Friday, March 24, 2017

The accident of Winter

     What do they say, "Most shark attacks happen in 5 feet of water !"
    "The majority of car wrecks happen less than 5 blocks from home!"
      Ignoring the obvious fact that 95% of all the people in the ocean at any one time are in less than 5 feet of water, there's something to be said for constant vigilance. Or keeping your guard up and your helmet on even when you're in the home stretch, believing you're safe.
    Two days ago- one of the worst wrecks I've ever had on a bike.
    I went over the front wheel. The crank swung back and drove the pedal into my shin. As the handlebars dug into my gut the open pedal carved its way down toward my ankle and I went face forward into the mud. I lay there thinking, Christ I mighta finally done it. I mighta broken a bone. My leg throbbed, I fought for breath, I stared up at the sky imagining this could have been really bad if I was up in the mountains, miles from anyone and not.....in my backyard.
     Yep. I got all geared up for a ride and instead of carrying my bike down the 30 feet from my shack to the front gate I decided to ride it thru the mud and down the short stone stairs. Barely enough time to get both feet in the cleats and turn over the crank.
     And not even half way to the door I lost the back wheel in the clay, looked down, somehow ignored that the stone steps were uneven and flanked by loose granite blocks and ...bought it.
    Boom. Yard sale.
    Literally. As I was in my own yard.
    The rest of the day was easy. Pouring rain in LA meant I had the bike paths to myself. Griffith park mine alone except for one grinning fellow bozo descending as I climbed the switchbacks above Forest Lawn. Mist socked in the top of the Hollywood Hills, you couldn't see 50 yards. The Observatory came out of the grey like a cruise ship. So did the tourists. Like fools on a cruise ship in the rain.
   Descending I had to lean to one side to avoid the spray from the front wheel. My hands shook from the chill, my legs were gooseflesh. I hadn't brought my phone so I discovered that Los Feliz and Silver Lake are a lot bigger than you think. Nice to be loosely lost in this age of constant "show location". I got home and fully clothed just walked into the shower. Watched the mud go down the drain. Heaven is, civilization and its discontents must hinge upon, a steady supply of warm water.
   The low that day, factoring in some wind chill, might have been in the high 40s. Maybe.
   That's as frigid as SoCal gets but it serves as a little reminder that elsewhere Winter still holds sway, still rules the national emotions, is still flowing over our desert metropolis at 30,000 feet on its way to the Sierras and beyond.
    Why it decides not to punish Los Angeles, there must be dry and practical reasons related to geography and math, but I think it's because the Gods and man don't share a timeline. We are as Hummingbirds. They like the tides and the glaciers. I think they still haven't gotten around to believing anyone would try and make a go of it in a coastal desert. Someday, someday...
   

Monday, March 20, 2017

Mulholland Hwy.


   It's when you realize you've stopped breathing. You're taking short little gulps you barely register. Your lungs feel like two little sacs just below your throat. Tucked under your collarbones trying to get out. If they could yelp they would. Every exhale.
    Jimmy Breslin died this week. He could tell it. Or Robert Lipsyte. They'd know how to make the pain that makes language dry up in your brain say something worth hearing. A lesson. Spun out of exhaustion.
    It was pretty close to 90 miles.
    Santa Monica to the place where Mulholland finally comes down out of the hills it's been carving thru the tops of for 70 miles and rests at PCH. Up Mulholland, up to the corner where that house sits we shot that pilot in years back, me sitting in the backyard wearing some ridiculously expensive suit looking down at the road Id only ever ridden up that house you knew once you'd passed it you'd survived the climb. And here I was...back on the road, not no guest no longer, pilot packed away where no one ever saw it till it was repacked as the same thing with a different name and not half the smarts in the script to great acclaim on cable. Some work. Some keep pedaling up the hill.
   Right on Mulholland, back and forth and up and down, by this time my thighs are cramping and I have to tell myself wake the fuck up man this is how you get killed, a bump, a nick, a corner drifted too far thru and yer done. Decker. Encinal. Kanan. And down down switching in and out of the brakes switching the weight from one cleat to the other to stay on the road. Down to Mailbu Canyon.
    And I'm dead. I could care less. I couldn't have gone slower. Spent. Propped up on the handlebars like a dead guy leaning on his gun or tied to the saddle. It's geometry keeping me up. And then you descend and the speed of the wind forces your mouth open. Pushes oxygen deep into your back. It's a resuscitation. Mouth to mouth with the indifferent Gods of the canyon, the heckling Gods of the sport. "Go fast enough and you can live again."
   44 going down Los Virgenes into Malibu. I love that drop. The shoulder's wide enough and the corners long that you can put your head down pay no mind to the cars and go. Funny how the 11 miles from the bottom of that on PCH back to Santa Monica didn't even count. I had a tailwind and was probably averaging about 19, 20 MPH but it felt like Id gone thru the tape at the end of a race and the machine winding simply down.
   Nuts. My neck might as well have been fused when I got off. Took 10 minutes to get my head to turn.
   I gotta figure out a better way.
   Like the cartoon says, "Well Ralph, good to be alive."
   "Goodnight Sam."
   
   

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Dirt roads

   I rarely drive to a ride. I tend to wanna ride to riding. Always felt like cheating to go up the suburban roads to a trail head to start. Parking in front of people's houses seemed a tad declasse.
   But now I live so far from the mt trails that Id be bushed by the time I arrived. Wasted red light miles.
   So I drove all the way to the dirt above Sepulveda pass and started from there.
   And Christ does that make life easier.
   Just where you don't want life to be easy.
   And how I missed the transition. Leaving society, the city, the people'd and car heavy streets with their shops and many stops and rising into a wilderness. And then you go back down, from mist and sage smell all around to the mini malls and the ladies back from yoga or the picking up of the kids.
   Not to be sexist but come visit West LA sometime...
   But yesterday none of that happened. I rode at altitude the whole way to and fro. Up on the fire lanes between Sepulveda pass and Topanga Canyon which the more I see of it the more amazing it becomes.
  And I did feel like a cheater. Took forever to build up a sweat. Got a lot of hard looks from the mt bike types who wear big shorts and t shirts and put their water bag on their back...me Im in the same lycra I wear on the road....reminds me of the "scandal" happened when a snow boarder showed up at a worlds level comp in racing tights and not the baggy gear most boarders use as their look and the other boarders wouldnt race her. Said she was ruining the "tradition", the laid back style of the board culture.
  All I could think was she was trying to win and they were worried about their endorsement deals. The snobbery of anti-snobbery.
  I like to feel like Im in a seal skin when I ride. I guess it goes back to swimming which I suppose everything does for me as I cant remember not swimming - but to imitate that state....the smoothness, the androgyne wrapping....getting you thru the air as simply as possible.
   Topanga, Topanga....what a gem. All that green and gold country up on the hills above what from the road looks like same old more and more LA housing. Somebody did some good hard work keeping the tract homes from buying up that miracle.
   I sat on a rock that has a 360 view. LA, water, more Mts, the Valley, the big Mts beyond it. Stunning. Hadnt ridden far enough, hadnt pushed myself, the bike felt like it weighed a ton which it does, and I just didnt care. Breathe. Look. Watch the birds wheel by. The lizards. The butterflies. Both of whom, cold blooded boobies and delicate wind wanderers seemed especially active that day. Dancing about me and running out into the road, is it the beginning of their Spring these mindless desert beauties?
  I hope so. They like the heat and I did too, knowing I can leave it once more.
 
 
 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The men on Mt Wilson

   Heat.
   No wind. Just that hard baking consistent thing the sun becomes down here in Southern California.
   Like a hand pressing you down, a calm weight of light on the shoulders, the face, the forehead.
   The end of Fanny and Alexander - the dark ghost forcing the boy to the ground. Forever.
   Seems like it sometimes.
   And then some days....I don't mind. I feel myself a plant being fed by all the lambent Vitamin D come from heaven. I like the bake on my arms. The salt caking my face.
   Rode back up to Mt Wilson on a quiet Monday. No one about. A nice tailwind taking me along. Saw only two other cyclists, both coming downhill. Cars passing in threesomes, the pulse of the green light down on Foothill felt 8 miles above.
    Nothing special. I was slow. I didn't really care. My back hurt like Hell. I wondered with all the biking why do my legs still seem to be decaying into middle age. "Because you're middle aged Dave that's why", came the voice from the Malabar caves. Or Big Tujunga.
   I took the descents and didn't reach for the brakes. I decided I knew in my head which corners were which and I thought, stop trying to invent drama, trauma, fear. Trust the instrument and live better.
    All this Fear of ....?
    Has the whole world become a triage center?
    I walk down the street in a major city in the full light of day in a crowd and I can feel people all around me clocking each other for the threat level. "Is that a stalker?" "Is he following me?" "Will that car stop at the red light!?" I read about the snow storm Back East and I feel like I'm reading the London Times describing the Blitz, its so full of potential trauma. When did blizzards become extinction level events??
    Have we gradually been trained to exist in a constant state of alert? Of fight or flight?
    An entire nation leaking cortisol and caffeine.
    I'm reminded of Gore Vidal's accusation that we're an armed state, the USA. A consciously constructed military empire.
    Many people scoff at him but his grandfather was in the Senate and was in the room when a fellow senator said - "gentlemen now that the War's over how we gonna keep this economy rolling at this kinda pace? We need to keep building stuff for the military that's how. And how do we convince the American people to do that? We scare the Hell out of them."
     Loosely quoted. Feel free to google.
     People of the urban persuasion and that means most of us make fun of Fox news alerts and conservative fearmongering; the urge to build a "safe house" with guns and kuggerands, an off the grid retreat for the family when the Walking Dead cross the border but we- the liberals - are getting just as bad. We heighten the trials of daily existence into a kind of stress test that air traffic controllers would fear. Conservatives/ Liberals. Remaking the political realm is their personal mission and we've brought what should be mostly personal into a political war no politics can manage.
    And by doing so we hand over the reins, the levers of actual power to the paymasters of the former, the Roves and the Bannons and the Kochs of the world.
    Because we're so afraid.
    In the last decade in which the American Government actually stepped in to the nation's life and was trusted to do so, the president at that time spoke, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself."
    His point has gone kind of meta now: we don't just fear poverty or the lack of jobs we fear EVERYTHING. We identify as fearful people. The badge of modernity says "I am scarred". (Scarred and scared!) Because to be afraid is to have an enemy, and to be put upon, to have been victimized, which somehow now automatically lends a person legitimacy. Or ends debate.
    But when you end debate you end culture. You hand it over to fanatics and romantics. Who more importantly are being watched by cold eyed amoral politicians who can work those fantasists into a frenzy we don't need to come sweeping down the American plains.
    I love America (and I even love tariffs) but America First you might recall was a phrase used by American fascists, John Birchers and the brilliant homeland defenders who voted to keep America out of WWII and Jewish refugees from escaping the Holocaust.
    I love radically liberal causes (to call me a socialist would be conservative) but I also realize that compromise is the name of the game when you wanna make change and shouting someone down you should be working with over their use of a pronoun is plain stupid.
    Hmm. I was on a bike ride....
   The heat does it. Makes you focus. The time alone. Makes one song or one subject go round and round in your brain.
    I guess what Im saying is fear adds up. Fear of anything. "Fear" as the old Sci fi book said "is the mind killer" and fear more often than not will be the thing rather than the thing feared that will kill you. Try it. Lock you brakes up taking a corner. Stop breathing when you're cold. Run from a dog.
     It's the little things in the end that will make or unmake us.
     I got to the top of Wilson where there's a little park and a cabin devoted to Native American heritage, closed on Mondays of course due to budget cuts.
     Snow sat on Mt Baldy 20 miles away. The air was cool in the shadow of the pines.
     Two guys came out of the trees on their well packed mt bikes. These, I saw immediately, were not men out for a day's jaunt. Ive always wanted to ride up Wilson on a Mt bike but I didnt know if there were contiguous trails. I rolled over and joined them on their lunch break stoop. I asked about the trails up Wilson. They didn't know because they'd come by a different route.
     One guy had been on his bike for over two years. He'd left San Francisco, gone South...to Chile...and was now a week or so away from getting home. The other guy was an English dude he'd met in Venezuela 8 months before who thought he'd tag along for the "home stretch".
     As they unrolled their story, calmly, without any kind of sell or pitch, without any of that comparative RPMishness cyclists often throw down to test the merits of a stranger, my jaw dropped. They'd ridden around the Salton Sea "oh it wasn't that hot.." they'd just been thru Death Valley "the wildflowers were amazing" and yesterday "yeah we came over Mt Baldy...that was a tough section thru the snow wasn't it mate?" The English guy had normal pedals...no clips....no cleats....and he was wearing a pair of Skechers he could have bought in a surplus store. HE'D JUST CLIMBED A 9,000 FOOT PASS IN THE WINTER.
    They'd ridden a continent and they talked about it like it was still their daily meditation. Which I imagine it has to become.
   Baked brown, wrinkled, eyes glowing like shamans, legs boiled down to the essential knots, clothes fading into that unified shade of grey that underlays all color....I started laughing because I felt so lucky that Id run into them and they understood, they didnt think oh this dude's laughing at us, they laughed with me cause what else can you do in the face of that kind of devotion, those kinds of numbers, that many days in a saddle. If there isn't joy underneath it all, and a crazy kind of joy, like the kind you feel when you can't stop laughing and you start to wonder am I okay...then why do it??
   I think I may have bowed to them a little when I left. I did say "We are not worthy". I didn't ask their names. I don't know why I didn't.
   The drop down to Flintridge felt like a trip to the mailbox.
 
   
   
   
   
 
   

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Latigo in reverse.

    After climbing a score of miles with my insane friends from back East climbing the Malibu mts felt like a lark.
   A painful lark, but the conception, the projection of one's fear of a task makes the pain of the task so conditional. One day it seems monumental and then another it's just a step at a time you find yourself dancing thru. Funny. Pleasant.
    Lots of cars thru PCH and Malibu itself which is a given. The price of doing business and the ever present gravel. What is it with these insanely wealthy towns and their reluctance to sweep or repair their streets? Besides Bev Hills where the streets are like glass. But no one rides.
     Anyhow ran into a trio of bikers wearing matching Tour de something fundraiser jerseys followed by a determined old man on a steel bike with old clip on pedals. He was gonna chase them till he collapsed. Folks from Colorado riding in California for the winter. We'd both done the same fundraiser ride, a different one, up and down Vail pass some years back. Typical Westerners, half smiley friendly, half aggressive. Annoyed I was hovering about them asking questions so I left.
   And it was 7 miles of climbing up and over Latigo back to the ocean side but mostly what I thought about was all the places Ive never stopped, or never come back to to see and visit. The Peter Strauss ranch and its parklands. The old town bar across the street. The Malibu cafe up where Mulholland hits Kanan. Pepperdine University. They must have an art gallery or a cool library. Never done it. Just blown by them and glanced. Doesn't make much sense now that I look back on the 20 years Ive spent riding in LA.
  Makes ya think.
  Before I climbed up Latigo switchback and ran into a film crew shooting some sort of car commercial, or maybe the Fast and the Furious 85 (I hope!!) and chatted briefly with the State cops guarding the roadway because I was going so slowly on the ascent we could trade 3 or 4 sentences which weirdly made me happy not ashamed before I got to the top and the First AD laughed and yelled "Do you know how much you just cost me!?" Time is money aint it?
   But before doing all this and feeling the sweetness in your gut when people touch base with each other as they do something difficult, when strangers tap each other on the back and nod, just before I started the climb I saw a dead squirrel by the side of the road. He was right on the roadline so sure to be smashed into carbon mush as the day went on. I turned around and picked him up and put him in some bushes off the shoulder as some dude's dogs barked at me from the trailer park below the grade. No bad dogs. Ain't it the truth.
   When I touched him he was still warm and supple. The car that hit him I'm sure had just passed me. He wasn't bloody or crushed, no entrails coming out of the mouth, he just got bonked and died from the impact.
   So odd to touch a wild animal. To feel the bones of them. The weight. The heat of life still intact. He was bigger than I imagined a squirrel would feel in the hands. His toes and fingers miracles of design. Delicate digits. His nails caught on the ridges of my forefinger. Wonder.
    Poor fella.
    I thought of all the little beings Ive smashed crushed killed and swatted away. Some with great determination and glee (Hear me cockroaches) but as I get older, really since my brother's death I feel the pause, the intake immediately. The passing on of the spirit. The little gust that comes from the erasure of a silly gnat bothering you in your house but really doing no harm. The spider in a bathtub who struggles to climb out of the water sent his way. The fly rattling the windows. I was in a cafe yesterday reading a book sitting in some lovely dark wooden pews when a tiny tiny thing landed on the headboard next to me. I could barely make it out but it was a beautiful winged triangle of a being. Feet sticking out below its mini membranes which looked like sails tucked away for speed. A tiny fighter.
    How easy and without consequence to react and erase him, her, it.
    But how untrue.
    How very untrue.
    Odd.
    Not a car, not a bike on the 7 mile descent just a couple odd guys walking their dogs up in the highlands nodding as I went by.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Mt Baldy

   And I thought Mt Wilson was a climb.
   What do I know.
    My pal Etsu was in town again doing his winter race training far from the East coast cold.
    Let's go to Baldy Village!
    "Yeah man, don't worry it'll just be a slow steady climb with a friend of mine."
    He didn't mention his friend had nearly made the Olympic marathon cut and that the climb was.....24 miles.
   Yep.
    Sure- on the return leg a lot of that is downhill, but I don't care what anyone says, when you've been climbing for an hour and a half....two hours....nothing but climbing, and your friends are wasting you....it starts to dig deep.
     But what views and what divine air to breathe.
     A small slide had cut off the road a few days before so for 15 of the miles we saw....nothing and no one. No cars. Not a one. Three other bikers. Total quiet.
     A mt fire crew was doing a controlled burn along a ridgeline that led to LA. You could see the flames, the hot orange among the vast green carpet which covers LA's hills after their wet wet winter.
     Little trucks and cars tucked in along the fire lane.
     Smoke trailing in thin veils into the California sky.
    The rainy season has come to an abrupt halt. It is straight up SoCal weather now. Not a cloud, no humidity and 80 some degrees.
      Frankly bores the crap out of me but so it goes.
      We made it to the little town at the foot of the mt in time for a perfect ski town lunch in a bar which hasnt seen an upgrade in 50 years. God bless it. You can get a side of cottage cheese. You can sit in the sun and experience mid century leisure time frozen in time.
      The kind of place where you really feel bad you didn't order a beer. That's a true bar.
      Snow walking distance away - 65 in the shade.
      Climbed out into the sun and fell back for what seemed like eons into Glendora Heights, a kind of San Diego of the north and the sort of place makes me realize I will ALWAYS be an East Coaster.
       Nice to be nearing 50 and the blood still pumping.

   
   

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Why - part 3

  I learned late.  A lot of things. Riding a bike was another. I think I was almost ten. Maybe 9 and still hadn't gathered up the guts to risk the balance and the embarrassment.
   And I didn't have a bike. Not many kids on the street did. A lot to ask of your parents.
   Gary next door had a Schwinn LaTour. I can still see the lettering and the blue paint. The glitter of the brand. What other bike did any broke American kid have back then? Schwinn was like Sears. Like Ford, Chrysler and Dodge mixed into one. Budweiser without Miller dogging their heels.
   Did any company have a bigger monopoly that they just blew?
   How did Schwinn go bankrupt?
   Stunning. Stunningly stupid. You gotta hand it to assholes like these: Schwinn, Sears, USSteel. Thought they had it wrapped up forever, lived off the fat of the land and the bones of their employees and then screwed the pooch and blamed the unions. Well done, dicks.
     Just in case you wondered about my politics.
     I rode up to the top of Mt Wilson last week after I said I wouldn't but if there was ever a Mt about which it was easy to say "Because it is there" it's Wilson and up top in the Park parking lot a gaggle of leather bound moto boys were strutting their stuff and giving me hard looks as I circled the lot - one fella even shook his head, and that was enough for me to peel by and mention that maybe he should try it once without a motor.
    Makes me laugh. Why is it dudes with machines think they're tougher than people doing the same work without a machine? Guys in fights with guns. Same thing.
    Anyhow- Gary taught me how to make it down the street without falling. The key, and it's the key to soooooo much, the key to riding a bike is....you have to go fast enough. Speed is the fuel that keeps you upright. Speed keeps you out of accidents, speed keeps you aloft, speed is what gets you home.
     I rode his Schwinn. I got a Huffy Thunder road and pulled the handle bar grip off in the rain and almost lost a tooth. My brother came back from college with something called a Puch. And when I was a junior in college myself I fixed the damn thing up, took it to New England and rode it with the Brown cycling club. Won a sprint with it and I'll never forget one of the regular kids on the team coming up behind me putting his hand at the bottom of my spine as cyclists do when they're feeling sentimental enough to give you a push and said Nice work man.
    Height of my racing career.
    My last chance to choose a sport over ...the arts. Ugh.
    Why why why?
    Do we want to be an engine? Do we want to reduce ourselves to legs and lungs? Are we trying to imitate the piston that dragged us out of the agricultural age and into this Anthropocene shitfest?
    The innocent toy of the first decades of the industrial era- the bike.
    But maybe what makes a bicycle great is the same thing that makes art important - a bike is a machine that doesn't make anything. It's joyous tool. Yes, it can be used to further the goals of commerce but only as much as say a horse furthers the ends of his farmer.
    Its real purpose, like that of a horse, what it was made to do was....run. Just run.