Springtime Rite of Downhill Passage


Much of our mt. bikin' is done as routine exercise. It can be near boring, but always important. Some rides are not even fun, but they serve a purpose. They help to keep the spirit fresh and alive even though the circumstances surrounding the event may be less than perfect. However, there are those times when the forces align to make the day special. Such was the latest version of the St. Helena Downhill.

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Swift, always ready for ourdoor adventure

Shawn, Linz and Eric managed to orient their day to be available for a ride. With spring in full swing it was a day for the senses. It was one of those sweet, verdant offerings that can add a portion of joy to one's existance. There was the usual car shuffle. Once at the start of the ride, the crew was only slightly delayed by a surprise visit from the Kevinator, who was driving over the hill in his new dump truck. He stopped long enough to exchange pleasantries and continued on his way crunching gears to Middletown.

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Kevin with another load of valuable Napa Valley dirt

The three, plus Swift began the fun climb through the park. There is yet any "no bike" sign on the trail, making the bikin' trio comfortable to not be breaking the rules. There was a 'No Dobberman' sign, we assumed Swift was OK. She really is OK, she has good trail manners, is healthy and does not chase the inhabitants. The trail offers several difficult switchbacks and a few technical sections to keep the bikers on their toes. Then the ride tops the trail and the first tricky, technical downhill occurs at the stone tablet. This short drop gave Linz a golden opportunity to test out the new disc brake on the rear of the Bo-Ti.  With new found confidence Linz dropped the section quickly showing new found control.

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Shawn follows Lindsey's tracks down the steep bank

After a quick ride out Silver Street, the quartet rode out the Ranch Road to Turk's Head. On the way the bikers and Swift were treated to lovely, clear views of the surrounding area. The Napa Valley stretched for thirty miles towards San Pablo Bay. The Russian River drainage could be see carving though Sonoma County. Along the ranch road, the lupines bloomed with vigor.

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Lupines in spring

From there the trail drops though the meanest, toughest bushes in the West. The rugged bushes sport thorns that are able to stop anything. It took care to ease around these nasty creatures.

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Back Off!

At the official rest stop, the bikers took a break. The next section would be the acid test for the brakes on Lindsey's bike. The conditions were near perfect. The ground was not completely dry and the grass was thick, green and not too tall. The trail drops off the nose of one of Mt. St. Helena's flanks. It is as steep as one can ride. Linz was the last to go. Eric and Shawn waited with rising anticipation to see if this might be the place where over confidence could create a major disaster. But no, Linz keep the audience on the edge while managing to clean the tricky section.

The next part of the ride contains some of the most visually stunning views. The trail hangs on the side of a steep hill. It is not very wide and can offer big trouble for any one not paying attention. That can be difficult when there is so much beauty to see.

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Not a good place to lose it.

There are a couple of ways to the bottom. A recently scouted route avoids the massively damaged areas caused by the cows. Past runs through the cow area proved to be a hardship. The new, shorter route has become popular, especially this time of year. Again the steep drop calls for excellent braking power. Speeds are in the 2-5 mph range, seemingly not much. But it is very difficult to keep the rear whell on the ground as the altitude rapidly falls away. The terrain finally levels somewhat and continues across rocky fields to the lake. Linz was fired up enough to take a plunge in the very, very cold water.

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"You must be nuts." says Swift

The St. Helena Downhill will soon pass out of season. The summertime is no good for this run. The traction is lousy, the star thistle hurt and the scenery is not nearly as nice. It was a great ride for a simple afternoon romp. A quick car shuffle was all that remained of this day. It will take some creativity to ferret out new and fun rides for the summer season. Do I hear Lake Sonoma calling?