Is it ever too late to tell a good story?
It was early December and an offer landed square on my doorstep one I just couldn’t refuse, I tried my darndest, I looked at our budget we could manage it (Christmas was just around the corner) I asked the wife and got a green light.
Metaphorically a door will open and you know it’ll never open again so you jump through and let the mystery unfold. The following is the unfolding…
My buddy and riding partner David Estes has built a warm friendship with Jacquie Phelan of MTB racing lore and it so happens her 60th Birthday was approaching and she had plans. David had an open seat in his van headed for Mount Tam the birthplace of klunkers and Mountain bikes and a rendezvous with Jacquie at the top of this fabled peak and its historic West Point Inn.
Early on the morning of Friday the 11th with rain looming for SoCal, my buddies David and Jim swooped in and picked me up as they headed North. As we drove over the grapevine and out of the Los Angeles basin the rain and a mix of sunshine created a rainbow portending the future magical journey we were about to experience.
Hours later with great bike conversations we rolled into the bucolic town of Mill Valley the once home of the dead’s Jerry Garcia and I’m sure many other notables. Jacquie Phelan was hunkering down for the weekend with friends at the West Point Inn to celebrate her sixtieth birthday, beyond that we were in the dark both figuratively & literally. With the sun setting, stomachs grumbling we started thinking about grabbing a bite before heading up to the inn. A few times Jim mentioned Avatar PunJabi Burrito Restaurant and by the frequency of his recommendation he was obviously hungry and really into this place. A Sweet Potato & Lamb burrito consumed and I knew why! Outstanding!
A quick shopping foray at the local grocery store and we were off. Jim as co-pilot we negotiated the twisting narrow roads around the Western flank of Tam to Pantoll Ranger Station. This is where we planned to park the van for the weekend and roll up to the Inn.
Back in the day I’d lived in Mendocino County and attended college in the Bay Area, so I’d ridden Mount Tamalpais often and passed by the Inn on the way to other trails but I’d never stopped long enough to explore or know anything about it. There are thirty one beds scattered between the main Inn building and small tiny out cabins cantilevered over the Old Railroad Grade. The view is to the Southeast, so you can see San Francisco and the East bay spread out before you. Most spectacular! Access to the Inn was either by hiking or bicycling no cars allowed excluding the caretaker.
My mid-90’s Salsa Ala Carte Mountain bike has been out of commission for some time now (the next project in the wings) which would have been the perfect ride for this weekend but instead I was determined to bring the recently reimagined A. Homer Hilsen with new Sram Apex groupset, Soma Portola bars, Cazadero tires and Panceti front wheel with Son28 hub. The night before I mounted racks and basket * so I could portage my gear up the Old stage Road to the Inn. David brought his **Singular 29er Mountain bike with drops and Jim was riding his Rivendell Hunqapillar all worthy steeds. Headlamp, dynamo light and bundled up we road the 1.9 mile ascent to the Inn where we were greeted by our good friend Phillip Williamson, he showed us the basement under the Inn where we stored our bikes, dry and secure. Next we threw our things in cabin #3 and joined the festivities already in progress. We had missed Charlie who had already departed for home but found that Jacquie and friends had had dinner covered, there was dessert and spirits which we partook in and many great conversations that wended late into the night.
A Super Brief History:
I’ve mountain biked my fair share but the truth be told I really had no idea about the history and lineage of the sport. On the drive up Jim who I consider the historian of our group referenced Charlie Kelley’s ***”Fat Tire Flyer” and the history of the sport. I’d heard about MTB people and places and promptly forgot, and I certainly didn’t know where Jacquie and her husband Charlie Cunningham resided in that pantheon. Jacquie is a three time NORBA champion 1983, 84 & 85 and founded the WOMBATS (Women’s Mountain Bike & Tea Society) for women interested more in socializing and enjoying nature. She is an unconventional soul and full of vim & vigor. Her Husband Charlie Cunningham co-founded Wilderness Trail Bikes or WTB and is responsible for many innovations and if you hadn’t heard is dealing with some major health issues. Here’s a link to what happened to him from the RBW Owners Bunch and the goFundme link, if’n you want to do some good.
I first met Jacquie at the Redlands Strada Rossa event back in March of this year. She and my friend Phillip Williamson a superb artist residing in Santa Rosa drove down for the event. When I first saw Jacquie I knew she was different and well I like different. Adorned with a kilt, leggings, ragged old wool jersey and nose shade she definitely caught my eye. She and I had a brief conversation and she left me with a postcard of herself covered in mud! I had no idea seven months later I’d be helping her celebrate her Birthday.
Luck would have it, we were between storms fronts.
The next morning we had breakfast and an informal bike ride was assembled. Curtis Inglis of Inglis cycles & Retrotec and some of his friends, David, Jim, Craig and I and of course the Birthday girl on her Joe Breeze MTB decided to ride to the Pelican Inn by way of the Coast View Trail. Spirited down hills with regrouping spots, then more ocean infused air downhill fun. The Mill Valley Art Fair was in full swing so Jacquie requested a brief stop, so we checked out the local artisan’s wares.
Andrew Curtis’s friend had a trail in mind. He characterized it as a cutty little trail. It was a steep rutty single track trail that snaked between houses perched on a hillside and took a lot of concentration but in time we arrived safely at the Pelican Inn.
Bangers & Mash, Beef Stew and draughts of Guinness made for a splendid lunch out on the green, green lawn of the Inn. The Pelican is a local haunt for Bay Area cyclists and tourists alike. Jacquie held court on the lawn with folks with 2 degrees of separation greeting her.
Bellies loaded the group split in two, Curtis and his contingent decided to go back by way of the Panoramic Hwy and the Old Railroad Grade. The rest of us decided to climb back up to the Inn by way Deer Park Fire Rd. This route Craig advised would afford us a ride through a section of Muir woods and old growth forest. Remember earlier I mentioned changes to the A. Homer, well those changes bit me in the legs, lungs and heart big time! The group I’d hung on Homer had (Past tense as I’ve since changed the crank) a compact road double (50/34) and the lowest gear I had 34/34 a measly 26 gear inches, so I was out of the saddle a lot. My previous low gearing was 24/36 17.4 gear inches which doesn’t seem like much but I would have been able to sit down and spin up the road.
Lungs burning I dismounted on the high side of the old growth forest in a clearing to catch my breath, I was also hoping to take pictures of the other riders as they came up the road. Not long, up the road riding side by side chatting were Jacquie and Jim snap, snap, snap. I waited a bit longer**** but no others showed, so I jumped back on Homer. I caught up to Jacquie & Jim where Deer Park intersects with the Dipsea Trail and the Coastal Fire Road, this intersection affords amazing views of the headlands and Pacific beyond. Jacquie continued on up to the Inn as she was supposed to meet the chef for the big meal. Jim and I caught a breath and walked for a bit (using different muscles) before resuming our ride back to the Inn.
The window between storms was closing and through the afternoon and early evening a friend whose culinary expertise Jacquie has great admiration for worked tirelessly preparing dinner while rain struck the windows of the Inn, I don’t know whether anyone knew what we were in store for? Appetisers of homemade tapenade, organic olives, crackers & cheese wine and beer. Fireplaces crackling, conversations circled both the appetizer table and in the main living rooms twin red sofas.
For my lack of a better way to describe the meal I’ll just tell you what each course consisted of, I submit the following.
It was a four course meal starting with Kabocha Butternut Squash soup, followed by Parma Prosciutto salad with Cambozola, cheese, apples, tangerines, roasted almonds and a balsamic vinaigrette dressing. Next up beef stew a la bourguignon braised in red wine, served with chanterelles mushrooms, french peas and mashed potatoes. And to finish that all off was Brioche bread pudding with pears creme caramel & ice cream. All along the wine & beer flowed, there were toasts & testimonials and even a Beatles song sung acapella.
Much later with many hands communal style the dishes cleaned fires dimming, gas powered chandeliers burning a warm yellow light all sitting comfy on the big puffy red leather sofas we were treated to a fairytale by our good friend Craig Coss.
As is the penchant for such activities, conversation winded late into the night. Tired I retired earlier than the night before, rain pattering on the roofs open beam ceiling of cabin #3 snug in layers and dreaming of the trails to ride just outside I drifted off.
The storm grew in strength during the night as we slept. The morning found me hunkered in a cocoon of down and determined to catch up on sleep not caring whether I missed out on breakfast in the main Inn I settled back in. Eventually emerging to a blustery grey day wind blowing the rain sideways I was reminded of a dream or fantasy I’ve had lately of waking up somewhere in the PNW on a deck with a view of the puget sound, rain and a steaming cup of coffee. This moment seemed close enough and in many ways just as ideal. With visibility reduced to a couple of miles the long views were obscured by mist & rain and I brewed a pour over cup of my current favorite beans Trystero Organic Mexican Chiapas medium roast ate a day old bagel and some fancy German cookies. I was in heaven!
Reluctantly we readied our rigs for the short dirt ride back to Pantoll Ranger Station, steady rain and down we rolled the Old Stage Road broad grins spread across our faces, David stopping by a babbling brook for photo op’s. Wet and dirty bikes were loaded in the van and off we drove to Larkspur and upon Jim’s recommendation we landed at Emporio Rulli on Magnolia for coffee & snacks a welcome pause before the long drive South. The positive to a long drive is the actual decompression it affords, it also helps to have great company of the likes of David & Jim I count myself fortunate to call them friends. I can tell you on the drive home there was some scheming but that’ll have to wait for another time.
David’s an excellent photo documentarian and as such he captured a ton of great moments here are his images.
Here’s my album of images.
* I have all the bags necessary to mount on the Hilsen, the Salsa MTB would need more thought and expense to make it load capable.
**The singular was a homage to how Jacquie raced with a MTB and drop bars.
*** The “Fat Tire Flyer” book can be found here or Amazon.
****David, Phillip and Craig took a pause in Muir Woods to soak in the majesty.
As always thanks for reading and keep the rubber side down
And I’d love to hear from you.