Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Finding a balance

Well, the honeymoon with California is beginning to wind down; I now have to deal with the both daunting and exciting reality of actually making a life here. I was both lucky and cursed this week when, in addition to Adventure Cycling assignments I had to wrap up, a couple editors of small publications that I've worked with in the past came out of the woodwork (one of the advantages of living a semi-public life) and said, "Want to write something for us?" Yeah, sure, why not? It has kept me reasonably busy, and helped set the base for the routine I'd really like to develop while living down here.

At the same time, if I'm not careful, I can too easily become driven by my own distraction. On Monday, I was curled up on the couch with my cat, Cady, happily typing away an article about self-supported mountain bike touring on the Kokopelli Trail in Utah, when, out of the corner of my eye, I began to steal glimpses of my Element. For inspiration, of course. Patches of peanut-butter-colored mud clinging to the bright red frame morphed into subtle but taunting messages: "Why are you wasting daylight hours indoors when you could be out there? Outside? With me?" I took a break and stepped out onto the porch. It was a dismal sort of day, for California at least, obscured in dark gray mist with howling wind and sideways rain ricocheting off the pavement. Not exactly enticing. Right? Right?

OK, maybe just a short ride, just for inspiration. I'll just climb the Monte Bello Road and ride back down, I told myself. It's mostly pavement; maybe it will even clean up this bike a bit, I reasoned. I took to daydreaming and didn't pedal up the road with the all-out effort I'd hoped to achieve, so I reached the top of Black Mountain feeling fresh and renewed. On the exposed ridge, the weather had gone from grim to borderline dangerous, with plummeting temperatures, a fierce headwind and daggers of hard rain pummeling my face with such force it was nearly impossible to keep my eyes open. I of course was only wearing a thin rain coat and tights because I was only out for a "short" ride, not exactly well prepared. It would have been all too easy and practical to turn my back on it, as I had planned to do, and retreat down the mountain. But the intensity of the weather brought with it a strange and overarching desire, to seize this moment because summer is approaching and it might not come again, to take on this fierce new world and see what I could wring out of it. And anyway, I wanted to see what it was like to ride Stevens Creek Canyon downhill.

I love Stevens Creek Canyon in the rain. It's misty, dense, carpeted in bright green moss and absolutely beautiful. I love it so much that when I was approaching the end of the trail, I saw a side trail called Grizzly Flats and thought, "Can't hurt to extend it just a bit." Grizzly Flats was not flat. In fact, the trail climbed steeply and continuously all the way to Skyline Ridge, the next ridge over. Once at the top, I gleefully skimmed the highway scoping out the new-to-me trails to the west. Unfortunately (luckily?) for me, they're all closed to bikes for the winter.

Four hours after I left on my "short" inspiration ride, I arrived at home with a whole new layer of mud, 30 miles, 4,500 feet of climbing, and a fair amount of guilt for burning up the better part of an afternoon riding my bike. Out of the corner of my eye, saw my cat and my laptop both regarding me with disapproval. "There goes another whole day."

Somewhere, at the center of all this distraction, there has to be a balance ...

I will find it.

Here's the map and elevation profile for my Monday ride.


  1. It took me a couple of years to get used to CA. Now I can't imagine living anywhere else.
    I live in San Jose btw, so I know the areas you are talking about.

  2. The misty days are kind of magical around here.

    One time my friend and I hiked the Black Mountain trail from Hidden Villa (highly recommended BTW) on a misty day.

    The first thing we noticed is that the heavy mist absolutely deadens the environmental sounds. We could not even hear the airplanes overhead. Second, we noticed the mist had illuminated thousands of tiny spider webs along the sides of the trail that were previously not known to us. But, the tiny water droplets revealed them all around. Spetacular!

  3. Grizzly Flat is an excellent grind. The trails on the other side of Skyline in the Monte Bella Openspace are some of the best mountain biking in the area. You definitely need to explore up there some more.

  4. Nice post Jill. I enjoyed it a lot. And I am one of those that actually hear my bike talking to me as well. Happened to me last night in fact. Now I am behind at work ... doh ;-)

  5. I am glad you got out, even if it was a "distraction". There is always nighttime for writing . . . but I guess you do need to sleep sometime.

  6. I do believe the nice weather and trail conditions will lead to you feeling more comfortable clipped into your pedals. This is my nostroslowrider prediction for 2011

  7. Perhaps ... but I may be too set in my platform ways to really make an effective conversion. The trails I've discovered here so far have not been all that technical, so no strong motivation there. Also, I've never felt comfortable in those stiff clipless shoes, and I've tried several different types. However, I do plan to do some road biking this year — probably borrowing Beat's road bike at first and possibly moving onto my own. That will certainly be clipless pedal riding.

    Also this season I plan to do a lot of combined riding/running outings, and the platforms will help facilitate that.

  8. I've always heard this rumor of "cool places in California," but have never really seen them. Somehow I have a feeling you will, and I'm stoked to see them.


Feedback is always appreciated!