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.
Monday, March 07, 2011

I pack up my belongings and I head for the coast

"I move on to another day
To a whole new town with a whole new way
Went to the porch to have a thought
Got to the door and again, I couldn't stop
You don't know where and you don't know when
But you still got your words and you got your friends
Walk along to another day
Work a little harder, work another way."

- "The World at Large" by Modest Mouse

Last June, when I was anticipating a move from Anchorage to Missoula, I went for a 140-mile bike ride in an effort to make peace with life as a drifter. Seeking and embracing change is a big part of who I am. I move, I discover, I grow, and I move on. Anchorage held an unbelievable amount of promise, but the allure of change prompted me to take a chance on Montana. I left Alaska believing maybe I would find "my place," the place that would entice me to finally settle.

There are several reasons Missoula didn't quite work out; it wasn't just that I found a boy and dismantled my whole life for him. Although the boy, of course, was the overwhelming motivator for my recent move, he wasn't the only reason. It was starting to become apparent that I didn't quite fit in in Missoula. I regret that I had to leave a few truly great friends behind, not to mention some gorgeous terrain that I barely skimmed the surface of, but I knew that sooner or later I would need to choose between the few strands of potential woven into Missoula and the incredible potential of further developing my relationship with Beat. He couldn't move to Missoula for me. Even if I were completely dedicated to my life there, there were still no options for him. The ongoing joke in Missoula is: "How many Missoulians does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Only one, but twelve will apply for the job, ten will be electricians and eight will have doctorate degrees."

I of course have no idea what the future will bring, but I sincerely believe I won't ever regret this move. I certainly don't regret moving to Alaska for Geoff, even if, in the end, neither Geoff nor Alaska became a permanent part of my life. It was still the best thing that ever happened to me. I strongly believe this is the right next step, the next best thing to happen to me.

This move probably seems to have come abruptly, but it has been a longer time coming than this, as most of my friends and family members suspected. The window opened after Susitna. There was no longer a need to stay so I packed up my stuff. It didn't take long — one of the benefits of moving around so much is you never have time to accumulate a lot of excess stuff. I can still fit most of my life in my 1996 Geo Prism, although my life is heavily weighted in a single direction these days. Inside my car this time were two people (Beat was out for the weekend anyway and gave up his return ticket to help me drive down), one annoyed but increasingly accepting cat, and five — yes five — bicycles. Also some clothing, outdoor gear, a few dishes, and miscellaneous items. All the important stuff was in there, or stacked on the roof, Beverly Hillbilly style (I even kept the bike box for Beat's Fatback. It did not survive the Biblical rains of the Sierras.)

We left Montana on Saturday afternoon, bound for Salt Lake City. (My parents took this recent move surprisingly well. I think my many years of drifting has worn down their defenses.)

I can't say I felt a whole lot of emotion about leaving Montana. I really didn't spend enough time here to get attached, although I imagine I'll be back as frequently as I can afford, to visit my friends, ride some epic logging road loops with Bill in the Bitterroot, hike some goat trails in Glacier National Park with Danni and Dave, and finally climb all three of the Lima Peaks.

The drive of course was grueling. Turns out a 15-year-old car with 191,000 miles loaded to the brim with gear — and with wheels and a box stacked like a sail on the roof — can't move faster than 70 mph, and that's only on steep downhills, with a tailwind. Geo was at the limit of his endurance, but he motored along, just like he always has, ever since he was a young buck of 38,000 miles and I loaded him to the brim with camping gear and hit the road for my inaugural drive across America, back in 2001.

We blazed through many of my old stomping grounds — Idaho Falls (2004-2005), Sandy, (1983 to 1998) Salt Lake City (1998 to 2003), and Tooele (2003-2004 ... the place where my cat Cady was born.) Then we kept on going west. I told Beat all of my stories of my experiences in the Oquirrh Mountains, the Stansbury Mountains, Skull Valley, the Bonneville Salt Flats, Wendover, Elko, and the Battle Mountain rest stop where my family was stranded for half a day after the car transmission died during a vacation to San Francisco in 1989.

The farther west we traveled, the fewer experiences I had to share, until we crested Donner Pass in a wet snowstorm, I told Beat what I knew about the history of the place, and held my breath for the newness and strangeness of California.

Today I started unpacking, but quickly got more wrapped up in an urgent need to go for a long bike ride. I put my fixie together and headed over to the Google campus to have lunch with Beat, then continued grinding into the wind along the gravel trails that line the San Francisco Bay. It was a strange sort of place, both muddy and dry, and guarded by a fortress of towering electric lines. I watched a chorus of shorebirds rip through the air, breathed the salty air with pungent hints from the Palo Alto landfill, and soaked in a lot of sunshine. The return tailwind was so strong that the fixie almost ripped my legs off. In a space that holds millions of people, I saw very few. I allowed myself to feel some sadness for the end of winter, the end of my time in Montana. And yet, I only saw positive potential on the path in front of me.

I'll write more tomorrow about my plan for California, and what Beat and I have planned for the upcoming year. For now, I will say that, yes, this is going to be quite different. I rode around all day in a cotton T-shirt and a single pair of socks, passing people on the bike path who were wearing down coats (in other words, I'm sweltering in the heat and it's not even hot.) Yes, for the foreseeable future, the snowy photos in my blog will have to come from visits away from home, and the regular photos will probably appear more, well, regular. Maybe this blog will be less interesting. And you're certainly under no obligation to keep reading. But somehow, I doubt it. I am only excited about the future and all of the adventures in front of me. California isn't the end of the road. Not by a long shot.
Thursday, March 03, 2011

The journey reveals more along the way

This week, I went for bike rides. I went for bike rides the way I used to in the summertime, when there was daylight to burn, and I had no agenda, and the miles and space slipped away like so much dust in a warm breeze. I just wanted to ride, to somewhere. I usually didn't know where, until I got there. They were always amazing places, these summertime places, bathed in pink light and the pungent aroma of pine. They helped me leave Alaska behind, for a while, and reminded me that happiness is not a place; it's a series of moments. The moments come and go like the summertime wind. Following happiness is like following the wind. Sometimes you will go miles in a strange direction; other times, you'll weave erratically back and forth in the same place. Eventually you may realize that the place you are seeking isn't a place at all; it's the movement itself. Happiness isn't carried by the wind. It is the wind.

On Monday, I rode through the crowded part of town and headed up Grant Creek Canyon, into the opague edge of a sleet storm. As pellets of ice pelted my face, I attempted a jaunt up the Ravine Trail. The narrow packed-snow singletrack was too slushy and soft to gain enough traction, so I turned around.

On Tuesday, it snowed. I looked for more trails in Pattee Canyon. Mount Dean Stone had been reduced to a single ski track beyond the gate. Crazy Canyon Road wasn't much more feasible. The descent was a full-body shower of gray slush and little bits of gravel. Winter is losing its battle, but it's still strong enough to block out the expansiveness of summer. I felt like I was on the front line, trying to choose sides. Do I seek solitude and tranquility, or energy and expansiveness? On Wednesday, I rode in pursuit of both.

Butler Creek Canyon — a seldom-used utility route for power lines and TV towers. It's not trafficked by the general public. Finding a rideable snowmobile trail was a far-away chance, but I took it. I rode my snow bike 10 grinding miles into the wind just to see what new kinds of places existed on the far side of town. It had been four months since I last came here.

Despite temperatures in the high 30s and waning but strong streaks of sunshine, the lightly tracked trail was in decent if soft shape. The grade is relentless, even in the summer. I rode to the limits of my endurance for a blistering 4 mph until I was ready to blow up, then pushed until my sore feet started to complain. It was a good, happy slog, my best since Susitna. The cool breeze chilled the droplets of sweat on my face, and the sun warmed my soul.

Far, far up the mountain, the direction I wanted to go abruptly ended. There was a single ski track, no trail. I could slog through thigh-deep snow for two miles to Snowbowl Ski Resort, or I could go back the way I came. I had this vague feeling that I had been here before, in a long-ago moment in the summertime. In the midst of a 50-mile evening ride, I came to this junction from the Snowbowl side. Darkness was coming, and I was afraid of the unknown path ahead. Did it dead end? Shoot out on the wrong side of the mountains? I wanted to go back the way I came. But something pulled me toward the setting sun. I launched down the Butler Creek Canyon side, with no idea where I might end up.

I am moving to California. I am moving there to follow happiness, my relationship and my adventures with Beat. It is a long story that is impossible to tell in a blog post, but the details have been here all along. I made a life-changing decision to leave Alaska; then the winds changed, and I had to choose again. There are so many things I have to leave behind ... a good job, great friends, amazing mountain biking, regular access to winter and the brilliant expansiveness of summer in Montana. It is hard, and yet beyond the narrow focus of dismantling my entire life, again — I feel only optimism. I don't know where this wind will take me. But if I don't follow it, I will spend a static life always wondering where it went.