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.
 
   
   
   
   
 
   

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.
 
 
   
 

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.)
 




Friday, February 3, 2017

Feb 2 the ride.....oops

    February is one of my favorite words. It's also one of my least favorite months but because it's the shortest it's not so bad. Love the R behind the B. It's so...not English. Bru ha ha.
   February 2nd. Groundhog Day! I've been to Punxatawny more than a few times and it is the brutal sad northern terminus of the industrial Appalachians. It's kinda where Ive always felt Steeler Nation hits a border. The Mason Dixon of the Allegheny forest.
   Poor groundhog. I want him to tear those guys a new one. As everyone knows he saw his shadow and what a glorious monster of a winter it has been, incredible. Fourteen feet of snow in the Sierras in a week and minus minus temps back East for days. A pity it didn't lay down some snow before Xmas. Winters rarely do these days. But nice to have the monster back. We need, I need four seasons.
    Global warming greening the Nativity. Sucks.
    But Feb 2 is also the Anniversary of end of the Battle of Stalingrad. Next year it will be 75 years. And since ten year olds and 15 year olds fought on the Russian front for the Soviets there'll still be some old boys standing proud at the ceremony. I'm fuckin going. Bad enough I missed the 50th in Moscow years back. All praise to the American and Allied Forces in WWII but the straights facts are the Russians won that war. Without them Germany would have owned Europe for 30 years. For two years they had an Iwo Jima ...every day. That many casualties ....every single day.
   Put it this way: take every town between New York and Chicago and burn them to the ground. Kill half the people, men women and children. That's what the Russians lived through. And worse.
   So yeah- Putin's a monster, a disgrace, a liar to his countrymen and women. But next time you wanna give a Russian some shit keep their history in mind.
   Feb 2 is the Anniversary of the Death of Sid Vicious, bassist for the Sex Pistols.
   All I can say there is...a moment of silence. He did it his way.
   And Feb 2nd, yesterday was also the day I just couldn't get off the couch. Kept thinking, another 20, another half and hour....I can still get 3 hours on the bike, I can still get 2 and a half, ride some in the dark coming back...big deal....and then it was 4:30 and I knew....I'd broken the deal.....Ride Every Other Day! I was gonna lame out.
   So I walked down to the odd little gym down on Sunset with the word Soul up on the marquee and the row of stationery bikes in the back and the men all dressed in black with The Wall emblazoned on their hairless chests and I thought Okay I'll do their dinky little work out and feel like I took a pseudo rest day but didn't completely flake. Bring it boys.
    And they kicked my ass. Brutality. Thighs screaming in anerobic fixed positions. Ruthless calesthenics with weights and dance moves. Couldn't keep my balance, couldn't breathe, almost collapsed and then at the end, no not the end!, 40 minutes on a bike spinning at a pace that reminded me of chasing my buddy Etsu's team up a mountain road in New York. My heart beat and vomit become one matter of will.
   And the whole time the guy who lead us was laughing and smiling and he and the whole miserable process couldn't have been more fun. What a lark. What a fun little diversion. How nice to be pulled off the non fiction novel of "my bike ride" and into their jazz dance, ab ripping, pose and posture posting world where all my endurance meant squat really, and I remembered how much fun it is to leap around and laugh.
  Kinda thing you need on a crappy early February Day.
  Thanks boys.
 

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Jan 31- bike bike bike

    Latigo. One of my favorite words. A good strong leather. A strap to keep your saddle set.
    On a horse that is.
    On a bike it means something else entirely.
    It means you and your saddle are about to get to know one another really well. And at the end of the relationship it'll have the last word.
    Latigo Canyon is a 9 mile climb off of PCH with two peaks, beautiful views, not a lot of cars, and all the pain you could desire.
     That's not really true, it's actually pretty forgiving as evil ascents go. It's not Flores or Tuna Canyon or Kanan heading East. Those three were designed to make a man (or woman) go back to swimming.
    Latigo is the amateur's point of pride. It's a hill that weekend cyclists suffer or die on, pros run up at a sprint toward the end but for folks in the middle, it's a point of pride. "I did that!"
   And it's untrafficked. Like it was built more for us than the cars.
   Two cars went by. A couple road crews were perched up in the high corners digging the road back out to its former width after the rains, the hillsides newly excavated and showing bright rock to the sun that hadn't seen sun in half a million years.
   A guy chased me the whole way. Well, half way as that's when he caught me. We had a nice chat though, him astride the most beautiful white titanium frame. No labels no name, but a work of art and he spun it up the hill at way more RPMs than I could match. Lovely to watch the consistent speed. When someone can keep a pace it gives one hope. Makes you think someone at least is holding decay at bay, holding off gravity and the rhythmic flagging mammals make when they're gonna die. The beat our heart and lungs keep that shows the clock tick down.
  He was none a that. Up. Like a wire was coming out of his chest and pulling him skyward.
   Nice.
   Made me think of all the things I see that one wouldnt see from a car. The old stuff left over, the rare preserves in LA.
   Those low white wooden fences at the outer corners of some of the older canyon roads. Early County security measures. Looking like props out of "Chinatown".
    The dirt and grass access roads half way down some hills connecting the backyards of various mansions- they must have been the original horse trails- like you often see in Western PA- the old road, steeper and narrower, where the first road was built before they decided to build the highway.
   The dirt alleys of Venice, the remaining two or three left.
   The wood frame cabins off PCH in lower Santa Monica- the barn which stands behind the Annenberg center - it's the last surviving piece of Randolph Hearst's seaside monstrous mansion- now part of some condo complex. The websites and the wiki will tell you the whole thing was razed but check out the photos and then go to the beach. That's it. Still there.
   The little cabin in Malibu creek park up near the waterfall. It's a maintenance shed now but it was, into the 1940s, once the home of the last surviving member of the Pico family, descended from the Mexican governors of California. The final representative that hadn't intermarried into the anglo empire of So Cal he was allowed to live out his days on a piece of the property once the size of an Eastern city his family had owned.
   You can ride right by it. Any day.
    70 miles. Too slow, too long.
 
 

Monday, January 30, 2017

jan 29 bike - PV more PV

    And then there are days with no wind at all.....literally nothing....not a breeze not a gust....like riding in the doldrums, that section of the Equitorial ocean where sailing ships could be becalmed for weeks...floating in the middle of nowhere under the sun.
    Speaking of nowhere I rode past the Trump National Golf Course down toward San Pedro, condos unbuilt 5 years ago still unbuilt but I'm sure somehow "financed".  Somebody bold had tagged the big stone sign out front, red paint over the gold letters, "puto" over "Trump". Ah well. When you get the big prize you gain some enemies.
   Climbed with my skinny little 50 year old legs. Fun trying to keep a cadence rather than a speed. Strange to watch yourself age. To notice there isnt any new muscle coming along even with all the work. Just maintenencing the old stuff. Seeing the skin on my arms crinkle closer to the tendons and the bones. The veins in the hands emerging bolder each year like they're worried this body's gonna shut down soon and they better figure out an exit strategy. Lines and the creases like sculpture. One truly does carve out a life.
   Took the hands off the brakes on some downhill corners: I thought, I know I can make these, so just trust it and lean, and how stupidly easy it all was, the bike designed to heel like that the tires designed to hang on long as your weight's in the right place. The things we're taught when we're young so many of them simple truths.
   I remember reading a David Mamet article in a mag one year, way back when it was odd that a playwright would write an "article" for a commercial magazine and he was describing a lesson he took in car racing. How to handle a performance vehicle on a track. The advice from his instructor he liked the most was, "Look where you want to go."  Look where you want to go.
   So whenever I get a little freaked about the angle of a turn coming down off a Cali hill I don't look at the yellow line Im terrified of crossing into an oncoming truck I look at the shoulder. And usually things work out.
  The larger ramifications of the metaphor ...I cant think that far.
  I've been reading a book about the first centuries of the Christian church - Syrians, Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, Armenians....almost all of them communicating in Greek, and a word they liked to use was "kenosis" which loosely translates as the emptying of the self. The hollowing out of the ego to make way for a divine will. Self become part of a Life.
  I like the emptying. I guess I should work on the belief. In something...faith needs some sort of ritual. Devotion requires some kind of labor.
  Funny,  sometimes when I'm climbing I think about pedaling like I do about a prayer wheel, those fabulous Buddhist tools the Tibetans use, mantras in the holy gear box spun round and around. The more you spin the greater the dharma. A music to it in the wind.
 
 

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Bike. jan 27 - Santa Ana

   I knew something was wrong.
I took the right onto PCH and it was like catching a wave in Maui. (Something I've also done and barely lived to regret. "Will the white guy body surfing with the kids please get out before we have to retrieve his body.")
  Another story.
  The prevailing winds in LA usually blow in off the water. In the Santa Monica bay that means if you're going North or North west you're getting hit in the face by them and if you're going South or  South East you've got a tail wind. It's a iron rule.
   Except.
   When the Santa Anas come in. It all spins around. Everything feels bizarre. You don't notice at first, but as the day goes by things get wider, looser, pulled apart. It's hard to explain but it's like the roof's come off the LA basin and all that's keeping anything down, all that's keeping the tenuous tissue of SoCal together is....will. It's just us and the stratosphere, way way up there.
    When the winds turn around they come all the way in from the high interior deserts that front the Sierra range and Death Valley and ...there's nothing out there but what Cormac McCarthy called our blood rite. You can't sugar coat shit in the unicorporated zones outside of 29 Palms even if you have a fortune. It's brutal country, waterless, sere, cruel, militant. And for a week or so every year its indifferent Calvinist soul breathes down upon us.
   It's a documented truth crime goes up during the Santa Anas. People stab their spouses, run the red light, throw the sucker punch, take the final step... when the winds arrive from the desert.
   I think it's all part of our manifest destiny. We built this terrible miracle that is California on the bones of the Indians and the Mexicans and the Chinese and then finally our own brutalized selves crawling in from the Dustbowl....we made a civilization sparkle, but its morality its humanity is thinly spread. The winds take that spiritual topsoil and spin it into the sea.
 
   Winds in the mts and the canyons of LA will reach 60 MPH this weekend. If a fire starts it'll spread faster than a landslide. Whole neighborhoods can go in an afternoon if the two coincide.
    One of LAs little secrets.
    And on a bike you'll go as fast a professional racer in one direction.
    In the other you'll be pedaling in your climbing gears to keep from falling as you go downhill.
    I nearly came off the thing 4 times. Nuts. Madness.
    Zuma Beach. 45 miles.
    On a lighter note: this is a detail of the bike that Felice Gimondi road to victory in the '65 Tour De France. Poor guy- how great he woulda been....but he had to be the same age as Merckx.
It's so beautiful I wanna lick it.
   I'm gonna sell my carbon and titanium bikes and buy some old steel frame Derosas or a Bianchi like this. Who needs to pretend they can go faster when no matter what they'll never go fast enough? Ride something you love that's gorgeous. Basta.

 
 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Jan 25 Ride. Malibu again.....Why why why....

   There's a guy named Giles Coren who writes the best restaurant reviews I've ever read. Not that I read that many. But what's great about Giles is he sometimes barely mentions the restaurant or often doesn't get to it until he's half a column in.
   Like Anthony Bourdain with his Parts Unknown Coren makes us remember that when we go out to eat we aren't just trying to get the best scallopini or the finest sushi roll or a souffle to die for.
  We're going out. In groups. To see other groups, and gather around the fires and let our hair down and tell stories. We're searching. And more often than not the food's mostly an excuse to do so.
   Coren will tell stories about his father or being Jewish in England or his wife's reminders that he better get his ass in gear and type or he'll talk about the writing itself and then smoothly let you know you've been listening to him inside one of London's kabillion restaurants and how the subject he was going on about links up with some small one door shop's Kebab or a five star bowl of soup that smells like something that wafted up into his room at Oxford and he never found out why.
   What I'm trying to say is ....describing the geographic highlights of a bike ride in correct chronology is probably going to bore everyone to death so Im gonna try and avoid it. Or mix it up. From day to day. Depending.
   Headwinds. Back pain. The same old RPM drop at the same old corner on PCH that Ive been cursing for 20 years. The gravel. The glare. The exhaust. All to get to a hill by Pepperdine that cant be that hard to climb and yet every time I climb it I want to scream. It doesn't add up. I don't to anymore than the same sum I've seen for decades.
   So...why? Why do people sit on bikes for 3 hours at a shot?
   Well, to quote Mel Gibson...."Freedom!!"
   Not democratic freedom -which as we are so often told isn't free- not the freedom to be you and me, actually quite the opposite. The freedom to be not me. To forget me, dull the voices in my head that I call my personality.
  Biking hurts. Way down deep.
  I like the saying, On a bike you can die many deaths. What it means is more than in a pool or running on a road, when you're cycling you can hit the wall really really hard and be quite sure that you are done, cooked, fit for the uber pick up to take you home in a bag....and then...you drift over the top of a hill, you hit a climb that's got just that canter you like, someone rips by you with a wicked smile and you find, you're back at it, you've got another life to burn.
  But eventually, cycling wears them all down. It kind of erases you. At the end of a hard ride you are boiled down to fewer of your essentials, and what a joy...to lay on the ground or melt into a chair at an outdoor cafe or watch the tide come in while your normally nagging self, ego, ID, and fears are shutting the fuck up.
   That's why I do it.
   That and the beauty of the machine. A trim bridge most bikes are, that suspension between two wheels. The simplest truss which balances only when in motion, and us perched in the middle. Get one humming and it's a perfect thing. You're a mechanical centaur. That desire wired in all of us since the first Mongol got up on a horse and held on. To be one with something faster. To get back down on all fours and ...fly. No engine. No fuel but you. Sailing but by land, not sea.
   LA's been lousy with landslides recently. Four years of water fell in the last couple months and PCH is an ever evolving mud puddle that the nice folks from CalTrans keep open. Topanga Canyon is closed which strikes an almost laughable blow at many commuter hopes and dreams. But ...it also means we the bikers can ride up and down Topanga....alone.
   Heaven.
   I'm still too old. Knees going, thighs not rippling anymore, frickin back a mess....but WTF, onward.
    65 miles.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Jan 23 - Griffith Park


It's one of things they tell you when you first move here. 
The Griffith Family still owns Griffith Park.
The largest Park in any American City. 
One family- leases it to LA for a dollar a year. 
I have no idea if this is true. Are there still Griffiths? After they made Birth of A Nation is this what they bought? 
Was DW really a Griffith? 
Who knows? 
Griffith has lots of trails in it that you can't ride - you can't ride on any trails in LA City parks which seems a little extreme until you realize how little park land there is in this place and how many bikers. It would be war. Hikers and bikers and tourists colliding. Hills denuded by the million rock hopper enthusiasts...or not. Who knows? 
But you can ride on roads and Griffith has some nice steep access roads up and over it. 
Rained for days and then cleared today and I thought oh the sun's out it's not going to be that cold. Mistake. Hands freezing on descents, knees locking up, hamstrings -well the right one at least- letting me know it was only gonna put up with so much of this shit. But what fun. Up Nichols, down Mulholland, up into Lake Hollywood down past Warner Bros- caught the green this time both ways and up and over Griffith twice. Chased some senior citizen on a steel road bike up to the top - he pounded a big gear (which some people call little gears a term which makes no intuitive sense to me - IE he was pedaling slowly) I kept a respectable constant distance, but when I got to the top,  I thought oh look he's stopping to show me he beat me on his skinny tires I'll just turn right and go up the dirt road to the Hollywood sign, how's that buddy, feelin strong now?? 
Silly yes- cyclists do this dumb shit all the time, little pulls and tests and to see if the person next to you can take it.
Really stupid on my part as you can't actually get to the Hollywood sign this way and I was dying when I reached some water tank with a view of ....yahoo, the Valley. I share the bounty below. 
  But the descent down to Los Feliz was a blast and the sun came out and LA looked amazing after it's week under the pounding rain and snow, I passed two guys walking a dog that didn't look like it could have walked down the driveway but somehow got up here- determined old pooch - one of those sausage corgi type things that always seem to be smiling, like they're having a good time. 
Washes of dirt and gravel across the road, crows flipping and cruising at eye level, clucking that odd crow speech which someone told me is different in every part of the country; West Coast crows don't cluck like East Coast crows. Makes sense. 
Passed a coyote trotting the other way who pulled to the side of road but didn't give me any more deference than that. Healthy coat, intelligent eyes....probably saying to himself....."if only I were bigger..." I remembered shooting tv one night down below on the Griffith golf course late at night, ten years ago now at least. I had some time between scenes and I went for a stroll on the course under the moon. The grass looked blue. I was standing mid some fairway when I heard what sounded like little girls laughing, I turned around and 15 coyotes ran right past me, thru me really, on either side, like I wasn't there. And I suppose to them, I wasn't. Their feet a graceful drumming as they disappeared.
Just drops and climbs all day basically. And that was fine, what the hell, find the right gear and hope your back doesn't give out.
Coming back down the valley side an hour later a big fella in team gear drew up next to me, both of us splattered in LA's red mud, We'd both been cheating a little on the trails- "Definitely Mt bike weather huh? " I was sitting up blowing on my hands , "Little chilly for sure. " He laughed, "I'm from Green Bay, this is nothing." I called after him, "Then I guess we have even more in common, I'm from Pittsburgh.." And he looked back, "It's over man- the forces of evil have triumphed. No super bowls this year."  
A city of ex-pats. (Decidedly different than a city of ex-Pats, someplace I never want to go) People glancing off each other and occasionally finding moments to bridge the gap. As he went by I realized he had those little testicle things hanging off his saddle that guys with big Dualies and possibly not so big other attributes hang off their tow hitch. Had to laugh. Certainly "took some.." 
maybe 30 miles. 















Saturday, January 21, 2017

Ride- Jan 21 PV

   Palos Verdes fixates me. It's a pain in the ass to get to, and even more of a pain in the ass today, but once I'm there...I just wanna make the wheels spin. I wanna stay.
   I don't mean I wanna live there...what did MacArthur say "Old soldiers never die, they just...fade away." ? The PV pennisular paraphrase is "Old Republicans never die...they just... Palos Verdes."  I just like to do loops and feel the wind and the chill it often holds. A cloud hangs over it.
   The hills call me, there's a wildness still to the place, the cliffs on the near side of Portugese Bend -which if you come to LA are the one piece of nature you should see, LA Crest and the Santa Monicas be damned- the roads are always collapsing and houses shifting and people falling into sink holes (oddly enough the closer you get Trump's national golf course empire which owns the coast just above San Pedro - another little So Cal gem of town)- but you can ride around the place for hours and hardly see a soul not in a car. Its so odd: money and California. People just hole up. They stay indoors or they're in transit or shopping. Unfair of course but I've gotta have ridden thru PV 100 times and there are homes Ive never seen anyone in, around, or coming out of. They're investments.
  Which let me say when you're cruising around on a popsicle stick of a bike is just fine. Fewer surprises, free agents and fools, the better.
   So it's 15 miles to get there, well from my current pit of an apartment it's 25 but you do a flat warm up and then on mile 30 you're climbing 8,9 degrees and sometimes more and you can do that for ...however...and then a flat spin back.
   Shit roads, crap bike path, sand heaps blown into access roads, the usual mad melange of ear bud walkers, skaters, bozos on a stroll ( "hey try the pedestrian path where I'd be arrested if I rode my bike on- it's right there!") bikers with their dogs on a lease stretching across the entire path. Geniuses all. Liberty and its fallout victims. Learn to slalom.
   But run that gauntlet and you can climb a switchback as lovely as a ski slope and stand by the Pacific coast road and watch porpoises and seals gambol in the surf. You'll get headwinds on some of the descents that will scare you cold but you'll also get tailwinds that'll lift you right to the crest and push you home.
   Home....funny to use the word in LA.
   PV - A beauty of a place to ride thru. Got a soft spot for it and its El Rancho aesthetic.
   call it 65 miles.
 

Friday, January 20, 2017

Bike- Jan 20th- what you do when it's raining in the ...Southland

     I remember the first time I heard the expression. The Southland.
I must have been in "my trailer" or visiting someone's house back in the 90s and the news was on, as it so often is everywhere you go these decades.
   "Rain in the Southland and our accu weather team has it covered!!" like they were covering a natural disaster or "More Southland news than any other news channel!!" (love the repetition)....anyhow, Eastish coaster that I am, I thought, "but the Southland is ....the South, you know", like Lynyrd Skynyrd singing songs about it, below the Mason Dixon line (or in Pennsylvania anywhere within some strange invisible border where the Stars and Bars still fly) the land of Lee and Jackson, of peaches, and bad public schools and lots of college basketball, but surely NOT Southern California.
  That was before I realized that California is a nation unto itself. And that everyone who's moved here has kind of turned it into a microcosm or a substitute world for ...everywhere else.
   The most abstract and conceptual landscape Ive ever experienced is to most Californians the only reality they can work or live in. It's their safe space, where the oxygen has the right mix of fantasy and free will.
  What Im getting at is I wouldnt think twice about riding in the rain in PA or NYC or RI or anywhere else Ive lived I actually kind of enjoy the feeling, the wheels spinning up the spray and your knees hitting the chill of the top tube miles and miles in.....fewer people, cars going slower, people staring at you like you're nuts, better be smart when you use the brakes.....but back in LA.....when it rains sometimes I fall prey to the general hysteria.
    Funny, the thing this place needs the most, water, it reacts to as if a plague descended. The highways grind to a halt, the news channels embed correspondents at crucial intersections, people call off work.
  And I go to the gym.
  Or more sadly to someplace with 60 bikes crammed into an office space and the word "Soul" imprinted somewhere on the letterhead. The webberhead.
  yep....
  "Indoor cycling".
   Jesus wept. At least he might have after getting his heart rate up to 170 beats a minute in the first 4 minutes of the session as a quad mighty instructor dressed like a super hero shouted at him to find his core, it's all about you, this is YOUR choice, your life, your health, now GOOOOOOOOO!!!!and 40 some millenials rabidly bounce their way into their minds eye of what they imagine the film of their life looks like.
   But don't get me wrong. I'm grateful for it. It's a good workout. (If you dont get your heart rate that high that fast and if you stay for two sessions) and previous gyms have always had the most laughable indoor "bikes". The wide saddled torture instruments designed for Victorians.
   Thank god indoor cycling ...took off...in its stationary way.
    I used to go to one of the original joints in Venice run by a team of mean looking ladies who'd sweat their and my asses off and give me shit when I didn't do the yoga part after. Loved em and their tough lesbian love.
   But the whole...concept.....striving alone together....sitting in rows like they would at a Starbucks feeding off the wi fi, to a soundtrack, how they must have sat in elementary school when teacher taught them they were all unique....it digs at me.
   Exercise porn. The work out without the risk, the price, the personal journey.
   Take out fitness.
   The very definition of biking means getting out there, into the world, and thru it. Where someone might just flatten you or you might take your eye off the road and topple over a grate or come to a red light and ...have to wait your turn. That's kinda the deal. There are no conceptual pilgrimages.
   But hey...when you've been livin in the Southland for too long and get a little spoiled and been under the weather for three days with some odd LA bug and something's happening on the tv in DC you just can't accept.....2 hours head down in a box as The Cult screams Dionysian dreams into your soul's core....gets the job done.
   Mileage? Who the hell knows but Christ I need some water.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qaK81oUmbbs
Try and hear this and not spin at 160 rpms!!!!!
  especially the fake ending...gets me every time....
   Guns and Roses? Eat shit and die. This is the great 80s glam band.

Jan 17 Santa Monica fire road

Pretty much my favorite ride in LA. The standby. The steady. The one and done. 
You weave thru Santa Monica and Rustic Canyon, that magic patch of streets below the Palisades that no one seems to know about still with its old ranch sites and community tennis courts and gazillion dollar cottage and craftsmen homes riffing off old designs into the stratosphere of domestic comfort. 
And a nice loud stream which runs more often than most in So Cal. Climb up out of that and somehow you get right to Sunset. Where if you want you do a quick 8th of a mile zig zag and at your pedals is suddenly 40,000 acres of bike riding. 
Boom. Like that. One minute you're crossing in front of a bar and an italian restaurant, next minute your climbing past Steven Spielbergs pad and then poof you disappear into miles of mountain nothinness. 
It's about two hours my favorite ride. Straight up from sea level to the fire lanes of Dirt Mulholland, I dont know...six mile climb?? Couple pitches are the steepest things I've ever consistently ridden up, views to both sides of a massive ravine and walking park. 
On and on, granny gear hell, sun on you face if you climb before noon at the worst parts. It can be brutal. Or it can be more often, magic. The sun setting as you reach the ranger station and WATER! at the top. There's the Pacific one way. There's the valley and the San Gabriel mts in the other. I've gotten to the top and the winds been blowing so hard the power lines moan like a rigged ship. 
Strange place. The worst and the best. Pain and joy. The mountains and the over built valley below. 
Then you take a couple rights and plunge for even more miles than the climb all the way back down to Sunset where it scrapes thru Santa Monica's northern canyons. 
Ain't a car that can keep up with you once you start the descent. A blast....and this is a bobcat I saw on the way up in a yard not a mile from Sunset Blvd. 
Gotta love the southland.