Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The second day

For my first week in California, my only goal is to settle in as best I can. Despite these lukewarm ambitions, I had a surprisingly productive and fantastic first Tuesday in the Golden State. I spent the morning sorting through my belongings and managed to organize most everything, including my Parcel Post boxes. Then I worked for a bit on an article, made some lunch, and decided my afternoon reward for all of that encouraging progress should be a mountain bike ride.

Beat has a fancy coffee machine that he uses to make tasty and pretty cappuccinos. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to go back to the Black & Decker drip, but I was well-fueled for the thousands of feet of climbing in front of me.

I grabbed my Rocky Mountain Element and set out from the front door of Beat's apartment building. This was the mountain bike's first ride since the 25 Hours of Frog Hollow in early November. It recently had a fork rebuild and massive tune-up courtesy of Hellgate Cyclery, but it still had a bit of red dirt clinging to the frame.

Within two miles I was out of the suburbs and climbing into the moist, cool air of Stevens Canyon. I climbed and climbed on a narrow, paved road up to Monte Bello Ridge. I veered onto a rough gravel road and continued grinding to the top of Black Mountain, which, at just below 3,000 feet, is a downright Montana-worthy climb.

At the top of the mountain, a wide network of jeep roads and singletrack trails branches out to far-away points — I'm told all the way to Santa Cruz, although I only had a chance to scrape a surface of the trail system today. I looped through the ridge-top network for nearly two hours. The trails were moist and sticky from recent rains. The firm, tacky surface allowed me lean hard into turns until I felt like my nose might touch the ground, then fly up steep hills and plummet into descents without any fear of skidding out of control. Hero dirt. I felt like a hero, effortlessly nailing my first real mountain bike ride since November. I was the Lone Cyclist, racing across this quiet mountain ridge in a far-away, mystical land.

There was a ton of wildlife, however. I saw several groups of deer, lizards, and frogs. As I was grinding up a singletrack trail close to Black Mountain on the return ride, a coyote and the rabbit it was chasing sprinted across the trail just a few yards in front of me. They were so close I could see brown and gold nuances of their fur, sun-glossed and rippling as they raced across the hillside. As the coyote came within inches of the rabbit's powerful hind legs, they both disappeared around a corner. I never did see whether the rabbit got away.

As the sun drifted low on the horizon, temperatures drifted into the high 40s. Thinking myself in California now and no longer required to dress warm, I failed to bring any extra layers beyond the T-shirt and tights I was wearing. Brrrrr descent, but it was also winding and fun. The pavement was more slippery than the dirt.

I made it home just after Beat, and had to apologize for riding my bike for nearly four hours when we were supposed to go for a run tonight. I was tired but laced up my shoes and went out anyway. It was my first official run since I finished the Susitna 100 last month. We jogged out of the front door of the apartment, ran up the street, and within a mile we were in the Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve. We climbed into the mountains, crested along a sweeping view of city lights, and dropped into a narrow canyon beside a gurgling stream. We ran for about eight miles, running the entire way. I even made a solid effort to shuffle up the steep climbs, rather than walk. I was thrilled that my sore feet didn't bother me too much. Not only that, I felt surprisingly strong on the climbs. Yeah for fast recovery.

There is a lot of open space out here that I can access from my front door, both on bike and foot. Not to mention that across the street there's a Trader Joe's, a cool produce store with lots of fresh fruit, two coffee shops with comfy writing spaces, and a bike shop. It have to say, it's really not that bad here. Twice today, I stood in the quiet wind and gazed out over the sprawl of humanity surrounding me. Someday, I promised myself, I will explore the urban wilderness, too.

OK, tomorrow I will write a post about my upcoming plans. Tonight, I am just going to enjoy the lingering bliss from this awesome day.