When the winter rains come to these parts, the riding gets interesting, and by interesting, I mean breathless, heart-pounding, white-knuckled FUN!
I’d pretty much given up riding the outlaw motorcycle trails in the local conservancy, not because they are illegal, but because since I fell and sprained my ankle, I was too chicken. Oh, I’d ridden some of the less terrifying sections, but I completely avoided the section that was my nemesis and some of the more technical ones as well. But after a rain, the traction was inspiring AND I was riding with “the boys”.
We climbed Three Hawks, a popular, hiking trail that demands enough technical skill to avoid piles of dog poop while navigating steep switchbacks. Being risk adverse when it comes to such hazards, I rode with extreme caution. The trail joins a fire road which climbs gently for a few miles and offers views of the motorcycle trail (MT) which follows the hog backs of the ridge. At each saddle where the trail drops down to the road, I examined the condition of the trail, looking for ruts that would make the steep descents too perilous for my skill level. It looked mostly good.
The first section of the MT scares me. The climb just to get to the top of Zanja Peak is leg-burning, lung-busting, heart-breaking, steep. This terrifies me worse than a dog poop slalom. If that were the only thing against it, I might climb it, but the descent down the other side is commensurately treacherous. I decided to wait at the first intersection of the road and the MT while Mike, my husband, rode that section. This meant that I had to climb the second section with no momentum to assist in the effort. Joining Mike at the crest, I panted, “Whose idea WAS this?” And then the fun began.
Following Mike through the chest-high brush, the trail was rarely visible but at least I could trust that it was where I remembered it having been as indicated by Mike’s rapidly vanishing backside. All too soon, the trail, bisected by two axle-deep ruts plunged steeply back to the road. A really good rider, like Mike, would have released the brakes and allowed gravity to have its way, trusting the bike to ride the slick hump between the ruts to carry him safely to the bottom. I, being of weak faith, braked, which slid my rear wheel into the rut. I twisted my foot out of the grip of my Speedplay pedal, and dabbed my foot along the high side of the rut all the way to the bottom. “What a tourist!” I muttered to myself. And again, I had to climb the next hill with no assisting momentum. Mike was waiting at the top and kindly refrained from any disparaging comments about my lack of confidence.
The next section was my ankle-spraining nemesis. I approached the summit with some trepidation but Mike was already nearly to the bottom so I had little choice but to point the front tire down the rocky descent and keep my eyes trained as far ahead as possible. To my surprised delight, I found that there was a wide, fairly smooth (no rocks larger than a softball) rut in which I could comfortably track to the bottom. The traction was so sticky that speed control was easy peasy.
After such a boost to my confidence the subsequent hills, though steeper and probably more difficult, were only marginally thrilling until I came to the penultimate lock-em-up, slider descent to the road. I could see Mike waiting at the bottom and yelled down to him, “Where’s the line?”
He hollered back, “Follow my skid marks.” Sincerely hoping he wasn’t referring to any loss of bowel control, I let my bike roll over the lip of the granite outcrop, braking judiciously until it became obvious that braking was futile. I loosened my grip on the brakes, allowing the bike to straighten itself out, and I was instantly catapulted to warp speed. At the bottom of the short drop it was crucial to cut a quick turn to avoid running off the trail into the unknown. Self-preservation prevailed and I carved the turn and skidded breathlessly to a stop inches from Mike’s bike.
Next month I’ll be 67, but today I felt like a 10-year old.