The Bikin' Fools
The girl scout loop is my all time favorite ride. I cannot imagine how many times I have ridden this two-and-a-half to three hour ride. It is long enough to qualify as a significant ride. The first hour is spent grunting up six miles and two thousand vertical feet of the Oat Hill mine road. It is really brutal. So much so, that no matter your level of riding, youre exhilarated to, finally, reach the top. However, the ride is worth it for many reasons. The view of the Napa Valley starts great and gets better. The trail itself is a delightful single track with enough stuff thrown in to always keep it interesting. Four miles into the ride, one reaches the saddle . There is a commanding view of the palisades and of all of the Napa Valley. From that point the mine road becomes less user friendly and dares anyone to clean the last 1.5 miles. Challenge after challenge take a huge toll in energy. Despite ones attempt to be efficient, avoid struggle and keep a good line, the upper section makes you reach deep. It is one of the hardest rides going, and it is one of lifes greatest blessings. Eventually, the rider reaches the Holmes place. Two brothers lived there many, many decades ago. Back in the wagon days. They planted an apple orchard that exists today. A few scruffy, very old apple trees still produce some of the best apples around. Once over the top, real cross-country mountain bikin starts. For the next half-hour, the Bikin Fool shreds towards Pope valley. During this stretch, the Napa valley disappears and one enters nowhere land. For the next many miles, there is no sight of human endeavor, save the aging mine road itself. There are no buildings in sight, no roads, no highways no nada. The exceptionally steep canyon that is traversed is stunningly beautiful. It begs a quick stop to scan and store this awesome, natural sight. Then, at a stealth and mostly unknown spot on the mine road, one takes a phantom left and rides apparently into the brush, only to find a gate. The simple cable gate is easily stepped over and the athlete remounts the bike for a hard uphill through the woods that, thankfully doesnt last that long. At this point the rider is about half way in the girl scout loop. It has been about an hour and a half of steady riding. The rider has experienced dozens of varying challenges. Now the body begins to tire somewhat, and the endorphins kick in a little harder. Result: Space Rider. The rush of blood, oxygen, adrenaline, etc., etc. has now placed the individual in a state of being that is akin to euphoria.
When alone, I usually do this ride without stopping if I can. Often I have an emergency glasses dilemma, or a mal-functioning go-juice bladder that will cause a momentary stop. My fastest time around this treasure is one hundred and forty nine minutes. (2.5 hrs.) For some strange reason, I frequently decide to do this ride when there is barely enough daylight to pull it off. The end of the ride is a six mile downhill on Highway 29. Riding the serpentine, very busy road, in dark clothing at night is not to be advised. Part of the problem this time of year is the short days.
Another huge plus of the Oat Hill mine road is the scintillating skyscapes that exist from the commanding view of the upper sections of the trail. The view is primarily to the west, the direction of much of our weather. From that distant horizon, the Pacific brews up a cornucopia of skies, from azure blue with wispy cirrus clouds in the summer to roiling, boiling and ramblin winter storms of the Northwest. On this day, I just barely caught something on the classical radio station about "rain in the city by dark". Hmm
Quite frankly, much of this riding thing for me is truly an escape. The world as we are led to believe is a pretty frightening and intimidating place. What with all the wars, bummer economy, paying the rent et. al., life can seem a bit much. To be in a venue that doesnt include the headache side of life is to be desired.
Somewhere on the upper section of the mine road, one gets to experience the wonderful alchemy of the body. A sense of power, strength and capability endow the rider with a sense of greatness. And its true, it is great. Your event my not appear on Wide World of Sports, but at that moment, for you it is truly heroic. You did what it took to get in the kind of shape that it takes to do endurance events. There are huge successes in quiet, out of the way venues that no one will ever see or know about, except you. And thats ultimately all that counts.
On this day, late in November the temperature was ideal. The sky was a high thin overcast. It was strikingly beautiful. I packed my left over, frozen go-juice and water. I had intended to be pedaling by two thirty. That gives a half-hour fudge factor. For a variety of reasons I didnt hit the trail until 3:03. It wasnt until close to four oclock that I notice an unmistakable band of low, threatening clouds already over Healdsburg and moving towards Knights valley, a scant few miles away. My mind successfully argued that somehow, despite the strong visual information, the rain would hold off
At the top of the Oat, I ran out of go-juice. This miscalculation could cause low performance at the end of the ride. In addition with the clouds building rapidly, the near-setting sun offered very little light. I debated briefly the notion of turning around, a reasonable concept considering the conditions and the late start. Yet, I am programmed to never quit, if possible. Now the stakes were raised. This wasnt just another girl scout loop, this was a race with time.
The trail over the top and beyond the Holmes place is great, fun cross-country riding. It varies up and down, but the climbs or descents dont last very long. The rate of transit is much greater than the grunt up the hill. I pedaled as swiftly as I could maintain and processed the Oat Hill for about two and a half miles. The wind cave slipped by, the rocky descent passed and finally the turn to Cougar pass came into sight. As I left the Oat Hill mine road, I thought I noticed very light raindrops falling. At the cable gate, there was no longer any question of rain. It was a reality. I crossed the gate and stopped. I leaned on the bike and contemplated my situation. I was just about halfway in the loop. Either way would take a while to extract myself from the boonies. Briefly I considered turning around. But the descent down the upper Oat Hill is not fun in wet conditions. I was warm enough and had a few items of clothing stuck in my pack. I also knew that I would not make it to the highway in the daylight.
I took off my glasses at Pocai camp. The rain was steady. I was still warm in my shorts and silk t-neck. I was wearing a jersey that was too much for the uphill, but now helped to keep in the life-giving body heat. This ill-fated ride had now tapped into the reason that makes such riding great. With added difficulty, my mind had little chance to dwell on subjects of the mundane. There was no debate about the woes of the world. Life has suddenly become very simple. I had managed to decide myself into a mild dilemma and now had to focus on getting out of it. The ride under ideal conditions offers enough challenge to distract the troubled camper and deliver the soul to the joy of being in the moment. Today the moment was itself troubling.
Once past Pocai, the trial widens after the signpost and is mostly downhill. It took about twenty minutes to process the Van Ness creek part of the ride. Although downhill, there was enough effort required to stay warm. But the last section before the girl scout camp is a half-mile on pavement. Suddenly I was no longer warm. The chill factor was greater than my insulation. I knew that I would warm up when the last climb started. But the rain was now heavy. As I climbed past Mt. Mill House, I wasnt warming up much. I debated the question of when to stop to put on my arm and leg warmers and my windbreaker. Although not waterproof, they would help keep in the body heat long enough to get home.
The rain was hard when I passed the swimming pool. Then I noticed in the fading light, a tent that was left over from Jim and Ronnas wedding. I stopped and stepped inside. I pulled all of my available layers out of the pack. This would be the first time that I used everything that I always lug around. It was becoming quite dark. As I started up the north section of the old Toll Road, I hoped for enough light to get to RLS, the top of the climb. This part of the trail is deep in the folds of the mountains. The light became very slim, yet the sky held some promise. The sun would be setting at this time and I had about twenty minutes before it became pitch dark.
I pedaled steadily up the hill. It was soft and muddy and offered more resistance than the ideal summer conditions. My focus narrowed further. The world that wasnt rolling under my wheels faded to a greater distance into the background. Now I was closer to the present than usual. Teetering on the edge of trouble, my mind darted in and out of the joy that arises when life becomes simple. On one hand, if I pulled this out, it would be glorious. On the other, I was flirting with danger. Darkness continued to erode the remaining light as I struggle through the quiet, lonely woods.
Finally I reached the last pitch to the park. It was so dark now that I had to employ the technique of riding in "void vision". The vision does not offer enough navigational information. One has to feel and sense where the trail might be. However, I was only a few hundred yards from the parking lot at Robert Louis Stevenson. I could hear cars. They swooshed past splashing water as I floundered out of the woods. The northbound traffic was heavy, but southbound (my direction) was light. I wasted no time in getting established on the road. It was completely dark. There was no moon at all and only enough light when cars werent present to faintly illuminate the double yellow line.
The technique of riding the road at night is interesting. With oncoming cars, one can only see the pavement immediately in front of the bike. When the car passes the night vision is momentarily trashed. It takes a precious few seconds for the night vision to again make out the yellow line on the road. The descent is quick and twisting. The road snakes for six miles before coming into the valley. At the south section of the Old Toll road I turned off the highway. It was too nerve wracking to continue dodging cars. But the Old Toll has no lines. It was so dark that the first part of the road was a void. No information was available. However, once out of the trees, the shiny pavement was just slightly viewable. The descent was tedious until just past Watsons place when a rare vehicle caught up with me. I pulled over, let the car pass then followed it the rest of the way downhill.
I arrived back at the apartment at 6:00. That was three hours after I had left. Not a bad time with all of the stops and slower going. Yet it was a notable three hours. It was an escape of sorts. It was an overlay of activity designed to carry the mind, body and spirit to a place beyond the normal waking state. It worked, at least for a while. The task worked deep into my consciousness to produce a flash of peace. There was a moment on the climb from the girl scout camp when I came upon a huge Douglas fir. Despite my hurry, I stopped and meditated with the great tree. For a moment I felt the strength, wisdom and enduring peace of that sacred spot. This feast for the soul would feed my hungry spirit for some time to come.
The girl scout loop is a great ride under ideal conditions. With the overlay of challenges it becomes a transforming event. But that was yesterday. Now the task becomes renewed. Once again the Santa Cruz sits in the corner of the apartment waiting to be summoned again for a voyage to the universe beyond.