not a sense of levity or even fun. There was a higher purpose, to survive. The distance from civilization was great. Death from exposure would likely win a race with the rescue crew. Yet nearly five hours into the adventure, the tired bodies had to continue to focus clearly on the passage. It was not a luxurious event, but the sense of being able to live and survive in hostile conditions offered sweet repose. It stretched the envelope of flexibility, it added to the burly factor. It gave the participant the sense that he was strong and capable of enduring life’s hardships. Such strength is the precursor to peace of mind, happiness in a troubled world and a sense of benediction from forces beyond the delicate thread that holds one’s life together.

Such adventure can also be compared to beating one’s head against a hard item. It feels good when it’s over. This ride felt great when it finally ended at 1:00 a.m. The troops arrived at the bottom of the Oat Hill mine road in staggered fashion. Jim K. rode the hill without functioning breaks. He was first to arrive. Matt shredded the ride with power. Morgan and Azule quietly danced through the boondocks with only minor stackage on the way. Grant steadily clicked off the miles with skilled determination. Sean, despite a notable gimp managed to cover the distance with no further mishaps. Michel survived. After one of the longest (seemingly) car shuffles up the mountain in very heavy rain, the event came to a close around 2:00, except for Jim K. who had to drive another 35 minutes home. Michel wisely chose to crash at Eric’s pad instead of attempting to drive back to the Bay Area. The usual serendipity was not in evidence for this event, although the ride still served to offer the Bikin’ Fools a reason to feel good. To face and conquer a challenge in adverse conditions provided a golden thread of worth in the fabric of the lives of the bikers. Any one of the participants could have found excuses not to go. Yet they went. They struggled without much play. They found in the deep and dark cold an inner light and warmth that would carry their spirits to a safe and strong place. The timing between storms wasn’t quite right, but the strong ju-ju of the full moon carried the event to a glorious and memorable level. As a result of careful preparation, planning, frivolity, good and bad luck, the Bikin’ Fools emerged charged with life, vitality and gratitude.