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Return of the Light


Eric Sayetta (Eric S.) divined from the calendar the best day in a long string of cold, wet, crummy weeks. The ride was two days after the solstice. Although some rode on the solstice, most stayed indoors and waited for the heavy rains to subside. It first appeared that the ride would contain only three people, but as the hour drew closer, several more volunteered to celebrate the new season and revel in the Church of the Wholly Spoke. The venue selected was the recently maintained Wild Lilac trail, a favorite among the locals.

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The Adventure Trucks unload

Eric S. managed to convince Tom and Delores, Mike and Ali and Celia to challenge the weather and experience this fun ride. Rain was in the forecast for later in the day. The contingent arrived in Calistoga to cool temperature and cloudy skies. After a short car shuffle the seven riders began the long trek. The first part of the ride is a steep, uphill that fortunately doesn’t last too long. No rider was cold at the top of the first climb.

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First view spot                           photo Eric S.


After stopping at the required view spot, the group began a very technical downhill along the Table Rock trail. Big drops and sketchy lines make this section challenging for anyone. Ali managed to ride much of the terrain as if someone failed to tell her is was difficult. How did she do that? Nobody saw what Tom did. He was too far ahead, having too much fun. He also, didn’t get the message that much of this trail isn’t rideable.

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Sweet ride, girl!

The group departed the Table Rock trail and began the scenic Wild Lilac. The narrow trail cuts through dense brush. California Buckthorn and Ceonothus (Wild Lilac) line the trail and make off trail travel very, very difficult. Two hikers appeared near the junction.

“Do you know where you’re goin’?” One of them stated with a strong air of authority. For a moment, the group anticipated a possible hiker-rage situation as not all hikers appreciate the two wheeled mode of human-powered passage across the hinterlands.

“Actually, we do.” Eric (A.D.) stated. These guys were obviously not rangers and the entourage was still on State property. “We’ve been here before.”

“Oh yea, I recognize you.” The man stated, “ I saw you on the Oat Hill where the mountain lion had Bambi for dinner.”

What tensions might have arisen were put to rest. Each group continued their way. The bikers traveled to the required safety rest stop and convened a safety/religious experience meeting. The day was near perfect. Though on the cool side, it wasn’t cold. The sun was draped in clouds making the light softer and near perfect for seeing all of the minutia about the trail.

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Official safe zone at the top of the Wild Lilac

The riders then began to experience the heart of the trail. The thick brush along the ridge opens to a large, but cleanable rock. This feature has caused chronic chest pains in the hearts of many Guardian Angles. Eric S. insisted on showing his G.A. no mercy as he wheeled across the formidable and very exposed section. Ali cleaned it with no apparent effort.

The ride departs the short ridge and descends into a pristine, very scenic valley that leads to Van Ness Creek. The riders each managed the challenges as they finally convened at the creek crossing. Fording the water was not much of an issue outside of one dab by Ali who would clean everything else, almost.

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Velo Bella, indeed!

The riders proceeded up the drainage and into Bear Valley. The trail is uphill, but reasonable. The old jeep road eventually peters out at the second creek crossing. Eric S. was the only one who pedaled across the obstacle. The others utilized the tippy-toe method to get around the water hazard. Again Ali, not content with only one dry foot, attempted to ride directly through the deep water. She almost made it.

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Celia and Delores climb towards the signpost

The ride turns to single track for the next mile or so. The brush occasionally threatens to squeeze the trail to nothing. However, there has been enough activity to keep the route open. Eventually the ride exit’s the brush and comes to the open area around the ‘sign post’. At this point there was general consensus that a lunch break was in order. It took only a brief dash through the Tunnel of Terror, a dash down to a small creek and a short climb to Pocai Camp.

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Mike bores through the tunnel of terror

Although the ride isn’t very long to this point, several riders had taken ‘do-overs’ on many of the technical sections. Much effort had been expended in the ride, and in staying warm, but not necessarily dry. The sun was mostly shining. It made the moment delightful. Food and beverage of all sorts sated the warm bodies.

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Lunch at Pocai

The next part of the ride covers the Igneous Meadow. This hard rock section takes great effort to climb. Fortunately it doesn’t last long. At the top the trail goes into the woods and descends to the Oat Hill Mine Road. It was surprising to see recent quad tracks. They usually appear only during hunting season. Maybe mt. bikes are still in season?

The group took another break at the wind cave. This section of the ride is as remote as it gets. No signs of civilization are visible. Only the rough, rugged terrain is seen all around. It is a serenely lovely area. The mottled, winter sky blended nicely with the stark and wild landscape. There was a sense of having slipped the surly bonds and been delivered to a very special place, with special people.

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Happy riders at the wind cave


There are a series of technical challenges between the wind cave and the top of the Oat. The ride is all up and down, but essentially follows a constant contour as it snakes past the Church Cave and on to the Holmes place. At this point, the group was offered a beautiful view to the west and into the Napa Valley. The sun helped warm bodies as the group pondered their good fortune.

The upper section of the Oat is brutal, both up and down. The challenges are unrelenting as the old mining road descends to the saddle.. From there the old trail mellows considerably and allows the rider to rip at greater speeds. Although tired at this time, the group agreed to try the options. These groovy trails parallel the Oat all the way from the saddle to the bottom. On this day the group would elect to take about half of the options from the High Camp. The stealth trail winds though the woods and across the hills. It is challenging, fun and requires a huge amount of effort. Short, steep climbs cause the heart rate to peg several times. It is never dull.

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Celia cleans the options

Suddenly it seemed, the group was drinking beer at the pizza place across from the trailhead. A car shuffle and lots of food capped a great day. No flats, no mechanicals underscored a premium event, the likes of which happen only when serendipity pours forth from the calendar.

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The Michiganders