My 20-Year Mountain Bike Ride from Whiskeytown to Wailea
The crow would have to fly close to 3,000 miles to cover the distance between Whiskeytown, California and Wailea, Hawaii. For me, this vast and wonderful territory of land and sea measures 20 years of a most exciting and rewarding life. In 1983, I was 27 and lived in a tiny cottage nestled in the redwoods on the flanks of Mt. Tamalpais in Mill Valley, California. It was new territory, and a new chapter in my life.
Today, now 47, I live across the San Francisco Bay in Berkeley. I’m married with two beautiful daughters, ages 14 and 9. I have a master’s degree in psychology. I’m a published author and an accomplished athlete.
What happened in between? Mountain biking!
Squeezed in between the basics of sleeping, eating, breathing, a special boyfriend named Joe Breeze, and studying for that master’s degree, my life welcomed mountain bikes and found them to be a fun and challenging source of socializing and exercise. The bikes and friends also led to racing, which then led to a deepening commitment to bicycle advocacy and lobbying for multi-use land access. All of this coalesced into founding the National Off-Road Bicycle Association (N.O.R.B.A.).
In short, my late twenties felt like something out of the Wild West. The cowboys were my new Californian friends, an extraordinary group of people, untamed and ingenious, with a passion for life unsurpassed by anyone I else I had ever met. Before my eyes, these new friends reinvented a sport while inventing a whole new lifestyle. Many of their names probably sound familiar to you: Joe Breeze, Charlie Kelly, Gary Fisher, Tom Ritchey, Scot Nicol, Steve Potts, Jacquie Phelan, and Charlie Cunningham.
I watched, listened, learned, and played hard with these people as mountain bike history unfolded in their garages and out on the trails. Breeze made the frames, so did Ritchey. Cunningham provided advice and re-engineered components. Potts painted and learned frame design. Fisher and Kelly began distributing the bikes and birthed Marin Mountain Bikes. Scot Nicol and Otis Guy moonlighted in Breeze’s garage and learned to build frames. Everywhere more bikes were needed. An older guy named Jack Ingram called for a meeting and N.O.R.B.A. was born. Joe Breeze and I soon co-owned the new organization, created the logo, and began traveling to promote the National Off-Road Bicycle Association as the environmental and competition-sanctioning body for mountain bikes.
For me, it was one of those moments where I was in the right place at the right time. By trying to maximize the time I spent with a busy boyfriend, I passed countless hours in Joe Breeze’s garage scraping burrs off stays and forks, cutting open boxes postmarked from Italy, running tubes through the jigsaw, and having dinners where the salad would end up
sprinkled half with parmesan, half with metal shavings. Words will never properly convey what I witnessed during this time, and how much I gained in so many ways. What I can articulate is this: Joe Breeze gave new meaning to dedication, focus, and the pursuit of excellence via a piece of equipment so many of us ride and thrive on today – the mountain bike.
The grandfather mountain bike race of all time was the Whiskeytown Downhill, about 150 miles north of San Francisco. June 4, 1983, found me and all of my new guy pals at the top of the course, checking things out the day before this epic 36-mile test of endurance. At the crest of the course, known as Buckhorn Bailey, we met another competitor with a custom-built bike. While the rider’s shiny black Mikkelsen (Bernie’s first and only mountain bike accomplishment) was being ogled by my friends, the rider, Dick Peterson, hung back and talked to me. I didn’t know it then, but mountain bikes had just created another moment that would change my personal history. Four more Whiskeytown Downhills later, Dick and I were married.
The course of my life, from Whiskeytown to Wailea, has been just as exciting and wonderful as the hundreds of bike rides and race courses I have ridden. I have enjoyed watching all of my friends’ successful professional lives (Ritchey Bicycles, Gary Fisher Bikes, Scot Nicol and Ibis, Otis Guy Bikes, Wilderness Trails Bikes, Breezer). My life also continues to be enriched by the mountain bike. The love of riding and competing is now a favorite family pastime. In the last three years, I have immersed myself in mountain bike triathlons. My husband is also very involved. He is my coach, mechanic extraordinaire and major sponsor. Wailea is the home of the XTERRA World Championships and, in 2001 I became the XTERRA World Champion in the 45-49 age-group. That was thrilling! It is more exciting, more meaningful, and more energizing to know that 20 years after that first Whiskeytown Downhill, something as wonderful as a mountain bike has given so much passion, inspiration, and profound positive energy to one person’s life – mine.
Author’s note: Barbara wishes to extend great appreciation to her sponsors for all of the wonderful support they provide for her athletic endeavors: ClifBar, Patagonia, TYR Swimsuits, Speedplay Pedals, XTERRA Gear, A Bicycle Odyssey, Sausalito, CA, The Claremont Spa Resort, Berkeley, CA, Team Claritin and Active.Com.