Summer/fall 2017, reader’s digest

or: Can’t take me anywhere; I go anyway

Oakridge, 7/1–7/4

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Here my sins against stoke included napping in the shuttle van instead of riding Hardesty and getting so pissed off at Middle Fork—the most miserable, deadfall-strewn, mosquito-ridden bushwack I have ever (barely) pedaled: 57 bites accumulated while sweating it out in a jacket—that I opted for a fire-road climb over a second singletrack descent. This did at least get me to the treeline, where Oregon finally starts to look good. Also on the bright side: Alpine, as always; a fun new stopover loop in Klamath; and great company.

Emigrant Wilderness, 8/12–8/13

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Quick trip, the granite bright and the wildflowers extravagant. I would consider this my masterclass in third-wheeling but for the presence of Pickles the very helpful blue heeler, who made us four. At night we all watched the perseids smudge war-paint on the sky.

Tahoe, 8/19–8/20

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On the Tahoe Rim Trail we found a dog, a beautiful blonde husky with fur like latte art and eyes like the center of a nebula—not sorry, both are true. It was hot and collarless and wandering in the woods. I was leaving my second voicemail at an animal shelter when its owners (we assume) pulled up in an F150 and snatched the animal back without a word. “You should fucking say thank you, assholes, go to hell!” I yelled after their rising dust as the boys cringed. On reflection, this outburst stemmed from an upbringing on both sides of the pond: I take manners seriously, like a Brit, but escalate like a red-blooded American.

At camp we found … a hailstorm. We fled to dinner in town and watched rainbows over the railroad tracks.

And on Donner Summit we found a giant bonsai garden and a geocache. In it, among other things, were letters to a couple—both dead, the wife just recently—whose friends had hiked to the peak to scatter their ashes. “Thank you for being part of my memory. Seven of us have made the trek this morning to pay our respects. … We uncorked a bottle of $5 wine that tasted like $50. We love you, my friend.” Point in my favor, I managed not cry about that one until I got home.

Ventana Wilderness, 9/2–9/4

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From a dirt road pullout high on the ridge, I watched the setting sun drop shafts of light onto the crinkled Pacific through holes in a lid of wildfire smoke.  I saw my first tarantula, held my palm to peeling manzanita, and hid in the tent from black flies worse—honest—than anything I can remember from Africa. I revisited Cone Peak, under very different circumstances, and on the coast side of the mountains drove Highway 1 between the mudslides for a preview of the end of the world.

It will be alright, I decided, when it’s all over. This road, these cypress, California, will fall slowly into the sea. The whales will breach with no one watching  out where the sky and the water meet, in the same blue haze. A warmer wind will stir the palms. They’ll get too tall to be true.

In the interim, driving home through Fort Hunter Liggett, every massive, moss-draped oak was the most beautiful one I’d ever seen.

Downieville, 9/8–9/10

Concisely: I live for elevation, die at altitude; cursed Mills Peak on the way up, sang its name all the way down; didn’t want to get in Packer Lake and then didn’t want to get out. The usual.

I mostly want to note this insane candy-corn fungus. How does this happen?

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Tahoe, 9/16–9/17

Aside from the fact that its main event was mountain biking, the best part of this particular bachelorette party was that these girls were content to Let Me Do Me, no pressure. They toasted with wine and I with tea; they painted their nails while I fastidiously arranged all the polish in a spectrum. ROYGBIV.

Mendocino, 10/7–10/8

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At first the trees were radiant, benevolent. I knelt in the needles at their feet and considered praying, probably did. But later on the wind picked up—so gradually I didn’t notice my own rising unease until I lost my GPS track, stopped to pull out a map and registered the muffled howl through the canopy and crack and groan of trunks disappearing into the dark. Small branches rained down around my head as I bolted out of the woods, and though I’d planned on staying for the night I was so relieved to find the car I fled home instead.

As I drove south watching the gale flatten the parched grass along the highway, there was a distinct moment I thought to myself, this would burn like a motherfucker. When the next morning I discovered that it in fact had, there was an infinitesimal and awful moment in which I imagined I had ignited Sonoma County with my mind.

Bend, 10/27–10/30

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I don’t know why I can’t accept that it is winter here, or that I’m too slow to ride with these guys any more, but on the strength of my denial I pushed my bike through snow and hauled it over and under an endless obstacle course of downed trees. I rode literally half of what everybody else did and still was so tired by the end of the weekend that I hyperventilated at Ten Barrel when the waitress informed me they’d run out of giant cast-iron cookies. They hadn’t, either; this was  just the boys’ idea of a joke.

I shared anyway*.

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* Possibly the motto for this blog.
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Downieville, 6/13-6/14

I spent my first weekend out of The Boot in Downieville, sans vélo, but still rapid-cycling—between Muir-grade rapture at being back in the mountains and frustration at being hobbled. Per usual, I’ll choose to blame the attitude on altitude: eight months at sea level has erased either my tolerance for the thin air or my memory of the fact that I never had any to start with. Woe!

Lucky for me, I had two very patient hiking buddies …

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Marisa probably a bit more so than Beau.

There’s also plenty to see in Downieville outside the usual program of shuttle-ride-river-repeat. Saturday I limped up to the excellent Sierra Buttes fire lookout, and it felt like the top of the world. Sunday Marisa drove some silly sort of mileage on Forest Service roads in search of the “other” Devil’s Postpile, which bore an interesting resemblance to the iron throne. Altogether, it was a good reminder that what I miss isn’t mountain biking, or climbing, or backpacking, or any of the other big-ticket items still several months out: it’s exploring—and if I were to quit whining for five minutes, I could probably come up with some other ways to do that.

The bedframe at the edge of the world.
Into this caption I will sneak the information that the Sierra Buttes are a Trust for Public Land Project. HOLLER.

I would also like to state for the record that on this trip a fish fell from the sky and exploded on Jack’s car. At least, that was theory we’d settled on by Sunday afternoon; on the freeway Saturday morning speculation as to the source of the impressive thud ranged from “BIKES!!” to “bird?”—with a brief, optimistic interlude of “somebody’s smoothie” before the scientist on staff confirmed the presence of, uh, tissue matter in the slime spattered across the roof. Unsurprisingly, my contribution to the cleanup effort was to take pictures and put them on the Internet to gross you out. You’re welcome!

This actually happened.
Clockwise from left—Jack: “NOOOOOOO”; fish guts; third car wash is the charm/only one with a pressure washer.

D(r)ownieville turned Briones

YOU SHOULD KNOW BETTER

ONE: A 40% chance of rain in the mountains could mean many things, possibly, but one thing for sure: stake your fly.

Sean, unperturbed, scrambles eggs.

So I woke on Saturday to a small lake inside my tent, a continuing downpour outside of it, and total certainty that I wasn’t going to ride. I’m really just not into wet rocks. And I’ve got nothing to prove, right?

“It would suck to go home having not done anything,” Ryan said, pulling on a pair of swim trunks over his kit. “RRRGHHHHHHHHHFIIIIINE,” I replied.

TWO: I am neither an 80-pound roadie famine-child nor an 180-pound downhill meathead, and if I ride with my front suspension set up for one of those characters and the rear suspension set up for the other, the bike will feel drunk. I can dismiss this effect as the inevitable result of my poor handling skills (my approach to the issue all summer), or I can give the poor thing five minutes alone with a qualified mechanic and then freakin’ float down Third Divide in the throes of hero dirt with delusions of gnar and the soundtrack from Life Cycles in my head. Amazing. (Thank you, Matt B.!)

THREE: If you can’t be bothered to check the topo, at least consider the trail names. Really, what do you think is going to be the tougher option? “Creek Trail” or “DIABLO VIEW”?

Carquinez Strait from Briones Regional Park.

Anyway, yes, I walked some climbs—the sort of steep where you’re sliding backwards and stepping out of your shoes. And I probably didn’t do my road bike any favors. But anyone who says we don’t get fall colors is missing the glow and the change in the light, and the woods smelled new and brilliant after the rain.

A wheezy walk still beats the pavement.