Monday, May 15, 2017

England postlude

     For most of the year I've dutifully written a post per bike ride - per ride even when the ride was uneventful or lousy. What a gift I gave you all. All 5 of you.
     I've been silent the last two months.
     Not much has changed. I've been riding every other day more or less in London England ( as opposed to London  Malaysia) trying to keep myself in decent enough shape to survive this 600 mile slog from San Fran to LA come June.
     We raised just over 10 grand for AIDS research which is half what I wanted to raise but a decent sum nonetheless.
     I think I've been silent simply as a matter of praise. As a way of acknowledging that spending 3-4 hours every other day on an moving exercise machine in a city I should be exploring by foot every day every hour notebook and camera in hand is if not a kind of madness at least a thing to be damn shamed of.
    Ashamed I suppose but somehow shamed seemed to fit better. To scan.
    London is, as a universe of writers have said, a universe unto itself a physical manifestation of the human condition of one's -and all of the ones combined- yours and their imaginations churning away. More than New York or even Tokyo all things seem possible in London. All things could possibly -you tell yourself- be happening, be being made manifest right now.
   Even now. And now. To quote Rosencrantz. Or ..Guil...
   I'm talking like an idiot because this is the last cycle blog I'll write till I'm on the 6 day ride. Glad I committed to it but Christ I'm excited to get back in a pool and get a great workout in a hour instead of gutting entire days on a 5000 dollar machine I should donate to an able young rider.
   So if anyone out there knows a good charity that hooks up young talented poor cyclists with aging overpaid cyclists do call.
   It's just hard to square getting used to blowing by Big Ben and Parliament and the Horse Guards parade, the Serpentine gallery and Battersea power plant and Chelsea gardens, each and every facade and corner park and ramble and square and museum and gallery ad infinitum - flying by head down fingers on the triggers of the brakes praying the auto maelstrom of London won't snag me once and for all and grind me into the macadam along with two millennia of human trade pumiced into the bedrock of this ancient town, hard to do all that instead of.....stopping and ....soaking it all in , this place that I simply don't have the days left to know.
    Did I mention the theaters? The plays? The book stores? The libraries? The newspapers? The langauage sodden pubs and cafe houses where the language I was raised speaking leaps into overdrive and becomes a tool and a plaything the weapon of American rarely knows?
    Probably not.
    All that said - cruising along the Thames, along any river in any city, squeezing through rows of condensed housing banks and buses back to back and lorries and cabs and out into the air and trees clipping by is a joy untold, a thing forever.
    Cycling as I've said is a brutal business in London. It's a hill free jungle of  medeavil streets spreading in concentric circles for 20 miles. Your first hour if you try to escape into the country is completely wasted time. Which leaves....Richmond Park. 9 snappy miles up the Thames sits Henry the VIII's grand hunting ramble where he chased stag after stag and I'm sure maiden after maiden and where now hordes of Londons cyclists ravenous for open roads without a red light every kilometer now come to find freedom.
    Two climbs you wouldn't even mention in a ride in LA, two descents with curves too tight for most folks to let go on, two packs of deer - yes Henry's stags have been shagging doe from his day Unto our own- wide and wonderful fields of green and trees that look like central Pennsylvania from the dreamy windows of the turnpike - this park has been my refuge and my saving grace. Honestly never had so much fun riding in a circle for three hours at a time in my life. Perspective is a blessing. This verdant hamster wheel in posh West London or the roundabout charnel house of the city proper.
   I shall miss you windblown hillock of ancient kings. Unmown retreat of English urbanites. For in truth all the English love the country. Even born and bred Londoners - there's something about the education or the land itself or the language they're taught that pushes them towards green fields and dark green water. The most urban people from the first  "urban" world - for where did today's cities spring if not from London and Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham - even they, when you dig at their subconscious desires, long for a good wander in a grove of trees.
   Way down deep I think they're all still backing up from the Channel, wary of it, ready to retreat toward the woods like they did when the Romans came or the Saxons or the Vikings or the Normans. Where they woulda beat Hitler had he dared to land.
   Little body with a mighty heart.
   That heart I think, love London as I do, lays out there somewhere in the West.
   Someday I'll have the sense when I'm out in that country to know when to get off the bike and walk out into a field that tells me to.
 

Monday, April 17, 2017

London

   You know things have gotten bad when the "climb" to the top of a park in London that you could jog up in dress shoes on a lark if challenged, gets your thighs to screaming, your breath harder to pace, your speed down to commuter level.
    The best I can say is that, like an Englishman, I've kept my weight down. I'm become like one of the wirey business boys you see here jogging home with his backpack full of the day's business clothes and computer. Who runs or rides with a backpack in the States? There must be an equivalent plus ca change plus la meme phrase about how much more different we are when we get more the same: us and the Brits.
    Truly unbridgeable.
    Speaking of which they're the best things you see on a bike here- the bridges crossing the Thames. Or at least the views of the ancient river town. The bridges themselves sadly have been stripped of almost any ornament, London bridge looks like it was designed in a car park, but the view as you idle back over it is remarkable. Thousands of years of human history huddled by the banks. "I heard there was a sacred chord..." You look down on the town and it seem to rise in the air all about you.
    Anyhow when I get back, a few weeks riding the monster climbs of LA will cost me less since, I've not become a Clydesdale on all the British butter and beer. Not from lack of trying. Weird how light you can become as you age. Melting away.
    Riding in cities is hopeless. And London the most hopeless of all. You have to throttle down and decide it's just going to be an exploration lane to lane, town to town for an hour or more until you hit some kind of suburban road that leads out for 20 miles. Past canal boats and barges and urban parks built on bomb sites below bridges so narrow to the river only one body can pass at a time. The general politeness of the English excels here - maintaining the daily rhythm, unravelling the thousand potential conflicts with a nod and a cheers. I enjoy them immensely in situations like that, in formal informality they're great. But slow down and stop -  it's like trying to grab a dream. Firm in the mind, precious and close, but incorporeal.
   Oh the places I could have gone, oh the time, alas
   
 

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

London - the cycling graveyard

     On about my 5th ride here. I feel lucky to have only come out of the saddle and onto the pavement once. This place teaches you vehicle and road awareness like no town Ive ever pushed a peddle in. Pittsburgh, my hometown and a notoriously tough road ride arena is a cakewalk compared to London.
     When you think of England and bicycles, the dreamy images of its country roads and its villages and polite pedestrians flood the brain - miles and miles of winding pavement with earnest weekend bikers grinding away on Raleighs and Mercians and Birminghams and all the myriad steel workaday frames made of the famed Reynolds tubing that made the UK a cycling center beckon....
   NOT.
  Well, at least not in area code 44.
   London was designed to discourage anything on two wheels.
   Or maybe it was built for things on two wheels or drawn by carts but now....its a charnel house of lanes and roundabouts and strange signs and even stranger fantatical commuters bent on outsprinting you to the next stop light 400 yards away. Mile after mile after mile.
   I can leave my place in LA, a city basin twice the size of London and not put my foot to pavement more than 5 times in a 70 mile ride.
   I'm stopping every mile in London. If I'm lucky. And when I got to the big loop all the cyclists talk about - Regents park- Im faced with the Anglican tendency to stop at anything remotely resembling a yield sign or cross walk. The mile-ish loop there then automatically has two stops mixed in. Who thinks this way!!!????
    I long for unruly shameless scofflaw bike messengers of Manhattan.
    But then I find myself cruising along the Thames trying to dodge Italian tourists backstepping into the roadway, streams of hard wired City bankers headed home at big crank speed to....do whatever london bankers do at home, the random lorry turning into an access drive that crosses the bike lane (Lorry is truck in English english) and I look up -stupid enough- and see Im passing Westminster or the Chelsea Physic garden or any one of a thousand astounding and beautiful historical and cultural monuments and I say to myself....whats the frickin hurry Dave? You're not riding in June to Beat anyone. You're NOT going to a fundraiser to Race. You're not even a Racer anymore.
    So big flipping deal. Just do the time in the saddle and let the world be what the world is.
     And breathe it in.
     And my God what an astounding city. And how lucky am I to be rolling through parts of it most visitors would never see. The alley behind the East India docks where the wealth that built the British empire first off loaded. The bike lane that winds thru a housing estate with a sign saying "Bow Bells one mile" the Bow bells which if you were born within the sound of, you can call yourself a cockney. The road past Putney bridge under which the Oxford Cambridge boat race finished last weekend and at which the chairman of Cambridge University - THE Cambridge university as the football players say - the venerated college system built 700 years ago and still churning out geniuses and printed matter that the world otherwise would never see the appointed head of this august academy looked down upon his men's 8 and even as it lost to Oxford, passing beneath him he intoned "FUCK YEAH BOYS!!!"
    I could ride these streets for a long time.
    hmm.....

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.