“Itchin’ for a ride”

Photos by Eric S.


From time to time, there comes an opportunity to go big. It isn’t necessarily planned as such, but these rides can spring from an ordinary outing and blossom into one of those sweet few hours that cram the pointer against the top of the funnometer.

It started innocently enough. There was basically no plan when Eric S. and Eric (A.D.) met at the Oat Hill trailhead in Calistoga. In part, since the two only get to ride together a few times a year, it seemed as though something unique was in order. Banking on the previous moonride and the favored area behind the Palisades, a notion began to sprout. It was an overcast, cool day in Calistoga. The grayness didn’t encourage grandiose thinking.

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Just above the fog at RLS

One possibility was to start from Calistoga. But that option required a huge amount of effort at the front end of the ride. The other option was to drive to RLS and start 2000 ft. above the end of the ride. This option allows for deeper sorties into the hinterlands. The two drove to Robert Lewis Stevenson (RLS) Park. Because there exists a “NO BIKES” sign at the trailhead, A.D. cleverly decided to start just before the park and boonie thrash to the trail, thereby being able to honestly tell the ranger that they never saw any signs. It didn’t matter. The only issue was A.D.’s concern and lingering paranoia about authority.

The true authority is gravity, sharp branches and the limit to one’s endurance. The fog persisted at the beginning, but wisps of blue could be seen on the north side. After making the major climb to the Table Rock overlook, the two broke into the clear. The fog was thick in the Napa Valley and spilling over the mountains. The duo descended the sketchy, dry trail down to Stonehenge. Just below this interesting stone arrangement they again entered into the fog. On the Giant Steps, Eric S. called upon his guardian angle to stand by as he joined the ranks of a very select few to clean features that most walk.

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Fog blows down the Wild Lilac

Once off the Table Rock Trail, A.D. relaxed knowing that they were leaving the area of possible ranger sightings. (none have ever been seen in twenty years). The Wild Lilac Trail disappears into the buck brush. It travels to the ridge between the Napa Valley drainage and the Lake Co. watershed. There is an excellent spot to stop at the ridge. The two stopped to appreciate the surroundings, eat an orange and adjust the clothing for the following downhill.

Eric’s adrenalin gland seemed to be working overtime when he decided to attempt the ’big rock’. It is do-able, but the exposure offers death if things go terribly wrong. Things didn’t go terribly wrong, but Eric did manage to provide a large portion of thrill by riding much of the technicality on his front wheel. (One can imagine Eric’s guardian angle, hands on hips saying; “God Damn it, Eric did you have to do that?”)

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YIKES!!! (Eric did make it)

The descent went well through the brush and rocks, though it is anything but easy. At the bottom of the trail, A.D. faced his nemesis and cleaned the scary drop through the duff and rocks. Instead of the usual route to Bear Valley they turned towards Tin Cup and rode to the turn-off to Cold Springs Orchard. This followed the moonride to the top of Ansel Ridge. It was a brutal hike-a-bike that climbed from the valley floor to the top of the ridge. The two eventually climbed above the fog into clear air. The temperature was nearly perfect.

At the junction, the two had choices. One was to return to Bear Valley and assume the standard G.S. route or they could take the rarely traveled Cut Brush Trail to Creepy Valley. Either way, the ride was guaranteed to be huge. When the two reached the cut-off, there was no hesitation to press deeper into the boonies. By this time, lunch was starting to have an appeal. A.D. promised it would take about forty minutes to get to Creepy. The descent down the Cut Brush went phenomenally quick. The only glitch was A.D.’s failure to remember what happened to the trail at the bottom. After about five minutes of search, the trail was again contacted, followed and successfully followed to the jeep road to Creepy.

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Typical beauty of the back country

They stopped where the path to the spring should have been. At this moment two significant events happened. One was a flat, the other was voices! Uh, oh, A.D.s paranoia kicked into overdrive. Not being adept at confrontation, A.D. didn’t really want to see anyone, especially considering his status as persona non gratis in the area due to many previous infractions of the ‘private property’ concept that many landowners seem to struggle with. The lingering nervousness was fueled by the very fresh horse-hoof prints that they had been seeing all across the landscape thus far.

Upon fixing the tire, the decision was to postpone lunch for just a few until they journeyed beyond Creepy to a safer place. Lunch finally happened, though it didn’t seem much safer since it was closer to the hunting camp. None-the-less the nourishment was greatly needed. The amount of effort to get to this remote area was already enormous. They were approaching the four hour mark and were as far from Calistoga as one can get on the backside.

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Beautiful, but not ride-able

The next section of the ride was very tiring. It consisted of carrying one’s bike over a streambed that consisted of huge rocks. Eventually the Bateman Creek trail exited at the Oat. For a few hundred yards the trail is passable by riding. Then an even greater streambed effort follows. This one is steeply uphill requiring one to lift the bike, place it on a boulder then climb up to do it again. Only the Red Bull at lunch made this possible.

Finally the last hazard of the day loomed for the two. It was the blue house. This residence is very, very remote. The inhabitants have been known for certain agricultural pursuits. The dash past the house went well. A.D.’s paranoia was not realized, although fresh quad tracks kept the two thinking. It appeared to be two sets of tracks, the top set of tracks seemed to be headed away from the direction of the ride. Once a couple of miles from the house, the sense of being in neutral territory set in even though it was still several miles to the Holmes Place at the top of the Oat.

Once past Cougar Pass, the trail is familiar though still tough. The tiring duo made good time over the several technical sections before the Holmes Place. At the cave overlook, A.D. stopped to point out the feature.

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The Church from a distance

“How long does it take to get there?” Eric Asked.

“About twenty minutes, but it is steep up and down.”

“Let’s do it!” Eric said unhesitatingly.

Eighteen minutes later the two sat in the cave. The sun was just touching the crest of the facing hills creating a dazzling show of light shafts slicing though the almost foggy air. The cave provided a few minutes of special time. This remote and lovely setting is a treat unto itself. The skyscape, the beautiful lighting and the buzz from a long, hard day made the few extra minutes of effort worth the while.

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Resting in the Church of the Wholly Spoke

Although the ride was all downhill from there, the highly technical nature of the upper Oat made the cyclists continue to put out effort. Visions of beer and Mexican food began to fill the thoughts. There was some talk of taking one or more of the options, but the consensus agreed that the energy was no longer there. Now the effort was simply to make it in one piece to Puerto Villarta.

Quit amazingly the two saw no one during the entire day. There were no hikers at the beginning and no one on the Oat, a very unusual occurrence for a weekend. The meal hit the spot and signaled the end to a unique and powerful day of riding. The ride started as a blank check and grew into a fortune of personal accomplishments.

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A brief moment of serene beauty made all of the effort worth the while