Winter Solstice: December 21, 2005 @ 10:35 am PDT

Michel had lobbied vigorously for a major ride. He was finally able to take a day from his paternity obligation to escape to Calistoga for a ride. It had been many weeks since his last outing. He argued that the solstice would be a great excuse to undertake something special.

Although Eric basically agreed, the weather didn’t. Wednesday was forecast to be a wet, winter bummer. The only saving grace was the relative warm temperature. The two plus Miss Swift met at 10:35 at Dr. J’s shop. From this point forth, the new year was returning. This was a significant day. The rain was light and intermittent as the trio began the long climb up the Oat. Water flowed freely down the ruts in the trail. Clouds hung half-way down the mountain.

The rain stayed light and the temperature was mild as the two pedaled up to the saddle. They stopped there to take a short munchies break, to fuel up for the difficult upper section. Both agreed that it was OK to walk sections, to take it easy and conserve energy for the rest of the planned ride.

Eric questioned the destination; “Do we have a plan?”

Michel didn’t hesitate to say; “Well, whatever we can do in five hours.”

Eric’s first thought; “Seems like a long time to be out in the rain!”

The two plus Swift pressed on. The rocks were treacherously slippery on the upper section, making most technical challenges not even worth trying. Near the top, Eric suggested that they proceed to the wind cave for lunch. This feature would get the group out of the rain at least, though Miss Swift didn’t seem to mind. The back side of the oat was soaking wet and sloppy near the top. Just past the fallen tree, a large deer jumped right in front of Swift. She dashed after the fast moving deer. A second deer who must not have seen Swift, chased after the first.

At the Wind Cave the bikers climbed out of the rain and took an extended break for another great lunch provided by the Rolling French Deli. A delicious sandwich, chips and beer perfectly suited the hungry riders. Even Miss Swift was treated to doggie snacks. Stopping for food was relaxing. Too relaxing. At this point both riders were wet. Although modern clothing, especially Fuzzy Duds, go a long way to make wet days tolerable, they still don’t compensate entirely for being wet. Stopping for too long causes the wet body to start to get cold.

The temperature had dropped several degrees. The rain continued though mostly light. From the wind cave to the turn-off, the mine road was wet and slippery. It didn’t take long to reach Cougar Pass. Eric suggested that they would likely not be able to take any extended breaks for the duration of the ride. Each had clothing that kept them warm when moving. They bi-passed Pocai Camp, a rare occurrence. The stream below the camp was roaring and deep. The normal channel to ride was swift flowing water. It would not be possible any longer to have anything close to dry feet.

A discussion followed the climb to the signpost.

“How are you feeling, Michel?” Eric quiered.

“Fine, no problem,” Michel said trying to ignore his recent absence from the sport.

“Ah, what do you want to do, the standard Wild Lilac or the extended version?” Eric asked.

Without hesitation, Michel replied; “Of course, the extended version.”

His eyes were slightly bigger than his appetite. The choice was to take the Wild Lilac or take the risk of going through the forbidden zone. The crossing to the Wild Lilac was blocked by the fast moving Van Ness Creek. Crossing would have been possible, but it would have been sketchy. Besides, that ride had been done before. Michel (and now Eric) wanted to do something unique. Having the dog along meant that the Highway 29 option was not available. The finish of the ride would proceed from the parking lot at RLS and travel the Table Rock trail to the 420 trail.

The rain began to pelt down hard as the two climbed from the Girl Scouts. Suddenly out of the corner of his eye, Eric noticed a large clump of orange/yellow color. A giant Chanterelle mushroom was posing along the trail. Michel provided a large bag, Eric loaded the monster into his pack for later consumption. Progress slowed as the two riders lagged from fatigue. The trail was soft making the climb more strenuous. Finally they reached the parking lot.

Michel was offered the option to jet down the highway. Eric was stuck with the dog and would have to take the off-road route. Though noticeably wasted, Michel again declined to take any shortcuts. The final push to the top of the terrain began. The rain was intense and the wind howled just above the tree tops. At one point the trail traverses a bare saddle on the ridge. The two were exposed to very high velocity, viscous wind. Despite the relative warm temperature, the chill factor in the wind plummeted. It would take little time to drain the body of precious heat. Fortunately only a short section of the trail was exposed.

Finally the two reached the top of the climb. The amount of altitude gained for the day was enormous. Now the two could finally feel as though they had a good chance of success. The light was fading, yet plentiful enough to descend the 420 trail. It was in excellent condition and easy to ride. The dog did a heroic job of keeping up with the bikes, especially after logging nearly twenty miles already. Eventually the trail led to the ranch road and a flock of sheep. Miss Swift took great interest in the half dozen, fluffy animals that insisted on running down the road in front of us.

At the Old Toll Road, the ride began to be in its final stage. Now an ambulance could reach the bikers if necessary. They descended as fast as the dog could run. She did well and trotted all the way to Highway 29. At that junction, it was decided that this was the best place to part company. Michel jetted ahead while Eric and Miss Swift proceeded slowly back to town.

The ride pioneered a new route never before done. It was a notable event for the solstice. The ride was just about as much as the two could pull off with out 911 intervention. The funky weather and the extended period of time spent outside stretched the limits of the two. This effort symbolically heralds in the new season. It was a great start.