Monday, November 30, 2009

Giving Thanks.

Having fallen afoul of dread routine rides that are a result of complications brought on by modern life, I was thoroughly worked up about hitting the legendary Marin Turkey Day ride in the company of a handful of good friends, and a few thousand other like-minded riders.

The day before, I meticulously prepped my bike and got my gear ready in anticipation of heading out the door at sparrow-fart. That night I actually didn’t sleep all that well, mostly because of gastric perambulations caused by some seriously undercooked beans, but also because I was genuinely excited about finally doing this ride.

The first year I tried to join the fray the rain conspired against us and the mountain was pretty much closed off as much of the Pine Mountain Loop would have been impassable, so I went off on a downgraded version on trails that had better drainage. Next time I tried I got sick as a dog a few days before. Then there was one more attempt that never got off the ground for reasons that I can’t even remember.

So it was that I met up with Chris and D and once we were fully caffeinated we headed out to meet our good friend John and M at Fairfax. Even though it was 7:30 the lot by the Java Hut was already teeming with bikers getting ready and rolling towards the mountain. We threw our frigid bodies onto our bikes and made way towards the trail that leads past the golf course and up to Four Corners, and after a good 15 minute climb to warm up we were steaming and started shedding a few layers.

The day couldn’t have been better – it was sunny and only some high clouds conspired to keep temps down enough to make it a brisk affair every time we gathered speed on descents. Idle chat and jolly banter rang out as we made our way and soon we were at the dreaded Baby Head section. And here’s where it started getting much more interesting.

Firstly, it’s a lung-busting technical climb that is relentless in its dispensation of misery. Secondly, it is a notorious newbie trap – lose forward momentum and it’s a long walk up to the top. And thirdly, I could not for the life of me figure out why I kept smelling exhaust – until we cleared the first rise and saw a Marin sheriff on an ATV pulling a trailer up the hill, scattering bikers as he chugged up the hill.

My first thought was that there was an injured rider somewhere, but the pace the rider was maintaining was bucolic at best and soon it became painfully apparent that this was part and parcel of the new approach towards “managing” mountain bikers – by intimidation. When we tried to pass the rider, he’d speed up, on long ascents he would slow down. And all the time we were inhaling fumes – just what we wanted to do on our mountain bikes. I finally passed him at the bottom of the last climb and even though it sounded like he was about to roll over me I pipped him at the top of Smoker’s Knoll, on which nary a smoker was partaking as it looked like half of the Marin sheriff’s force was just hanging around, scowling at the riders who scowled back.

After a quick snack during which we saw a few legendary riders like Charlie Kelly and local racers like Rachel Lloyd, John pointed out the approaching monster SUV that was coming up the hill and said “We’d better get rolling – this guy HATES mountain bikers…”
Even though my bike was off the side of the road I quickly dashed over to get it as he appeared to be heading straight toward it. Next to me was a lovely Ventana tandem bike, which unfortunately fell foul of the law.

I was the first to start rolling down the steep descent into the canyon below, and it wasn’t long before Chris caught up to me and John and called out ”Typical! He rolled OVER the tandem!” When we bunched up at the bottom we got the 411 from M, who even tried to stop the “sheriff” from rolling over the bike, but he didn’t stop and destroyed the rear wheel of the tandem and ruined the day for its two owners. The scene started getting ugly immediately and several riders were calling out insults and “explaining” how much a new wheel costs for a tandem. And I’m sure on that day a lot of riders were not only polarized but hopefully energized into action, because this was truly beyond the pale.

So what did we do to deserve this? Are we torch-bearing anarchists? Serial killers? Thieves, murderers and rapists? A look around at the crowd revealed a cross-section of riders – from die-hard racers to weekend warriors. Rawboned teenagers and AARP candidates. Riders on 1980’s vintage iron to the latest in carbon fiber trickery. Men, women, boys and girls – all trying to have a good time, but when we’re singled out as scofflaws and harassed simply because we’re trying to enjoy some recreation, it’s enough to make a grown man sigh.

I lost count, but on that day I counted about 10 SUVs, 6 or 8 ATVs, and well over 2 dozen law enforcement officials – enforcing what exactly? On a holiday. On our tax-dollar. At triple overtime. At a time when the state is fiscally and morally bankrupt and our parks are on the ropes. Great – makes me feel all warm and fuzzy – how about you?

So the rest of the ride was great, but tainted with the sour taste left by that one moment. Along the way we passed several more SUVs and officers out in the middle of bloody nowhere, ensuring that we all felt “protected” – yeah, so long as our bikes aren’t in the path of one of their vehicles. At the top of Repack, Access for Bikes (A4B) was collecting signatures and trying to get people involved – no doubt they had a banner day, considering the warmth we felt from the Marin sheriffs.

If there’s a moral to this story it’s that we ALL need to get more involved in all manner of activities – from continuing to work towards greater trail access, to doing trail maintenance, policing ourselves and in general becoming more politically active – and savvy. If not, intimidation tactics like this will continue to strip from our hands that which is rightfully ours. So if you’re feeling grateful for being able to ride today, consider this a call to get involved – so that we all may continue to ride tomorrow.

M. Bearns

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