Daring Danger


As Friday wound down to the end of the afternoon, I had the urge to ride. I’ve been getting a little bored with the same old Oat ride. I had Belle with me. As I was driving home I decided to do a Wild Lilac Trail (WLT) run. Since the Livermore’s have been less than receptive to passage by mountain bikes, I thought it might be a good time to explore a new passage past the forbidden lands. The whole ride is a bust. First it is against the rules to ride bikes on the trail at Robert Lewis Stevenson Park. We’re not even sure who owns the Wild Lilac trail. It contains much hike-a-bike, but is a glorious route. The natural, rugged setting is a great reward in itself.

We left the parking lot about 4:20. There is always nervousness about seeing a ranger in the parking lot. They are unlikely to be on the trail. They much prefer to sit in the truck than to be out enjoying the magnificent park that they supposedly manage. There were several cars in the lot. Most people hike up the Mt. St. Helena side of the park, but a few venture towards Table Rock. Some people don’t seem to mind the mt. bikes, others offer a noticeable disrespect for the alien, human powered vehicles that occasionally poach the park. On this day we saw only one person. He didn’t seem thrilled with our presence. His stare indicated that he was likely a Sierra Clubber. It is a slightly distained look. Quasi polite, but stiff. Eye contact lasts only long enough to send the unspoken message: “You know bicycles are against the rules, don’t you?”

I knew that I had a little over an hour and a half to complete this loop. It would be a race with the clock if I deviated from the standard dash through the ranch. The tough climb made me sweat. What was even worse was that I didn’t dab on the steep section. I could have dismounted, but the damn ego just keeps me trying to conquer the hard parts. On the down side I took it easy in several places. I wasn’t pumped enough to take bone jarring risks. I processed the downhill section and turned onto the WLT. At the first technical challenge I didn’t crush the pedals hard enough to clear the ditch and found myself almost going over the bars, for a moment I was balanced on my sensitive parts on the back of the seat before the ugliness yielded to a more reasonable situation.

Belle and I flashed the trail not stopping for anything. I was pleased to ride several tricky technicals. Near the bottom the trail drops into the woods. There used to be a large log that we had sawed months earlier. Today there was a barrier of several large sticks placed across the log’s opening. Clearly someone was trying to send a message. My reply was to blow through the sticks without stopping. Just past the log is a step drop-in that curves across a very narrow ledge. Although it isn’t that hard if the line is followed, if one blows it, there is huge exposure to a great deal of downhill altitude. Then, just past the ledge is a rock drop that can be processed easily with some speed. The problem is that one needs to be slow for the following slide-for-life down the very steep, duffy hillside. But I was on a roll. I flashed the ledge, and rocketed over the rock drop. It was at this moment that I found myself entering the tunnel. It is the frame of mind that the brain utilizes when it knows that BIG trouble is looming. I was way too fast for the drop. Usually it is taken slowly, while sliding sideways. It was too steep to even slow at all. For a brief moment I had an out-of-body experience as God prepared me for something ugly. But it didn’t happen. In a very fast instant I was at the bottom of the short hill, still moving.

We crossed the creek and proceeded to Tin Cup for some of the best water available. Time was a factor so we didn’t tarry. The next section to the meadow below Wildwood was short. It was there that I departed the main drag and proceeded to try to find the trail that had been rumored. There is an old cabin that can be seen from the road. Supposedly there is a trail from there. I crossed over the creek (bad mistake) and found the going easy and serenely beautiful. The creek meandered through the mostly level area among grand trees. It was possible to ride short sections near and in the streambed. I quickly made progress. I crossed the stream several times staying in or near the streambed. Soon, however the walls of the drainage started to become more steep. The creek began a series of drops each becoming larger. The easy going changed to massive boulder scrambling. Progress slowed. The situation deteriorated as I came upon huge piles of debris that had been stacked up in the winter’s high water. These tangled messes were at times two stories high and resisted passage altogether, especially with a bike on the shoulder.

I knew that at any time I could find the road straight uphill. However for a long stretch the canyon walls were steep slides that could not be scaled. The light was deteriorating. I encountered the most massive log jam yet. It was monstrous. It took a long time to get over the mess. In the process I took risks that could have left me in a place that no one would have ever guessed I’d been there. The sides of the canyon relented slightly and I made the move to get uphill. It was still so steep that I could only move the bike a few inches, take a new footing and repeat. A couple of times I slid back. The struggle cost an immense amount of energy. Finally Belle found the path. We followed it for a hundred yards or so until it was blocked by two large fallen trees. At this point I yielded to better judgment and bolted straight uphill to the road.

The rest of the ride was more of less routine. I didn’t care about the darkness. The twilight offered enough lumens to make the climb up the Girl Scout path and to the parking lot at R.L.S. As I slid into the driver’s seat of the truck, I felt gratitude for being alive, and felt pumped from the diversion. The gnarly canyon was only a scant few yards from the road that we have ridden dozens of times. Yet the slightly different view changed the whole picture. It is amazing how much diversity exists just off the main road.