The Sunday Saints
Sunday January 28th dawned bright and clear in Middletown. It seemed a nice day to consider a bike ride. When Eric (Fuzzy) called A.D., all seemed go for a nice ride. However, somewhere between the time he called and the time Eric and Lorna arrived, the day had turned from bright and clear to overcast with the threat of rain. The temperature remained very cold.
What happened to the nice day?
Everyone was on the same page with regard to the size of the ride. Eric and Lorna had ridden two tough days already and were up for more of a scenic cruise. A.D. was nursing an aging drive train with the threat of massive and catastrophic mechanical failure pending. The notion of being deep in the backcountry with a failed bike held little appeal.
The selection of the days outing was a 2000 foot climb up the most prominent landmark north of the Bay Area, Mt. St. Helena. The climb starts at Robert Lewis Stevenson State Park. The park is 2000 feet above sea level. The top of the mountain is over 4000 feet. The views from the mountain are spectacular on a clear day. This was not one of them.
Sunday parishioner in church
After several delays, including car issues with A.D., the three met at the lower parking area at the access gate. The five mile, 2000 foot climb began in the woods. The dirt road was in excellent condition. The riding was easy and enjoyable. About 9 tenths of a mile up the road, views to the north began to appear as the trees thinned with higher altitude. Moisture and clouds obscured the view. Distant mountains, the Sierras, Mt Lassen and Mt. Shasta would not be seen on this day.
The cold temperature was not a factor in the climb. It is all uphill. The climb starts on the east side of the mountain, then wraps around to the north before switching back towards the east. Eventually the road curves towards the south, passes the foot path to the park and reaches No Dogs lookout. This is the first view to the south and east. The entire Napa Valley is visible and usually the entire Bay Area. The funky atmosphere hid many of the treasures of the area. The Sleeping Princess (Mt. Tam) was covered in a misty shroud. Mt. Diablo, usually obvious, was nowhere to be seen.
Lorna and Eric on top of the world
The next cool feature on the climb is Bubble Rock. This cool, pocked, giant boulder is a popular destination for rock climbers. On this day two pairs of climbers were scrabbling up difficult routes. Turks head sits just to the west. This feature marks a prominent spot on the St. Helena downhill trail, known only to a few riders.
The three continued the steady climb. Views towards the Palisades and Montesol became more prominent. The area of the Wild Lilac could be seen in its bigger context. After three more switchbacks, the riders grunted up the last and most steep pitch to the saddle. The road to the south peak from the saddle is short but even steeper. The only saving grace is that it is paved for the last few hundred yards.
Eric, Lorna and A.D. saved by the rum
At the top of the south peak the riders found the picnic tables. Each reveled in the feeling of the hours work and even in the limited, misty views of the surrounding area. It was time to break out a rare and unique treat. Eric (Fuzzy) still had a portion of Cuban rum left from Lisas smuggling campaign. It could not have been more welcomed. The temperature at the top was 36 degrees. The rum, camaraderie and energized bodies neutralized the bitter cold.
Miraculously the sky began to part as the riders began the descent. Much more terrain became visible. The ride downhill was cold. Even the use of hand warming packets did not do the trick. It was only when the trio left the access road and began the more technical single track through the park that the bodies warmed up again. Eric F. refused to give his Guardian Angle the day off, even though he easily could have. He challenged several un-rideable sections. At one scary drop he scared everyone.
Eric on the edge
The sun began to set as the three cruised the pleasant and scenic wooded trail towards the parking lot. The group would have exited in broad daylight, but a chain snafu caused a slight delay, keeping Eric and Lornas string of inadvertent rides into the darkness in tact.
Lorna shreds the park
A trip to the Calistoga Inn put a perfect finish on the day. Blitzen beer was still on tap. This extra hefty brew helped lubricate the final hours of the event. Excellent food fueled the deserving bodies. This ride turned out to be great fun and a perfect fit to the days conditions. The Sunday Saints paid homage to the Church and were beneficiaries of vast beauty and glory.