The great sprinkler storm of Greenbelt 2007

No time for nuance, in the midst of connection and history and headlong descents

Topics: Globalization, How the World Works,

I was kicking back, drinking a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, trading war stories about a long, long day on the Go Greenbelt Ride. I had set up my tent, been shuttled to and from the Fairfield YMCA for showers, chowed down a couple of spicy enchiladas, and was feeling pretty good about the world in general. That day, I had ridden to the summit of Mt. Diablo, with the executive director of the East Bay Bike Coalition, Robert Rayburn, on my left, and a member of the board of the San Francisco Bike Coalition, Ann Lyons, on my right. I had spent the day imbibing the strategy and tactics of bike activists in the Bay Area. I had listened to a presentation by Greenbelt Alliance’s field representative for Napa and Solano counties concerning the complex array of initiatives and zoning issues and development fights that she was involved in. I had all kinds of ideas for a blog post that would provide a bit more nuance about sustainable development than the simple-minded “sprawl is bad” message that I have been guilty of pushing in my first few posts this week.

And then someone burst into the room, and, in a tone of some urgency blurted: “Anyone who set up a tent — the sprinklers are on!”

To understand the alacrity with which I burst out of my seat, you would have to realize that one of the main things that Greenbelt riders do, aside from riding and eating, is recounting the legends and lore of Greenbelts of yore. And one story that I had already heard more than once was the tale of the year the sprinklers went on in the middle of the night on the lawn where the campers had pitched their tents. Oh, the pandemonium!

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I recalled with a jolt of fear that while my rain fly was on, it wasn’t zipped up at the entrance to the tent. I bolted to the lawn. Chaos! Some campers were trying to contain the sprinkler flow by covering them up in various inventive ways (my favorite was staking a foil tray that had held enchiladas to the ground with two spoons.) Others were busy dragging away their gear with frenzied haste. I noticed, with horror, that a sprinkler was right in front of my tent, drenching my sleeping bag, backpack, pillow and biking shoes. My tent was staked, but I grabbed low, ripped the whole thing out of the ground, and pulled it out into the dry parking lot.

Then I had another beer.

Steve Van Landingham, the heart and soul of the Greenbelt Ride, stood watching the chaos with his arms folded, and said, with an impish grin, “this hasn’t happened in ten years!”

I was unamused by this historical reflection. A wet sleeping bag makes a tired biker very sad.

So I had another beer.

And somehow I found myself stunningly unmotivated to put together a blog post, and scramble around for a wi-fi connection. So I didn’t. Heck, it’s not like I’m getting paid for these blog posts — I’m on vacation for crying out loud.

Somewhere between the moment when the Great Sprinkler Storm of 2007 ravaged my tent and opened me up to good-humored mockery, and the moment when a bus full of bikers destined to be shuttled over the bridge to Benicia chased me down in the streets of downtown Martinez, I became as infatuated with interacting with the Greenbelt riders as I was with the riding or the ideology behind Greenbelt. In other words, I was and am having a lot of fun hanging out.

This is all a convoluted way of explaining why there are unlikely to be any more blog posts about the Greenbelt Ride until it is over. What little time I’ve been able to spend writing is time not spent in full immersion, and I’ve decided to give in. I’ll save the nuances for later. Right now, I feel like I’ve just reached the crest of a ridge after a long hill, and I’m poised to begin an amazing, headlong descent through redwoods and oak trees and vineyards and pastures, keeping one eye on the stretch of pavement immediately ahead and another on the golden brown vista that is the hills of California summer.

Go Greenbelt!

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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