Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Diablo caliente

For today's ride, something totally different - Mt. Diablo. A climb that Tanya does every week. Today we'll encounter a whole set of weekday regulars. Some of whom recognize each other. There is a relaxed summer vibe. They're generating their own happiness and calm.

I'm ready for some of that. Getting here involves waking up at 5, catching a train to Millbrae then two BART trains to Walnut Creek. Maybe this is the reason I've climbed Diablo exactly once.

That was fifteen years ago and from the other direction, from the south. The easy side. From descending the north side I remember long steep pitches. Definitely harder.

Climbing a mountain does something to your head. It changes what's in there. You start out thinking, wondering about a certain set of things. Whatever task you were engaged in before getting on the bike. Grim misery on the faces of early morning BART commuters. That annoying comment someone made that keeps coming back to you, days later. Overdue library books. Whether you'll ever catch up on blog entries. A friend or family member who's always doing the same damn thing without knowing it. Whatever it is that makes people drive the way they drive.

And then with no warning after a few minutes those thoughts just go away. They evaporate into the dry air. What's left is a blank slate. You push and watch the landscape and from time to time a thought might form. Vaguely float around for a while. Then move on. It will not stay long and it will not cause trouble.

For contemplating topography there is no better place. Diablo is one of those mountains that stands alone, higher than anything else around. Even though it belongs to the Diablo Range, which includes Mt. Hamilton and stretches a hundred miles south. As far south as the road to Mercey Hot Springs. How can a solitary mountain be related to others far away, that's a mystery.

If there is one thing to learn in climbing hills and mountains, it might be that natural features are irregular. This climb is 3553 feet; the other side is just over 3100.

In this way (and only this way) Diablo is exactly like every other mountain. Just like Hamilton, a 22-mile gradual climb from the west, with two short downhills. From the east 6-plus relentless miles of granny-gear pushing.

As a new cyclist this surprised me and somehow it still does. The earth is not regular or symmetrical. In the Santa Cruz Mountains roads vary so greatly that there's no point in even talking about pattern or template. And no one does. We revel in the variations. We pick roads to match whatever we need that day.

When Tanya hears about the asymmetry thing she nods and says "Threes and fives. Nature works in threes and fives." Oaks cluster near the road; we both automatically look toward the branches and their leaves.

Forty miles east and south there's the smoky outline of Hamilton, two (irregular) peaks not just one. A huge gap of low country in between. Two (irregular) valleys, Amador and San Ramon. With their sprawl of communities barely visible. Over the hills, San Francisco, a white architect's model version. To the north, the dark hulk of Mount Tam. Fog pouring through the tiny mouth of the Golden Gate, sucked inland by the heat where we are.

Tanya usually gets an early start; today she waited for BART. Now the warmth is pushing us uphill, toward cooler air.
The last hairpin brings the sweeping views north to the Delta, east toward the Central Valley. A visitor's center sits at the summit, a graceful old stone building you might call an "observatory". Inside, there's a gift shop and a small interpretive exhibit. They've exposed the fragmented bedrock that is really the peak at 3864 feet. I rub it with my shoe.

Outside, swarms of dragonflies are hovering and gliding at the summit. There must be many hundreds. Their bodies are almost weightless, transparent, visible only as outlines moving against a huge scenic backdrop. The dancing is not random and not orderly either. I wonder if someone understands it. According to Tanya they ride the thermals to higher elevations on warm days. 

Maybe to help them stay cool. Or maybe just for the views.

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