Sunday, February 19, 2017

Atmospheric River

   This writing up every ride thing Ive been doing is nonsense. So once a week from now on. The best of.
    For the faithful. The handful.
    That said, yesterday, I ....it was one of those days doing something you love that will become one of those stories you tell for the rest of your life. Feeling the original joy. The silly, wordless pleasure. The first time I figured out how to hit a backhand. How to ski by choice not gravity. First novel read cover to cover. First dancing unashamed. First kissing. First realizing, hey, she likes this as much as I do....
   Being enveloped in the world in both place and experience, all of it wrapped around me.
   Took the Mt Bike up to a canyon Ive ridden a hundred times before. An unremarkable route, an old standby. But from turn one somehow it all felt different. Precise, perfect, unique. Nothing I was doing: I wasn't any faster, smarter or more inspired. I was just in it, farther. Or "it" was ...more manifest. The penumbra of the present.
    LAs had oceans of rain this winter. Truly massive relentless storms passing over it on the way to the Sierra Nevada. The basin's filled with clouds. A giant auditorium of cumulus mayhem. I live up in the foothills and even walking down to a coffee shop the views are like Bierstadts brought to life.
    Everywhere you go there's water running were water rarely or never runs. Streams that reveal themselves once a decade have been flowing for months. Roads have washed out consistently enough to reroute traffic on an epic scale. Houses have lost backyards and porches and whole subsytems in mudslides down to their unfortunate neighbors below. Sinkholes. Power outtages. Intersections in the middle of the city with 3 feet of water collecting where no water's collected since the river was buried below in 1904.
   I did the usual endless switch back of mulholland to sepulveda and then up into the ridge roads dividing west LA from the Valley, dove down into Santa Monica canyon and took the right into Sullivan. The whole way the air around me seemed lit for the movies. It was like riding thru a Terrence Malick film. I breathed easy, my back felt fine, I wasn't gasping for breath and on the roads...there  was no one. It was as if the storm had hit so hard yesterday people were afraid to come out of the cellars and enjoy the peace, the aftermath.
   I rode uphill thru a stream for an hour. On a trail that should have taken me 20 minutes to climb. A river had cut thru this little canyon where sometimes a stream hints at its existence and where in the past I have seen rivulets or heard a gurgle or two behind the brush.
    The water was up to my calves, my feet submerged fully on the downstroke. Banks two feet deep took me down into mud and gravel. Great basic bike handling training. And honestly something Im sure people ride every day in Seattle or Vancouver. But if you spend enough time out here you start ...to dry out. You start to expect the world to be void of things. To be simplified. As Daniel Day Crazy says in Gangs of New York " You are neither hot or cold!! You are but lukewarm and I will spew thee from my mouth!!' For some reason makes me think of walking thru the Grove shopping mall on a weekend. Anyhow...
    What in Pgh I wouldn't even qualify as a creek became fascinating to me. At every corner a new source of joy. And the chill of it, how cold the water was when it hit my feet or splashed up into my chest, you just don't get this very often out west of the West.
   I fell more times than I can count and at least once just leaned over into the hillside mulch to rest, just collapsed feet still in the pedals, took a minute and then pushed with my shoulder and pop I was up again, such is the camber of some of these slopes.
   I dont know....what was it....the damp....the temperature which at about 55 seems perfect for me for some reason I cant explain....the layer of mist which wiped out all views at about 700 feet you could climb into and out of....the lack of anyone hardly except the hardy old lady I always see hiking to the top of dirt Mulholland and a few dog lovers and two other cyclists one of whom stopped next to me on his descent when I pulled aside.. "never ...never been in anything like this here...20 years...." and we just smiled at each other.
   He didn't say " never seen". He said "never been in" which is what we were. IN a a ride. In a canyon, in the water, in the winter in my middle age but seriously riding up the last pitch at about no miles an hour and practically pulling the front wheel off the trail feeling like I was 12.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Feb 17 Exhaustion before the storm

  5 1/2 hours....where did it all go?
  How the hell was I in a saddle for 5 1/2 hours?
  Toward the end I started to get glimmers, the beginnings of hallucination.
  You always talk to yourself, but it's when you start to answer back that issues come up.
  You stop wanting to figure out simple problems.
  If I don't put my foot down at this light I'll fall over - so what.
  I've got 5 more miles to go in the dark on a commuter road the width of a donkey trail- whatever, bikes can use the whole lane in LA.
   I need to eat- nah, you're not hungry.
   Bizarre. Kind of cool. Like going to the museum when you're starved, all the colors seemed brighter.
   Palos Verdes again. Up down around, loop in and among the hills....perfect light and wind. Cruising down the coast road descent everything sparkled in front of me with that blue you see in a Hockney painting.
   Crystalline, mineral, granular. Desert light. By a sea. Salt and millions of bits of stone and glass. So strange for a guy who grew up in the muddy East where mist and wash and water rule the air. The landscape touches you back home. It's on you. It adheres. You can run your finger through it.
   Out here in LA the world is Out There. It's a view or a vista. It's light itself. The West. Something to be gotten to rather than something you're in.
   I always notice.. when the winter weather kicks in here, or it's sundown by the ocean and the fog rises, when a breeze smells sweet or has some rain in and flits across my face I jump around, like a ghost went by- something living in the air touched me. It's rare. Strange. Twenty years on and off and it still feels uncanny.
  And now outside the heaviest rainfall in years is pelting LA. Whole hillsides are sliding into the streets. Water is flowing in streams I didn't even know were streams. Waterfalls marked on State park sites that haven't fallen in a decade are full.
   I don't care what it takes to clean the bike or me I'm heading up into the hills tomorrow.
 
 
 
 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

valentines day down Topanga canyon

    I've waited a long time for this.
And I'd imagined this Valentines Day would pass me by, leave me empty handed.
I was wrong
Something happened that's never happened before.
Well two things happened.
I decided that hey if you can ride down LA Crest in a head wind without using your brakes you could do the same down Topanga Canyon Rd. Steeper maybe, curves a little tighter but only a few of them: get the line right and you're home free.
All these years fearing that descent. I didn't even think twice. Weird. Or I just care less.
Thing number two: at one bend two motorcyclists came up the other direction, at a pretty good clip as I curved into the lane beside them..
   and the guy on the second bike in a split second that seemed to last longer made that gesture motorcyclists make to each other, that greeting where they nod and point two fingers toward the ground, "keep the rubber side down" I suppose... I don't know, but I've been riding a bike fairly seriously for 25 years and .....not a single BMW, Harley, Ducatti, Yamaha, Indian, Vincent, Honda, Aprila, whateverness moto rider has ever done that for me.
  Not that I care. Or need em. Silly guys on there rockets moving their right hands and leaning back and forth. All hard looks about your lycra when they're hanging out in their leathers at the top of a 20 mile climb that you climbed and they...drove.
  But ...it made me smile. And think, fuck I can do this.
  Close to 40mph I think on the last pitch.
  Overall ride 60 ish miles.
  Made me wanna go see the King Gillette ranch now that I've ridden by it for two decades.
  Funny. All the riding has made me realize I need to do more stopping.
 

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Feb 12 Mt Wilson

     I've only gone up to the top by bike 3 or 4 times. Maybe 5, who knows. I not only don't have the endurance or determination of youth, I can't even remember the youth.
     It's 22 miles. 21 of it climbing, from a cliff hanging suburb called La Canada.
     It's not that hard of a climb really, it just goes on and on, and you feel like you're going from LA to the Sierras in an hour. Well, if the Sierras were mostly shale and scrub.
     At the summit ridge there's an old observatory: some proud civic scientist decided to drag a huge lens up a mule trail back in the early days of the last century. It's more or less abandoned now, there are intermittent tours and "signage" but mostly its just wind blowing through an old camp and snow falling sometimes when LA itself is hitting 70.
     Uncanny, you go farther and farther away, switching back and forth the last 5 miles on a road not much wider than a driveway and then poof you're sitting at what feels like an overhang and there's all of LA. And I do mean ALL of it. Spread out before you so clearly you think you can hear the cars glinting by. The whole basin, visible, if the weather's blown through and blown off the smog. And it did. I swear I felt I could see Irvine.
      I've always wanted to stay up there. Watch the glow of the monster metropolis rise. Feel the winds get up to a howl. Wake up to frozen water. Don't know why. You feel like you're teetering up there. That the whole thing was made up, imagined, a lark, not a major town before WWII.....and then it pow it becames the country's biggest city. And yes I know NYC has more people but LA is just so damn vast. An endless wash.
      I should have known, looking at the size of the sky today, the sharp depth of the blue, the speed at which the clouds of the previous had disappeared.....Santa Anas again. Wind snapping out of nowhere around corners in my face on one tack, shoving me up a hill the next. Descending with weekend car racers and streams of motorcyclists.... what a bitch. My hands and my back were screaming by the bottom. 20 miles of downhill can be unfun. So weird. Next thing you know you're down. It's done. Your'e not in a pile under a guard rail. You didn't get blown into a cut. You're just another guy waiting by the Panera for the light to change.
     Highland Park - Mt Wilson loop 60 miles.
   

Thursday, February 9, 2017

feb 9 Aidsride 17. Griffith park and upwards....

    There are days that no matter what you tell yourself you just don't want to see the cars, pass the same bldgs, catch the same lights, the same headwind, the same shite intersection you invariably wait 5 minutes at killing any momentum you just had and turning you previous miles into junk.
   You curse the city.
    You ask yourself why I did I get to know this place so well that I would easily in a heartbeat at the drop of a hat depart and never pass thru again if I didn't have to.
    .....Cause you have to.
   Cause you chose.
    And after two miserable hours you look right and see this:
A
and it all makes enough sense. Glory is a powerful thing. 
Mountains. Climbing. 50 miles. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

feb 7 Misty Mountain Hop

     My friend George has lived up in San Fran for 20 some years. I've been coming to LA about as long and whenever the SoCal malaise gets too much I hop on a plane to SF or drive up the 5 and spend a few rejuvenating days with my best buddy. ( And now his fabulous wife and kids!!)
     Lotta good times. Lotta late nights.
     San Francisco...magic city. In ways as creepy as they are luxe. One of a kind.
     I've had proudly catered meals less delicious than a few breaths of that Bay air.
     A June night back in 08. George lived in Hayes Valley. Dinner done we were walking thru the Civic Center plaza. Beaux Arts urban mammoths, City Beautiful Collossalism, California telling the world it's its 6th largest economy.  Lotta terra cotta.
   It was raining. Please remember Mark Twain's old quip, "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco". It can get chilly.
   "Hey what's with the crowd?"
    It was about 10-11pm and City Hall looked like it was serving free meals or selling tickets to a Phish concert: folks in tents and nylon shelters, umbrellas up, sleeping bags, lanterns, flashlights glinting along the row of people packed against the sidewalk surrounding the Hall. Which takes up two city blocks. All the way around.
   George in his ever civil and ingratiating way walked up and asked a woman what was happening. She and another woman answered together- a few other people along the line chimed in as well when they heard the question-  "Gay marriage baby." "We're getting married tomorrow" "Newsom passed it." "We're legal" "We wanna get in before they shut it down"
     The voices were thrilled but the attitude of the crowd was contained, simmering, almost hushed. Maybe it was the rain but I think it was the occasion really, the immensity, the fact.....that they were the first thru the door. They were history's wedge.
      It felt like being in an outdoor service. Or waiting for one to begin. No drums, no raucous cheering, no organized chants. Just people waiting for what they'd waited for for decades. I'll never forget that shared sense, and I was surprised by this, by it rising up in me, that it was good to be American. Or that we, it, America had done something momentous and right again as we sometimes do just when it's needed most.
   In this most dissenting of cities, this hot bed of radical labor and radical individualism how strange but how ideal to feel....some kind of Patriotism. And see that pride in the eyes of a community that had been violently harrassed by representatives of the State for years.
   I still choke up when I think about it. Specifically the two women, two older women, must have been in their 60s, standing toward the front of the line telling us the simple facts, how long they'd been there, where they'd come in from, did they need anything, were they cold, but the whole time something else shining out of their eyes: this isn't just for us. This isn't just our wedding.
   I think George decided, or he knew exactly where to go and how many cups a Starbucks party server served so we walked back down the Civic center promenade with its strange pollarded tree lines, its open sky and we crossed Market to the Starbucks open late in some tourist hotel.
    "Hi we need coffee for 300 people. Maybe 400."
     Kid working looked dazed at first but we told him what it was for and he went to see if they had enough containers.
      "It will take a little while to brew you know- we grind our own beans you know."
      "...We have all night."
      "How the Hell do we carry this stuff man?"
       "That's a lot of laps going back and forth. We can't ask them to come get their own coffee, or get out of line..."
       The 'bucks was pretty sparsely populated and the flipside of Cali kindness was showing itself, big smiles upfront but when you really need a hand......not so much.
    Until I looked in the lobby of the little hotel adjacent and noticed they must be hosting some particular convention...a particular style of man and his man brother....right about then when we needed the brawn in walked about 20 brawny guys in jeans and plaid shirts and beards and hirsute chests.
    I believe the proper terminology is Bears. Bears and their Cubs.
    And lemme tell you, boy they can be a chipper bunch.
    George who thankfully was sporting a beard back then explained what was happening, what our plan was and not long thereafter the two of us were leading a pack of proud papa Bears carrying hot coffee, hot chocolate and all the fixings to the folks huddled around San Francisco City Hall.
    And they were right, the women. It was going to get shut down. And then started again. And then shut down. For years. And then finally, become the law of the land of California.
   But they stuck their feet and their fingers in the door.
   And the long and the short of it is that's why I'm doing this ride from SF to LA. It's a fundraiser to fight the effects of a certain disease but ultimately it's about community. And being an American. About addressing our vast and glorious multiplicity. Having the guts to stand up for plurality. Because in the end, and from the beginning, that's our law. The founding words that frame who we are frame the beginning of a defense and enshrine praise for the many, the people. We have defined that defense and who those "people" are for better and for worse for 240 years. And right now the pendulum has swung so far to the right it's stuck in the wall.
    But standing having coffee with a grandmother lesbian from San Jose nine years ago made me think ...Christ the things we can do.
    50 miles up in some Santa Monica mt hills with mist made it feel like Maine.

   

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Feb 4. Tujunga. Aidslifecycle training

      The only team outfit I wear, the only "kit" as cyclists call them, is from my buddy Etsu's team in NYC.
   I have never raced for them or even been able to keep up with them on any but their slowest rides. Regardless, Ets sends me a kit every year and I hope I'm decent advertising. I used to sponsor the team in its early incarnation but still ...whenever I put the black and green on I feel a little unworthy.
   I apologize in advance for the possibility that someone they actually race someday will have seen me out on the road and thought..."that must be a team for old slow guys..."
   It's not. They're beasts in NYC.

Anyhow Ets, his full name is Etsukazu, was out in LA training for a week and I got to go along with him on his last rest day spin before he flew back to NYC.
  A rest day for Etsu means a 15 mile climb at a cadence which would kill most people and then after having lunch with me at the end of 50 some miles going back up the Mt for a 9 mile....quickie.
   They're a particular breed racers.
   It's funny to get just a glimpse of what one's body can do. We were coming back down the Mt and Ets casually said "Weird huh, how far you can go on these things." And I thought, it's all in our minds, what we can and cannot climb. Well, a lot of it is. Eventually you do reach a point where you come face to face with what your biology simply can't do but that is rare. Most folks never see that self. They never dig down that deep.
   Maybe that's the weirdest thing....that for some reason, we don't want to know...where we stop, where the limits of our physical, willful self lie.
  One would think the opposite would be true, but it isn't. Even people who "work out" all the time or who push a bike a decent cadence, people who talk about endorphins and bonking and regimen, really most of them aren't that close to the wall, the break down, the limit. The limit isn't just about effort required, it's about the time. Lots and lots of time. Like an equation for power, force and time equals...?  Knowledge? Realization? Like what it takes to wear down stone. To be an endurance athlete you need the sprinters hunger and fury and the patience of a good painter: let it dry let it dry. next coat.
  I don't know. I never had the guts to go out and find where I ended. I've raced in various sports, I'm a decent natural athlete, I like pain but....I could never quite get myself to accept losing or paddling along for months and months until something switched into gear. The dull eyed tolerance of the real athlete. Didn't have it.
   But every once in a blue moon I get a glimpse. Still, even at 50 - I'm 49 but my theory has always been that once you hit the year before everyone's rounding you up already- saying you're 49 is like saying you're 6 foot and 3/4s of an inch. Nope.
   But every once in awhile -and Im thinking Ive probably got about 5 years left of this- something feels less difficult, the strength needed to get thru it seems to come out of some deeper region in my thighs or my lungs.
    And I think to myself....God, why didn't someone tell me this when I was 16?
    Or ....why couldn't I listen?
    The pic below is from the little parking spot at the first "summit" of the LA Crest ride. Call it Camp 2. The decent we're about to drop into is 9 miles and for the entire fall ...you don't have to touch your brakes. Heaven.
  ( I'm eating a peanut thing, not checking my phone, thank you.)