Memory is the fourth dimension to any landscape. —Janet Fitch
About a month ago I led a mountain bike ride to Bolinas Ridge Trail on which I crashed and broke my collarbone, my very first fracture in 65 years. What puzzled me about that day was, how could I have been so wrong about this trail? I hadn’t ridden this trail since the early or mid-90s and although I was expecting it to have changed, riding the trail was like visiting a foreign country for the first time. My recollection was of a fire road, non-technical, with a few short, steep stairsteps but mostly a pleasant slow climb up Bolinas Ridge to Ridgecrest where you turn around and then descend back to the parking lot. I thought it would be a good ride in our reintroduction of mountain biking back in the club.
I called the few remaining mountain bikers and they all couldn’t make it for one reason or another except for Roger Sayre and my husband, who was trusting in me to select a trail he could handle. Just the three of us wasn’t too surprising as dirt riding, which used to be so popular in Different Spokes, has all but vanished.
Right from the get-go I started questioning the accuracy of my memory when we got to the trailhead and there wasn’t a parking lot that I distinctly remembered was there. There wasn’t a lot in sight, and furthermore there was a seemingly aged, wooden fence with a very narrow stile as the only entrance. I looked around and nothing resembled what I had “imprinted” in memory. Could the lot have been removed? But the weathered fence belied that possibility.
Once we were rolling the general terrain was familiar but something was terribly different. The fire road was in horrible shape, pocked with rocks and potholes. But worse on every short incline the double tracks had become eroded mini-trenches demanding that you steer carefully and straight in order to proceed. The option of rolling outside these twin trenches was virtually impossible because the center was uneven, rocky and full of tufts of overgrown weeds and the sides of the trail had grass at least four feet tall with a surface of uncertain quality. The three of us lunged forward and a couple of times we ended up walking when we just couldn’t steer around the mini-trenches.
After almost two hours we had barely made it five miles. Roger turned around when the Marin Municipal Water District boundary had a sign that clearly forbade e-bikes. Roger S. and I continued on only a little bit further to a shady spot to rest before we turned around as well. At this rate it was going to be a long day and I didn’t want to miss lunch at the Olema Inn. On the way down I crashed; separately my husband also crashed—twice—but was comparatively unscathed. I ended up walking out to the car and we both headed to the ER.
Having to deal with a broken collarbone is painful and miserably inconvenient. But the most upsetting aspect of the day wasn’t the injury, it was the apparent unreliability of my memory. Was it a senior moment, a sign of impending decrepitude, or—hopefully—just the lack of trail maintenance? Not being able to do much of any value with a broken wing, I spent my recovery hours working on miscellaneous club tasks such as tying up the loose ends before the Marvelous Monterey Weekend. I was also doing some research on the club picnic by perusing my old ChainLetters when I ran across a ride listing for the Bolinas Ridge Trail in 1991. Who was the ride leader? To my surprise it was me! Actually there were two ride listings because I led the ride twice in a matter of months. Here is the listing and the two ride rumors:
July 1991 ChainLetter, Sunday July 7 Bolinas Ridge Run
Join Dennis [Westler] and Tony on a mountain bike jaunt over Bolinas Ridge that overlooks Mt. Tam and the Pacific Ocean. Starting just outside the town of Olema, a fire road rolls gently along Bolinas Ridge for 11 miles through redwood groves and open fields with terrific views. At Bolinas-Fairfax Road we turn around and go back the same way, and after the ride have a late lunch in town. Bring water, snacks, and a windbreaker (the weather is unpredictable). 3-B-22. Look for a very small parking area at the top of Bolinas Ridge on the left side of the curve.
October 1991 ChainLetter, Bolinas Ride Run
Alas, Prez Dennis Westler’s parents and nephew showed up in town and filial responsibilities required that he attend to their needs rather than ours, so he wasn’t able to co-lead this ride with me. Too bad, ‘cause this one turned into a real winner. I too had an out-of-town visitor, my old college roommate. But I borrowed Dennis’s bike and hauled Paul up with me for his first mountain bike ride.
Ten folks showed up , and mostly new I might add, since the only “old timers” were myself, the Den Daddy, and Dr. Bob. The weather was windy and thick with fog. But the gradual ascent up Bolinas Ridge was still beautiful. There were fewer wildflowers to entertain us, but plenty of cows.
Things got a bit muddy when we entered the redwoods—the fog dripped down steadily and turned the forest floor into a muddy obstacle course. There were big puddles and slippery tree roots, but no one seemed to flinch except wimpy old me. Most of the group was ahead of me and so I took my time picking the least muddy route around pools, mud patches and roots.
Fortunately I managed to stay less muddy than everyone else (remember, this is relative only), no doubt a victory of Fashion over Speed. I’m not sure how things were going with the main group since mostly everybody was ahead of me. Poor Anne [Dunn] was struggling far behind. Having just moved, she couldn’t find any of her bicycling clothing and had to ride in jeans and a borrowed helmet. Being last meant she had to close all those cattle guards too.
At the top it was easy to tell who was fearless. Generally they and their bikes were coated in a brown film. The descent back was terrific. The gonzos took off, and in a fit of insanity I actually tried to stay with the Den Daddy. I was screaming down rutty, gravelly sections at 35 mph—a tribute, I suppose, to demonic possession. Big fun!
At the end, most of the group trundled down to the Olema Inn for a stately lunch on white linen tabelcloths set on the outside deck, as the sun finally showed itself. Just another bodacious dirt ride.
Hitting 35 mph downhill? That would be impossible today with the utterly degraded terrain. My friend Paul had never ridden a mountain bike before and it’s impossible to believe I would have taken him on a super-technical ride!
November 1992 ChainLetter, Bolinas Ridge Run (October 19)
A small band of six dirt-o-philes showed up to climb Bolinas Ridge. The last time we did this trail, we had to put up with dense fog and muddy conditions. This time it was a picture-perfect day: brilliant sunshine, no fog, no smog, and warm. The climb up sure seemed harder than I remembered it, and the “2” terrain rating was probably conjured up in one of my rosy but hazy recollections of the undulating trail, which at times forced all of us into our lowest gears. It’s probably more of a “3”, or maybe even a “4”. Unfortunately this was an unpleasant surprise for Paul, a newcomer to the Club. Sorry about that, folks. (Hope you come back, Paul.)
The only untoward incident happened when the group unceremoniously left Paul and me behind, and then for the first time in my life my chain decided to snap in two, leaving me gearless on the hillside. What was irksome was that because I don’t have Hyperglide–which is notorious for chain breakage–I stupidly thought I would never need to bring a chain tool with me. Now I know better. Luckly Paul was able to forge ahead and the group was politely waiting for us under a tree. Prez Dennis zoomed back with a tool and in no time I was back in the saddle.
The sunny weather brought out the hordes as we passed many other hikers and bikers. At the top we ran into an enormous group from Single Cyclists preparing to descend Bolinas Ridge. We beat a hasty retreat after snarfing our PowerBars. Without the Den Daddy to inspire us, no one was in the mood to kamikaze, so our return to the cars was uneventful, although that gave us time to enjoy the view.
Afterwards we converged at the Olema Inn, which graciously reopened its kitchen to prepare a late lunch for our dusty little group. Just another fabulous Different Spokes mountain bike ride!
In the ride listing and ride rumors there is no mention of technical difficulty on the trail. Plus, the relatively benign terrain listing we gave it supports the recollection that the trail was just your standard fire road back then.
Then I ran into another ride rumor from 1999. In that period the annual club picnic was held at Samuel P. Taylor State Park, not China Camp, which is just down the road from the Bolinas Ridge trailhead and as part of the picnic festivities that year Doug O’Neill led a dirt ride on the Ridge:
July 1999 ChainLetter, Different Spokes Goes to the Cows
Perfection: bright sunshine, a gentle ocean breeze, and a challenging yet fun trail. This is what six riders enjoyed on the Samuel P. Taylor offroad ride. Three particularly brave riders, Ellen, Kevin, and Michael, were on their first offroad ride, completely unaware that they were witth the club’s only certifiably insane ride leader.
The initial climb to the Bolinas Ridge trail was a bit of a challenge, but not for studly Dan, who pedaled by some others who succumbed to the desire to walk a bit, or in David’s case, the need to adjust his seat height. At one particularly stunning crest, the group was stopped by a herd of cows in the middle of the trail. Not to be outdone by Dan’s earlier show of studliness, Michael cleared the path and saved the group from a charging bull. (The family nature of this publication prevents us from disclosing the technique used.)
The determined group made it up the final set of hills to the promised “big rock”—no, it was not some mythical place. Tired after their earlier feats, Dan and Michael decided to relax a bit, enjoying the rock, sun, birds, and the cirrus cloud formations—a moment away from the bustling and foggy city. Ever-ambitious Pam, apparently not challenged by the climb, decided to do a bit of crosscountry on the way back. Everyone enjoyed the long and picturesque descent to the feast waiting at the barbecue.
Again no mention of the trail being particularly technical and this was eight years later. To boot there were several newbie dirt riders that day!
So it is likely that my memory wasn’t playing tricks on me and that something happened to the trail after 1999. That’s still 20 years ago so one shouldn’t expect things to be exactly the same! Perhaps I was expecting it would receive regular trail maintenance. The Bolinas Ridge Trail runs through the GGNRA and Mt. Tam watershed area. The section where I crashed was under GGNRA control, which also controls the Marin Headlands trails, which do receive grading and maintenance. Yet the trail looked like it hadn’t seen a grader in years.
Perhaps one day it will see some love and be restored to what it once was. Although it behooves those of us who do ride dirt trails to volunteer to do trail maintenance, working on a fire road is really the provenance of heavy machinery operators. Nonetheless it was an exclamation point that trails don’t just take care of themselves and that human care through hard work, taxes, and donations is how we keep the trails we love. Will I go back? Probably. But memory will serve me right the next time.