The Bikin' Fools

Downieville by Dawn




Downieville by dawn


For a couple of years, Shawn had been lobbying for a moonride in the Sierra Nevada. This August 3rd he got his wish. Seven lunatistas showed up for this unique and epic event. It would span the entire night, cover nearly twenty miles and keep the Bikin’ Fools’ on the edge of terror longer than any ride to date. The world famous Downieville downhill course was the object of this evening’s moonlight excursion. It was another daring event in the dark using only moonlight to navigate the perilous and precipitous plunge through the woods.

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Who's taking the photo?

A contingent on nearly a dozen people conspired to make this event memorable. Kelly, Don and Peter joined Shawn and Megan at the Loganville campground on Thursday. On Friday Michael, Lindsey, Eric and Ryan motored in from Calistoga. They joined with the others after a bruising five hour drive in stop and go traffic. The plan was to do a complex car shuffle. It would utilize the advantage of having people not going on the ride, but able to deliver the riders to the 7000 foot high starting point and then deliver the vehicles to the pizza parlor in Downieville where the lunatistas planned to end the evening’s insanity.

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happy camper

Because the moon was officially full on Saturday, that meant it would not rise until sunset on Friday. This puts the moon low on the horizon for the early part of the night. Also, the moon is lowest in it orbit through the night sky during this time of year. Compounding these factors was the northerly geographic orientation (shady side) of the topography. BINGO, prescription for disaster!! Although the moonrise was unusually nice in the thin air of the high altitude, the bikers would see precious little of La Luna. It would remain behind the mountains, illuminating nicely, the hills across the steep ravine.

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"really, we can get there from here"

The ever prominent L-Factor made an early appearance in the event. The scribbled and somewhat incomplete directions to the alternative starting point lead three cars and ten people on a wild goose chase up the Sierra Buttes only to decide that we were a little confused. Plan ‘B’ was adopted much to the disgruntlement of Linz and Shawn, both sensing that the sketchy PMS plans would work. They might have. Plan ‘B’ depended on the combined memories of Morgan and Ryan. We might have done better to ask Azule.

By the grace of a passing local we managed to actually find the start of the downhill course. Around 10:30 p.m. fourteen wheels finally began to roll towards the seductive, pregnant void. There were twelve miles and four thousand vertical feet lying ahead of us. Each one filled with thrills, mysterious visions, and an excess of interesting and sometimes frightening perceptions.

Ryan, a demure Jim K., Morgan and Azule led the procession into the boondocks. The path started smooth, not-so-steep and pathetically easy to ride. This would change quickly as the trail fell off the side of the mountain, joined with a stream for a while, then plummeted into the thrilling rabbit hole of adventure.

Initially the light was good. That very rapidly changed. The light vanished about the same time that the trail began a series of technical sections. The group immediately split into the faster and not-so-faster elements. Azule had it easy during this part of the event. He had better night vision and relatively slow pace. For the rest of us, it was either ride or walk’n slide. The ride part required a lot of faith. Frequently dark rocks and drop-off’s masqueraded as shadows leading the innocent biker to another major adrenaline rush. For a while the flatter sections carried a small stream. The surface of the water gave no indication to its depth or what might lie underneath. This created more adrenaline and wet feet.

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before the ride - feeling confident

As the ride progressed it became obvious that all were not going the same speed. This is common and results in the inevitable wait for the last person to show up. Unfortunately for the last person, the rested group gets up and leaves about the time the straggler comes crawling into sight. There is no rest for the person who may need it the most. There were several two-way radios on this ride. This proved to be mostly an annoyance with the one exception that may have kept Lindsey from taking the long cut to Yuba City.

There is an interesting feature that makes these outings exceptional. This feature is linked to the nagging notion that the undertaking was a big mistake. It can call upon the Bikin’ Fool to question the sensibility of the moment. It is easy to struggle, get hurt, feel pain and be out of breath and muscle. All of this in the middle of the night, in the dark and miles and miles from help or comfort. It tends to bring up the question "Why am I doing this?"

The reason(s) are not clear. But at the end of each one of these moonlight events, to a person, the result has always been the same, an undeniable connection with joy and glory. It may have nothing to do with biking. It may be the tidal pull of the moon. Who knows? It, very possibly, could be part of the L-Factor; i.e. (L)unacy. n. pl. -cies 1. Insanity, 2. Great Folly.

Such activity dwells out of bounds of the normal waking existence. These moonlight adventures navigate the margins of life. Once out of bounds many things become clear. It is a paradox, but true. One must shed the constraints of normal thinking, normal acting and, from time to time, connect with a truly sane perspective on this life. The moonrides are closer to sanity than is the rest of this life. Living has become a giant construct that requires constant maintenance, planning, conniving, and a humongous amount of energy. So much is required to maintain this "modern" life that precious little quality time is left. The raw, wild and untamable nature of our humanness has been squashed nearly to extinction. The mission of the Bikin’ Fools has been to tap that deep and vast resource. To again know what it feels like to be wild, and to be the capable master of one’s fate in a challenging situation with one hand tied behind the back.

The moonlight was bright and clear across the canyon. The brightness of the opposing hills acted to blowout what little night vision was left. We had to deal with shades of black. Not a lot to go on. It takes all of the sensory strunods to navigate. None are left to figure out how to pay the rent. So for a brief and fleeting time, the intrepid biker is given a full dispensation from all of the cranial activity that can cause walleye vision. (a view of life that is horrifically distorted)

As the group progressed, there was an unusual amount of laughter coming from the front of the pack. Morgan and Jim dueled down the gnarly trail. Occasionally one would stack in front of the other, finally both stacked hard enough to blow out hydraulic lines. The attempted fix consisted of filling the lines with Tri-Flow and shoving the lines back into the master cylinders.

"You’re screwed." Eric said, "Those lines will never stay in there and the Tri- Flow might not be good for the seals."

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the magic fix

In the heat of the situation both Jim and Morgan decided that a try for any fix was better than doing nothing. They were right. The ‘fix’ lasted for the entire event.

The upper section continued relentlessly. The surprises came one after the other. The trail twisted and dropped, turned and fell away. It was impossible to predict where the trail might go. The tension created by this type of riding is intense. That very tightness makes riding even harder. Certain looseness is ideal, but is unrealizable. The rider is forced to ride in a totally defensive mode. There is no swift passage. There is no sweetness, there is no play, no flying and not much fun. All the while, the rushing and tumbling stream was heard nearby. Its white noise added to the sense that we were in the big cosmic void. We never actually saw the water. The noise was soothing but it made it hard to hear others in the dark. We had hoped that the trail would cross the stream to the other side of the terrain, the side with all the light.

Lindsey’s pace was slightly slower than usual. In part, technical, downhill sections are not his strong suit. He had recently had a channeling of the Goddess Stackagawia who counseled him to take it easy or he would loose the rest of his face. Several navigation conferences added to the overall time. The mechanicals took a while. It was deep in the night when the Bikin’ Fools finally came to the bridge. Ryan, Morgan and Jim were the first to arrive. Eric showed up just before Shawn and Mike. A few minutes later Linz cruised into the scene.

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the bridge

After a significant break at the bridge, the crew once again began progress towards Downieville. To the delight of all, the trail mellowed immensely. It began to climb on the hillside with light. Within a short distance, the trail was brilliant. The whole nature of the ride suddenly changed. The surface was smooth and rocks were not much of an issue. However our luck wasn’t long held. Although the path remained good, the light again disappeared when the towering terrain blocked the moon. Now the path began to play hard to get. It could be seen faintly as a barely recognizable serpentine snaking through the forest hanging on the edge of the steep mountain. The trail rose and fell. Ride-able challenges made the tiring rider pay attention. Often the light was so sketchy that the rider mistook a slight shaft of light for the trail. This had the potential to send the hapless chap twenty or thirty feet to a grizzly end of ride.

The bikers stopped several times to regroup. Each time the wait seemed longer. Often the bikers fell asleep. For the most part the trail was obvious. The junctions that posed any possible problems were cleared before the whole group moved ahead. There was one exception. It was a nearly invisible junction that only two people saw. One went the proper direction, Lindsey took the wrong turn.

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electrolyte therapy and sleep

A little later, the radio crackled with a voice; "Are you supposed to go uphill at the junction?" Linz asked.

Silence. Shawn, Eric and Mike looked at each other.

"It was uphill, right?"

"Guess so."

The consensus was that it was uphill. The radio sounded with Shawn’s voice; "Go uphill."

"Uphill?, Like steep uphill?" Linz said.

For quite a few minutes the three waited for Linz to appear. The junction was only a few minutes behind them.

"He made the wrong turn." Mike said. "I’ll go back for him."

Just then static broke over the radio; "Are you …su….I…..suppos……..up…."

"Uh oh." Eric said. "Doesn’t sound like he’s getting much closer.

Mike took off. He quickly disappeared from sight. Shawn and Eric began mental hamster drive. It was late in the ride. Many miles remained to be ridden before the Bikin’ Fools could put their heads down and finally sleep. With a steady pace the ride would end in a reasonable time. Now the possibility of a major delay loomed in the deep darkness of the high Sierra. Five bikers waited or slept while Michael went back to try to find Linz. The white noise in the background made it impossible to hear another when only a short distance away.

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"where are we?"

It was nearly an hour by the time the herd had reassembled. A recent sign on the trail indicated 5 miles to the end. Time seemed to drag significantly as the Bikin’ Fools continued to ride mile after mile. When the next sign appeared, there were still two miles to go. The miles dragged tediously. The path continued to skirt the edge of disaster. It was difficult to attain the proper balance to ride such a path. The tendency is to lean into the hill. Not a bad idea considering what exists on the other side. Unfortunately it is impossible to pedal and lean without turning. This is where the side hill gouger mode of riding is necessary. The outside pedal is used and the inside foot kicks along the bank.

All of a sudden, the trail turned and the noise of the stream that had been with us all night quit. The trail spilled out onto a major dirt road. When Lindsey and Eric arrived, the entire crew was asleep on the road. All rallied for several screaming miles into Downieville. Now the moon shone bright on the path. It felt so good to let it all out. The senses could see again and the wheels could fly. The dirt turned to pavement, lights appeared and the houses of town signaled the beginning of the end. At the pizza parlor both cars were waiting as planned. Six weary bikers and bikes were stuffed into Mike’s Nissan for the twenty-minute drive back to the campground. Not only did Linz get no breaks on the ride, but also he covered considerably more distance on his scenic excursion. At the end of the ride he seemed dazed and confused. He was mumbling; "coffee, beer… coffee…." Incredibly, Linz got in his truck and began the five-hour drive home.

The six campers returned to camp and stayed awake long enough to tell a few stories and eat some munchies. As they finally drifted off to sleep the first flush of first light began to seep into the dark sky. The six campers fell into the dream-zone while Lindsey channeled safe passage from the Goddess Stackagawia somewhere on I-80.