Being car-less folk, Paul and I were to head out on our dirtbikes around 5:30 Friday. Charles had our tent and sleeping bags already up at Stonyford. We would get there just about sundown, set up camp in the dark, sleep a bit, then get up early and RIDE.
5:40pm, we are gassed up and away, on our way on an ADVENTURE! Which lasts for precisely 1.5 miles when I realize that Paul has dropped out of my mirror. We limp back to his house on the streets as his bike (which he bought last Sunday since the XR blew up) is cutting out. Vapor lock? Or something worse? Ugh, and it is raining. Paul works like a genius and we are back on the road around 7:00, hoping for the best. It is a 2.5-3 hour ride to Stonyford, and it is raining, and it is all quite stressful.
But we go, Paul in front, as fast as we can on our little knobby tires, up to Dunnigan, which is just near 505 and I5, where we stop for gas. I have been stuck here before on the way back from Sheetiron. There is a weird restaurant. There is also a motel. I am getting the lazies. There's nothing quite as nice as riding through the rain with an open faced-helmet (which is essentially what a motocross helmet is) and feeling the painful repeated pinprick impact of rain on your face. And it is dark, and we will be either setting up a tent in dark and MUD in Stonyford, or sleeping in a warm bed NOW. It's a no brainer, we call Charles and tell him we will hotel, and meet them at Stonyford to ride out in the morning. He sounds skeptical. "we will re-evaluate in the morning," he emphasizes, implying they are thinking that it will rain, and they may just load the trucks and go hang out in Fort Bragg. After a couple of hours on a dirtbike in the rain on the freeway, that sounds fine too. I really, really want to do the Sheetiron, but feel pretty unprepared, and mud riding in torrential rain doesn't appeal to me.
Saturday morning, we get into Stonyford around 6:15, and rush to get everything done, re-arranged, set-up, and packed in the right place in the right order. Order of operations is very, very important, as anyone with a riding gear fetish can tell you. We don't actually get out of camp until about 8, which is not ideal. Feh.
Paul and I decide to do easy splits. Saturday morning, there happen to be two easy splits, one not as easy as the other. We take this easy-moderate split since it promises creek crossings and pretty stuff. It takes me a bit to get my legs for riding on the tacky stuff, but it starts to make a little sense.
Here is what I know about riding on the dirt:
1.) Stay on the Gas, or Fall on Your Ass.
Unfortunately, I have lost any tiny bit of skill or knowledge I may have ever had about turning a dirtbike. Sure, I know what you're supposed to do. I have listened to advice and instructions, and can tell you how to do it. I *know* this, but my body does not do it. Well, fine, I run through some slippy and slightly rutty stuff and it's kind of fun and terrifying. I doubt anyone can see or hear this, but whenever I hit slippy stuff, I yell in my helmet at myself. What do I yell?
"GAS! GAS! ASS! UP, UP, UP! GAS!"
"Up" is just to remind me to keep my elbows up and loose, for all the good that will do me. Well, it sort of worked. I mean, I didn't bail.
Fortunately, a chunk of the San Francisco Motorcycle club ends up mixed in with us. I've been hanging out with the SFMC folks for a few years now, and they are the best. Really, I am delighted to be near them.
A little ways in, we get to a small creek crossing, which goes off without a hitch. I look at it with a little trepidation, but it is not a tough creek really, at least from appearances, and is much, much narrower than some I've crossed before. And the other side isn't as rutted as that nasty one we crossed last time. Lionel is standing on the other side and snaps a photo of me crossing. Cool! Can't wait to get his pictures.
Second river crossing is a bit trickier. Normally, I like to size up an obstacle, and hit it from a right angle. Specifically, for a creek, I'd like to have a little running start. No such luck here. Even the small space where I'm wishing I could get my bike to in order to get optimal entry speed and angle, cannot be used as it keeps getting filled up with other riders who came after us. I have to nudge in, or may never get a chance, as new riders keep showing up.
First I watch a few SFMC guys go through. One guy goes down on a DR650, boots in the air and all as he splashes in, then fishes his bike out and drags it to the river bank with friends. Casey enters in a very strange way, trying to turn in the creek, and falls as well. So, what the hell, I go for it, (what else can you do?) and don't quite make it. I know the line I want, but somehow veer right and into a hole that I had wished to avoid. GAS! GAS! GAS! But it isn't really enough, and my bike stalls out. BUT. I have not fallen. Casey runs out to help and so does Lionel. The bank on the other side is fairly steep, and there are people and bikes on the sides. My job? To get out of the creek and up the bank without crashing or hitting anyone. Once up there, crashing is fine, just don't do it in the water, or where you might slide back into the water (possibly taking other bikes and people on the way).
Glancing behind me, I realize that Casey has somehow fallen completely in the water behind me. I don't know what happened, but as he gets up, I gas it, and the guys help guide me and the bike out of the water. Up the bank I go, and it's all I can do to get up the side without hitting all the bikes that have parked at the top of the ridge there. I glide to a stop on the thankfully wide, flat road and wait for the rest of the guys. Woo! I don't know how this could have worked out without Casey and Lionel. So far I have yet to fish my bike out of a creek, and it's not something I look forward to.
Paul arrives effortlessly, and I enjoy my early morning wet sock prize. Creek crossing in the morning means wet squishy toes the rest of the day. Yay! I soaked in it!
SFMC guys go ahead to take some hard splits, and we do the rest of the ride to Lake Pillsbury at a snail's pace set by me and my crappy dirt riding.
Lake Pillsbury lunch stop is always a trip. This place is in the middle of nowhere, and once a year the lot fills up with dirtbikes and we sit on the porch and eat our sandwiches while chickens, ducks and geese wander among us. Greg and Cindy show up. Greg is begging around for bike parts. What bike parts? Brake pads! He forgot to check them in his pre-ride prep, and they are completely gone. No one is carrying spare brake pads (imagine that), so he rides on. He and Cindy are having a blast. I haven't seen them in a long time; I have heard Cindy is quite a good dirt rider, and Greg looks great, having lost a ton of weight and just seeming more healthy and energetic. After lunch, we latch onto SFMC for Casey's cutoff to get into Fort Bragg at a decent hour. Paul and I have ridden a lot and will have a long Sunday ahead of us: 150 miles of dirt riding (like everyone else) and then a 3 hour ride home (unlike everyone else)
CRAPPY dinner in Fort Bragg, notice a new oil leak on my bike (sniff, sniff) which we will have to carry oil for now, and then to bed at a very decent hour. Stagger the fifty feet to Perko's in the morning for breakfast (which takes WAY too long, since they are shortstaffed) and then we are on the road again.
The Sunday morning segment of the Sheetiron is a bit of a legend. The Tanktrapper, we have called it. I met Wayne in a ditch three years ago, and, not even knowing he was from SFMC or knew anyone I knew, handed him my basically new DRZ with the keys in it and told him to take it away. I had crashed something like 5 times in a couple of miles, and the ruts were so deep and overwhelming, everyone was crashing around us and yelling, there were puddles 30 feet long the entire width of the road. The first year I did it, I think we spent a few hours just getting through those first few miles.
Then, the next year, it was gone. Totally flat. Lollipop hill, we thought of re-naming it.
So there had been a lot of guessing about conditions this year. Heavy rains pointed toward ruts, but a man we met in the bar in Willits said it had been closed all year to the 4x4 drivers who are the ones who tear it up like that.
Sunday morning leaving Fort Bragg, I am looking forward to it with trepidation and a little excitement and fear and a little adventure. I expect it to be bad, and take the wrong turnoff looking for bad conditions. Oops, no it is the easy road. We ride and ride, and finally I see the spot where I did my 6th and final get-off in front of all the parked bikes that first year. Lollipop Hill it is, again this year. Hmm. I don't know if it's good or bad. Somewhere in between would be good, a little challenging without being so totally horrible would be nice. Well, OK, at least we will make better time, which we need, at our pace. Stop for a quick vista and it starts to drizzle. Damn! Drizzle is fine, but just a little! Rain, I do not want. So we plug ahead, and finally find our selves down at the bottom with the "Road Not Maintained in Winter" sign. Yay! I love that sign! But we don't get to take a picture there; Paul is concerned about my front tire: it appears low. Indeed it IS low, so he puts some air in, and we will keep checking it to see what kind of leak it is. Incidentally, the oil leak seems to have let up a bit. Still, Paul is keeping his distance after I sprayed his bike on the way into Fort Bragg Saturday afternoon.
Next up, a gravel road which I remember "fondly" since:
a.) I have seen at least one guy stuffed into a fence on a surprise right hand hairpin
b.) this is where Eric broke all his toes the first time I went.
c.) Frank from SFMC stacked on a bridge here a few years back, which I think ended with broken bones or something.
(Later I found out Greg high-sided here on Sunday)
O-tay, on we go. Farther and farther down the road, and I am feeling worse and worse. I am supposed to be getting better and better as I ride ahead and get more confident, right? No, it is not working. Toward the end, I am fucking up all the corners and feeling horrible about it. I thought "I am steering this thing like a Goldwing in a parking lot! What the hell is wrong with me?" Deciding I had gotten myself into a bad headspace, I decided to pull out near the bottom for a breather, just before the highway. Into a nice little turnout, and as I pull the front brake lever and get wobbly feedback, I realize my head problem is really a flat tire problem, and I feel elated.
"I thought it was ME!"
We decide it really must be changed, right now, and commit to it and begin de-gearing. This will take a while; we are not experienced trailside tire changers. But Paul can do anything, it just might take a bit in this case. We are about to plug ahead, when... who is the FIRST person to come down the road after we decide to do a tire change? Phil Douglas, hero, ISDE silver medalist, The Man, the Myth, the Legend. OK, I barely know Phil, but he is easily the coolest person I know. Well, one of the coolest anyway. And although I barely know him, he has been a hero to me several times.
He slows down to see what's up and I point at the culprit. We are about to change the tube. He offers to do it. We feel bad. He reminds us that he can do it in 4 minutes. I know this, I have heard the story somewhere before, but not from him. Phil is the kind of guy people talk about. He is so talented. As I recall, changing a tire in four minutes is part of qualifying for ISDE. "No really, I can do this really fast and save you a lot of time." Of course it is true; this will take us an hour. Phil can do it in 1/15th the time. And he does. It was fun to behold, and I was so very, very thankful. Phil is the best.
Other amazing and cool things Phil has done:
1.) Saved me from putting a seized chain through my case on the EX500 when I didn't know any better.
2.) Made my DRZ400 from a cool bike into The Perfect Bike For Me. People ask me what did he do to your bike? I say "Phil put his hands on it, and that is it." I have no idea; it is a black art, and Phil is a genius. The bike handles like a dream. (though at 36K, it really should go in for a check-up) Take your bike to Phil; it is worth every penny.
3.) Picked me up out of the dirt at Metcalf twice in about five minutes, and told me exactly how to ride out. I have a problem with falling the dirt.
4.) Raised two awesome daughters. This has nothing to do with me, but it is so cool to see.
5.) Oh, yeah. Silver medal in the ISDE. I mean, I GUESS that is pretty cool.
Anyway, we move forward, through a nice paved road (this I can handle) and into the gas stop. Unfortunately, everyone else is here at the same time. EVERYONE. We lose two hours here, but there is no gas between there and the finish, and Paul has a tiny stock tank.
Second half of the day is not so nice. Mendocino National Forest roads are usually quite beautiful, but this time around, the fog is too thick to see the views. In fact, it gets so thick that at times, I can't even see where the road is going. Snow on the side of the road is usual and nice, but this year, it is raining on top of this, and then hailing. It gets so cold, that at some point, I can't feel my fingers. My limbs are stiffening up as I shiver, and this is BAD. I want the bailout. I feel we've done our time, and we have a 2.5 hour ride home on top of this. But we plug ahead, unsure of the bailout directions, and it gets colder and foggier. I am miserable and FREEZING.
But onward we go, and finally to the gate for the last road. It takes a while, but we get through it. I warm up a little as we get near the bottom, where I know there will be one last water crossing, though it is not on the rollchart. It is not a difficult water crossing at all. Finally, we are at the bottom.
Back into camp, and we are wet and miserable. It is raining again, and muddy. The plan is to get our gear, and get on the road. I'm soaked and it's going to be miserable. As we fuss around with changing our clothes and bike-gearing in the mud, the SFMC guys stepped in with ANOTHER godsend: Wayne has room in his truck, and they insist on getting us back home in the truck. Really, we can ride home in the rain. There is nothing to prove here, but it will SUCK. REALLY suck. We are so lucky, and so grateful. Bikes loaded up, and we hit the road, and the rain goes from drizzle to torrential downpour. Holy crap, are we lucky. These guys have their shit together and take care of their friends. I am so lucky to be considered a friend.
Back to Berkeley around 9:30 or so, and I spread the wet gear all over the house to let it dry before we deal with it later. And we are totally wore out. And it was a blast.
I could not do all of this without my friends. And I'm sorry for all the troubles and inconveniences, but so very appreciative. I am just a girl with a lack of skills and a sense of adventure. I always say what I lack in skill, I make up for in enthusiasm. Well, that and a network of friends and acquaintances who are incredible, nice, and talented folk. Without them, all of my bad ideas would never come to fruition.
Thank you all!
-The bikes have taken a beating: the XR never even got to go (blown motor) and my DRZ has finally shown some real wear, in the shape of an oil leak and odd squealing (wheel bearings maybe?). Feh!
-I did not crash at all, which leads me to believe I was being too cautious, and not challenging myself enough.
-Paul didn't crash either. He is a great rider.
-I need a lot more dirtbike practice, possibly school or something. I am tired of sucking so much.
-Our room at Super 8 smelled like biological waste. (I've stayed there several times before without problems though)
-It's just not the same without James there. We will be sure to complain about that when we see him next week at the ISLE OF MAN!!!!!