Summer/fall 2017, reader’s digest

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

Oakridge, 7/1–7/4

oakridgetrains

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

IMG_6195

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

IMG_6264

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

IMG_6456 2 copy.jpg

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?

IMG_6625

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

IMG_8934

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

IMG_7505 copy

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*.

IMG_7503 copy
* Possibly the motto for this blog.
Advertisements

Ventana Wilderness

Oh, California, honestly.
Not even kidding.

“Can you eat this?” asks the Montanan, handing me a packet of freeze-dried beef and broccoli. I read the ingredient list, which is a safe bet, and then the calorie count, which is not. “Don’t worry,” he says, correctly interpreting my pained silence, “I bought two.”

Other numbers: 26 miles, 8,000 feet (!) of climbing. Cone Peak was about 5,000 feet of that; the rest was mostly the Stone Ridge Trail, a succession of progressively more maddening excursions in and out of ravines mitigated by ludicrous portraits of oaks against ocean, lupines on limestone. We shared our spot at Goat Camp with two friendly Cal Poly triathletes triathlon people, identified as such first by their bubbliness and then by their hoodies. I was probably asleep by 8 p.m. on Saturday night. Backpacking is hard, even here where the air is thick. I am not a load-bearing machine.

The next day, weaving past the loamy craters and exposed roots of upturned pines, I held the holy grail of all California partisans: snow—not much, but nonetheless—and ocean in the same view. The Montanan somewhere ahead and out of earshot I got geeky and wheezed to myself,

For there isn’t a thing
In that secondhand kingdom of Arcady
That compares with the sun or the sea
Of that gold-spangled coast
Pardon us if we boast
When we toast
Californ-i-ay!

Last note (har har) for any Googlers: the trail work here is phenomenal, even where the signage is not. So thanks, Ventana Wilderness Alliance, for allowing this delicate urban flower the coveted chance to fill a lovingly stickered Nalgene from a motherfucking waterfall, to repeatedly mistake the whuffling of wary ground-birds for angry bears—all in time for work on Monday morning. In all secular seriousness, you are doing God’s work in God’s country; God bless.