Tuesday, June 13, 2017

600 miles. 3000 people. 10 grand. And a kitten.

    Bike ride done. A state half crossed. 10 grand raised.
    Seems like peanuts now.
    But thank you to all who gave.
    Rob, the volunteer who managed my luggage truck, and wrangled my gear and the gear and complaints of 300 other people, and who slept in said truck. He raised 40 grand.
    And the ride raised 15 million. Boom. Makes a frickin difference.
 
    I'm gonna claim I rode 600 miles because by mistake I rode to and from and then back to the Cow Palace the day before the official ride began. That's 27 extra. I did three of the hills on the route twice, one of them was four miles long so that gets me up to 597. I think I toodled around Salinas and some of the other towns to find some coffee, see some sights and find a veteranarian ....so...600... more or less.
   
     2300 riders. A battalion of support crew. A swarm in a field every new day.
    Christ it was messy.
    And magic.
    Aids Lifecycle 2017 - done as of Saturday as we rolled into LA under police escort and orange cone lanes thru Santa Monica, Wilshire and Melrose. More people fell, crashed or wrecked during the 7 miles stretch from the bay to Fairfax High School than I saw go down along the entire route. One woman hit the deck 1/2 mile from the finish and 50 feet in front of me. Broken elbow, broken wrist. Wouldn't be crossing the line.
   Nuts.
   Or as the young officer in Bridge on the River Kwai said ....."madness....madness.."

   I'll be brief.

   Prelude.

  Burbank airport is one of my guilty pleasures. Everything there seems to work. Whoever runs the place is a management genius. All the employees smile at you. Nothing takes time. One of the great triumphs of American suburbanism. Bob Hope's monument.
   Rented a car there. Got a free upgrade. Drove me and my bike 6 hours to San Fran on the 5 where really what you do is point the car North and wait to run out of gas. Repeat.
  I looked out the window as the endless Central Valley spooled by and thought, I can't believe I'm gonna go the other direction. On two engineless wheels.
  San Fran. As ever, magic. Like the girl you'll never get over. Always stings me right.

  Day 1-

    San Fran to Santa Cruz. 82 miles.
 
    My old friend drove me and my our other old friend to the Palace at 5 am. That's love.
    Simmering, percolating humanity. Two thousand plus little mortal engines in lycra rarring to go. You could feel the ego in the air, the urge, the nerves. An opening ceremony, and as ceremonies go these days the crowd observed and recorded it as much as participated. We slide farther from presence every year. When they asked for a moment of silence though it was silent.
    And oh the Cow Palace....ghosts of Aerosmith and semi pro teams and rodeos long gone. You could dig the grout out of the floor boards and taste the soul I'm sure.
     Guy got hit by a car in the first half mile. He was fine. Bike was done.
     A descent out of San Fran proper that felt like a tobbogan run. Glorious speed and turns. A cop near the bottom wagged a finger at me. But he was smiling.
    Half Moon bay, astounding coastal views not 30 miles from the Presidio, kids on fixed wheel bikes climbing by me like stormtroopers, and the forests of the penninsula on the ocean side. Why does anyone live anywhere else?
   I remember a little farm town in a gulley with an old railroad station now a home hiding behind the trees, rails themselves long gone. That tan camp color so much of old California is painted in.
   Beer with my cousins and my aunt by the sea in the blare of a college town. My cousin's kid named after my dead brother actually looking and acting a little like my dead brother. Smiling in the sunset.

  Day 2-
 
     Santa Cruz to King City. 109 miles.
   
     Sleeping wont be in the bargain. Bed mat might as well be styrofoam. Tiny tent. Lousy blanket that I bought for the color ends up is a picnic blanket to put your cheese, wine, and bread on. Three snoring neighbors, oblivious in their chipper morning greetings, I stare at their wives thinking How the Hell haven't you MURDERED that guy? How can you go out in public? When will we get around to suing people who snore in public? Threatening the health of all those who can't sleep. How many deprived victims have nodded off on the road? Head on collisions. Dropped their child into the tiger pit in the zoo. I seethe. More on that later.
     Fields and fields and fields of fruit. Orchards by the sea. It's harvest time for strawberries. Workers stooping and lifting among the rows. White mist highlighting the white underbellies of the early berries. Work you could have observed in the age of Augustus. Earlier. The towns going by smell like pie and and gasoline. Swallows whip around us defending their young.
    Ate grilled artichokes by a highway overpass in a monster field in Watsonville and listened to a once/still beautiful 60 year old woman tell me why we should be grateful for this fine country.
   Water and wheels and sweat and salt. The worst road I've ever ridden on. Like the back of a man whipped for 20 years. Cracks glowing white in the ruthless sun. Wind smack in the face. A soul anchor.
   The Santa Lucia mts rising up in the Western Salinas valley. Impossible angles. How does no one know this place? Wineries that haven't been overrun. Steinbeck all about my brain. The shit he held up to light still writ large in the valley. Astonishing physical wealth: the earth, the produce, the sun. Serfdom still packing it into boxes and trucks.
   Somewhere between the towns of Gonzalez and Soledad I'm trailing a woman and a guy down a steep hill when a tiny black shape dances toward their wheels. She skids to a halt and stares. I see a black silhouette and think- it's a mink. It's a skunk.
   It's a kitten.
   There isn't a house for miles.
   No momma cat, no siblings.
   A kitten determined to run back and forth along the road.
   20 bikes every minute. Farm trucks, combines.
   She's doomed.
   So I sit on the side of the road in 100 degree heat corralling this grey ball of fury, and wait for someone official to come by. She drinks out of my hand. She eats cliff bars. I think she learned to meow the day before. It sounds more like a squeak. An angry miniature cat bark. No one can help. Liability. Insurance. Fleas. Allergies. Assholes. No ubers in Soledad. No lyft. Yellow cab is 50 miles away.
   There's a vet in Soledad. 6 miles. So after killing fleas for an hour and denuding my feline friend of some of the hair below her shoulders, I stuff her in my jersey and set off for the office. She alternately hates and loves the journey. I looked down once when she was still, and there was a tiny kitten head, fur brushed back by the breeze, upside down and, if she could be, smiling.
   Adoption sure to happen the woman at the desk told me. No kill, don't worry. She smiled quizzically at this lycra clad oddball in her clinic. "What's her name?"
  "I've been calling her Gonzalez"
   ....."Maybe we'll call her Soledad."
    There have been a few times in my life I've met someone I knew I was supposed to meet. Love at first sight. Frightening kinship. Immediate depth. The kind of thing other people, when they see the two of you, stop what they're doing and shake their heads at it.
   I met a kitten with blue grey fur and white boots on every paw on a country road in California. Goodbye love.
   Basecamp 2. The food is good but the crowd is exhausting, disorienting. The type A, making, charging, changing the world types striding at you from every angle just to go brush their teeth. Hard to take.
   I don't remember sleeping but I do remember a dream.

  Day 3 -

  King City to Paso Robles. 65 miles.

  It's horrible what head winds do to the spirit.
  It's incredible how fast this bike goes in a tail wind.
  I passed a woman on a long flat and she said "Jesus I thought you were a car."
  Climbed a road that felt like a wall. Legs filling to the brim with blood and pain. Lungs pressed into my back. Climbed it again just to say I did. That I wasn't afraid. A Spanish girl with no clips or cleats climbed it right next to me. Guts. Sun. Gravel.
  All long the route, all the routes, volunteers cheer you on, handing out strawberries, cookies, water, or simply smiles and cow bells. whatever, staffing rest stops every ten or fifteen miles fitted out to that day's theme: drag ladies brownie kitchen, disco bathing suit ice pops, Village People oranges and bananas, they're endlessly inventive, kind and they're lifesavers.
   There are people on this ride who have trouble walking from the tent to the toilet. I'd be surprised if they'd made it up the driveway on a bike. They're physical wrecks. They're amazing. How the Hell they're going to make it to LA, how they put in the hours every day astonishes me. The chicken man (he has chickens hanging off his back and his tent, plus rhinestoned spandex and an ostrich feather in his helmet) must be 65 and weigh a good 250. There's a black woman averages maybe 5 mph. One dude is 84. They make it every day.
   Paso Robles gives me the creeps. Russians on vacation. Kings of inland empires and their wastrel children walking down a fake main street. Good pastrami sandwich as the sun set. Sound of trains, as I almost slept.

   Day 4-

  Paso to Santa Maria. 91 Miles

  Out of the knock-off frying pan and into a luke warm fire. Paso to S Maria. Two towns I don't mind not seeing ever again.
   Honestly I don't remember shit. In particular.
   So let me grab some images at random.
   Riding alone for 30, 40 minutes thru farmland and golden hills. 2300 riders somewhere ahead or behind me but nowhere to be seen. I crest a brief hill and 3 llamas stare over a fence at this two wheeled alien.
   First time I take an on ramp onto the 101, onto a federal highway while riding a bicycle. A State Cop nodding and waving me in. Asphalt smooth as glass. Gigantic shoulder. Semis blowing by like space shuttles. I let out a few rebel yells and pedaled to beat the band.
   There must be a million dollars worth of bikes on this ride. Kestrel. Pinarello. Colnago. Masi. Bianchi. And on and on plus a few custom jobs whose name's I don't know. Rich. Richness.
    Makes me wanna give mine away to a kid who can actually race. There's something wrong with amateurs on pro gear. Weekend warriors riding Arabians. The local chorister who plays a Strad. Give it to those who can make it sing.
  Climb another long hill. Mucky tarmac. Rough gravel. Glass. Narrow pass, not much shoulder. Two guys are pedaling side by side near the top. One with his hand at the base of his partner's back, just above the seat, not pushing him but helping him through, letting him know he's there. Should have gotten a picture of that.
    The rush even when there's no race. The presentation of readiness. Of urgency. The gear culture and its disciples. Everyone with meters and phones checking wattage and pace and power. And meanwhile some of the prettiest country on earth spins by as we pretend we're still in spin class. Why not stop more often?? Out of two thousand some riders a hundred can push a pace. Maybe 20 know what they're doing on a bike. A handful used to race. It's funny- two of the true racers rarely get up early, they stay out of the fake pacelines which form behind some hard charger and only once did I see one of them cut loose. I was descending down a long drop before Lompoc when a guy in what looked like pyjamas pulled up next to me and smiled.
   We were going 40 miles an hour.
   Nice road huh?
   I agreed.
   Fun times.
   Yep.
    You like to climb.
    I do actually.
    Well this is my day off but you wanna run up this next one together?
    Sure I'll give it a shot.
    I didn't last one meter with him. It was like watching a test pilot hit the afterburner. Him ascending a long steady curve into the sky. The speed constant and increasing, gravity be damned. A fighter plane among commuters.
    He waved back to me like a woman walking into a store as he climbed into the clouds

Day 5

Santa Maria to Lompoc. 43 miles

   Why was their so much pain on a day that was so short?
   Why was there magic in a place you'd think was a wasteland?
    I guess when you take a mile for granted it becomes 10. Legs didn't have time to get numb. We'd already filed this one away before we suffered thru it. Simple lesson. Don't take the last place team for granted. On any given Sunday, a bike ride can hurt ya.
    Lompoc is the home of Vandenberg Air Force base. A monster plot of land. Set on two adjacent hills with a farm in between. A farm with a salt marsh running thru its western limit and emptying into the Pacific under a train trestle of the Southern Pacific.
   Funny thing about giant military bases....they tend to preserve as much land as they eat up. Huge swaths of virgin California coast still exist because so much of California was turned into an armed camp in the 20th century. Vberg and Otis and Pendleton protect thousands and thousands of acres of pasture and coastline. And we got to ride thru them. Armed guards at the gates, helos and tanks and fighter planes roaring by as two thousand bicyclists many of them flamboyant homosexuals got a free pass. No one asked. Many told.
   It was fabulous.
   I stood under the train track at the mouth of this salt marsh watching the soft breakers hit the shore between the stilletoed peaks of Vandenberg and felt some sort of peace. Not a protected peace, the Air force defending my freedom to wear lycra and muscle into narrow farms lanes pissing off combine drivers all day- but rather a lost peace. I had no idea where I was and had never been to this spot before and somehow I could tell whoever did come here often cherished it. It was a beach you told someone you loved them by, or by simply bringing them here they knew.
   And Lompoc ( say "Lawm poke" or even "Lawm-poh" not "Lawm-pock") this made up town and campground of support peoples for the giant base is nestled between rolling hills of its own that run east west and are cut with some sort of limestone beneath so that when the marine layer rolls in they glow white where the trails curl toward the peaks.
    There's a massive Native American reservation nearby that very few people ever get to enter or wander thru. I don't like entertaining how I can or cannot "feel" some presence or value in that kind of land but I did sense some difference. Some thought came to me maybe simply because of a geographical truth- that there was a big wild space nearby, a big untamed corner of the country in this overdeveloped state and it was breathing out. A piece of the coast no highway skirts. And behind all this the Padres national forest and behind that the Carrizo plain where the central gathering point for all the coastal and central valley Native Americans still sits.
   It buzzed. It hummed, this little valley town and I didn't expect to hear that.

Day 6

  Lompoc to Ventura. 88 miles.

   Christ did we go fast.
   I decided I would go ride with the big boys up front (who mostly are small boys because bikes and speed and weight don't add up) the guys who got up early every day and pushed the pace in chains of riders. The guys with meters on their headsets and bikes worth more than your car. Guys who talk about "checking their numbers" later on. Sight seers and roaming spiritualists they are not.
   I didnt manage to wake up early. So I came down Gaviota pass at about 45 miles an hour, right on the 101, with semis shaking my handlebars and cliffs to either side that had seen "commuters" for a couple thousand years and caught them at lunch where the CHP was forcing them to wait.
   I hooked up with a gang and off we went at about 25 mph. 7 or 8 bikes in a row cranking at full volume for 20 some miles. It was as if a spin class for the clinically insane had been let loose onto the Pacific Coast highway. But for a handful of scrappy old vets none of these guys actually "rode" like cyclists, or gave any evidence that they'd learned to "ride" out on the streets and highways of the real world.
   It was very strange. Men in postures one would ride a beach bike in but going insanely fast, men spinning RPMs you could barely count, guys completely ignoring the cycling system of a paceline. They were just egos and will raging forward till the dude up front collapsed and the next madman took over. It was as if we were, well, indoors, and ripping thru a triple class at Soulcycle or some such virtual sweat box of the Id.
   And hit a hill, or even a small rise and they all slowed to a crawl. Like they say, "What goes down rarely goes up."
   The weird thing was ....I'd gotten within sniffing distance of LA county and ....I wanted to be done. I wanted to say screw it and ride all the way to Melrose that day, 151 miles, and take a shower and then show up tomorrow at the finish line and get my gear.
   Im not sure why....but like a horse sensing the barn, the charm just lifted and I was plain sick of hordes and tents and boosterism and group think and portajohns and the distant focus extremely driven people have as they walk smack thru you on the way to ....just about anything they want to do.
    San Buenaventura is possibly the best white trash mini mall beach hovel town you'll ever find. Dukes bar and grill simply a pleasure.

Last Day.

Ventura to LA (Fairfax district). 67 miles.

  And Im glad I didnt ride home the day before. A) because my ass would have become a superfund site and B) because the candlelight vigil that night was amazing. I groused all afternoon, swore I was gonna kick the snoring guys next door thru their tent, dinner sucked, my pals wanted to crash instead of hitting a bar, I was distinctly unimpressed and feeling very unsentimental.
   Gays didn't need me or my money. Glad I did it, all props and fair legislation to y'all people, but never again.
   And then 2000 people walked thru the dunes to Ventura beach with candles in their hands as I stood about a football field away and watched.
   They didnt plan it, they didnt rush, they didnt sing, at least not anything that had been arranged, they just gave each and every one of themselves, the candle bearers, time to mourn, there, where the waves hit the shore, in their own way and at their own pace.
   These same folks who couldn't bother to greet me in a lunch line or slow a bit in a pace line to admire some of the worlds most astonishing coastline, were waiting....waiting...waiting as long as it took. You wanted to kneel for 15 minutes in the water weeping over your lost husband while 1999 other people stood in line in the damp wind to do the same?
    No problem. None. This is what they were here for. This was the point of the whole thing.
    I was ....without words. I just watched. Kept the phone in my pocket. This compulsion now about "sharing" everything we see, we experience that we imagine is meaningful.....it might help to just see it sometimes. Just be witness, in full, fully present and let it just be that, between you and whoever else was there and the diety.
   And I remembered, to them there was a plague that cut through their culture for 20 years, a time when they were abandoned and ignored by their own country, made into untouchables by a nation that down deep still saw them as freaks.
   Unimaginable. To be ostracized like that. Cursed. Left to die. While I was watching Magnum PI or hitting the clubs in NYC, a community was suffering a mini holocaust.
   So it makes sense- the bonding, the solidarity, the exclusion. They lived in that furnace of hate and ignorance. They get to celebrate now. On their terms.
  I got into my tent feeling peaceful. And then the snoring began. I was in a righteous rage. That black mandala color the Buddhists call it. I was seconds from de-housing the enemy when I realized that a good hundred or so folks were giving themselves a gift on this last night and sleeping in the nearby hotel.
   I grabbed a tent bag from the unused pile walked out into the field far as I could and slept like a baby, door open to the ocean breeze.
 
   Rode like a laughing demon into Malibu the next morning and then on to central LA.
   Fully full court advantage. Climbed the hill by Pepperdine shouting "that's the last fucking one folks!! We did it."
  And it was sort of amazing that we'd covered such a space ....but then, not so amazing.....I mean...why not? Why shouldnt we ride bikes and horses and other slow things from point to point along the ways we want to go and actually see feel and know these places? This land.
   The space I felt, the pang that came wasnt felt because it was over, it was there because I'd hadnt done this more often. I had never done this. Sure I've driven all over the US, across and back 5 times now, but you dont get it, you dont get how big it all is how far, how wide, how many different towns and hamlets and stories and ways of living lay between the here and theres, between the regular stops. There are myriads. Multitudes as Whitman would say.
   And for most of human history we crossed the divides between us at a pace a horse could walk in a day.
   I guess I could feel the space between me and them, all them, those people who'd come before and filled up most of the time we've been here on this earth. I saw what I could have had in common with them, and to them - how big, how vast and imposing the world must have been. How glorious.
  Jealousy really. Longing. To slow down.

  Best I can say was I did it once. Grabbed a kitten off a road and thought. "If I leave it'll die". That's the simple fact. If I carry on with my "day", this earthling ceases to exist. Odd. Simple choice. Simple truth. So I sat in the gravel and waited till the options dwindled down. Weird. Kind of pointless. Animals die every day on the roads. Kind of not. This little life saw me. Reached for me. My job.
   Wish I had a job like that every day.

    be well
 
 
 
 

 

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.