Sunday, November 9, 2014

Goodbye to all that


"You drove on the freeway!"

That was Danny's reaction when I got home from the Mount Hamilton loop. Nothing about spending all day on the bike, riding a hilly, satisfying, remote, self-supported century. That's nothing new. Nothing about finishing comfortably before dark, in the second week of November no small feat.

Getting up early on a Saturday morning. Like most full-time workers, now I want to spend the weekend recovering from the week.

Managing to eat gluten-free the whole day, even at the Junction, where meat sandwiches (and beer) are their specialty.

He knows that the real accomplishment, the real victory is being able to drive to and from the start of the ride in San Jose. Only 22 minutes.

But after the accident for some reason I could not drive on the freeway, not even to and from work. Everything was moving so fast.

I'd get on the freeway like my old self, and then get terrified and disoriented and not know what to focus on. The car felt like a foreign, runaway being. It freaked me out. It did not feel safe. Nothing about the process was reassuring and I couldn't think my way out of it. At the same time, I felt ashamed of losing this essential piece of function.

The 8-minute freeway leg of my old commute became a nightmare. Often I'd pull off at an exit and take surface streets. Sometimes I forced myself to stay on the freeway and my terror would ramp up to almost intolerable levels. That was ~3 years ago.

We live in one of those rare places in California where it is possible to not own a car. Luckily, bike and public transport work for most trips, and are often more efficient. But early in the morning to the start of this particular ride, you have to drive. On the freeway. And now I can do it.

The car felt solid and reliable in my hands. (I think) I was as attentive and skilled as other drivers on the road. Not enough, but at least it's par. It doesn't feel like I'm about to crash the car or explode from terror.

The main reason is gluten, and the tricks it played on my brain. After the neurological havoc it created, and the follow-on physical effects, a large amount of caffeine was needed to keep functioning. Hopped up on espresso, cognitively impaired. Not a great combo. As a driver or a passenger of a car, I was basically a terrified, wounded animal caught in a trap.

Now I can be just another idiot on the road, in denial about the laws of physics (and what can go wrong). Yay for progress!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Another day

Manzanita with scars, Mount Hamilton Road
The road up Mt. Hamilton is narrow and twisty, full of blind curves. People come up here after a long week working in the valley. They need a change of scenery. It's an adventure just a few miles away, and the views—the views are amazing. In the cars with the day trippers are a few residents, as well as the crew at the observatory. The rest of us are on motorcycle, and bike.

You might think without a mirror, a cyclist has no clue of what's behind them. In reality, it's possible to feel the low vibration of a slow engine. The even-lower-frequency of huge tires on pavement. The absence of normal sounds like birdcalls, blocked out by a large mass, hovering back there, waiting.

As it pulls out to pass, the sight of a dark red Ford F350 van, a third longer than your average full-sized truck, makes me inhale and hold it. Not exactly the vehicle for this road. It's pulling some sort of trailer, adding another 10 feet. The driver is careful to leave space between us, which means being almost entirely in the other lane.

Another cyclist comes round the bend, heading down. There's not enough space. The truck corrects to the right toward me again, to avoid the other bike. Like in a dream, I watch the huge red body making room, getting closer, shrinking the buffer between us. Blocking out the view.

Now it's the trailer next to me, close. A little wider than the truck. On my skin I feel the air moving around it.

It starts rolling away again. There's a kink, an elbow, in the angle of the trailer where it meets the truck. Instead of forcing me off the road, or running me over, the truck and trailer pull away safely and continue up the mountain.

That's called pointing the turn. The driver did that just right.

This sunny, warm morning with a gorgeous blue sky here in the Diablo Range, will not be my last.