Oat Hill, Version 10.5

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The e-mail read:

“At 10:19 AM 3/9/2007 -0800, Lisa wrote:
>Calistoga is calling. Not sure if we will do the traditional Girls Scout
>Loop, or the Wild Lilac (if Eric A.D. is present). Will make the call at
>the trailhead. Meet at 10:00 at Oat Hill Trailhead, Intersection of Hwy 29
>& the Silverado Trail. Let me know if you are coming.
>This promises to be a slow moving, leisurating, pod. GS loop has been
>known to take 7 hours with this group. So don't come if you're in a hurry.

It was the first day of daylight savings time. It seemed certain at the outset that there would be plenty of daylight. With the early start it was inconceivable that the ride could go until dark or even beyond. Eight hearty souls volunteered to spend an entire day in church, offsetting much of what is wrong in the world. The day dawned nearly as perfect as it gets.

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Swarming the trailhead

There were two virgins on the ride. Lorna and Gail had never been up the Oat, a huge accomplishment in itself nor had they seen the backside of the Maacama, where spirit, beauty and adventure flourish. It was also a Joyous occasion whose presence and stamina helped to float this event across the Sunday Cosmos. Heidi found new speed and strength for the event. Michel and the two Eric’s made up the eight person team that was assigned the task of soaking up as much fun as a person can possibly have on a mountain bike ride.

The group met at the trailhead at what was really 9:00, even though the clock said 10. After the usual fussing and fitting, the ride broke loose from the parking lot. The day was already pleasantly warm. The hillsides were green and lush and a few wildflowers poked around. Ravens and hawks sailed past. The riders made steady steerage up the six mile hill. The lower Oat is easier than the Upper section yet it is not a cake walk, and has its moments.

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Chill spot at the Middle Option turnoff

The group decided to stop at the wedding meadow. There were several ideas about where that was. It didn’t matter. The group simply rode until there was an urge to take a break, enjoy the scenery and chill. These breaks allow the rider to fine tune their ride, adjust clothing or grab a munchie. The first stop offered a chance to commune with a sacred, local resident the Indian Warrior.

The group eased up the hill. As the altitude increased, the occasional technical sections became more effort intensive. The group made a quick, obligatory stop at the View Rock. It is another required station of the Church where a bikin‘ fool can divine a dash of inspiration and serene natural beauty. The Saddle is just a few more pedal strokes around the corner. This massive rock outcropping offers a commanding view of the area. For the first time the traveler can see in all directions, including the one ahead at the base of the very impressive Palisades.

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                             Gail and friends at the Saddle        Joyous photo

It was entirely too nice to hurry this stop. It was exceptionally easy to veg for an extended period, passing the time with idle chatter, tales and gossip, eating more munchies and enjoying the tea-like ceremony of the break.

Mo Fo alley maintained its name. It is never easy. The loose baby heads always resist and make the rider spend precious energy to dyno through the section. Walking really isn’t any easier, but it happens. Then the section begins to punish the rider for several hundred yards. Finally the trail levels briefly at the stunningly beautiful Sunset Section. Then begins the upper section.

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Lisa and Fuzzy navigate Mo Fo

It doesn’t last forever, but there is no stretch that isn’t fully technical and steep. Eric (Fuzzy) was the only one to clean the most difficult first step after two tries. There were few takers for redo’s on anything. Most knew of the magnitude of the ride and didn’t want to blow too much energy.

At the top the group took another extended break at Holmes place and ate lunch. The trail levels and becomes a series of small climbs and descents while generally going downhill towards the Cougar Pass turnoff. Another break occurred at Hunter Point. This spot offers vast views of the surrounding territory. The countryside is steep, stark and wild. This place belongs to the mountain lions, bears and Bambi.

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Lunch at the Holmes place

Another obligatory pause happened at the Wind Cave. This interesting feature can offer shelter from the storm. Today there was only fair weather and fun. The mob moved onward to the stealth turn. The short climb uphill lead to the pass and the Igneous Meadow. The mostly solid rock area is a bumpy descent. It is a torture to climb. At Pocai Camp the group employed another extended hiatus in the trek to infamy. The camp offers a picnic table and a cold spring. It was refreshing to splash cold water on the face.

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                    Fuzzy and Lorna snoozin' at Pocai         Joyous photo

The pack prepared for the next series of features including the Tunnel of Terror. This groovy item can offer a massive dose of poison oak if one strays at all from the narrow line through the overhanging manzanita grove. It opens to the Signpost. This is another point of grand viewing. Mt. St. Helena looms to the west. A large area of open, rocky terrain is viewed from the Signpost. Critters often can be seen scrambling for cover when they realize their domain is being shared by the rambling cyclists.

Finally some relief happens with the ride. The trail becomes smoother and easier after the technical Stoppel Steps. The only planned water crossing happened at Van Ness creek. This area can offer nature’s most grand palette of spring beauty. Not today. A thin scattering of flowers were present, but not the spectacular display that has been seen in previous rides. It was, however, nice enough to linger and even skinny dip in the cold, clear water. The unspoiled water refreshed and rejuvenated the mind, body and spirit. The newly found vigor would help propel the group up the last climb of the day.


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Van Ness rest and recuperation

Given the length of the ride so far, many were out of, or close to running out of water. Tin cup spring could provide the needed refreshment, but most failed to spot the feature and rode on to the beginning of the Creek Trail. A.D. and Lorna topped off and caught up with the rest. The water was divvied up and quickly consumed. There was hope that more water would be available at Mt. Mill House.

There was discussion about how to transit the residence. The choices were to climb the fence next to highway 29 or to take the shaky bridge across the creek near the house. The shaky bridge got the most votes. The group coalesced into a blob and began the attempt to sneak by. As the group approached the bridge, a disturbing sight appeared: It wasn’t there! Without breaking stride the pack immediately employed plan B. A.D. was familiar with the bypass. It required riding just past the house. Fate intervened with no dogs, no “YOU THERE” or shots fired. Another unintended creek crossing put the riders onto the road to the camp. The spigot along the road failed to yield water. The tired bikers took one more break before starting the long climb through the woods to Robert Lewis Stevenson park. Picnic tables in the camp accommodated the riders for this rest stop.

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Group fords alternate creek crossing

Most of the pack pedaled past the kitchen building. A.D., Fuzzy and Lorna stopped to see if the outside wash basin might yield water. Bingo! At least three of the riders would be hydrated for the climb. The others had pressed ahead. This fragmentation led to more adventure than was planned. Due to the shear joy of the day, most had not been aware that the sun had slipped all the way across the sky and nudged the horizon. The two mile climb up to the summit was technically easy, but long in weariness. The pleasant, darkening woods soothed the soul as the tired legs churned uphill for the better part of another hour.

Michel, Joy and Heidi managed to find the hidden path near the top. Gail didn’t. Michel mumbled something to Joy about his short leash and unceremoniously split while Heidi and Joy waited for the others. Lisa managed to be the only one to stop at a sensible place to wait for the pack. A.D., Fuzzy and Lorna joined Lisa for the last push to the top where Heidi and Joy waited. There was no Gail. Humm……

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Fuzzy and Lorna appear out of the dark

It was now dark. Only the last lumens of the western sky were quickly vanishing. The group wondered in some confusion. What to do? Gail was certainly unfamiliar with the territory. Did she go downhill towards Middletown? Did she go with Michel? After some fretting the group decided they had no choice but to continue and hope all had made the proper choices.

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Lisa and A.D. wait at the stealth turn

The Sunday night traffic on 29 was moderately heavy. Fortunately several of the group had lights. They would be desperately needed in the blackness. The descent down highway 29 was the most thrilling part of the entire day, though not welcomed. Lorna with her bright light led the way. Heidi, Lisa, A.D. Fuzzy and Joy followed. Several times the group pulled over to allow cars to pass. The two mile descent was fast and, at times scary. Finally the turn to Old Toll Road arrived, but not without more unwanted drama. Just as A.D. led the pack off the highway, a car shot around the blind corner. There was a great opportunity for mass carnage.

Now the riders could descend with some relaxation. The Old Toll rarely sees autos, even in the day. The balmy air carried the scent of spring. The riding was easy and once again pleasant, though thoughts continued to linger about the missing duo. Finally the steep, twisty Old Toll arrived at the bottom and highway 29. The group pedaled the final two miles to the cars, hoping to find Gail. Although Michel’s car was gone, there was no Gail.

Confusion reigned. What to do? Joy tried a phone call. Amazingly Gail answered. She was on her way down highway 29. She had spent the better part of an hour waiting for the others to appear at the junction where she stopped. Her location made some sense, except for the not-so-obvious turn just before the highway. She was within shouting distance, but no one knew. She was able to get directions from two guys in a jeep who couldn’t figure out where she had come from.

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Reunited, safe and fed

The day was sealed with beer and food at Puerto Villarta. The tired bodies swilled massive amounts of electrolyte replacement fluids and carbo-loaded Mexican food. All that was left was the long drive home for the Marin contingent. The day proved to be beyond epic. It was ten and a half hours of pleasure in one of biking’s most pleasant venues.