Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Kitchen Soup of Posts: Mines Road, Nevada, and Writing

I rode 120 miles.  The farthest I've ever ridden.

I can hardly believe it myself, even now, weeks later. I've been wanting to write this post for a while, too-- but I've been incredibly sick-- so much so that I've spent days in bed and unable to move. Sometimes nauseous. And other times, unable to breathe.  But the only thing I thought-- and have thought-- since then is this deep and profound gratitude for my life. For all the things I've done and have felt. For the dawns, for the sunsets; for the runs, swims and rides; for the friends I've had; for the books I've read and for the love I feel from family and friends.  

And how funny if it was: just when I was hitting my stride and feeling that it was OK to not-run. To not be "great." But I suppose life is funny that way, too. 

This post is informed, too, by the news that an athlete I coached two years ago has just found she is unable to run anymore, either. Some untreatable injury. No longer a collegiate athlete. I mourn her loss in a way I never would have imagined I could: to know a part of you dies. And that you will never have that life as a runner-- as a person who sees the world by their feet--again. And also, how it feels for me to know about all of that. I must be old--or something--to really sympathize. That is new territory for me, too. 

So, two weeks ago, I set out with four other of the Diablo Cyclists crew for a 120 mile ride. We left Walnut Creek at 7:00 am, at sunrise with our breath still visible and the bathrooms unopened in the park (BIG PROBLEM). I was glad I had full-finger gloves and what was later termed as a "space jacket" to keep the crisp-cold of morning off me.

The early morning pace-line, shortly after entering the Collier Canyon route.

 We departed from Walnut Creek and took the boulevard through Alamo and Danville to the entrance of Collier Canyon. I remember the way the light was low and soft; the way there was hardly anyone on the road; the silence of it-- the swish of our chains on the cranks; and always, my visible breath. I led, once, on the way in and I tried to keep my upper body still while I rested in the drops, pulling the group of us along. 18 mph, perhaps. Not a great speed, but not so bad for short-me, either.

We traded leads, but I was usually near the front of the group in these early miles, especially while headed to Blackhawk when fellow-rider Jay started talking to me about e-readers. Ward intercepted and told me to back off and save energy for the rest of the ride. Sage advice: but I mean: who wants to forgo an e-reader conversation??? (Sorry, Ward.)

Once we got into Collier, the landscape opened up. Became rural with fields and blossoming things. I remember a structure that was like a fortified white wooden windmill of sorts on a corner of one country road and another. And as we rode past I thought: this is like riding would be, in heaven. All those things I thought I wanted as a kid: and here I am, riding right by them.

And at this early hour, quiet. And, green. Livestock's children lined the roads-- lambs, baby horses, calves. Orange poppies cropped up in the pastures (not ready to bloom-- the sun wasn't high enough)  along the road's margins. I've always (slightly) hated this stretch (usually we see it coming back and I've only ever seen it brown.) Today, in green, it was pastoral.

It was beautiful.

I loved it.

Christine and I: just outside Livermore, en route to Mines Road. 

We met the other DC's in Livermore, at the Library. Dr. Dave acted as ultimate SAG and took away our extra layers from the chilly morning ride. He and Ward would later give me Fig Newman's and bananas and for that I would be eternally grateful.

After our brief stop, I joined up with Christine and Dr. Dave as well as a new guy from Nevada City where S.'s family is from (and where I would run a lot, in my former life as a long distance runner.) Oddly enough, he would prove to be my company on the miles up Mines Road.

How can I tell you about Mines Road? The last time I rode it, it was October or November of 2012 and it reminded me of home, which means, it reminded me of Nevada. It's this narrow windy, road that travels up a narrow canyon. Last time I rode it, the landscape was a palette of tawny-brown.

Originally, this was a road that led to mines-- (hence the name "Mines Road") which, perhaps, added to my old associations since two of my four parents worked in the mining industry, growing up. It didn't remind me of home as much this time, however, simply because the canyon was so GREEN.

Even despite the odd buildings, the stray abandoned building, the homage to a former cathouse.

Riders Blinky Ray and Cisco Dave took off and I tried to keep up, but they quickly dropped me on the continuous ascent up the canyon. I thought I was all alone for a while, until Mr. Nevada-City joined me. So, alone the meandering and narrow paved road of canyonlands-- of ranches and the places most-people-forgot-- we took turns out in front, pulling one another up and up, toward our midway destination.

The mid-way point is this odd biker-bar/outpost at the intersection of some very desolate roads. I arrived, grateful to pee in an indoor toilet, and looking forward to the peanut butter and jelly sandwich on wheat that is actually on the menu for the modest price of $4. By this point, the wind was strong and made it seem a lot colder out.  I was grateful for the indoor bathroom and noted there were several other cyclists huddled inside.

We chose to weather the conditions outside, however. I tried to rest my back against what appeared to be a small wire fence while I ate my long-coveted PB&J but found the small dog on the other side didn't like me so much (he tried to bite my ass off).

After that many miles (60) and weeks since I'd allowed myself peanut butter or bread so NO ONE or no DOG was going to take that sweet, sweet sandwich away from me.

Plus the wind was fracking cold.


We rode back in a headwind. Dr. Dave and I pulled each other up and out of the canyon, but he had more left in his legs than I did; by mile 80, I needed some water, some rest or something. But it's funny how our minds and bodies work: after a screaming downhill, I was ready to pull the team for a while and managed to do a passable job getting us back to the Livermore Library.

(Here is where the bananas, the Fig Newmans, and my desire not to ride anymore surface. At mile 90, however, you can't just decide not to go home. You've got to cream the cookie; spread the butter on the bread. You've toasted it: time to chew.)


The ride back was BRUTAL. 

A headwind, the whole way. 

Plus we'd ridden this way on the way out, so it was mentally challenging as well. The wind was in our faces; I tried to pull our group and found myself unable to keep up a decent pace. Then, when we reached Blackhawk (outside Danville) Ward got a flat. It was a lovely respite and granted us the lovely shot, below. 

I wish I could say I rode well, that I was in TOP FORM and kicking ass-- but instead, I'm so happy so say, simply, that I was able to ride 120 miles, that I had a great time and that I'm ready for more, this coming week. 

How much I would have loved to have been the best; or to have had some recognition for my effort. But really, I've come to understand, it's all in the doing. In the here and now; in THIS life at THIS time. 

I can't wait for more.

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