Georgetown, 10/26–10/27

I try to attend women’s-only mountain bike events once every few years to avoid becoming completely incompetent. We all improve by observing others, but my usual riding partners are men so much faster than me that they’re rarely in sight. Even when I can watch them, their clearing an obstacle is meaningless—whereas I consider a woman doing the same thing to be admissible evidence I should at least try it. If this approach is completely sexist, it has also thus far kept me alive.

Having said that, all-women events stress me out. There’s often a lot of dancing and “WOOO”-ing, and while men can choose to stand apart from these rituals without drawing much notice, opting out as a woman tends to cause other women to assume you’re a stuck-up bitch. It doesn’t help that in my case it’s arguably true. 

Point being, I am already swimming against a current of dread when I arrive late to the meeting point and find the parking lot full of women kitted up in armor—a lot of armor. I watch them loading big bikes onto the shuttle rigs and observe an alarming number of full-face helmets.

Oooooooh shit, I think. I am at the wrong party.

By Donna Ellsworth, ripper.

As it turns out, I needn’t have worried. Georgetown trails are somehow everything I like and nothing I don’t: all wide, chunky, fast stuff, no acrobatics, no exposure, no water. Even without a functional rear brake (….), by far the most intimidating part of the day is dinner with 20 women I don’t know—and even that is easy to sneak out of once it gets dark. 

I go to bed resolving to Fully Participate on day two, but when I wake up the weather has taken a turn. A bone-dry wind is howling down through the woods to the foothills. The thoughtful decorative touches are blown about the lawn and the oaks are groaning and cracking overhead. No fool, the organizer pulls the plug. 

The first two roads I follow out of camp are blocked by downed trees. When I finally reach the highway a few 15-point turns later, it’s strewn with branches and pine needles that crunch under my toy car as it wobbles in the gusts. In the small Gold Country towns where PG&E cut the power days ago, the blank-faced stoplights are swinging drunkenly in the wind. Construction debris rattling down the sidewalk sounds strangely like shouting: get out, get out, get out. 

… on the other hand, I hate to waste a day out of my own zip code and I’ve always wanted a closer look at the Foresthill Bridge:

One ill-advised “short jog” later, a dozen or so grassfires are now burning between me and the bay. Driving in hapless circles through Sacramento trying to route my way around one of them, I at one point find myself in bumper-to-bumper traffic across an overpass spanning visible flames. Crossing the Carquinez Bridge at last—hills smoldering on both sides of the water—I’ve been in the car for almost six hours: easily more time than I spent on my bike.

There are more days like this ahead, more and more grind for the right side of the ratio. We all know it and we pray for rain.