a night in the woods

After taking a little trip to Rivendell Bikes, I was inspired and suddenly filled with a compulsive desire to head for the woods. On the BART ride home, I told my friend, “This is happening, I am going camping tomorrow.”

There comes a time in a guy’s life when he has to stop talking about adventures and lurking on other people’s blogs wishing he were awesome enough to take adventures like them. That time for me was friday night. Many things lead up to the decision to go camping alone, for no reason, on a random Saturday night. A lot of philosophy books and too many hours at work were involved in that equation. All the candid adventure photos hung up at Rivendell were fresh in my mind and I felt the need to get out of Dodge. I had a couple of problems though; no tent, no sleeping bag, no racks, no panniers, no nothing. I needed some gear, and needed it quick. Fortunately I have some of the coolest cats as friends and they hooked me up with everything but a sleeping bag (I planned a trip to REI the next day for that.) I threw everything on the Mongoose and started freaking out with excitation. That bike is heavy without load, that bike is a lead sculpture on wheels with just overnight provisions. I was packed and ready to go. Lark and I hit the park the next day to photograph her new bike and celebrate a friend’s birthday, all the while I was itching to hit the road. 3 o’clock rolled around and it was time to start my solo adventure.

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I had a late start and had about thirty miles to put in between me and the city. I was racing the sun from the time I crossed the bridge. If I was going to make it to the campground before dark, it was time for a little hammerfest. I know it’s not really in the spirit of bike touring to mash to your destination but an inexperienced camper such as I really values sunlight when setting up camp. I took the same route up to Sam P. Taylor park as Bret and I did on the last trip, through Fairfax and Lagunitas up into the trees. I grabbed a quick bite to eat at the corner store, and grabbed myself a handful of chocolate for good measure. I hit the winding fire road that leads to the sites and was impressed how well the bike handled and how awesome it was to bomb downhill with so much weight. I arrived at the campground just as the sun dipped below the hill, and was comfortable with setting up with the remaining light. Tent went up without issue, mat was inflated and sleeping bag spread out. Time to eat dinner, roasted turkey and cheese on sourdough with a can of Dr. Pepper. I was finished, and the sun was gone. The fog hid the stars but gave a glow to the forest for a couple minutes. I sat on a nearby picnic table and listened to the creek and felt the cold air fill in. The reality of my solitude set in, the darkness surrounded me and thoughtfulness ensued. I guess the only thing you should do at this point is open a book written about the many theories of human perception in context to the fight between Realist and Idealist philosophies in the 1800s. Yeah, shit got deep.

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I snacked on whatchamacallit and swedish fish, read a couple lines of philosophy and enjoyed the beginning of evening alone. I was only alone for about 30 minutes before I was joined by the most fearless, almost domesticated raccoons sneaking up on my tent looking for some food. They did not blink when approached, did not shoo when shooed, they were insistent little creatures. Finding nothing but the rubber of my tires, they became uninterested and left. I was greeted not two minutes later by flashing lights and blinding torch light of an unhappy Park Ranger. Seems I set up camp in the one spot I shouldn’t have, go figure. She told me I had to move my stuff about a half-mile up the road to their new designated Hike and Bike camp ground. Fuck. Disassemble everything and pack up? Nah, I picked up the entire tent and shouldered the thing dragging my bike beside my in the pitch black, searching by the light of my headlamp for the landmarks only vaguely described to me by Madam Trooper.  It was quite a trek, up a hill. My legs were not having it. My arms were not having it. Finally I figured out where to go and got there. A busy little circle of campsites, I definitely wasn’t alone anymore. Dogs barking, children screaming in cold showers, middle aged men laughing and exchanging barbecue recipes by the fire. I was directed by the ranger to Campground 26, a tiny piece dirt already occupied by one other tent, leaving only an off camber section of ground by a table for me. This was a bit different than my original setup.

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Tent back up, sleeping bag spread out again, lights, books, action. It’s time to get deep again. … Nah, I’ll have a beer. I pull out the three road sodas graciously gifted to me by the good peeps from the birthday party earlier that afternoon and simply sat and enjoyed. I chill out a bit after the first can and can stomach some Emerson before I hit the hay. Another two and its time to sleep. I get into bed, and immediately slip down the mat to the edge of the tent. Every angle is downhill and there is a hole right in the middle of where my tent is set. Note to self: next time get your ass to the campsite with some light left and find yourself a proper piece of dirt. I find a sweet spot pushed up against the food box and it’ll have to do. I close my eyes and try to sleep.

The next morning I woke up to bids chirping and the ever so elegant sight of the sky filling with light. Color slowly making its way across the sky and into the forest. Blue fog rolled over the hills and you could hear the first stirrings of life in the camp. I went for a walk. I took some photographs. I thought about nothing. My mind was blank. I could not be more content. I stood in the company of the trees, with the song of the birds in my ears and the cold hand of the fog on my neck. I walked slowly up and down the road. I watched as the light changed, as the dark patches of leaves became the backdrop for a perfect morning. My mind at rest, I ventured further into the woods. Up a path away from the campgrounds, covered in thick leaves and fallen trees. Calm. Unconcerned with where I was going, not a worry about what was next. Time was suspended here with me, it waited while I rediscovered what had been lost for too long. It’s strange, that feeling you get when you see something familiar for the first time. A man can prance by a hundred trees when preoccupied with the troubles of living life, but can’t take their eyes of a single one when confronted with nothing but its majesty. I stopped and stared at them, up and down their branches. I observed their moss covered extremities, the protruding fungi at their base, pondered the stillness of their existence. I hadn’t thought about a tree like this in a while.

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It was time to pack up and go. I put the tent away, stuffed my sleeping bag and loaded up the bike. I took it slow, really slow. I was freezing but I embraced it. I looked everywhere, I looked for every detail that wanted to be seen. I stopped whenever I got the chance, just to look or take a photo. I wasn’t going home, I was going to experience the cities and towns dotted along the road back. I’ve ridden these roads and seen these buildings, all through the blurry eyes of a training athlete making his way hurriedly through a workout not paying any mind to what is actually going on here.

I saw a boot at some point.. I couldn’t get enough of the boot. I didn’t understand what that boot was there for. I was perplexed. So I photographed it.

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Slowly, slowly, slowly, I made my way down that long stretch of road. Stopping for coffee, and some more coffee, a bagel drenched in butter and a blueberry coffee cake the size of my head. I watched the cyclists pass me by. They all seemed to struggle in each stroke forward, grimacing with pain and hatred for their ride. I have a deep love for the pain-of-the-ride and totally understand it, but it seems to overwhelm some riders and they can only think about the wattage, the effort and the minimal gains. I want them to understand what their landscape has to offer them, I want them to see what I am seeing. These roads aren’t a gym, these roads aren’t a monthly membership payment. There is a reason cyclists don’t subscribe to that manner of exercise, we need to be outside where we can see and feel, experience the world. Bike’s are meant to take us places. A simple commute, an epic adventure, a workout, whatever the ride, it’s outside in the elements. What is outside if there is nobody experiencing it? If all you do is stare at a computer and pedal, might as well be in a fucking gym. There is a lot to learn about life from the road, look up every once in a while and just take it in.

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All that sappy stuff about life and love of bikes put aside, it’s probably a good idea to sit and stay a while in each town you ride just to get to know it. I stopped to have a coffee in a couple different places and just observed that daily life unfold. It gave me a completely new perspective about these towns that I ride through constantly. They have personality and character, each as different as the next, no matter the proximity to the last.

I learned a lot of really important lessons on this trip. One being that I should really bring my own coffee set-up, nobody outside of San Francisco understands the concept of a properly brewed cup of joe.

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After my cup of dirty water in San Anselmo I continued down south. The sun came out and I was riding in shorts and t-shirt soaking it up. The heat was tightening my skin and lifting my mood. I whipped out my electronic-music-playing-device and chugged away to Thee Oh Sees. I stopped some more. I took some more photos of more random things. I pedaled for a bit, sat for a bit, ate a bit of beef jerky and rode on.

I’m running out of things to say. At some point in the ride I decided to put the camera down and observe everything with my eyes and ears only. I knew it wouldn’t last forever so I wanted to feel it while I could. Down the bike path to Sausalito I was wishing for a couple hundred more miles of dirt roads. My cadence slowed even more as I neared the city, not wanting to end the ride. I moseyed over the bridge and hit some more dirt along Crissy Field, yah boi my last stretch of awesomeness. I turned into the mess of a city and mentally finished my epic miniventure.

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So I did it. I successfully completed a spontaneous, poorly planned, and somewhat irresponsible trip to the woods. I don’t have a bad thing to say about this method of adventuring, in fact I guarantee this will be a reoccurring modus operandi. Traveling via bike, and sleeping under the stars is a cleansing experience I’ll have to fit in every month or so. More random adventures on bikes coming soon. More loaded Ron Burgundy and philosophical statements about Garmin junkies. More shitbike and bad ideas.

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