Sunday November 5th, 2000 was an offering of intense fall beauty. It begged for a bike ride. Austin was recruited early in the day to accompany Dad on what was to be an entirely new loop. Dad was interested in a Calistoga to M-Town connection, but it became clear that the car-shuffle thing just wasnt right. So a decision was made to ride the Hunting Camp By-pass route, connect with Oat Hill Mine Road and return to M-Town via Van Ness Creek and Highway 29.
Eric drove over the mountain and met Austin at the M-Town house. From there they drove to the Oat Hill road off of Butts Canyon. After a considerable climb in the car, the two arrived at the yellow gate. This gate is the northern portal to the vast hinterlands behind the Palisades. The original plan would have the bikers ride from the yellow gate to the Corona Mine, then over the hill bypassing the hunting camp. But as they traveled on the road it was obvious that no cars or vehicles had traveled the road recently. They went straight through the hunting camp to the waterfall just beyond.
The waterfall is a year-round pool fed by a fifteen-foot high fall that varies with the season. It offered a moderate amount of water. There had only been one rain thus far in this early part of the winter. The pool offered a short rest and a discussion about the path to take. It was decided to try the by-pass backwards. With this plan, the two would travel through the lost meadow, up the hill to the upper Corona mine road that should have led back to Montesol.
The two trudged up the path next to Bateman Creek. For a half-mile or so, it requires hike-a-bike. Then, at the outhouse, it becomes rideable for another half-mile. It is sharply uphill leading to the Lost Meadow. Upon arriving at the meadow, there appeared a road that led generally in the direction of Montesol. Although this road had been noted on previous outings, it was never explored. In a spontaneous decision, the two elected to follow the trail.
Quickly the road made a turn that eliminated the idea that it would connect with the Lost Meadow road. Instead it began a sharp climb that continued for a couple of miles. The incline was steep enough to employ the keenest granny ring techniques. It seemed to go up forever. Yet the direction generally was favorable. Reasoning suggested that it would intersect at some point with the Montesol ranch road. When it did, a choice could be made about the rest of the ride.
At least 1000 feet of vertical height passed beneath the straining legs of Dad and Son. The road generally improved with mileage and at one point, Caterpillar tracks appeared. At another juncture, the tracks turned left and went sharply downhill. That didnt seem right and the two continued uphill. Finally, another road joined from the right and the route began to level some. The two shredded on undulating terrain until it became obvious to Eric that he and Linz had been on this same road.
Finally White Point appeared. It was time for a well-earned break. The sky contained a variety of clouds. A short time earlier, the sky had become dark and overcast. It seemed that rain might occur. Yet the temperature was nearly perfect. The first and most obvious feature of the landscape towards McGuire Peak was the recent visitation of a bulldozer. The road that Linz and Eric had ridden several weeks earlier was now a veritable freeway. The rutted, washed out, nearly impassible jeep road had been completely transformed when the Crazy Creek fire came through two weeks earlier. What had taken Linz and Eric a couple of hours to transit would take Austin and Dad about one hour to complete. Areas that were nearly overgrown previously were now wide and easily traveled.
The old mining area flashed under the wheels of the two. The steep climb up to McGuire Peak took little time. Adjacent to the peak is Bear Meadows. This lovely wooded setting is the habitat for critters that can hear, but rarely see their human neighbors. The peak has a commanding view of Callayomi Valley and the terrain to the northwest. By now the sky had relented and was only partially filled with softer, gray clouds. Beyond Bear Meadows the newly re-cut road descended down the north side of the mountain. Here, two large piles of dirt were constructed to thwart any motor vehicle traffic. The Caterpillar tracks continued through the area of sketchy navigation that had existed before the fire. Now travel was easy and swift. Signs of fire were present in the form of blackened grass, though the brush was mostly untouched. There were only a few bushes that had been consumed in the conflagration.
The next features of this ride were a couple of minor climbs and some flat running along the ridge. Soon the Caterpillar tracks ended and the road reverted to its previous status. It was smooth easy running all the way to the ranch driveway. The drive appeared unused. It was in service only a couple months earlier. A barbed wire fence had to be climbed and then a short sprint to the big aluminum gate. Once over the gate, the two headed along familiar territory. High on the hill over Middletown, the two stopped to soak up the awesome views. Mt. St. Helena stood majestically to the south and the stately Cobb and Boggs Mountains commanded the view to the west.
Finally the two shredded the last slopes of the hills behind their former residence in Middletown. A short hike-a-bike over the riverbed and the two exited this great and spontaneous adventure. It was fifteen miles of new territory, an afternoon of adventure and a review of the burned areas of the firestorm that briefly, but seriously threatened M-town two weeks earlier. As Dad and Son retrieved the car from the start of the ride, it was fitting that the sky exploded in a dazzling array of powerful sunset colors. What might have been a boring Sunday turned to a wonderful day of discovery and bad-assed riding.