The Bikin' Fools



Going BIG

As the turmoil in my mind approached the boiling point, as it does occasionally, I decided that the best antidote would be a massive bike ride. It had been several days since I did anything on the bike. Shawn had once upon a time suggested that a Girl Scout loop with the addition of the Mt. St. Helena Downhill would be one of the quintessential rides available to enthusiastic mt. bikers in this area. The concept nicely fit my mood.

As I started up the Oat Hill mine road I felt as though I weighed a ton. Lethargy ruled and it took some time to get warmed up. Once in the groove, the Oat slowly passed as I grunted up the long climb. On the upper section I took the luxury of walking much of the struggle zones. By the time I reached the top, I was feeling better, though my angst still penetrated my consciousness. I would need a stronger dose of medicine to punch through the pathogens in my mind.

The back section of the Oat is simply more fun than the front side. Although there are tough technical sections, they don’t last long. One is able to cover some distance at respectable speeds. I was now beginning to focus on the extension of the ride. Much like the addition of the north peak that I did a couple of weeks ago, I knew I would have to manage my energy. The only issue was the time. At the halfway point in October, the sun sets around 6:30. There was plenty of time for the Girl Scout’s, but a question remained in my mind about adding the Downhill. I decided I would ride until I could actually see the sun. That would be on the Silverado Ranch Road.

The ride proceeded normally. I didn’t stop at Pocai camp or at the Tin Cup spring. I shredded at a moderate rate through Bear Valley, down Van Ness Creek and past Wildwood. Suddenly I saw a horse and rider ahead. I slowed and whistled to them to alert them to my presence, least I cause a horse disaster by sneaking up on them. The lady indicated that the horse was cool and I pulled up beside her. We talked for a brief time as we cruised the lovely woods near the trout pond. Cindy mentioned that she had seen other bikers on occasion and someone rode regularly through the ranch on a motorcycle. Hummm, we wonder who that could be?

At Mt. Mill House I saw Jim at the pond. He frequently spends the end of the day there with his dogs as they chase and retrieve dog toys from the pond. He gave me a green light to proceed through the camp, often we have to use the by-pass route due to campers. The by-pass requires slightly more energy. At this juncture in the ride, one tends to be tiring, hence the pull to take the route of least resistance. As I rode up through the woods, I tried to gauge the amount of daylight left. The terrain completely blocked the sun. All I could see was the sun hitting the higher terrain surrounding my location. My sense was that I had time, but not a lot of it.

I walked the last part of the single track to the parking lot. It is rideable, yet the effort to ride didn’t seem worth it. I got to the highway and immediately began to ride towards the driveway at the Silverado Ranch, now part of the park system. I grunted up the steep drive wondering if anyone was currently living at the residence. Sandy Stillwell used to live there and she hated mt. bikers. She insisted that mt. bikes were illegal on the ranch road. Travis and I, on one occasion, had bolted through her compound only to have her fire up the truck and chase us. We were able to shred the downhill sections much faster than her, but eventually she began to catch up. We bailed off the steep side of the road. She never saw us and peeled past only to eventually turn around and pass us again.

When the residence came into sight it was patently obvious that, not only was the residence occupied, but the person was home. I quietly pedaled by. I passed the house, passed the other building and were only a few feet from disappearing out of sight when I heard: "HEY, YOU THERE!"

The resident ranger dude stopped me in my tracks. He asked where I was going. I attempted to explain that I wanted to go up Silver Street and through the park. (a lie) He explained that the single track in the park was off limits.

"Dang," I said, " We’ve been riding it for fifteen years."

"Park rules." He replied.

"It’s not marked." I pleaded.

"Sorry, I can’t let you go there." He said with an authoritative tone.

"Actually," I countered, "I was really wanting to cruise out to Turk’s Head."

"O’ well," He said, almost causually, "That’s OK"

"OK, thanks." I said and left.

I couldn’t help but think of Sandy Stillwell (or Stillbad as she was known) Did she bullshit us all those years? Just to pursue her venomous rage? Who knows? However, if this was true, then the Turk’s Head run might be legal? It didn’t matter now. I was riding, the sun was very low, near the horizon. The St. Helena Downhill often takes hours. That is usually because it is rarely done solo. There are all sorts of reasons to stop when in a group.

Finally, the result of my efforts paid off. The bummers of the world had completely disappeared. There was only one thing on my mind. I had to get to the jeep road at the bottom before the light ran out. Once on that road, I could ride in the generous moonlight. The side-hill, single track requires light to ride with speed, especially in the wooded section. Now I felt the comfort of being in the moment. The constructs of my thinking were temporarily suspended. There were, at the moment, no brain synapses left for fretting about the impending war, the bogus life that we’re forced to live or the stressed relationships. Now I related only to my machine, the path and my body. The trident of my well-being. The bike was working well. Occasionally, wads of Star Thistle got into the sprockets and created some phantom shifting. I worried about the possible flat tire. There would not be enough buffer of time for any interruption. I pedaled with abandon across the dangerous and sketchy side-hill. A sense of power and joy simultaneously began to flood my mind. No matter what, at that moment, the world was OK. Life was OK.

Within forty-five minutes I was at the bottom of the mountain. I never stopped moving once after leaving the ranger. I had managed to pull off a first. It is unlikely that anyone has ever done that particular ride. Only three people saw me on this ride, each having not a clue as to the work in process. I would go on to brag to my friends. Each would stare at me with a look of; "So what?" And they were right. It was my personal deal. It allowed me to swim in the heroic accolades of my own mind. I basked in the glory of having accomplished on a bike, what I cannot in life otherwise. My orange contraption carried me to a pinnacle. It provided me with a fleeting moment of huge success.. It was my thirty miles on the trail of unqualified wealth.