Sierra Sweetness

I totally take riding for granted. And you know what? I’ve got no guilt or karmic fear about it at all. I’ve worked for that granted that I take, and I’ll continue to do so. So, I guess that’s not technically taking riding for granted since I’m putting in effort (and as I notice more and more dudes my age trading in their riding time for an additional chin, I’m realizing that, apparently, it takes more work than I thought). What I’m getting at is riding’s become an automatic for me.

“Of course I ride. Duh.”

But one situation that I feel I effortlessly fell ass backwards into was that a young Steve Beach and Janis Hearne met, fell in love, married, totally boned down and produced twin boys Andy and Chris. And best of all, Steve and Janis did so in northern California. All of which I burned no calories making happen, but the rewards I’ve reaped have been sack-ticklingly pleasant. When it comes to riding hills painted in gorgeous, Nor-cal brings it, and I get to enjoy it in large part because of where I happen to have been born. Lucky me.

I’m not going to be as obnoxious as saying I feel sorry for the unlucky schlubs who live in completely level parts of the US. I don’t picture everyone in Nebraska lying in the middle of a dusty plane, drunk, arms and legs akimbo like a suicidal jumper, snake-like trails from tears and saliva the only semi-clean spots on their creased faces, hurling curses skyward to their maker in a cloud of breath poisoned with the smell of intoxication and sick: “Why  wasn’t I born in N0-Cal! Whyyy!” That’s snobbish and arrogant. And besides, I bet it’s probably pretty cool to be able to stare out at the horizon and make out the curvature of the earth.

But this weekend, I damn near felt sorry for anyone who wasn’t with me on my truly memorable weekend riding/camping trip in the green and granite of the Sierras Nevadas. There was perfect riding weather. Cream of the crop peeps to ride with. Multiple sized ants everywhere, bent on eating my face down to the marrow, which added to the thrilling sense of outdoorsiness and adventure. And at the end of it all, Nature said, “And because I like you guys so much, fuckit, I’m gonna throw in an eclipse that only a tiny percentage of the world are going to be able to see in its full radness. Sound good?”

Our riding groups’ master of big trip planning, Tim, took Nature up on her offer and invited the rest of the group in on the deal, with members sweetening the trip with various suggestions and their highly valuable presence.

We camped at Blue Lake. (Guess what color it was.) It’s in a region off highway 20 where  lake buddies Rucker, Blue, Fuller and Spaulding live as lake neighbors.

Blue Lake, disguised as Purple Lake

While on the subject of lakes, let me throw out this question: how do they decide if “Lake” is a lake’s surname or given name? Why isn’t it Tahoe Lake? I would have been okay with that. Why do Rucker, Blue and Fuller have “lake” second, yet their neighbor is Lake Spaulding? Hmmm. Is it a size thing? Spaulding is definitely the biggest. All the great lakes have “lake” first. No, that can’t be it. Clear Lake is pretty goddamn big. So is Pyramid Lake. Lake. Lake. Lake. That’s a funny word.

Day one ride:

Anyway, we had our sites on a trail called Blue Lake Trail. So we pitched our tents, geared up and put ass to saddle. One issue. We didn’t know exactly how to get to the trailhead. We knew it was on the other side of Blue Lake, we just didn’t know the smoothest way to get from the west si-eeed of the lake to the east si-eeed. What looked like a trail head was spotted on the south side, so off we went. But as is often the case, it was the wrong choice, and things got screwy as the trail quickly turned to bullshit time as people got separated. Let me elaborate on that. I got separated. I was out ahead of the pack, pushing though flesh tearing brush that made my legs look like scrotum bound ferrets had climbed up my pants. The trail we had laid our hopes on was gone. It totally sucked.

We had obviously chosen incorrectly. But it wasn’t that big a lake, so I was going to keep pushing through. Back tracking and choosing the north side didn’t seem a good option to me since we were more than halfway there. I suddenly noticed that no one was behind me. So I stopped. And waited. And then did that a bit more. Eventually I started calling out. Silence. More calling out, now angry. Nothing. Finally I hear voices up on the steep ridge above me. They tell me that they’re going back the other way, which for them may have been the best option. For me, as I said, it wasn’t. So I headed straight down the steep hill toward the shore. Once I got there, things were good. It was actually a ridable shoreline. So I rode most of the way to the east side, where we needed to be, and waited to see the gang emerge on the west side and head east on the north shore….never happened.

Anyway, this is getting too fucking long and boring. Eventually, thanks to the facts that I came across some hikers with a great map and that eventually someone eventually got smart enough to make a cell phone call (not me), we met up at the trail head of Blue Lake Trail. Everyone kept their cool, no one started pointing bleeding fingers, and we rode on.

Blue Lake Trail was an interesting one. The first part of it is built along the edge of what was once an irrigation ditch. There was a bit more hike-a-bike for my taste once the trail left the ditch and things got steep and loose in spots, but of course there was the promise of the return trip, as we knew this was going to be an out and back. Six of the group eventually decided they’d had enough. But five pressed on. I’m glad we did, as the best stuff was ahead of us. We enjoyed stream crossings. Rocky technical descents and ascents that would become rocky technical ascents and descents on the way back. Million-tree, multi-lake views. Gorgeous patches of purple wild flowers rooted in cracks in the granite. Some gnarly looking pines that I thought were bristle cones (but after some research, don’t think they were but still beautiful and ancient looking).

The Sierras have the type of scenery that rockets your “photo-worthy” threshold off the charts. I mean, even with digital cameras, you can only take so many goddamn photos. It’s beauty on such massive scale that it that can relieve depression, or enhance it because you feel so small and ugly in comparison. Do I want to stare at that cliff in awe or jump off it? Fortunately I’m in the (I’m sure bigger) camp that derives happiness from it, serotonin flowing and doing what it’s supposed to do. Over the weekend I had none of the anxiety/depression that, thanks to genetics, I’m medicated for, even though it’s been rearing it’s boil covered head a little bit as of late.

Sittin’ ’round the campfire with a moron

Everyone loves a campfire except people who have fallen into them. Add a fatigue induced body high from riding, good people, yummy food and the Earth’s means of mental impairment—be they grown and harvested or distilled—a campfire always makes a night better. And Saturday evening next to Blue Lake was no different. But there was one set back.

My wife doesn’t like when I use the word “retard,” even though I’ve been using it since the year 5 BP (Before Pubes), and I’ve never ever called a person who was actually mentally challenged a retard. No, that word is normally reserved for close friends who do something funny-dumb, or when describing a stranger who is annoying-dumb. For example, the dude that glommed onto one of my riding buddies, and eventually our camp circle: full on, chaw-in-lip, spitting on the ground, mooching our beer, annoying as fuck, total retard. And the worst part is, he was a blowhard retard. Did you know: they’ve got the best pot in Truckee. It’s super cheap there. He’s a pro snowboarder. He’s a great mountain biker on all the best, secret trails. But I was most taken by the fact that he doesn’t work and is broke. He is 34 and cruising around looking for campers to leach off. He even made a really weird comment about “the bald dude” (me), I guess trying to be funny. I don’t give a shit about being bald, but I do give a shit about dumb guys who  don’t know me commenting on it. I let it slide because I’m a grown-up. Fortunately he and his stumbling drunk girlfriend moved on and I’m sure eventually threw up on the floor board of the Honda station wagon that I’m certain was a hand me down from some highly disappointed parents. We then got onto the business of getting messed up and enjoying the hell out of each others’ company. Such a great group. Not a retard in the bunch.

Day 2 riding

Day 2 was a shuttle day. After breaking down camp, straightening out our logistics and moving around cars, we launched from Fuller Lake, eventually hitting Spaulding Lake Trail. It was the usual great variety that’s available on most trails in the area. Exposed, brushy hillsides. Loose cobble sized granite rocks. Small lush and green valleys filled with cedars, grass and streams. All just a blast. I salute all the riders who came before us who have fashioned fun builds over fallen logs throughout the trail.

Our turnaround point was at an amazing waterfall on the Yuba river, rimmed by a really fun granite playground that we fooled around on for about half an hour after eating our lunch and dipping out feet and heads in painfully cold water that felt like it would freeze if it dropped one more degree.

The Yuba River makin’ some noise

Aqua, left. Me, right.

We backtracked over the majority of the trail, which was even more bonerific (apologies to our lone female rider, Ceil for my choice of adjectives) coming back, except for one cock-blocking hike-a-bike which, to its credit, had been really fun on the way in. Eventually, rather than doing a full out and back, we headed off on what we thought was going to be the Ponderosa trail. It was not the Ponderosa trail. It wasn’t exactly great riding, as a lot of it involved some pretty tricky, very rocky ledge trails along Lake Spaulding. But we did get to cross three dams, which I always find pretty impressive as long as I keep the epic environmental devastation of damming out of my head. We eventually caught a paved road to highway 20 and got to ride on gravity’s back all the way to the cars. Eclipse time.

Ring of fire

Every solar eclipse I’ve seen has elicited reactions to the effect of, “Hm. Yeah, there ya go.” I get more excited about the bite I just took out a Specialty’s chocolate chip cookie than the bites I’ve see out of the sun. We’re talking 30 percenters. But this one, friends, will be my most memorable experience with the sun unless it blows up someday. Once again, I’ll use the word “luck.” There was only a narrow southeast bound swath of the western US that saw this annular eclipse in full effect. And we were in its glorious path. I had picked up a pair of welding goggles for the occasion, and they served us well. They weren’t quite dark enough, but combined with a pair of sunglasses, it revealed a crystal clear view as the sun was slowly eaten. Just spectacular stuff and a perfect end to a great weekend.

I totally saw this. Photo from the site you go to if you click on the pic.

Yeah, I’m a hard working lucky boy.


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