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.