Friday, June 03, 2011

Chasing the rain

After three months of living in California, one thing I hadn't yet witnessed was a change in the weather. Oh, most Californians still talk about weather. Their senses are so refined that they can detect the difference between 68 degrees and sunny and 72 degrees and partly cloudy. They tell me this has been, similar to much of western North America, the coldest spring in a long time. There was that one day I rode the Fatback to the top of Black Mountain in a cold, windy downpour (March.) And then, mere days after we flew home from Alaska, the temperature nearly hit 90 degrees (also March.) And then there was that 50-degree evening in late May when I complacently climbed a mountain on my road bike without any warm clothing and suffered the worst chill I've experienced since February in Alaska. But for the most part, I'm almost starting to forget what it's like to be uncomfortable outside.

I admit that sometimes I miss the rain. After four years in Southeast Alaska, my memory still clings to those gray months when every single pair of shoes I owned would be propped up against the wall in line for the shoe dryer, every single jacket hung on doors and dripping gritty water on the floor, every single bike ride an exercise in blinking away sharp raindrops while slowly accumulating water weight through many layers of sopping clothing. It's not that I really want to go back to that kind of saturated, honestly dreary lifestyle. But back in those days of extreme weather changeability, there was true, ecstatic magic in every sunny day. Sometimes I feel like coastal California is the weather equivalent of eating lobster every day. Sure, the California suns casts remarkably brilliant light. But will it eventually stop tasting so sweet?

On Tuesday, it was sunny in the valley, but when I looked toward the mountains, I saw a thick crown of clouds streaked with rain. While I lived in Juneau, I often went to the mountains to escape the fog-shrouded channel in search of sun. Interestingly, now, I feel a strong desire to seek out the rain. I drove to the Saratoga Gap trailhead, where a steady stream of precipitation was soaking the parking lot. I pulled on my arm warmers, jacket and hat. Through the cold wind, I practically sprinted toward the singletrack, lost in a rush of anticipation and memories. Raindrops slipped through the thick canopy and hit the trail with a jazzy sort of rhythm. Bright green moss glistened with moisture and curtains of silver clouds draped the mountainside. Wet brush and grass instantly soaked my pants and shoes, but I felt more energetic than I had in a week. I bounded down the trail as far as I could muster and still make it back in time to celebrate Beat's birthday — about three and a half miles — and ran back as the clouds rolled west and the first hints of sunshine reached the ridgeline.

Recently, there's been a mass exodus of my friends from Juneau. Last weekend, as another one packed up to leave on a beautiful warm summer day in Southeast Alaska, he questioned his sanity in an online update. Our mutual friend Will replied, "No one leaves Juneau for good; it's like your prom date, or the car you learned to drive in — nostalgia brings em back."

It was cold and cloudy again on Wednesday. Beat and I went for an evening mountain bike ride on the Black Mountain/Stevens Creek Canyon loop. The sun came out, only once, for a gorgeous mock sunset right at the top of the climb. Stevens Creek Canyon is a fantastic ride. It starts from home, in the suburbs of San Jose — the third largest city in California. We ride amid thick rush-hour traffic beside Interstate 280 and veer into the road cycling haven along Stevens Creek Reservoir. We climb up Monte Bello amid gurgling creeks, idyllic wineries and wide-ranging views of the San Francisco Bay. Atop Black Mountain, the views open up to the green ridges of the Santa Cruz Mountains and the shimmering Pacific Ocean in the distance. Coyotes, deer, rabbits and crazy suicidal squirrels dart across the grassy fields as we veer onto singletrack and descend the dusty, swooping trail into Stevens Creek Canyon. The canyon itself is a different world, lush and shrouded with towering redwoods. The trail rejoins the road in a strange, rural-Montana-like residential area with rustic buildings halfway hidden in the trees. Then it's back to Cupertino, upscale apartments and children playing soccer in the park. It's like a tour of four distinctly different environments, in 26 miles.

But the rain never did make an appearance. It was just as well. Beat and I were looking for something to do this weekend before we head down to San Diego so he can run the San Diego 100. Beat is for some reason philosophically against tapering, so he suggested entering the Canyon Meadow 50K as a training run for me and easy "taper" run for him. It has also become a joke between us that I need to enter as many Coastal Trail Run events as I can because I have a title to uphold. Thanks to the fluke of winning two smaller CTR races due to a dearth of competition, I'm actually leading the women's 50K group in the Trail Blazer Awards. "Now you have to defend it," Beat said. I just laughed because there are already about a dozen other women registered for that race. It's extremely unlikely my inexperienced beginner/strategic-100-miler pace can win me another 50K. But then I asked Beat what the weather was going to be like.

"Hmmm, 61 degrees in Oakland," he said. "90 percent chance of rain."

A smile spread across my face. "Let's do it."

On Thursday, we went for a one-hour taper run. The sky was almost clear again, and the evening light so rich that the landscape glowed in iridescent colors. Beat joked about sore legs but then motored up the steep incline as I gasped and dug deeper to keep up with him. We stopped at the top for a brief, sweat-drenched kiss and watched the pink light wash over San Jose. Sometimes I think I miss the rain, but then I remember why I came here.


  1. You're missing the rain?

    The last time I've seen as much rain as during these past few months here in the Bay Area I was living in Belgium - a decade ago. In fact, I blame you for the wet weather - it seemed to have moved in together with you!

    More seriously, great post, I also found myself on the Black Mountain and in Stevens Canyon this past, chilly (for our standards) weekend. Looking forward to read your Divide book, it will provide some extra stoke for the upcoming edition, which seems like it's going to become epic beyond proportion...

  2. Yeah, I've noticed the odd comments about the weather here too. After six months in Eureka (North Coast), where our daily high varies a mere four degrees year round, it's funny to hear people complain about the "cold weather" when it is pretty much two degrees different that the previous day.

    This winter we got four months of straight rain, and I've found myself kind of enjoying it. For all the cloudy days we had in Fairbanks last year, that's how many sunny days we have in Eureka. Any sunshine day feels like a special treat straight from heaven.

    I love that you have already built a reputation to protect. Any chance you're doing Pacifica on June 18? Hubs and I are doing the 30K.


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