The July 4 weekend saw Different Spokes return to the dirt with the first sorta-mountain bike ride in…well, a whole long time! This was supposed to be a pleasant jaunt in Tilden Park with a couple of wicked descents and one hellacious climb up Seaview Trail. I say it was a ‘sorta mtb’ ride because I have actually never done it on a mountain bike: I’ve only done it on a road bike but each time I wonder if I’m fucking nuts for having done so. Part of the problem is that I haven’t had a working mountain bike in years, so I’ve just been riding fire roads on my road bike. It’s quite doable…until you get to Seaview. But that wasn’t why things became hellish because we actually never made it to Seaview.
Listing a dirt ride with Different Spokes has been a futile proposition for at least the better part of a decade. The average has probably around one dirt ride per year and maybe one or two people will go. Why is that? We used to have a prolific mountain bike contingent and dirt ride participation matched road rides. Somewhere around the Millenium we started to become a de facto road-only club and I’m not sure why. I personally wandered away from dirt rides in the early ‘90s (note: ancient history warning!!) after singletrack in the Marin Headlands was shut down by the NPS (they also shut down a whole bunch of fire roads including some of my favs). At the same time Marin Water was escalating harassment of cyclist on Mt. Tam; I remember numerous times when rangers were out radaring cyclists at blind corners and giving out tickets—I barely avoided one myself. It just started to be a big hassle. Then my mountain bike became my commute bike, which became my rusty heap because I rode it rain or shine and didn’t give it whole lot of love.
Every now and then Doug O’Neil or Andrew Lee, who was and is an avid dirt rider who only does road because he needs to stay in shape for dirt riding, would reminisce about “how it used to be”. So, I decided to test the waters… (tune: theme music to “Jaws”)
It was just Doug O’Neill and David Sexton and me. Doug was the only person to show up on an actual mountain bike even if it was turning into a dinosaur by today’s standards. It did have front suspension but no rear; it was 26-inch, not 29- or 27.5-, the new “standards”, and had—gasp—V-brakes. Doug’s bike made my mountain bike look positively primordial. But I didn’t have a mountain bike: I had a Redline, which was one of my commuters. But it did have disc brakes and I had swapped out the slicks for some meatier 33mm cross tires. David showed up on a real road bike, his old Specialized. His only concession to going on dirt was to put 28mm “mini-knob” tires on it. But I was pretty sure he was going to make it up Seaview because he had lower gearing than I’ve ever had.
Things started out fine as we rode up El Toyonal, which has some hella steep sections but eventually we go up Wildcat and avoid the really horrible section on Lomas Cantadas. We headed out the Nimitz Trail, which is a paved trail that starts at Inspiration Point in Tilden Park. The Nimitz originally was the access road for the Nike missle silos on top of the Berkeley hills, which is why it was paved. But eventually the pavement ends and you’re on dirt. We never got that far before disaster struck. One of David’s pedals decided to spontaneously eject from his crank. We spent over half an hour trying to get the pedal reinserted and concluded it was hopeless because the crank was cross-threaded. The best we could do was get it in about halfway. David elected, wisely, to abandon the ride and look for a pro shop to get it fixed. Doug and I continued on and dropped down the Mezue Trail, which was not the intended route! I mistakenly missed a turn but Doug had barreled ahead by the time I realized we were off-course so there was nothing to do but continue to the bottom. At the bottom we rolled along Wildcat Creek back into the civilized section of Tilden and started up the Meadow Canyon Trail when Disaster #2 struck (tune: theme music to “Jaws” again): I got bit by a dog. It wasn’t a nip, it was a full on, I-think-your-leg-is-a-lamb-shank, gnarly bite. As I was cycling up the trail at a snail’s pace four off-leash dogs came trotting down. One of them, a medium sized dog gave no indication of aggression and actually looked like he was coming over to sniff me. As I have twice had collisions with off-leash dogs (I ended up in the SF General ER after the second one), I was moving away from him when he lunged and grabbed my left leg like it was tonight’s dinner trying to run away. I ended up with deep puncture wounds and a trip to the ER. To make a long story short, that was the end of the first Different Spokes dirt ride of 2016! But we will be going to Big Basin State Park in August for our second round. What next? Mountain lions?