Saturday, May 31, 2014

How, not if

In the middle of Monterey County, somewhere between King City and Greenfield, when the person riding next to you asks how it's a gift, shouldn't you have an answer? A short, neat answer? How exactly my brain injury became a gift...

It's clear to me, in dozens of ways. But on a bike I'm no more articulate on the subject than in writing.

It wasn't really the moment of impact where things started to shift. It was one of the moments after that, when we were already out of the car. (People, listen up! Bad idea! Stay in the car!) It came after crawling over the barbed wire with my animal fear. The moment of viewing the scene. Taking in what had just happened.

A road in the middle of nowhere. Not a road of character, but one whose sole purpose is getting from point A to point B. A haze of dust and ruined vehicles. The air blowing, full of sand. Chaos. Cars backed up for miles. A freeway without motion, a tarmac. A canvas for something surreal.

This is what they talk about. It must happen all the time. Everything in the world comes to this.

I stand there in a sandy field, holding paper towels against my face, feeling unsafe despite the barbed wire. Would it hold up to a careening vehicle? Is this whole scene just a set-up for the real accident about to happen? A state trooper talking to people on the shoulder.

This is how people die. It keeps coming back, this thought. It won't be shaken. This is how we die. In banal, uncaring circumstances. Surrounded by strangers, far from anyone we love. We die for no good reason. In ways that we would never choose. For ourselves, for anyone.

The person I'm riding with says quietly that this happened to his sister. He's looking straight ahead.

We cause the accidents too. We build the cars, the roads. We drive long distances, have faith in our own reflexes and coordination. We know it gets windy in this spot and visibility can go to zero and we don't put up a sign. We keep going when we can't see and then it's too late. We don't stop in time.

Afterward, we tell ourselves we'll remember. Keep this scene in mind. Live as if each moment is precious and love is all that matters. We get home and make a will. Write down where to put the ashes. Which poem to read. The one that says to focus not on the physical reality of death but instead on sensations of wind and light and rain. Of looking at the stars and knowing they are real.

In practice it's impossible. This is what it looks like and you don't want that.

Also, the world tries to make us small. The other day I lost patience wrangling over visa paperwork. Trying to activate a credit card. Left a cell phone on a bus, had to go through the whole routine of getting it back. Around other humans, what I have to focus on is making small talk and taking care not to step on anyone's feelings. These things are important.

And yet.

Now I am motivated to die slowly, as gracefully as possible. The love my parents poured into me, resist it all coming to nothing in the middle of nowhere. Tap into that music.

The cop and the tow truck driver who scrape the pieces off the road like hyenas, stand them up. Where possible, choose smaller roads of character. Track the passage time according to the Milky Way and bird migrations.

Figure out how to live.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Analog, digital, visceral

For the Surf City 600K the instructions said, bring your own maps. Krebs is preferred (hand-drawn by a real cyclist), followed by AAA.

I had to read this twice, a blast from the past, something we used to do. Strap paper maps to the top of a bike bag. Pull them out for a consult. Verify where you are and where you're headed.

It is one thing to love paper maps and their navigational value. It's another thing to carry a library of printed materials for 375 miles. So, instead of packing the Krebs map I bumped into the 21st century and took a photo with a smartphone. Not the whole thing (impossible), just the corner near the turnaround point. And the phone has a backlight too!

When Jack and I reach the dark, mysterious intersection on Cattlemen Road outside San Lucas, I can't say exactly where we are, which road we're crossing. The phone happens to be sleeping somewhere on the bus that brought me to Santa Cruz last night. We'll just try going straight. There's no white line, so we navigate slowly, by feel. Kind of like venturing off the end of the earth.

It's after midnight on a day that started at 5am. We're somewhere in California, near the southern end of the Salinas Valley, in a place I've never been before. All the light in our world is overhead, in the Milky Way sprawling over us, stars and planets and nebulae and galaxies. Puts your smartphone to shame. All that energy not spent wondering about battery life, freed up for regular old wonder. You are here.

This information, and the wonder, is not totally without cost. 230 miles today on a bicycle (so far). And the cold.

The clear night sky with a view to die for is also a vacuum. The heat of the day, at one point more than 90 degrees, is gone and now it might be 45. We're both wearing every stitch of clothing, even hats. In my case, also an emergency pair of cleaning gloves from the liquor store in King City that stays open late. The rubber feels cold around my fingers but in theory, blocks the wind.

We both definitely want San Lucas to be the real turnaround point, rather than neighboring San Ardo, 10 miles further. Off the edge of the Kreps map (thank goodness, no more turns).

That extra 10 miles also means it will be another 10 back to this intersection. And 9 back to King City, with its warm motel rooms. Forty miles, round trip.

Any way you slice it, it's going to be a while.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Feed me Seymour

For lunch today someone at our house went to Chipotle. A better option in casual dining. Had a chicken burrito bowl. Black Beans, brown rice, vegetables, salsa, sour cream, cheese and lettuce. Quality ingredients, totally acceptable.

Someone else had lizard and rodent sushi, with a grass chaser so she could throw it all up...

Me? A very nice chickpea and red quinoa salad with wilted rocket. Chopped raw kale and collard greens with creamy avocado dressing. Tuna salad sliders, served on cabbage leaves. And for dessert, these little gluten-free chocolate cupcakes with a gooey center. Had two of those. Went back for two more. Stuck them in the basket of my little rainbow bike for the trip back to my desk at a company that is famous for feeding its people...

Afternoon snack was Greek yogurt with toasted granola.

For breakfast? Bacon, three slices. Scrambled eggs, home fries, steamed broccoli. A cup of Philz coffee. Then, espresso. With hunger out of the picture, it's easy to make yourself climb Page Mill before work. (Oh wait, that's tomorrow...)

Since March 31 I must have had bacon for breakfast at least 4 days out of 5. When I see bacon, it's like a switch goes in my brain. I just have to eat it. When it's on the menu of a cafe, I go there. I've become a bacon-seeking drone.

As with any new job, there are some challenging days. But if I ever leave this company I'm going to need a personal chef. And if I stay at this company, I'm going to need to climb Page Mill every day of the week.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Training panic

This morning on the way out I was so sleepy that my phone and wallet never left the kitchen. Making my seat bag that much lighter on the way up. No photo from the top of Page Mill.

We'll all just have to suspend disbelief.

By Altamont, when I got a clue and my body started to object, 2 coworkers rode up behind me. (OK so I knew they'd be there...) Not wanting the shame of turning around in their presence, up we went. Together.

It was shaping up to be a hot day and the descent was jacket-free. Showered and dressed at home, then rode to work like any other day. Except the scrambled eggs, bacon, and Ritual coffee tasted really, really good.

At which point I proceeded to get productive and forget all about Page Mill.

Due to a big ramp-up in miles and climbing, I'm slow at the moment. How big? In the past 10 days, 375 miles. ~28,000 feet of climbing. Half of Sydney Melbourne.

This might be the only case of someone who did the Everest Challenge, the height of Mt. Everest in 15 days as a training goal, without actually meaning to!

It was a training panic, then. July 24 seems so close. No brevets this spring. And now a bit scary, being so slow.

With a little bit of luck, speed and distance and climbing will all intersect the third week of July, right around the time of the 1000K. I say to Danny, the 1200K training is in my legs somewhere. And he says,  of course it is!

Saturday, May 10, 2014


It's spring on the coast.

Or rather, on Cloverdale Road, shortcut to Highway 1. A lovely, slightly inland bypass just outside Pescadero, running parallel to Butano Creek and past Butano State Park. A way around and through courtesy of the San Gregorio Fault.

On my right spread the flat marshes that are hallmarks of fault movements and ancient landslides. On the left, gradually increasing hills and canyons of the Coast Range in what they call the Butano Pescadero Watershed. Where there are only dirt roads and trails.

Here, water has always followed the contours created by the fault and done its bidding. Humans follow the water, as whoever created this flower and bulb farm sloping down from the road, with a driveway leading toward a large lagoon. I've passed by here a million times and somehow never noticed the entrance. Or the lagoon. Or the creek that runs on the other side of the road, just out of sight.

After the driest winter in 150 years some late rain arrived in March and April. Even two days ago a front came through and there was a bit of rain. Often the hillsides and fields are golden and brown, even this close to the ocean. Today everything is lush and bursting with wildflowers. Especially poppies.

All this satisfies the way things in suburbia cannot. More than the quiet, the lack of lawnmowers or leaf blowers, these long sight lines with few human structures. The greenery, softness of hills, abundant grasses and the birds swooping over it all, from the hills on the left toward the meadows on the right and back again. Everywhere there are messy, joyous orange poppies.

Far away, over the hill the neighbors are busy edging their lawns and furiously pruning and weeding a tiny, rectangular patch of nature, trying to own it and correct its errors, struggling mightily for control.

Looking at the poppies I think, let it go. Just let it go.

After Gazos Creek, it's a left onto Highway 1. Late Saturday morning traffic is still light. The wind is gusting strongly in its usual direction. I'm going to let it blow me south toward Santa Cruz. No stop for pie at Pie Ranch nor scones at Swanton Berry Farm; gluten is changing the usual patterns.

Davenport has Chobani yogurt (there is always only one in the fridge at the market), and an almond cookie or blueberry scone at the Grey Whale. But that was last weekend, before Bonny Doon. Today we'll try our luck in Santa Cruz. Work on a new map of where it is safe to eat.

Even with the wind it's a long way, 12:30 rolling into Kelly's French Bakery. They stop serving breakfast at noon and the rest of the menu is an homage to wheat. They're off the list. As a last resort, lunch is a tamale plate at a strip mall taqueria.

The real reason to go into Santa Cruz is not the town itself. The smart cyclist makes a quick stop and stays focused on the goal, tacking left and left again, trying to get out of there. Running the gauntlet on Water Street and turning on Market which then becomes Branciforte. Leading past the Mystery Spot and eventually to Granite Creek, a beautiful, narrow, shady climb in the woods that brings me right to Mountain Charlie.

I'm not sure why others come here. For me, Mountain Charlie is a way of restoring things to their proper scale. It's a remote, narrow road that was cut by hand, by a human being around 1860. A lane and a half at the wide spots but mostly, one lane.

And really, why would you want to be anywhere but close in, surrounded by the forests of the Santa Cruz Mountains? Here it is truly silent, except for the birds and the wind picking up, weaving through the trees.

There's literally not a soul to interact with. No one looking at what I happen to be wearing, my unruly hair, whether everything is in order. No words, spoken or emailed, to sort through. As much as the brain needs stimulation, as much as it needs exercise, it also needs quiet. Solitude.

Before I started working again, I had too much alone time. Now I'm back to seeking it out, on roads even many cyclists don't know about, 70 miles from home.

The way up is irregular, unpredictable. At the start, several miles of moderate twisty hill. Then about a mile and a half of outrageous stair steps, 4 of them. Steep suckers. Then another two miles of normal hill.

In a sunny spot at the top, Mountain Charlie's actual cabin, which looks like it's having some work done.

150 years is a long time. I read somewhere that left alone, with no maintenance, structures built by humans take only 52 years to return completely to nature. The cabin and the road, someone is keeping them up.

When they're done fixing it up, I hope there are still a few rough edges left.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Pinch me

Never have I seen so many bikes.

Bikes parked at cubes. On special stands next to the window, where they have a view. Outside, next to my fixie. Bikes in rainbow colors with baskets, for anyone to use. Bikes, bikes, bikes, bikes.

The guy coming breathless into the elevator. Just in from Almaden Valley (San Jose). Yes, I know where that is. The product manager just in from SF2G (San Francisco to Google).

It's Bike to Work Week. But always, there is some kind of bike culture at work. All bikes, all the time.

I'm kinda used to being the weird one, doing the bike commute thing. One, maybe two people. A handful of riders on Bike to Work Day. Never to be seen again. Here the CFO sends out an email: "I hope you'll all join me next week in biking to work". Had to read that email a couple of times just to make sure.

This week, the festivities are in full swing. A web page with groups of people biking to work from here, there, everywhere. From 50 miles away. They want you to join them. There will be T-shirts.

If you live close in you have to make your own drama. There's a 70-mile epic ride that gets to work via a 6-hour detour to Pescadero. (No kidding.) As a test this morning I went around The Loop and in the process, found some coworkers. They were FAST.

In front of my building an outdoor Spin class was in progress, to encourage commuting. No one even noticed my Seven, my California Triple Crown jersey, my funny shoes. No big deal!!

It's good to be a nobody, right? Right?