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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North Coast, 8/30-9/1

We failed yet again to get to Oregon, this time because most of what we wanted to ride was on fire. Though on the north coast the woods had not yet actually ignited, the drought was still with us: the Eel River is currently the Eel Riverbed, and Paradise Royale—which I had imagined looking like Fern Gully—reminded me, if anything, of  Santa Barbara.

But even bone-dry it was a refreshing detour. The loop’s main climb is encouragingly dubbed “Prince of Pain,” but because it’s a) purpose-built for bikes and b) not at elevation, it hurt way less than anywhere else I’ve gained 800 feet in under three miles. And there’s a (camp-chair) throne at the top.

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QOM the easy way.  Paradise Royale also has a sweet skills area that I was too lazy (regal?) to try.

In Mendocino too we found many interesting things in the woods—including one of my favorite trails, Widowmaker, and local hero Roo Harris, whose book you absolutely need if you have any intention of locating it on the same day you start looking. While riding around in circles we also discovered a still-smoldering campfire. There was a lot of anxious debate and kicking sand around and pitiful use of Camelbak hoses before someone hit on the idea of peeing on the flames. And while I generally strive to be one of the guys on these trips …  in this case I took a pass.

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Hidden treasures of Jackson State Forest. (But the beer stash is for trail crews; we left that alone.)

And because any trip with Jacob and Sean is as much about food as anything else—some parting shots below: the Peg House, recommended for deviled eggs, weed-themed accessories, and other Americana; Jacob presiding with biblical solemnity over a pizza menu, per usual; and the fine fruit of a farm stand off the Briceland-Thorn Road. It has an intimidating driveway, but at the end of it there are blackberry popsicles on the honor system. Worth a stop!

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Ask him about the number on his shirt.

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Basically, just look at this beautiful fish:

MUAH!

Sean speared it Saturday between bouts of vomiting into the Pacific—seasick and still a killer, who knew? I’m wary of the world subsurface, personally, so it was enough for me to swim around sparring with grabby strands of kelp and watching the hunter-gatherer types disappear and then resurface in surprising places. It’s novel simply not to be cold: I in fact felt so inspired by this magical device, the “wetsuit” that I am considering learning to kiteboard in the spring. Pending a lottery win.

Sunday, armed with the new guidebook from the lovely folks at Mendocino Bike Sprite, we managed to ride the Double Loop unsupervised without getting lost in the enchanted forest. A short ride, but time enough to marvel again at the quality of the trails and the power of revisionist history—by which I insisted several times that there was “basically no climbing” on the route. (Dude, what?)