the plan: get to del valle on bikes. drink some beer.
it’s seven o’clock and the guys haven’t got their shit together. i’m pouring hot water in a drip cone and flipping burritos in the oven. switch a rack, flip a rack, throw a bag here or there. will the sleeping bag fit? sure, put it there! packed, fed, fueled ,ready to hit the road. this bike is too fucking heavy. pat forgot something and runs up stairs, can’t leave without some gum. the three of us roll, down the hill to the train, adventure time. check the map, buy the ticket, cross the gate, and down those stairs. all those stairs. every single one. with a thousand pound mongoose on my shoulder. it hurts, and the stairwell smells like piss. i’m happy to be on the train and ready to ride. we sit for forty five minutes. progress. a ding and a door opens, off we go, on the road again.
there’s not much to say about the shittiness of pleasanton/dublin. potholes, big trucks, bad drivers, loud noises. we weave our way through the streets, hoping we’re going in the right direction, half knowing we’re not but we’re in it to win it anyway. all i can hear is the screaming treads of lifted fords and dodges, hummers and semi trailers. i was hoping for tranquility outside the city, and all i’ve got is this mess of “america fuck yeah” all over the road and heat beating down in every direction. should have picked up some sunscreen. i feel it on my arm, on my neck too. finally, we hit some dirt. sweet! you can tell we’re in the suburbs. there’s a worn path to every bump on the side of the path where kids have taken the opportunity to get their bikes off the ground. trails lead behind the houses, up and down the creek bed. it’s flowing, a good sign for the water level at the lake. we stop to take photos, and eventually to grab some beer. we’re stuffing pbr’s in panniers and documenting the whole thing on instagram. call it proof of awesomeness. the adventure had officially started.
shit gets real when we hit another path, rutted bumpy and fun. we’re weaving left and right following the beaten dirt that’s lined with tall grass on either side. up and down over random hills built like ramps. we exit the path next to a park and make our way through an alley that shoots us out onto the road next to a vinyard. once there, we realize we have lost a passenger, pat’s iphone has jumped ship along the way. not all the thrilled to be turning around, but we do. pat goes first and we wait a while thinking he will find it immediately. that’s not going to happen so we lend some assistance. can’t find pat anywhere, but there’s nowhere to get lost! now we’ve lost a phone and a man. brett decides to go down the path a bit guessing there’s nowhere else to go, and I make my way back up to where we left each other. there sitting in a bunch of tall green grass lays a beautiful little iphone resting peacefully. I pick it up, excited the search is over and we can continue on our adventure. I return to our meet up spot and sit on a mat. about thirty minutes later brett returns, no pat. umm, huh? there’s only about half a mile of trail between us and where pat remembers having his phone last. not a lot of room for error. I relinquish my throne of a mat to brett and go to find our little asian friend. not ten feet from where I found his phone, I run into pat walking his bike up the trail with a stranger. stranger danger, we should have gone over the buddy system. no he was an alright guy, named thomas. I give the good news to pat and introduce myself to his new friend who is interested in our little trip and how we plan to get there. we talk a bit about the route to del valle, adventures past and his future trip to china camp. we sum it up with well wishes and get on our way. pat is stoked. so is brett and when we come up he waves his hands in the air celebrating the return of the prodigal asian. we crack our first beers. cheers to our first obstacle surpassed.
on the road again, again. down the path and our last turn on to the road to del valle. the trucks, cookie cutter houses and moms with strollers disappear and we are finally enjoying some open road. wineries and farm houses along the way, ovis and capra sprinkled in the fields. the occasional middle aged white male on a cervelo comes up behind us and passes with a huff, trying for the kom. oh yeah, we’re about to hit a giant climb. batten down the hatches gentlemen, this is going to be a big one.
the sun seems to come on harder just for the occasion. I can feel my skin burning before we round the first curve. brett forgot to put gears on his bike and takes off like a mad man to keep a high cadence with the unpleasant ratio he is left with. pat is killing it with his mountain cassette and I’m sitting back struggling up the hill with my tank. i stop for “photo breaks” and catch my breath. the area is beautiful and every glance is at an untouched landscape and sky that goes forever. pat starts to slow down, and he’s losing clothing and emptying his bladder searching for more watts. pedal, pedal, pedal, stop take a photo, rinse repeat. near the top an ambulance screams past me and up the hill. brett’s probably fallen off the edge after his hill climb. nah, some cervelo man got himself a bit to excited and needed a ride down the mountain. but i’m here! i made it! at the top i find brett just chillin like he has been sitting all day. ain’t no thing. we eat peanut butter pretzels and wait for pat to arrive. pat completes his climb like it were mt ventoux, he couldn’t be more elated. all smiles for the camera.
what goes up on a road, might just be able to go down on dirt. there is a road going down the valley to the campsite, but what fun is that when compared to some single track and fire roads? we duck off the road at the top of the hill and enter the vast park filled with trails. first order of business: get lost. which way? who cares, just go! and down we go. bombing fire roads like nobody’s business. the mongoose is eating it up, i’m way outside my comfort zone and adrenaline is squirting out my eyeballs. all roads are downhill in heaven, and you get to ride them on a mongoose loaded with pbr. surprisingly we hit the bottom quite quickly. i see my setup has faired better than others. brett and pat are still up the hill with their skinny tires. i hadn’t thought anything of the giant ruts in the road, but they’re not so easily ridden by the others. brett navigates the ruts and is down in a jiffy. we turn and watch pat who is off his bike now, gathering things from the ground. after he finds whatever he was looking for, he continues down the hill. it’s like a brake test commercial, slow and steady, slow and slow. pat gets down. his gear is in disarray but together. we hit the path that leads around the lake to the sites on the other side. deciding it’s best to take it slow, and have a beer, we turn off into the trees to have a picnic. obstacle two- conquered.
brett is first to the tree and is already changing in to his swim trunks when we hear the sound of a little girl being murdered not to far away. it’s bloody murder! cries for mercy. profanity strewn about. pat has got a cramp. two cramps. three cramps. his whole body has seized. brett brings him water and i try not to laugh as he assumes a rigid position not unlike a body builder. he is on the ground and his muscles are bulging with spasms. his face is filled with fear and pain. we’re shoving water bottles in his face and he just pours them all over himself. after a couple minutes of torture, his body relents. he stands and informs us he is off to go find some bananas at the camp store down the road. time for lunch. warm salami and swiss. aged for 6 hours in non-oak panniers. dry sourdough bread holds together a sorta sandwich and beer flushes everything down. pat returns with an ice cream cone in his hand. we are starting to learn his nutrition regimen. it’s warm, and beautiful. brett takes a dip. his quick exit from the water convinces me to stay dry. too cold this time of year. we all sit and watch the reflection of the sun off the water. sipping on pbr.
time to go setup camp. back on the grey gravel path. we’re riding on flat ground now. through a parking lot even. not very rad. seems a good point to break something off your bike. pat takes a que from the universe and shifts gears. shifts the whole derailleur into his wheel, which eats it all off because he doesnt get snacks that often. bummer. so, what now? we all stare at the bike in disbelief. here we are twenty miles away from a train station and no extra derailleur hanger in our possession. what to do? the only option is to single-speed it. we pick a light gear so pat can still climb but no more shifting, not even on flat ground. it’s off the chain line and we know it wont last long, worth a shot. we put the chain on the chosen gears and pat lashes his derailleur to the top of his bags, solemnly like a fallen comrade. let’s try this out. we make it about a hundred feet before the chain has popped up to the wrong gear, all it wants to do is shift. i fix it and we try again. it shifts. this time its worse. it has bent the cassette like tin foil. the largest gear has folded over on top of the others. we try to bend it back and try again. we make it a bit further. down a trail, and up another steep one and we pop out on a bridge that takes us over to the campsites. after a quick get-lost section, we ask a ranger where our campsite is and finally get to it. it’s nothing special. we are nestled in by a tree right at an intersection for the roads that lead in and out of the campsites. not the waterfront property the map promised, but like they say- it’s home. we unload, and its glorious. for obvious reasons, pat mans the campsite when brett and i go via our feather-light bikes to buy some firewood and see if we can change the campsite reservation. no luck on the reservation switch but we have a couple bundles of fire and we’re ready to enjoy some awesomeness. we head back. we start a fire and put some coffee on. camp is set up quick and we are just sitting enjoying our surroundings. the light settles below the hill behind us and the cool air fills in. conversation sparks about women and school, beer and coffee, the ride up and various topics of life. we start digging into the first case of beer and pull out some bratwursts for dinner. while dinner cooks, we take turns popping wheelies around the fire pit with what last light we have. i’m determined to get it down, but probably never will. sizzling sausages serve as the dinner bell and we plop the links onto some flat bread and feast. nothing ever tasted so amazing. pbr and brats on flat bread. conversation and debate continue. beer drinking continues. there was one point i thought it was a good idea to continue my wheelie practice. not the brightest moment of the night. we end up standing close to the fire pit. its freezing but there is still beer left so we’re not going anywhere. this is where my memory of the evening ends. somehow i got to the tent and fell asleep.
during the night i woke up a couple times. not in a bad way but like you have just woke from a restful nap. i sat and stared though the roof at an amazing sky of stars. the wind was howling. you could hear each gust make its way through the trees on the top of the hill and slowly move down to the branches around our tent. i could see the wind, just like a wave in the ocean. i could feel it wrap around the tent. like i was underwater, all the while staring up at the starry night sky. i dosed off and woke to enjoy a few more of those moments. at one point i was out for good. dreaming of more fire roads and awesomeness. slept like a baby.
the next morning i woke to birds chirping everywhere. i rolled to my side and pulled out a book. i started my day with a bit of literature and waited for the others to wake before making a racket. we get out eventually and start a fire, moka pot is on in no time. we pour the jet black liquid into a tin cup and pass it around. life fills our veins. all hail the moka pot, giver of life. time for breakfast. bagels with turkey and cheddar. again, this was the best thing i ever ate. i eat a lot of best things on camping trips. melted cheese and warmed turkey is some gourmet type of awesome when compared to the trail mix i usually snack on. good idea brett. we chill a bit and enjoy whats left of the silence before the children down the hill wake up and start riding their plastic electric cars around. really? parents, leave that shit at home. this is nature, plastic play cars are harshing my mellow. the guys and i pack up slowly and try to remember everything. we all down a couple water bottles and pack in a couple bites of trail mix for the ride. we’re all dreading what pat’s setup will bring us but we’re up for the challenge and hopeful the universe will be nice to us. all loaded up, hydrated and ready to go. we are on our way. over the bridge and up the hill.
we choose the paved road out for obvious reasons. we wish each other the best of luck at the bottom of the hill and disembark on the first and last climb of the day. the crunching starts. pats stopped and off the bike. brett and i take a look, put the chain back where it belongs. we go another couple hundred feet and the crunch sounds again. this time its not looking too great. more folding of gears. we decided its best to put the chain on its line and just suffer up the hill. a quick chain break, and the bike looks like it might just work. pat and i switch bikes because i am more qualified in fixing shitbikes than he. pat and brett take off and leave me with a set of tools. i ride very slowly up the monster of a hill. i’m taking it easy and crossing my fingers as i muscle the bike forward. it’s about a foot too short for me, the gearing is now awful and the load is all wrong, not to mention it’s potential of exploding beneath me. i caress her and whisper sweet nothings to the top tube. slowly we dance up the hill, with a small celebration we finally crest that damned hill. obstacle three- passed with extra points for creativity.
time for another bike switch. i instruct pat to pedal only when he needs to as we descend. he is off first and we follow. i say it a lot, but really, descending my bike exhilarates me like nothing else. after the terrible climb there is nothing better than to feel the air in my hair and the weight of the bike under me. we cruise to the bottom and it is not long after that we run into trouble again. the chain wont stay where it needs to be. we sit and think, about nothing really because there is only one solution for this shitty situation. we have to tow the bike back. we have enough extra straps to tie together a tow line. with brett at the front and pat on the bike, we set off on the most interesting part of the ride home. turns out its not so easy to ride a bike tied to another bike. our first turn, pat falls right off. all injuries are minimal and he hops right back on laughing. second turn, second fall. i count the turns we have left, and decide its best we figure something else out. logic; brett is best when it comes to bike handling skills. nich is best with riding fast in a straight line. pat likes riding bikes. so, brett is on pat’s bike, behind nich who will be towing pats bike with brett’s bike, and pat is on nich’s bike having a blast. we have all switched bikes and are achieving the impossible. we are a very dysfunctional group of adventurers. laughing at our predicament, we make our way home as people stare at how irresponsible the whole thing looks. we make our way back into the suburbs, and back into civilization. we are making great time, hauling ass down the bike path at an unsafe rate of speed. we all keep our bikes upright and we are at bart in not time, thankful we made it. the last obstacle- overturned, like a boss.
it was an epic adventure indeed. great to get out of the city for a while with a couple of really awesome guys, in a really awesome location. plans didn’t go the way we wanted, but the trip was all the better for it. beer was had. stories were created for future campfire chats. we made it back home in one piece. what else can you ask for? looking forward to my next trip.