From the very beginning of my project I told anyone that would listen that I’m a storyteller with a mountain bike, not a mountain biker with a camera. Sure, I like to ride a little bit, but I’ve never been much of a climber. That has never been so apparent as it was on a recent ride in Marin County, California.
The ride took place during a multi-day summit held by Specialized Bicycles at the Boy Scout camp on Pine Mountain. The camp is known as Tamarancho and it has some fine trails with the best legal singletrack in Marin. I had been invited there for an open-air screening of my film in the birthplace of the modern mountain bike.
As usual, I was riding a very old bicycle and wearing steel toe boots, Levi’s jeans, a T-shirt, and a flannel. I try to keep to the period to promote the film, so I never carry cycling necessities like water or food. On this trip I did secure a cycling necessity, a keg of IPA from a local brewery. I had it stashed just off the Boy Scouts’ property in a well-hidden yurt. This was the day after the screening and we had just done a Repack run with the group that morning. Everyone was in fine spirits.
I was hanging around the camp when cycling pioneer Charlie Kelly asked if I might like to take a little ride. There was this nice half-hour loop you could take from camp that ends up right by the yurt. Mmmm…perfect. I had brought fresh ice up that morning before the Repack run, so the hoppy goodness was probably approaching optimum temperature. We started off when Mike Sinyard appeared. He said he’d like to join us. Great.
As we pedaled down the fire road and approached the trailhead another legendary cyclist appeared. Ned Overend had been leading a small group of journalists on a ride. When we got close, he suggested that instead of the short loop, we follow him. Off we went, descending through some of the swoopiest singletrack I had ever ridden. Down, down, down, and then it dawned on me…at some point we’re gonna have to climb out of here. That 30-minute loop was turning into something much more.
We were about 3 hours into this 30-minute loop, and you know how Ned likes to climb. Holy crap, I thought I was a goner…and I was walking most of it. For most riders it probably wasn’t that big of a ride, maybe 3 hours and a couple thousand feet of climbing. But me, I was way out of my comfort zone.
Everyone took turns coming back to check on me, to make sure I was still breathing. By now I was bumming water off of everyone because, of course, I didn’t bring a drop. Mike S., Ned O., See Kay, even some perfect strangers were kind enough to offer me sips here and there. My knees were killing me, my boots felt like cinderblocks, my neck was seizing up, and my t-shirt was soaked with sweat.
I suppose you might say that, looking at the caliber of riders surrounding me, I slowed the group’s progress significantly. Everyone was really cool about it, but it was totally embarrassing. When we finally found our way to the bottom of the last pitch it was time to climb back up to camp. It felt like we’d been going up and down all day, but now we were at the very bottom of Pine Mountain. The quickest climb to camp was going in from the backside. Our final ascent wasn’t even going to take us by the Yurt and the beer. It was then that I started to lose it.
I thought about all those shiny, well-outfitted Specialized vans and how easily one could be called upon to pick us up at the end of Cascade Road and drive us up the hill. I thought about how out of shape I was and I wondered if I’d ever even been in shape in my entire life. I thought about the beer, that ice-cold beer. On that last climb out of that canyon I lost my dignity, I lost my self-respect, and most importantly, I lost my sense of humor. At least the group was so far ahead that no one was around to see it. I was a perfect mess.
As so often happens in just this type of situation, right there at the bottom of the barrel, I started to find the things I had recently lost. Is that hawk heckling me? He is. Time to dig a little deeper. Get back on the saddle. Listen to the rhythm of your body. Find the glide and all that goes with it. Check out the views. Clear some cool sections. Remember the whole reason for being here. The beer will be colder by the time we get there, etc. By the time I made it back to camp I’m pretty sure all concerned had a good laugh at my expense…and I deserved it. But I sure am glad I went on that ride. Maybe sometimes we need to lose it to find it again.