Saturday, June 6, 2015

Close to the sky


Twenty miles on Panoche Road, 20 miles of a pattern. Climbing for a few miles followed by a discouraging descent. Jim calling out the elevation level from his Garmin, then silence while we both buckle down and push.

For that part I could hear Jim's breathing change and imagine his fatigue; both of us have been riding so much lately. Getting up early, doing long, hard things. It has a way of wearing you down.

This morning, in shady Stevens Canyon next to the creek, the conversation was all about how to manage the impossible. On Paris-Brest-Paris and other 1200Ks, the secret to enduring and having a good ride is getting sleep. Rest, paradoxically. It changes everything.

If you work at it, you might earn some rest on a brevet. Training hard now might mean another half-hour of sleep somewhere in France, by the side of a small road like this one. When you really need it. Your weariness suddenly lifted, and optimism in its place.

On Panoche Road, in a rocky canyon that could be a cousin of some areas of Route 66 in Arizona or maybe New Mexico, the conversation has definitely shifted toward things that are out of human control, and finite.

We've been lucky with the heat. Hollister was cooler than San Jose today, by 12 degrees. It could be scorching on this road, but we've been lucky. There's some cool and wildflowers, still. Rain would be welcome but we're not going to get any from that thundercloud. For the third time today we agree it's probably the last weekend for this ride until fall. Summer's not the time to be pushing your luck out here; it's just too hot for humans.

Jim's on his dad's bike, all repainted with those nice wide tires and fenders. A big handlebar bag in the rando style. Last week he lost the last uncle on his mother's side. There have been illnesses and family members and loss. It goes on like the sky out here. We can't stop it.

Jim says with a smile, let's just focus on here and now, this road, these miles. And that's how Panoche Pass becomes just what we need.

When the flag outside the fire station shows itself at 1 o'clock, it gets a holler. Less than a mile later, we're suddenly looking at a small green rectangle, calling out the summit. A bunch of hungry cows at Summit Ranch, one of them bellowing for food.

Eight miles of fast downhill that looks utterly flat. The earth is not symmetrical, and it has its tricks.
After the left turn, the last turn, the one that leads into Little Panoche Valley, there's actually another little pass. A bump.

It gives the best view of the day.


Mercey's plain, gravel driveway is easy to miss. Danny's there, as promised, with a smile and food and clean clothes and soap. We need all those things! The rehabilitation work begins...

Later, soaking in the weird slippery water from underground that smells of sulfur and salt, the water you can't really drink but it heals whatever ails you anyway, I fall asleep under the stars.

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