I’d been on one ride in Jackson State Forest years ago, with the ex and a friend of his who knew the trails. It was great to have someone to follow, and definitely seemed like the kind of place that was good to have a guide. Super fun though, but one thing and another I’d never been back.
Then I heard about the M5 – that would be Murphy Mack’s Mendocino Mountain Bike Madness – which seemed like a perfect opportunity to revisit the area. Bike camp for adults! What could be better? But some combination of other plans already or not enough vacation time, I didn’t make it. It sounded super awesome though, so I put it high on the priority list for this (OK now last) year’s riding.
I went back and forth between going up Thursday evening vs. Friday morning – one more night in my own bed or early wake up and drive before a day of riding. Decided on the Thursday, and the plan was to get to the Mendocino Woodlands Camp before dark.
Well you know what they say about plans… one thing and another it took a while to achieve escape velocity from home, and it was final dusk, deepened by the redwoods, when I pulled in at registration. At least I’d had light for the drive out though, I heard from people who came later that they’d had some serious doubts if they were on the right road, and one had made a wrong turn along the way.
By the time I’d gotten checked in and it was time to find my cabin it was full dark. Very dark. Frankie – playing Emily’s stunt double AKA Murphy’s babysitter – oh wait, I think she actually had an official title… Camp Manager? told me where to go. I didn’t mind since she’s got that great accent. And it was super helpful as far as where to park.
I didn’t pay close enough attention about the actual location of my cabin though, and didn’t realize #1 was part of a duplex. So I saw #2, OK, not there. Next one was #3. Nope. Up the hill. Numbers are going up. WTF? I’d left choosing a cabin til last-minute, and #1 was the only choice (which made it very easy) but was that just some sick joke and there wasn’t actually a #1?! Fortunately another woman out on the path mentioned it might be a duplex – the one she was staying in was – and suggested going back down the hill to check.
DING DING DING! Tell her what she wins! Yes #1 was on the back side of #2. Whew. And, uh. There’s no electricity in the cabins. That would have been a nice thing to know. I had a headlamp, so I could get unloaded, and I probably wouldn’t be spending much non-awake time in the cabin, but a lantern would have been nice. Dang, I almost put Lego Man in the car.
The cabins were redwood – very basic – unfinished on the inside, but with fire places. It smelled smoky inside. OK, right. Camp. Think camp. The beds were rudimentary, it seemed generous to call what was on there a mattress. I was glad I had brought my sleeping pad. There were four beds total, with two beds pushed together in each corner. Considering I didn’t know my roommates, that seemed a little presumptuous and possibly awkward, so I separated a pair and staked out my own corner.
Met my neighbors in Cabin 2. A couple with a super cute and sweet little boy. I went back up to the registration area and hung out for a little. More folks trickled in. Murphy had a broken collarbone, got to hear the story of that. Chit chatted a bit and then headed back down to the cabin and hit the hay. When I turned off my head lamp it was dark. VERY DARK. It was a presence, filling the room. And very quiet. That was a presence as well. I feel like I live in a pretty quiet neighborhood, but being out there in the woods reminded me how relative that is.
At some point during the night, one of the other 3 spaces was occupied by someone who turned out to be a Meghan. What are the odds?! The all Meg(h)an cabin. Well, there were 2 other spots to fill.
I wandered over to the dining hall/gathering area. BREFFAST! Saw SarahS and Paul, and a few other familiar looking faces. Then it was sorting out the riding for the day. There was an all-day ride option, but not being familiar with the riding, I wasn’t sure about doing that on the first day. Turned out many other people had the same thought, so in retrospect it would have been nicer to go Friday with the much smaller group but oh well. In addition to ride duration we were also to self-select by skill/fitness level. Pretty much everyone said they were medium.
So a fairly large group of us headed out on the morning ride. Our guides were Benjamin (AKA Benjammin’), a local, and Craig, who doesn’t actually live in Mendocino but has some family connection so spends a good amount of time there. Factoid of the day: there’s no little lake on Little Lake Road – that was the name for Willits back in the day.
There was a decomposing log bridge to get across, and folks were chomping at the bit to ride and hadn’t quite sorted out pace order, so any narrow and/or short steep bits jammed things up, but eventually the group settled down and spread out. We went up Manly Gulch, a beautiful trail through the redwoods (recurring motif for the weekend – the beautiful trail through the redwoods, that is.) At the regroup at the top Strava came up in the chit-chat and some guy commented about how it’s the middle-aged adults who are most competitive. Heh.
We descended the Forest History Trail, went by camp, then up 720, a fire road climb to trails Endo UhOH OHNO (should I be worried?) and Boiler. Fun fun fun twisty singletrack good times. Chit chatted here and there – the obvious topics being have you ridden here before, have you been to this event (apparently this was the third one), and where are you from/where do you usually ride. Yes, I did actually talk to people I didn’t know.
A tasty lunch and then the afternoon ride. (I didn’t take my camera.) The medium fast group was going on a shuttle to start over at Scales, there were a few spots still open, and I thought about going, but thought too long and others took them. But the medium turned out to be a smaller group than we’d had in the morning, which was nice.
Somehow we managed to lose our sweep before we even got out of camp, but he did find us before we got too far. The fast guys went by – they were late back, so started later – in the morning they had been the first out. They were stopped a ways up the road, Paul, our guide said “let’s just blow through these guys!” and started up the single track off to the side. Oh, that’s what they are doing. Yeah, let them go. Ah, it’s Boiler! Oof I think it’s better the other way.
When the trail came out on the fire road we continued up that. I asked Craig if we’d be going by the blackberries – at lunch I’d talked to one of the kids – there were quite a few families there, so there were activities for the kids. The morning there’d been a nature hike option. I’d asked what the most awesome part was and the answer had been the blackberries.
No blackberries for us by we did go down Gas Cap and there were thimbleberries. We headed to another single track, Craig said, “he’s taking us UP that? ….it’s better as downhill” but up we went. We saw the medium fast group on their way down. Someone got the memo about that being the preferred direction. One of the riders in our group had their free hub go non free for a bit, but she kept on with it and then someone managed to free it. We hit more single track, then came out on a road that actually had a bit of a view.
Then Paul, one of the guides, had a mechanical – broken seat rail, but he was able to move it and clamp at the break, which got him back to camp. At this point we were on fire road, and most of us were ready to be back, he kept saying it was about mile and a half to go. Eventually we got to Manly Gulch trail, which was a descent back to camp. We were the last group in.
There was no pie! My bike needed a bit of love, so I took it over to the mechanics. I was hoping it wouldn’t be anything major, so I was just going to hang out, but Jesse 2 said Jesse 1, who wasn’t there at the moment should look at it so I may as well go get dinner. Food did sound good, so I went and got in line. Just as I got to the empty pie tin table, more arrived. Excellent idea and timing. And yummy real food too. Meghan has deduced our roommates are a man and woman – from the shoes – and a couple – the beds were set up with heads together. (Later I did meet them and she was correct!)
Saturday breffast – PANCAKES!!! home fries and sausage. Someone jokes about having to force themselves to eat. There weren’t too many people up yet so I was able to find a spot by myself. Wasn’t quite up to interacting yet.
Packed a lunch and went on the all-day ride. With a BUNCH of other people. Which, I later heard was supposed to be split up by pace once we got going, but that never happened – either we didn’t have enough guides or they didn’t get the memo. So, there was the plusses and minuses of riding with a big group. We definitely got to some trails I hadn’t been to the day before, so that was awesome.
We started by heading down Big River. It was a mellow cruise – easy trail and fire road that was a nice warm up. We came out on the beach and went up on the Headlands – it was a change to be out of the trees. From there we headed up Highway 1 and back inland through the pygmy forest (didn’t see any pygmies) and more super fun singletrack.
Beer stash! Someone was looking out for me with that one, as the trail we did shortly after that benefited from having a little mellow – probably the most technical of the weekend. Well, not crazy steep or obstacle filled, but super skinny and pretty big exposure – on the side of the hill and ohdon’tlookdownthere. Breathe. Lookwhereyouwanttogo. AllIneedisthreeinches. Heh. OK, maybe a little more than the width of my tires. Wait, what were you thinking?! Breathe. Think happy thoughts! One of the women I’ve been riding with was behind me. She wasn’t crowding me at all, but seemed like a stronger rider so I asked if she wanted to go ahead. She declined, saying she liked being able to follow me on the descents. Hmn. OK. I took that as a vote of confidence, which was also helpful for getting down in one piece and proper orientation of ground/bike/rider. WHEE!
And more riding around in the woods, and back to camp. No electricity in the cabins, but there was at the bathrooms AND, most importantly – HOT RUNNING WATER for showers. Ah! Then tasty dinner and comparing notes with other folks about what they’d done during the day. It was cool to hear many of the families had split the day – one parent went out to ride in the morning, the other in the afternoon. There had been a skills clinic too, which sounded like it had been pretty awesome.
Another yummy breakfast on Sunday and then there were various group rides again but I was kinda over that and just went off on my own, doing an I guess you could call it greatest hits/selection from the past two days’ riding which was a hoot although I couldn’t manage to stitch everything together in the preferred direction but most importantly I didn’t get lost, although I got a little greedy and there wasn’t much left in the way of lunch by the time I got back. The more tasty singletrack was definitely worth it.
Anyway, it was super fun, and great having the logistics taken care of. I’m really glad I went, and it made it seem much more do-able to go back on my own some time (still on the To Do List. Need. More. Weekends. or vacation time.) I would recommend it, especially if you’re the type who likes the whole group thing, although the way time gets away from me these days I think it’s already happened again for this year. Maybe next year!