I went riding with a beast.

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Fresh off his dominating participation in the Tour Divide 2014, Mr. Dan fucking Hensley decided to let me ride some bikes with him. I met up with him at his place in and we talked a little bit about his experience before heading out into the oakland wilderness.

 

So I will provide a little background on things.

1. Dan is a general badass who likes to do badass things, like the Arizona Trail Race, Trans Iowa among other things.

2. The Tour Divide is a pretty badass thing to do. (if you don’t know what the tour divide is, click on the link)

3. Most people complete the tour divide on a fully geared bike, and a lot do it with suspension, and most have some sort of support along the way. Because, ya know, humans need help riding 2,700 miles.

4. Dan decided to ride this monstrous race, on a rigid single speed. And as if that weren’t enough, he did it unsupported, and just for fun. (and to raise money for Ride for Reading <— CHECK IT OUT)

5. Dan is a beast

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Some things I learned about the Divide from Dan.

1. During the Divide, all you do is mash, from sun-up to well-past-sun-down. You mash until you can’t ride any further, and then you collapse on the ground to get a couple hours of sleep.

2. The Divide is lonely. There are stretches of road where you go a hundred miles without seeing anyone. (sounds amazing to me)

3. You can eat whatever the fuck you want forever and take the Tour Divide Diet and lose every pound of fat you ever had. Dan ate ice cream and pizza and beer leading up to the race, gained 20 lbs. and still came out of the race under his usual weight.

4. Do it single-speed, do it rigid. If you want to go unsupported, through 3000 miles of rough terrain – you need to minimize the risk of failure. One gear means no shifty-do-dads with 1,000 plastic pieces to break. No lube on squeaky pulleys, no extra cables for shifters, no failure. A full-rigid bike means you can go across the entire country without losing a single ounce of effort to a fucking bouncing bike.

5. It’s not easy. If Dan says it’s not easy, it’s not easy. There are a lot of great things about this race but Dan told the honest truth about all the shit you encounter along the way. Don’t ever go into this race thinking it is some kinda gran fondo across the country. This shit is real, and not for the little sissy-girls.

6. The Divide makes you go absolutely crazy. Dan went the entire ride without finishing a six-pack. What the fuck. What does that to a man?

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Dan invited me out to ride some of his local trails. I heard there is some great riding to be had over in Oakland but never thought much of it. Oakland=City. City=No good riding. We met up and Dan lent me a ride. A beautiful little Surly 1×1, which after the ride I concluded to be one of the best bikes I had ever ridden. We cruised though the streets of Oakland on what I figured to be a never ending promenade to the quarter mile of single track Oakland has. So we finally get to this gnarly climb in the middle of a cute little neighborhood. This hill doesn’t end. Ever. Up and up and up on the pavement until we finally reach some park. Through the park and then into the trees. And then, bam, single track. What? In Oakland? Yeah. I would compare it to a mixture of Sutro and GGP here in the city. Winding single-track on a hill, with loose dirt everywhere. I was surprised that it just goes on and on and on. Not only was it pretty cool that there was this much riding so near to the city, but it was also some of the best riding I have done so close to the city. I’m no dirt jumper, and I usually like to keep at least one wheel on the ground at all times, so these trails were great for me. Quick, winding, just challenging enough to give you spurts of adrenaline at every corner – but also not enough to fuck my shit up. We rode for a good while, and Dan owned me every descent and ascent. The guy just wouldn’t stop and I was lucky to survive. After the ride we went had some beer and lunch and all was good.

I can’t wait to get back over to Oakland and ride some dirt with Dan. It was a great time and I look forward to discovering more rides in the East Bay.

 

That is all.

 

Also, this gallery is some shitty photos of the Ant that he rode in the Divide. And this LINK is his map through the Divide.

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i’m still here! shitbike lives on!

I do my best to put out content consistently so you guys can waste a little bit more time not doing the things you are supposed to be doing. Unfortunately, lately I haven’t had the time to help you out. Two jobs and full-time school will do that to a guy. So I decided to take a little chunk out of homework time to present you with… a shit load of random photos. Here’s what I have been up to.

riding with skinny tires

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riding some more with skinny tires.

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Getting my horseshoe on with Timbuk2

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Getting my drink on with Timbuk2

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Rinding with the lady friend

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Riding some more skinny tires, getting my #trainingbro on.

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and hating bike thieves. because they suck.

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So that all for now. I should resurface in about three weeks or so. I promise some more substantial stories will come after my miserable semester. And they will most likely involve a motorcycle.

shitbike rides with some makers

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I was sick, hungover and should have been working on finals but simply could not miss out on the Sacramento edition of Meet Your Maker Tour. shitbike has been out of commission since last week so I loaded up the ‘goose, downed a couple espresso shots and hit the road.

Robert Ives of Blue Collar bikes headed up this round of the tour, and – whoa – what a great job he did. We all met at his unofficial headquarters, a bar named the Hideaway, and prepped for the ride. Within five minutes there were enough people to rival the largest MYM already, by the time we left it was well over the last MYM attendance.

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The plan was a quick and easy loop around south Sacramento. 50 miles, no hills and “most of it will be a tailwind”. The huge group rolled out around 10 and we spilt immediately into a a mess of cyclists storming through the neighborhoods. Cars are pretty nice in Sacramento, but I still wanted to get out of the residential areas. After some time taking left and right turns trying to meander out of it, we came to a freeway and some open road. It was a good time to make rounds through the group, meet new people and check out some bikes.

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I rode with a couple builders during the lulls and learned a lot about what it takes to start and maintain a small frame building company. These guys are ridiculously passionate about what they do, and their love for creating always trumps their desire for payment. They work hard to create bicycles that their clients will love a cherish forever. That’s not to say it’s an easy job. Every guy I talked to mentioned a time at which they didn’t know if “the whole bike-making thing” was going to happen for them. Some keep a part-time (or full-time) job while laying the foundation, some still have to supplement income with side jobs. Others are in the shop countless hours pumping out beautiful bikes to we can go ride them while their still in the shop making the next “big thing”. No matter what, each has a smile on their face when they describe their latest project. Each has a prideful grin as their name is called, preceded by the title “Frame Builder” at the start of the ride. These guys are an inspiration, in the creative realm, the business realm and in life.

This is why I go to Meet Your Maker. This is why Meet Your Maker exists. You get a chance, and the builders get a chance to come face to face with the other side. The builders are doing it because they love to make bikes, and you ride their bikes because they make riding more fun. To see these two heads meet makes for a an awesome ride. Everyone is happy to be out there. Its like a flurry of appreciation being spewed out from all angles, that and beer.

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The ride was mixed terrain, hitting mostly asphalt with the occasional gravel section and even some railroad. I definitely picked the wrong bike for the job but committed and had to suffer it out. The bulky Mongoose made for an extra effort up every levy and through all the “tailwind” we were riding with. Sacramento has a strange feeling to it. One second you are in a nice shaded road with generous vegetation on either side, and the next second you are in the middle of a dry desert praying for water. We made our first beer stop about twenty miles in and I couldn’t be happier. A tallboy in my hand, the sun in my eyes and only 30 miles to go.

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At about mile 21 is where I lost it. I don’t know if it was the Mongoose, or the sun or the ridiculous headwind, but I was pretty beat and just wanted to get back for some pork and beer. I decided the best way to do this would be to put the hammer down, to cruise in faster so as to eat sooner. After another stop where we fueled up with licorice and beer, I put it in gear. I rode with Mr. Klein on a dirt section and he distracted me with some good conversation. On the next portion of the course I tried to stay with Curtis Inglis, but that badass was on a quick-as-lightning  show bike and I was almost died trying to discuss his recent trip to Sweden. We finally made it to another stop and I stuffed a doughnut in my face before heading into the last leg.

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Ah, finally the skyline emerged from the trees and I knew we were close. At the last regroup I switched bikes with Darin who had just put together his brand new Blue Collar Cross with all the bells and whistles, and let me test it out. I rode that thing into Sacramento and it made the last five miles so much easier. Rigid as i-beam and light as a feather. We rolled past the capitol and the ATOC setup. We rode back into the neighborhood and down the last stretch to some bbq sandos and beer. At the Hideaway again, we all rack up the bikes and line up for lunch.

 

After a couple of beers refueled each rider, we all sat inside with little red tickets in hand waiting for Robert to call out the winners of the huge raffle he organized in support of the Chako Pit Bull Rescue. I didn’t win anything but I drank a few more beers, and thats winning for me. In size only, this MYM was one of the most successful. In community and charity, this MYM was far above the rest. We came together with the same intent of all the MYM tours but with the added intent of helping out a part of the builder’s community. We came together to have the same fun we always do, did it better, and even helped a worthy organization. Robert did a great job and I am looking forward to the next time I can get up to Sacramento to drink a beer with him.

 

fuckyeahshitbike

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shitbike likes it hard and it’s been a while since i gave her a proper ride, if you know what i mean. so i put my thinking cap on a came up with something to sooth her desire and rub her right through to the bone. fifty miles of dirt, gravel, and climbs sounded about right. shitbike didnt have a clue of the plan, i wanted to surprise her with the awesomeness. we both got pretty and left for our hot date.

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smooth foreplay unraveled on the streets of sausalito. movin’ and groovin’ our way to the mountain. perfect cadence. perfect moment. shitbike squeaking ever so slightly.

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we got lost for a little while after we got to mill valley. there’s construction and i didn’t know how to circumvent the closures while staying the correct course. it’s all good, spending time with shitbike is spending time with shitbike. eventually we find the start of the fire road and head up. it’s like a german sensual massage from the beginning. rocks, gravel and more rocks. shitbike is shaking to the bone, my hands are growing weak around the bars already, it’s going to be a rough ride.

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we power to the top of tam where the  bumps cease and we take a break. shitbike is handling it all so well, not a single screw loose, ready for some more. we have a quick snack break of twizzlers and soon bid a farewell to West Point Inn.

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down down and down. bump and grind, bump and grind. rolling those rocks in the most non-elegant way possible. its rutted for her pleasure. still, im afraid we might have a blowout. we slow it down and take it easy, really soaking in the single track. it’s short lived and we’re on the road down to the next trail head before you know it.

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i love getting on shitbike again. she always reminds me of the most important reasons i ride bikes. here we are sitting on the top of a mountain, all it took was the two of us. one man. one bike. no limitations. the ability to go and the ability to be free are what drive me to saddle up every day. shitbike reminds me that it’s not about the carbon in your frame or the ceramic in your bottom bracket, its about the will inside your heart. to go out and achieve great things not because it’s what you and your bike can do but because it’s what you truly desire to do. she also reminds me of just how important lube is.

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descending on some smooth asphalt is like turning the lights on, shitbike’s flaws become more evident and she gets a little self conscious and mad. best to get back on some dirt quick.

we’re on to the next trail making our way back up the hill when we are joined by a friend. a kid from bear dev has ridden up and prepares to kick our ass. we’re down for a little challenge so we latch on as he passes and stay with him till the top. this was incredibly hard and incredibly stupid. don’t ever try to compete with a 16 year old monster mountain biker. neither of us has hurt that bad in a very long time. but we got to the top quicker than we had planned and had some extra time for some extra radness. more trails? i think yes. taking our only trail option adds on quite a few hills and mileage but we’re committed. to miwok we go.

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the sun is intense and we’re sweating out the last of the water. shitbike is squeaking constantly and sounding a bit dry. down some stairs, down some epic descents on dirt, and then straight back up. the climbs are dreadful but i’ve got to say- i love single speeds. for all their lacking versatility, they make up for it in ease of use and reliability. i wasn’t clicking over my cassette or fumbling on shifters. i sat and cranked, and worried about nothing. i was on the second to last hill when we ran into a suspicious stick. i was told by two old ladies that it was an elusive gopher stick. we carry on and hit the best descent in the area. a smooth fire road that leads into the headlands. its one of those descents you bomb fearlessly until your back tire starts shifting underneath you, and then you go faster.

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we’re on to the very last fire road of the day and in celebration we practice wheelies to our heart’s content. shitbike got a little excited and bucked me off more than i would prefer, but no biggie. celebrations had, we head back home. successful date, both parties fully satisfied.

all roads are downhill in heaven, and you get to ride them on a mongoose loaded with pbr.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.