Words and Photography by Tayler Rae Dubé
Do you hear the cry as the pack goes by,
The wind-wolves hunting across the sky?
Hear them tongue it, keen and clear,
Hot on the flanks of flying deer!
Across the forest, mere and plain,
Their hunting howl goes up again!
All night they'll follow the ghostly trail,
All night we'll hear their phantom wail,
For tonight the wind-wolf pack holds sway
From Pegasus Square to the Milky Way,
And the frightened bands of cloud-deer flee,
In scattered groups of two and three.
Much like in William D. Sargent's poem, the Wind Wolves that name the preserve in Bakersfield, California represent the image of a rolling breeze through tall grass, but to six women it's more of a story about friendship and exploring new territory.
On the Tuesday before the trip, I received a text from Jen Abercrombie. "Hey Ladies. I got two campsites reserved for Saturday night at Wind Wolves Preserve. Let's bike and hike." The message was sent to me, Natalie Dixon, Liz Browne, and two numbers I didn't recognize. "I'm in." The two unidentified numbers turned out to be Nina Seiler and Crystal Haggard. Two best friends and total crushers on bikes.
We arrived and set up camp. The only ones at the grounds, we had our pick of the lot and chose #4; a site with fall colored trees, two picnic tables, and an amazing view of the hilly preserve. We would later learn that a species of giant nocturnal toad prefer the same luxuries in a campsite as we do, but for now, we were blissfully unaware. Inspired by the view in front of us, we kitted up and headed out for our ride.
I'll pause here to say, that even with years of experience, I find riding bikes with new people both very exciting and somewhat nerve wrecking. I always worry that my abilities won't match up, that I'll get dropped. But on this ride, like so many before it, my nerves whisked away with every pedal stroke we collectively made. I am always surprised by the invariable kindness of my fellow riders and how we travel, always, as a pack. No wolf left behind.
The El Camino Viejo was the original road from Los Angeles to the San Francisco Bay. Used by Spanish colonial carretas since 1806 and now traveled by a group of women navigating their way through the hilly, rough dirt on cross bikes.
Winding through the Emigdio Canyon, the walls of the hills around us felt massive. Golden with dry grass, they resembled giant sand dunes, making it feel more likely that we were on Mars than a few hours outside of Los Angeles. Herds of clouds moved rapidly over the hill tops and Tarantulas and Wolf Spiders scurried off the road as wheels leapt forward. I stopped to point out a few hanging out around the sides of the road, because "Holy shit. That's a big spider."
The road averaged at around a 5 percent grade. The flat sections were full of chatter and a few bunny hops, our laughter sometimes echoing through the canyon. The steep sections occasionally dropped us to complete silence or sarcastic grunts and sighs. When we got to the "end of road" gate, we decided to "not see the sign" and keep riding onto even rougher terrain before heading back.
On the way back to camp we realized how much climbing we had done. I said "Weeeee!" more than a few times as our wheels gained speed, kicking gravel and dirt up around us. On the technical sections we practiced our cyclocross skills, navigating the best lines around rocks, into ditches, and through sand. The last section, a steep, rocky downhill with a sharp right turn onto the pavement.
After the ride, we changed into our "camp pants" and began to make dinner. In the truly gourmet style of six very hungry cyclists, our dinner was eight courses. Bean chips, cheese, dates, pistachios, carrots with hummus, wild boar jerky, leftover Chipotle, and cookies paired with cider, lots of bourbon, and wine. There was a bit of hair braiding, a lot of R. Kelly sing-a-longs, and..ok..a BIT of gossiping.
Then we heard it...crunching...leaves rustling right behind us. Coyote? No, we would see it. Maybe it's a fox? Ever brave Liz decided to investigate, me trailing after her. When we got to the other side of the brush pile, there was nothing, but then, right as we started to walk away, someone let out a little shriek. It was a bunch of giant toads. We examined one for a bit before returning to the picnic table to pour more bourbon and bump some more R&B. Camping with other women now is like the sleepover party I always wanted as a kid.
In the morning we woke up to misty rain. We were a little groggy; wind banging on our tents woke us occasionally in the night and more than a few of us had been "attacked" by giant toads on our walk to the bathroom. We heated water for coffee and Crystal made banana pancakes for breakfast. As we ate, we laid out the preserve trail map on the table and picked out a hiking route. We chose the Tule Elk Viewing Trail. Short and steep, we hoped for some wildlife viewing and interesting terrain before returning home.
The trail zig zagged up one of the larger hills. We hiked casually, enjoying our surroundings and taking pictures as we moved forward. The mist from the rain forming clouds around us. It was one of those quiet, ethereal moments you hold onto for awhile. We wanted to keep hiking, not ready to let go of our escape weekend, but responsibilities back home and a craving for more coffee turned us around just past the peak of the hill.
On the way down, off in the distance, we saw an elk. I've never been so excited to see something I had to squint a little to make out. It felt like the perfect closing moment to our trip.
We stopped for coffee and snacks before splitting ways. The ride home a bit quieter without the excitement of the impending trip. We all texted and emailed to thank each other for the good times and made plans for the future. I think, over time, we would have all become friends anyway, but there is something about being in the great outdoors that makes people vulnerable and connect. I hope more women will jump at the opportunity to camp with one another. I know I can't wait for the next adventure with my Wind Wolves.