Hi folks, here is my ride report from this Sunday’s epic.    Enjoy!        E. Sayetta




After planning the spring celebration for almost a month, two last-minute events seemed to threaten my own participation.  First, Reggie convinced me to go up to Northstar on Thursday and learn how to snowboard.  After the initial feeling of triumph due to actually learning how to get down a slope on a snowboard, I began to notice that severe muscle fatigue was happening all over the place.  Then my toes started to bruise from being jammed into boots that were too small.  Then we decided to do a different green run, and while helplessly hanging in the air on one of those chair lifts, Reggie says, “oh shit, this is the wrong lift.”  It goes to the tippy-top and you can only get down on blue trails.  So we did that, and the muscle fatigue got worse.  Then we did it again.  Then Reggie says, if we get to the lift before 4pm, we can get one more run and take our time going down.  So I get to the lift at 3:58pm, go to the tippy-top, dead tired, and we start going down.  Now we are the last ones on the mountain, and I’m having trouble standing up after each fall.  Twice, the man in the snowmobile offered to take me down.  But Reggie kept encouraging me, boarding ahead just as I caught up to her.  That night, I experienced a soreness beyond all limits.  I had trouble lifting my beer glass – really.  I wondered if I ever would walk again – really.  My big toe nail is probably a goner.  The next day, I got my first professional massage.


Then on Saturday, at 4pm, I finally got around to washing my bike.  We all know the best reason for washing your bike … this is when you find what wore out on the last ride.  When I put the wet rag to the cranks, my heart sank.  There was a good one inch of play – the bottom bracket was TOAST.  4pm, the night before my big ride!  I went to three bike stores, and miraculously, found a store that actually installed a new BB for me 5 minutes before closing time.  Thank you, missing link.


Sunday morning, a most excellent crew of nine riders assembled to experience one of the most spectacular loops known to mountain biking.  Lisa’s spring tradition would be done justice.  As usual, the crew consisted mostly of those who have already experienced the magic of the Calistoga back country, with one strong and lucky rider who was willing to suffer up Oat Hill and see what the payback might be.


I would not have to worry about wrong turns, because three bikin’ fools – Eric, Jim, and Michel – would join us on the loop.  John and Marisa Castellano came back for more fun in the rocks, and Crazy Andy and Reggie came back for their second taste.  Steve Bryne was the lucky “newbie” on the Oat and the rest of the loop.


In the parking lot, Steve adjusted my front derailleur to perfection, since I couldn’t get it to work with the new bottom bracket.  Then we took off up the Oat.  Speaking of oats, on the way up I noticed that bonking feeling, as I must have had too small a bowl of oatmeal, too early.  We stopped at the view rock for a very long time, getting off to a good start in the Lisaly tradition. 


At the saddle before Mofo alley, most people stayed down while Steve and I explored the rock formations.  Then John started riding up the impossible slope, chasing me.  I climbed hand over foot to an inaccessible area, but he kept coming!  It was like one of those chase dreams!


Going up mofo alley I had another bonk attack and resorted to a packet of GU.  I was going to play sweep, going up the gnarly sections.  I didn’t even try the “move”, with a river gushing down it.  Reggie and Marisa were kicking ass way ahead of me.  When I straggled into the Holmes place at the top, I learned that John had, through repeats, cleaned every inch of the nasty sections.  Now was my opportunity to recover and get some major solid food into my system before things got worse.


After another long rest stop, we threaded through the pass and emerged into the backside.  This is the moment I cherish each time I do the loop.  It is a transition to a magical landscape which feels like nobody has ever seen it.  The palisades and steep hidden canyons come into full view, and the blood comes rushing into my head and I can hardly stand it because I feel so lucky.  To me it is like a waking dream.


The trail offered a lot of running water, but it was not nearly as full-on as in the previous spring ride when raging waterfalls were plunging off the cliffs to the left.  Nevertheless, the rocky stairs were difficult to navigate.  At some point, I misjudged the depth of a pool and buried my front wheel in it, sending me swiftly over the bars.  Eric (A.D), who has witnessed more than a few of my endos, extracted me from the bike and turned me right-side-up.  Upon remounting my bike, I heard the shouts of others behind me, and I got off and walked back to the scene of another endo.  Andy had crashed on a similar obstacle, slamming his knee into the rocks.


Finally we moved on and paused briefly at the large cave which is usually the turnaround point for those who do not know the secret turn onto forbidden lands.  We made the turn and ascended towards Pocai camp.  Just before reaching the enchanted field of lava rocks, a stick lodged in Andy’s drivetrain, snapping off his derailleur hanger.  The rear derailleur was left dangling hopelessly from the cable housing, and the chain was limp and useless.  I commented that it would be hard to keep any chain tension without a derailleur hanger, but John walked up, holding a plastic tire iron, and said, “here’s your derailleur hanger.”  He then whipped out some zip ties and duct tape, and it turned out that even the tire iron was not necessary.  In a few minutes, the derailleur was so secure that there was no play in any direction, and Andy was the owner of yet another single speed bike.  Sadly, Andy and Reggie decided to bail down Oat Hill, as his knee was swollen badly.  I am happy to say that they both made it down safely, and I understand that Reggie was really enjoying the ride down the Oat.  No doubt some hikers could hear the sound of a human being imitating brake noise.


We descended to Pocai camp and had a deliciously long lunch.  Nobody was in a rush to continue, especially after sampling my Tuesday Night Elixir and some cognac.  The group’s senses must have been sharpened by the highly technical trails, because all three ingredients of the Tuesday Night Elixir were precisely identified by taste only.  Even the exact brands were correctly guessed, except for the vodka.  Long conversations and even a little bit of napping ruled the hour.


We then ascended the short hike-a-bike section (for lack of a better name, since John showed us last ride that it indeed can be ridden) and continued on the narrow singletrack that used to be choked with poison oak and other growth.  Last fall a few of the Marin contingent cleared out this lovely section.  I gave this section a name, only to myself, at the time.  I called it “Sylvia’s trail” in memory of my friend Dennis’ 15-year-old daughter who died on a mountain bike ride in Moab last June.  I figured if I worked on it, I could name it, so there you have it.  Dennis was the first person to show me Oat Hill, but he doesn’t know the turn, and someday I’ll show it to him.


Soon the final technical rocky section offers a last chance to release a big shot of adrenaline.  A steep narrow rut descends into a series of rock drops, ending in a set of crude twisting stairs carved out years ago by Mark Stoppel.  For some reason, this gnarly obstacle has always been kind to me, and after dropping down the final stair I let out a great scream.  Actually two screams.  As it turned out, both Erics had been suffering more than usual up the Oat but were redeemed on the gnarly steps.


At this point, the character of the loop changes and the danger shifts from crashing to being seen.  The little white sign which reads “Guard dog on duty” is an obvious reminder.  We made it past a few danger spots, but at some point a vehicle was seen and heard approaching.  Those of us in front quickly dove into the bushes, and the vehicle passed without incident.


We then got to ride Jim Jacobsen’s “Creek Trail”, which is a little like putting a cool comic book inside your history textbook and reading it during class.  It’s thrilling and fun without being scary.  And since mountain biking is all about timing, we stopped midway at exactly 4:20pm to enjoy a safety break.


We negotiated the most exposed part of the trespass at the white house without incident and began the long climb to Robert Louis Stevenson state park.  At this point, nobody is spared the feeling of exhaustion.  I didn’t even try to ride the final steep singletrack leading to 29. 


Luck was with us on the highway and we were able to stay in front of the cars and occupy the whole lane down the twisting pass.  As usual, the toll road allowed a final relaxed feeling of freefall. 


We arrived at the cars exactly seven hours after taking off up Oat Hill.  Lisa would be happy to see that nobody pushed the pace.  We drank it all in slowly.  Our bodies were totally spent.  We shared the very best experience that nature could afford us.