Thursday, December 29, 2005

Storm Riding

Just before midnight some recent Saturday a complex root system of lightning lit down the western sky as I drove up the 580. I howled and beat the steering wheel when I saw it, gave her a little more gas. The free electricity let me know that Mama Natural be grinnin’ at me.

Next morning rain fell in sodden down comforters stitched to wall breathing gusts with a steady 25-mph concubine dancing with fallen autumn-painted leaves. Awoke to the music of it and began congratulating myself for having had the pre-destinarian sense to arrange a mountain bike ride for the ante meridian. Not everyone possesses my tolerance, nay lust, for wetness from the sky, so companionship cancelled. Wife did all in her power to prevent this solo mission, but missions like these either gratify or disappoint me, and unless something on the level of a vehicle with flashing lights intrudes, they tend to remain high priority. Joaquin Miller Park in Oakland, being by far the most ride-in-the-rain friendly park around here, made the destination detail easy.

Pick-em-up truck started without resistance despite the rain all over the floors; must fix leak[s] sometime when drier weather prevails. Less then a mile from home the first flipped car came into view, CHP waiting without emotion in the patrol car; passed the rest of the emergency team racing to the scene a couple miles later. My truck used to be a California Dept. of Forestry fire fighting truck, so her grille smiled at the passing kinfolk.

The road through Orinda was flooded in a spot and when I hit it at ~30-mph the combination of rapid deceleration and projectile water caused some part of the exhaust system to disconnect. The engine noise immediately increased five-fold, and it's loud to start with. Of course, concern dominated my thoughts for the first minute or so, but when we didn’t stall at the lights and nothing started scraping I made the call to go ahead and hit the Hwy 24 onramp and head for the tunnel without pulling over to check the undercarriage. Mudslides on the north side of the highway had spilled into the lanes in a couple places and people were getting sideways and braking hard, driving crappy. By this time the music of the now “fully aspirated” 345 cubic inches under the hood had me fukengruven, like the engine had a 600-watt woofer. Shifting from fourth to third brought the Taiko drummers in with 4th of July flare, spooking the already jittery fellow storm drivers. Focus, focus, don’t join those miscreants all dented up on the shoulder. The tunnel just amplified the engine noise, and I started to doubt that this little muffler issue would ever be “fixed”. We’ll see what it does to the plugs, or if I get pulled over.

Got a little excited on one of the Skyline hairpins and got to experience the remarkably balanced four-wheel drift of the old IHC wonder truck. Mid-engine single-seaters got shit on me. Hoot, howl, pound dash, bounce in seat, howl mean, howl happy, howl funny, clap hands loud as I can once and we’re parked. Only one other vehicle parked at the trailhead where a sunny day would see tens; just you, I & I bambina. The drumming of the rain got louder shortly after I killed engine, right on cue. King Lear is my favorite Shakespeare. A quick change into my padded pants the guys make fun of because they make me look like a superhero (they're just jealous), a sip off the old, and I do mean old, hydration nipple and soft-tail #1 & I leave the petroleum residuum hard top for the root laced Sunset trail. The eyeglasses had to be pocketed within the first five minutes due the mist; visibility only ~30’ anyhow.

Flipped the switch at the top of Cinderella to add an extra 20-mm of travel in the front, dropped the seat a couple inches and hee-haw that old motorcycle chute felt fine as frog’s hair. Like most roller coaster rides it ended fair soon, dumping me onto the lower part of Sunset Trail. Woods got quite dark in that valley, almost night at noon, and of course right before each steep section the clouds would let loose with a little extra to help me along. From there a short steep uphill stint with only a minute or two of hike-a-bike got me back to the top, rain feeling good on my engine.

As I considered making the next loop the last one a woman jogged by, looked me in the eye, and said “You’re even crazier”, which brought the 12-year old me out to play, the me once called a “crazy asshole” by some 16-year old suburban outlaw after he saw me catch some wicked air on a pile of dirt at a construction site. That older outlaw revved me up then, possibly for years, and this blessed rain jogger’s comment bequeathed no lesser kindness. A third loop would now be mandatory.

The Chapparal trail opened up its maw of madness and commenced to chewing. To preserve trail from erosion 12x12 railroad ties are placed every 10-20' on this steep and rocky trail, which become slick in wet conditions, which led to a sudden unexpected dismount. No damage worthy of mention, but my knees had that post-fall quiver that I blame for me picking an untenable line for the hardest section. No one was around to see me freeze up and walk for a minute, so what the shit. Got back in the groove for the last twenty or thirty railroad ties and had a rousing finish. Took the meadow trail back to the hike-a-bike section, usually filled with families having pic-nics or whatnot, but today just me and little birdies telling me the coolest things.

Big Trees trail is the traditional finisher for this ride, so Big Trees it was. Big Trees is mostly redwoods and the floor glowed wet red that day. Took a break at the corner of Fern Ravine and Orchard where two creeks come together. One creek has a regular bridge and the little one a half-log bridge. I hopped out on the log bridge and studied the streams, waterfalls, and mist for a long minute before proceeding to manage to get as lost as possible in the grove. Mini-forests of 8" across mushrooms flourished in several places and I didn't mind not knowing where I was for a few minutes. The final descent came into view soon enough and visions of hot showers steamed into my peripheral thinking.

The rain's been here long enough that it doesn't always appetize me anymore, but trips like this one remind me that the discomfort is more than worth it.


Zahrala said...

Although I'm not quite up to the physical challenge of riding the trails with you, I so appreciate the description. I'd like to shrink myself to about 2 inches high and cling to your collar as you ride through the storm!

Fourth Musketeer said...

Hmmm, two inches, half an inch shorter than my thumb. Nice image but I think that one of the forward helmet vents would provide a safer seat and better view. From this day forward that spot will be reserved for you. Now all I need is an angel for the other side (I jest). The story of Tom Thumb and especially the story of Thumbellina are two of my all-time childhood favorites. Goods go so much further for wee ones. In Vonnegut's "Slapstick" China has worked it so that it's entire population is thumb-sized. Mmmmm, resources. When I get my lipstick sized video camera feed we can all see what sudden unexpected dismounts look like from my helmet, but probably only in dry conditions. We tried mounting Quintan's camera directly to his bike once, but uh, only once.

Fourth Musketeer said...

Turns out that my weekday riding group has their shit slightly more together on the video front than me, and so has already posted their first ride of the year which I unfortunately did not make it to. These trails are not so technical as Joaquin Miller, but you get the idea.