The Bikin' Fools




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The speedo read: 277,777.7. Prescription for bad weather?

The annual winter camping trip for the bikin' fools was a wash. Starting on day one, and lasting for the entire trip, the sky offered seventeen shades of gray and rain each day. Shawn and I were the finalists for the adventure. Jim K. managed to wisely bail out for this year’s edition.

The trip started in Ukiah and was originally planned to be a four day, three night affair. However, a previous mention of a ‘Plan B’ called for a slightly shortened version of the ride. The original ride called for boony travel for two days, but due to the inclement weather, we decided to stay with paved roads. Highway 253 climbs out of Ukiah for nearly ten miles. Then it passes across the top of the terrain and descends into Boonville for a total of 17 miles.

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Climbing out of Ukiah

Although it could have been considered a lousy day for biking, the temperature was reasonable and the rain was very light. The traffic was exceptionally light and the terrain was remarkably beautiful. These features conspired with the sense of adventure to make for an exciting beginning to the trip. The weather was a concern, but regardless of the severity, the Boonville brew pub was only a little over an hour away. With full camping gear the progress was relatively slow. However the climb didn’t last long. Soon we found ourselves blazing at warp speed towards the dry warmth of the Anderson Valley Brew Pub.

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Refreshment at Boonville Brewpub

The pub offered a nice selection of sandwiches and beer. The end of the daylight was drawing close. We needed to shop for a few items at the store. Among other things a Presto-firelog was purchased. We headed west on 128 towards Philo. The road at this point is virtually flat. The rain was in remission and the travel seemed exceptionally fast after the big climb out of Ukiah. Hendy Woods State Park was the destination. The park contains redwoods and sits along the banks of the scenic Navarro River. Just as we entered the park, the rain began to lightly fall. The sun had just set and darkness quickly settled in while we rapidly set up our tents and created a tarpological structure that would aid in shedding the several inches of water that would cascade all night from the skies.

Whenever we camp, we always build a fire. It is the original TV. Just watching the flickering flames creates an easy, peaceful feeling. In addition, during the wintertime, the heat is usually a welcome friend, a lifeline to fend off the winter chill. On this night we planned to use the fire log to start a ‘real’ fire, but the woods were soaking wet and it was dark. Had we enough time in the daylight, we likely could have found enough serviceable wood to make a decent fire. But all we could get together was to huddle in our individual tents and wait for the hours to pass until we could justify going to bed. In the meanwhile we lit the fire log just outside of our tents. The log burned slowly as the rain attempted to put out the fire. It didn’t. The log burned for hours providing all of the benefit of a ‘real’ fire. It was still flickering when we both finally dozed off. In the morning all that was left was a black mark on the ground.

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Camp scene with Presto fire


We rallied in the morning eager to press on with our mission. We had incentive. On this night we would check into Orr Hot Springs and stay in the dorm out of the weather and wetness of the El Niņo rains that continued to fall from the sky. We gathered our wet items, stuffed them into sacks, loaded them on the bikes and headed out in a light rain. We traveled west on highway 128 towards Flynn Creek road. This part of the highway sports beautiful redwood trees. The setting was misty, warm and soft. The temperature was moderate and the rain was light. The road was, for the most part, level and the riding was easy. The only difficulty for us was not knowing exactly where our turn was located. We knew it was near the town of Navarro. Finally several miles past Navarro, after some nervousness, we came upon the turn to Comptche.

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Eric peddling through the rain

We rode for a short distance when a country store came into view. Shawn didn’t hesitate to pull in. We needed a meal. A hint of what to come was in the sign that read; "Abierto". Once inside Shawn ordered a gymo burrito that would fuel him for the rest of the distance to Orr. I had a cheese/avocado sandwich that provided much needed nourishment for the day.

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Abierto para comida

We continued on the Flynn Creek road. We expected a major climb. Although there was high terrain surrounding the entire area, the ride was pleasantly easy. In addition the distance was much shorter than we had anticipated. It was only eleven miles from highway 128 to Comptche. It took about an hour to pedal the miles. Along the way it became obvious why people would like to live in this area. The hills were beautiful. The terrain was not so steep and many pastoral ranches lined the road.

Since it was a holiday period, we wondered if the Comptche store would be open. It was. We stopped briefly for fluid refreshment, talked to a few locals then began to ride once again. This leg of the day would require the biggest climb. For a couple of miles the road meandered along the Albion River. Then it began a climb that would last for several tough miles. At one point the road leveled and began a descent. Surely this was the top of the climb. But no, this was a classic ‘false summit’, the type that can make the day seem long. I had remembered a cabin on a previous ride, on this climb that had a sign on it reading; "Cuisine Francais". Perhaps we had missed it. Nope. As the road began to climb again, the cabin appeared. Now, I figured, we had to be near the top.

Shawn had been riding like Superman. This would pay huge dividends for me as we approached a rural dwelling with two very large and not-friendly dogs guarding their territory. One dog was sort of cool, the other was obviously the alpha male type. With Shawn far ahead of me, the dog only saw one target and chased Shawn for the better part of a half mile. By the time I arrived on the scene the dog was tired and far from home. I was able to slide by with the dog feeling that he had already done his duty.

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Our Canine companions

Once past the arduous climb our speed began to build. We were able to tick off the miles at a reasonable rate. We were tiring and started to mentally calculate how far we had to go.

"Man," Shawn said, "I’m sure looking forward to the dorm room and getting out of the rain."

"Are you sure you don’t want to camp out again?" Eric asked jokingly.

"No way." Shawn replied.

The mile markers along the road gave some hint of the distance remaining. Now there were only a few miles left. We arrived at Montgomery woods and took a break in the redwoods along a rushing stream. The setting was idyllic. The woods, rain and water conspired to create a soft, lovely and soothing moment before we completed the trek to Orr Hot Springs just two miles away.

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Break at Montgomery woods

The two miles passed with relative ease. We arrived at Orr tired, wet and ready for a nice DRY evening. We walked into the office.

"Hi." Said the friendly clerk.

"Hi." Shawn said. "We’re interest in spending the night."

"Gosh," The clerk said, "We’re all sold out."

"Even the dorm!" Shawn said in disbelief.

"Sorry," The clerk replied, "All that’s available is camping."

"Do you have a tarp?" I asked.

So that was it. Camping again. We slogged up the hill past the warm cozy cabins and the dorm, out to the camping area. The camping spots, dug out of the hillside were mostly level which meant that they turned onto mini lakes in the rain. One site held hope. We set up our tents and stretched the tarp over both. Several bungee cords and ropes held the tarp in such a way that the water would drain and not flood the area. It would be needed. The biggest rains yet, were predicted for this night.

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The hot tubs beckoned. Once the camp was established we made haste to take advantage of the naturally occurring, soothing hot waters. Orr has several selections. To start there are a number of claw-foot bath tubs each with its own supply of fresh hot mineral water. After soaking in the tub for any length, one can find his way to the hot, hot tub, or the mellow warm pool, the cool pool or the dry or wet saunas. We sampled the full menu of offerings. The invigorating effect vastly eased the tiredness and the soreness of the day’s many miles in adverse conditions. The refreshing and healing energy restored the mind, body and spirit.

After hours of soaking, we pulled ourselves from the mineral waters and reconvened in the communal kitchen to prepare our feast for the night. We had fresh vegetables and pasta. We ate in the luxury of the dining room unlike the previous evening when we survived huddled in our tents. After dinner we lounged by the fire stove and soaked up the radiant warmth. When it became time to retire to the tents it didn’t seem so bad. The roaring stream produced a soothing background for the senses to retire into the realm of the sandman. Our tarpology performed Yeomen’s service. The rain pelted down during the night. The wind failed to loosen the anchors of the tarp.

In the wee hours of the morning I rolled over. My sleeping back dipped into a huge puddle that had formed inside my tent. I initially assumed that the floor had leaked, but soon discovered that I had pulled the bite valve off of my Camelback during the night. All 100 ounces drained to the foot of my bed.

This day was predicted to be the worst of the three days. Thus far it had rained continuously for the previous 48 hours. The morning dawned with only a light mist falling from the sky. It was not cold. That was about to change dramatically. We packed our gear and stuffed the wet camping items into their bags and prepared for the road again. We felt good from the previous evening’s healing sessions in the magic water. We would need lots of energy because Orr sits at the base of a very long, arduous climb. For nearly six miles the road climbed steeply often at a ten percent grade. (STEEP!).

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Shawn views the awesome setting

The first one-quarter mile requires several sharp switchback turns. With each the view of the valley below becomes more beautiful. In the distance the tall tress of Montgomery woods adorned the mountains. In the foreground Orr Hot Springs could be seen nestled in the valley among oaks, madrones and bay trees. As we grunted up the relentless hill, the light mist turned to a light rain. The clouds to the west loomed dark. A light but notably cool wind began to blow. We became silent and concentrated on the task at hand. Within a short period of time, the conditions were no longer reasonable. The rain began to pelt down with terrific force and the wind blew harder. In fact the wind gusted so hard it became difficult to stay on the bike. The hard rain turned to hail and the wind gusts grew even stronger. Suddenly it was no longer just inconvenient, it was rapidly becoming a matter of surviving possible exposure from the drenching, cold conditions. It would take another hour and a half to get to Ukiah with no possibility of relief enroute. We both went into survival mode stopping only to make emergency clothing adjustments then jumping back on the bikes to grind uphill.

Our uphill speed was 4 – 5 miles per hour. Finally near the top the terrain relented and our speed increased. The good news was that we were able to cover ground more quickly but the bad news was the chill factor increased with the speed. It was impossible to keep our hands warm. My feet were very cold. My hands became so numb that I had difficulty using the brakes. To make matters worse, the brakes were badly out of adjustment and barely worked. We faced a raging six mile downhill. This romp in good conditions is thrilling and fast. But today it was painfully slow with hands so cold they barely worked the brake levers.

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Time went in slow motion unlike the times when one is having great fun and it seems to fly past. Minutes seemed like hours. Eventually the descent leveled into the valley floor and once again we could pedal and try to generate some body heat to combat the shivering condition that we were in. As we rode towards town we discussed our strategy. It was confirmed days before that our destination was the brewpub. However we elected to get the car first so that would could change cloths and not have to pedal in the rain again after the pub.

Finally we reached the car, jumped in, turned the heat on high and sped off to the pub. To our great luck they had a fireplace. Although it was a fake-log, gas fixture it had the same effect as a ‘real’ fire: Heat! We stripped off the wet cloths and finally began to warm up after several hours in hostile conditions. We had one of the most satisfying hot meals ever. To underscore our good fortune at the pub, not only was all of the food organic, so also was the beer. Our sense of being blessed slowly crept back into our spirits.

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The fire that warmed the frozen bodies

At this point in the adventure we were on brewpub tour. The rain continued to pound down. We stopped in Hopland at the Mendocino Brewing Co. We stopped in Cloverdale to visit their brewpub. The rest of the drive home was pleasant and easy. The ride contained numerous fine memories and moments. It was an adventure that we enjoyed for the most part. However, we were sure happy it was over.

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One of many scenes that made it wholly worthwhile