While it was still early on Sunday morning, we were all standing around, a little pre-completely-caffeinated dopey. Outside of the gathered group which circled around the morning coffee and bagels, Grant busied himself among some gear, began tying this to that, and was soon hurling a short rope throw line with a head-sized knot on one end up over the largest tree limb in the clearing. We all began watching this and conversation lulled slightly.
Without missing a beat, Rivbike John growled, “We always like to end the Weekend with a hangin’…”
In short, the Rivenendell Weekend #3 was that kind of an event - easily found humor among interesting people. The great riding and beautiful bikes just added to the ambience.
I’d missed the first two for various reasons, and managed to get on board with this year’s thanks to a scheduling change for me and a space which opened up a few weeks before the outing. It seemed like it would be a fun excuse to finally ride on Mt. Diablo, the peak of which had mocked me from afar for years during my regular riding in the North Bay. It’s hard to fault the quality of the riding in these parts - both for diversity and beauty - but it does tend to make you a bit geo-centric. The only time I’d ever even been up onto Mt. Diablo was driving to the top with my wife a few years ago, and we’d left after a trip to the summit and a bit of hiking - feeling like we’d hardly scratched the surface.
Of course, after paying my money and getting all excited, I awoke Wednesday before the Weekend with a splitting headache, and didn’t feel like doing much of anything. I began taking Everything I Thought Might Help - echinacea tea, nutrabiotic, astragalus, vitamin C, fruit smoothies, hot peppers - and tried to reduce my working efforts. Managed to work from home on Thursday - missing Bike to Work Day entirely - and hoped that the overcompensation would be enough. I’d pulled most of the gear together the weekend before, so I didn’t have to do much other than make sure everything got packed.
That’s when I got really depressed. Felt like I was taking waaay too much stuff. Whined and harumphed around the house on Friday until my wife reminded me why I’m lucky to be around her.
“You don’t have to carry that up on your bike, do you?”
“They’re gonna haul it to the campsite, right?”
“And they’ll bring it back to Rivendell?”
“So….what’s the problem?”
Flopping inelegantly over that mental hurdle, I checked over the bike one more time and went to bed early.
Got up and out the door a little later than I’d hoped, but rolled up the last rise toward the RBW HQ & Lair within a reasonable range of the 9 am gathering time. As I eased around the corner, folks buzzed around, actively tweaking bikes, fetching food or coffee and throwing gear bags into the pile. Adding my stuff to the pile, I rolled my bike up to the wall of wonderous hardware and commenced to calorify. Strong coffee & massive muffins. I passed on the breakfast pizza.
The first person who introduced himself was none other than Chico Gino - with whom I’d swapped various emails and photos through Flickr. He had brought his recently completed Bleriot. We chatted a bit in the shade and waited for momentum to build. While taking various side trips for coffee rental return and water bottle filling, I snapped photos here and there, quickly running into Ron L. Ron was one of the first people who sent in photos to the Galleries, and another person with whom I’d shared numerous emails, but little actual contact. It was great to see folks in the flesh who had heretofore existed only online. Among the group at large, a lot of folks seemed to know one another - probably from previous Weekends or other riding events - but everyone seemed to be smiling and welcoming.
From around the back of the building, Grant Peterson rolled up on his Mercian tandem. It seemed as though he was trying to help Miesha’s husband to determine whether they wanted to use that bike on the trip. They were both joining us - nice to have an EMT in the bunch - for their first time up the mountain together.
The pitch of things seemed to increase a bit - ice showed up, more gear got shoehorned into diminishing vehicle space, sandwiches got quickly bagged up and stowed, people got a little more animated and revved their engines a bit - and then formalities began to ensue. There had been some predawn wrestling match which John supposedly won, meaning that he got to use the bullhorn for the weekend. He wrangled us into formation for a group photo (always helpful if you lose someone) and then explained the ride options. Mark would be leading a difficult offroad route, while others would be leading the paved approach via North Gate Road. While normally the “difficult” option would be attractive, it wasn’t yet clear how I was feeling, and I didn’t want to just collapse into the tent for the rest of the weekend. I tacked onto the back end of the road bunch and we made our way out of the parking lot.
I suppose there are a lot of local routes which are second nature to me, and when leading visiting folks over them, they get as turned around as the flying cows in “Twister”. But, it seemed that the twisting route to the North Gate Entrance of Mt. Diablo is designed to prevent non-locals from ever making it there. Luckily, the pace was gentle, and all you had to do was keep fendered bikes in front of you as the leader followed bike paths and roadways, took quick little side cuts and rolled along past parks and pedestrians.
Eventually the density of homes seemed to lessen a bit, and we saw the rising foothills that lead to the mountain itself. The road rose a bit and before we knew it, everyone was gathering just past the ranger station and blinking with the sudden disappearance of people-built structures.
When we moved to California many years ago, one of the truly odd things to our raised-in-the-midwest eyes was the color of the hills - to us everything looked “dead”. Now - almost 40 years later, few vistas are as calming as the gold of the summer grasses. Before us stretched the gently moving grass, and just arriving there helped to melt away the past week, civilization and petty distractions.
Despite the fact it was a beautiful Saturday morning, few cars drove by as we rolled forward again. Maybe it’s more significant later in the year, but the road felt more like a forgotten country byway - especially when compared against the amount of traffic on my local roads. That was suprising, as I always feel like the population density is so much greater in the East Bay. But, like most folks, they probably stay closer to the trailhead - in this case perhaps the urban trailhead of Starbucks and other retail distractions.
Riders moved forward in a loose gang, and now that there was nowhere to make a wrong turn, a few people kicked up their heels a bit and drifted off the front. I hadn’t bothered to flip the rear wheel, and so still spun along on the fixed-gear side of things. This tends to have a couple of effects - one good/one bad.
The good - and I say this with no sense of irony - is that climbing on a fixed gear bicycle is easier. (This is usually when most riders look at me politely, thinking that it’s nice I’m at least wearing a helmet now, you know, after the significant blunt trauma that must’ve scrambled my thinking.) I’ll spare you the rambling dissertation, but suffice to say that the momentum of the bicycle helps to keep the pedals going.
The bad - you have to honor momentum. I was sort of chatting with some folks when the roadway dipped a bit before the climbing began. It was one of those little swoops that I used to coast through, but now pedal down into, riding the momentum back up into the climb. It spread us out a bit and prematurely ended the conversation, probably making me seem extremely antisocial. You’ve just got to ride differently on a fixed-gear, otherwise you suffer worse than you’d planned.
From the drive (urk! sorry!) to the top which my wife and I had made here previously, I remembered that most of the climbing wasn’t savagely steep. It was a succession of pitches with an opportunity to recover on more level ground. It became a bit difficult to keep that in mind, however, especially as we continued to gain altitude, and the 1,000 and 2,000 foot elevation signs passed by. For some reason, they seemed to sneak the significant increases right near those points. Luckily, the pencam gives ample excuse to roll over to the side of the roadway and snap a photo or two.
The first collection point came at the Junction Ranger Station. It seems like this is one of those natural collection points which seem to occur on trails and roads travelled by cyclists. It had three of the four important aspects - water, bathroom and a place to sit down (no snacks for purchase here, though). The lower roads on this side of Mt. Diablo are North Gate, which we rode up, and South Gate, which joins it here to create a loose semi-circle. The Summit Road swung uphill away from us, and RBW Weekenders began to collect in the shade before taking on the next chunk. I was definitely ready to sit down for a bit.
The campground lay down a 2.5 mile descent. Some folks were planning on heading down immediately. It seemed like the lesser option for me, though. The Mt. Diablo summit seemed like a reachable destiantion, and though I was feeling OK, adding return climbing didn’t really sound appealling. As others rolled in and discussed plans, it seemed as though a few folks would be heading up, so I rested and snacked, and got ready for the next segment: the push to the summit…
End of Part One