dreaming in the shadows of the Sleeping Maiden

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Mt. Tamalpais, September 2012

Mt. Tam glimpsed from he path along the Corte Madera Creek in Greenbrae

It’s “crab season”¹ on the creek … that is, it’s that time of the year again when high school kids are trying out for crew in the Junior program at the Marin Rowing Association. Watching them out there focused and working hard brought back memories from years ago when my sons did this, year after year. All in all, some six years I spent getting ready with them around late September, gearing up for the fall regattas and helping them train with the best way I could: feeding them the right stuff to give wings to their oars. Well, not the oars, but the energy that powered their bodies to move the oars….

1. Crab, or Catch a Crab: “A rowing error where the rower is unable to timely remove or release the oar blade from the water and the oar blade acts as a brake on the boat until it is removed from the water. This results in slowing the boat down. A severe crab can even eject a rower out of the shell or make the boat capsize (unlikely except in small boats). Occasionally, in a severe crab, the oar handle will knock the rower flat and end up behind him/her, in which case it is referred to as an ‘over-the-head crab.”

To see what it’s like to catch a crab in action, take a look at this video

Mt. Tamalpais, August 31, 2012

Mt. Tam glimpsed from the parking lot of a medical complex on S. Eliseo in Greenbrae

A very chilly start to the day had me don winter socks this morning. Thick layers of fog blanketed Mt. Tam, keeping it well out of view of any rangefinder. Winds whipping around, as if it were already late October.

Close to midday, the clouds parted, right above the peaks of the mountain too, revealing blue skies, as if setting the stage for that blue moon to headline after sunset.

A Friday that went in the blur of fog and hefty breeze of winds. I did get on my bike, but it was hard going, especially uphill in head-on winds. Not fun, but necessary, at least for adding to my still meager repertoire of riding conditions.

I missed the rise of this second full moon of the month, as I was having fun with friends at happy hour tucked away in a restaurant sheltered in a grove of redwoods in Fairfax.

And so now the day is done, as is the month of August….

Mt. Tamalpais, August 19, 2012

Mt. Tam glimpsed from Drake’s View, Greenbrae

Dale Favier of mole calls it “old summer.” It’s a perfect description of this aspect of summer winding down, even as it seems to be revving up the temperatures.

As I walked along the path by the Corte Madera Creek and then continued up on S. Eliseo strolling past the condominiums, I felt that note of “old summer” almost speak in the sounds that came through open windows and from sun-sheltered decks. The clanking of dishes without the scent of barbecue smoke, the chatter with fewer syncopated eruptions of laughter, and nowhere the sound of music. A few cars pulling up and spilling drivers who moved slowly as they unloaded bags and gear from fun had somewhere else. Then quiet again. Even the crows seem to have wound down, perhaps settled themselves in for the coming night. All in suspension in the hammock of an August Sunday that’s taking the business of winding down to the streets…

Mt. Tamalpais, August 9, 2012

Mt. Tam glimpsed from the vicinity of Redwood High School in Larkspur

Took off on the bike this morning, not as early as I would have liked, but early enough that it was still cool with a pleasant breeze picking up every now and then. I wanted to take a long and leisurely ride, varying the pace and route, from busy streets to nearly deserted paths.

I got my wish, as I headed to Fairfax from Drake’s Landing with a big detour through the US 101 overpass to Larkspur then along Magnolia Avenue continuing on through Ross to San Anselmo. Once I hit the shaded tony streets of Ross I seemed to have bicycled into another world, the country of memory. Gardens along the way seemed to be calling my name in the sweet tongue of scents.

Summers from my childhood, before television, before the Internet, some spent in villages in Eastern Europe, where each day was a season unto itself. The mornings, fresh and seeded with promise. The noons, blooming with heat. The afternoons, ripe with torpor. The heat a brocade patterned with the overcooked scents of the day. The rafters in the barn where a book would take me to a new world, perhaps one like this, where I was riding on the perfectly paved streets in the gentle shade of well trimmed trees. The evenings in the flickering light of lamps and the singsong of the women’s tales. So long ago, all of it. And yet, for seconds at a time, it was all there, my younger self and the lost country, riding with me on the bike.

Mt. Tamalpais, August 7, 2012

Mt. Tam glimpsed from the Corte Madera Creek path in Kentfield

I lost a lot of hours today to small chores, big worries, and a few mindless rounds of Minesweeper on the computer. Every once in a while I have a day like this. Days when knowing that we are at the mercy of things, events, and, of course, people beyond our control somehow just won’t do the trick. By trick I mean the letting go and just going with it all. Most days I know how to ride the crests of this free-floating anxiety, but when I am short on sleep or have aches and pains, my trusty boat springs a leak and I am bailing the stuff out of it as fast as I can.

I finally ditched the whole boat, so to speak, around 6 o’clock, when I decided to go for a bike ride. The weather cooled by then, and, in a way, so did I. This ride was going to be all fun, with no particular course set, just like the course of those anxieties that bedeviled me earlier.  A brief spin around the Corte Madera Creek bike path in Greenbrae and then I was going up the South Eliseo hill, a short climb, but for me still a challenge because of the grade. Then off I went circling a smaller hilly street, gaining speed and confidence with each circle I made.

At one point in my loops a cute Mini Cooper pulled out of a driveway and to my delight it was one of my Twitter friends behind the wheel. It still amazes me how many people I have met through Twitter first, only to find out that we are practically neighbors.

After I was done with my mini-hill repeats I took off along the bike path in Kentfield. The light by this time was almost baroque. From here, I took a few loops around Magnolia Avenue then off I went along Woodland Drive in Kent/Woodlands, drinking in the last of the sun’s gold served in the balmy cup of winds.

Along the way tonight, I met a lot of other cyclists. We exchanged looks as if we were all in on a big secret. And I suppose we are…

Mt. Tamalpais, August 4, 2012

Mt. Tam glimpsed through fog

A sense of gloom hung in the unseasonably cooled air this morning. Fog and clouds drifted aimlessly by the top of the mountain. The odd patch of blue taunted with promises of a better day to come from the western skies. Quite the morning we picked for a ride from Larkspur Landing to Tam Junction in Mill Valley, my friends and I. But there I was, saddled up, waiting for my friends to finish their yoga class. Worried about my ability to keep up with them through my first significant climb – a laughable grade for most seasoned cyclists – I wasn’t going to join them in yoga class and risk getting so tired that I would have to walk the bike up the hill, instead of grind my way up to the top. A fit lot my friends are, and I am not quite in their league yet.

As we pedaled through traffic (a big yikes factor for me), then moved to quieter streets and on toward Horse Hill, the wind got a chillier edge and the air was studded with mist. All of which was of great help in keeping me cool on the bike, in more ways than one, I suppose. The oldest of my friends left me and the other friend, who was probably a little concerned about me, in the dust, so to speak. She was pedaling with incredible ease, as if this were just play to her, but still I lost sight of her as she cycled on ahead, and even though she wore a bright yellow jacket.

Once we started to climb along Meadowsweet Drive, my pride took over the pedaling. And that was a good thing too, because left to my own devices I would have gotten off the bike and then pushed it up the last few feet. As it was, my pride pushed me right over the edge, and then let me off the hook with an easy coast down the gentle hilll. From there it was a breeze along the bike path by Richardson Bay – a breeze whipped up at the edges a little brighter by the swarms of other cyclists. We made it to the café, our destination, for brunch in pretty good time.

The return trip loomed larger in my imagination as I sipped my coffee. There was talk of going over Camino Alto, the route “real” cyclists take as a matter of course, but I was too chicken for both the anticipated climb and descent. So we headed back the way we came near the gentler slopes of Horse Hill, to Meadowsweet Drive.

The climb back seemed easier, but that was probably due to my mounting freak-out over the first sustained (well, longer than 1 minute) descent that was awaiting me on the other side of Meadowsweet Drive. At the top of our climb, I shifted gears to slow the bike even more, gently applied pressure on the rear brake, and then proceeded to desperately grip the handles. And down I went…. Slowly, on account of the gear and brakes. Near the bottom, I caught a glimpse of Mt. Tam as if it were trying to break free of the fog and clouds that were holding it back. Had I been riding solo, I would have stopped to take a picture. As it was, I let go of the brakes and I let go of my grip on the handles and rolled with more speed and a dollop of glee all the way to the bottom, where my friends were patiently waiting for me.

Mt. Tamalpais, August 2, 2012

Mt. Tam glimpsed from Sir Francis Drake Blvd. near the Larkspur Ferry Terminal

Once again, the mountain out of focus, dwarfed in the haze, its ridges in a blur. This time the view of the blur is from the saddle of my bike. It’s the road ahead that happens to be shining brightly in my focus.

I started with good intentions. Loaded a training workout on my Garmin. There was going to be a 3-mile lap in Zone 2, which meant that my heart rate could not go up beyond a certain point … which meant that I couldn’t get carried away with the jolt of endorphins released by bursts of speed or going against the wind or climbing the little steep hill at one end of my training loop that goes from S. Eliseo by the path along the Corte Madera Creek, under US 101, around the parking lot of the Larkspur Ferry Terminal, back on the path and all the way to the end of it, which is a short hop away from San Quentin prison, but a hop that one must cycle in scary traffic.

As I pedaled on, I heeded the beeps from the Garmin warning me the times my heart beat out of the range it was given. I was incredibly bored going that slowly, even as I cranked up my cadence. I was waiting for the next segment to kick in, which I thought I programmed at a more strenuous working pace, but the beep never came. So I moved on to another training program that had me keep my heart rate higher for 10 minutes. Now that was more like it…

I was so busy looking at the numbers, fussing with the Garmin, worrying about segments, laps, and loops, that I completely lost sight not just of the mountain, which, by the way, didn’t ever lose sight of me, that I forgot why I was out on the bike in the first place.

And so I ended up riding for nearly another hour, back and forth along the creek, drinking deeply of the air studded with motes of light. Through the sunlit haze, I saw other cyclists with whom I exchanged smiles. I saw, or rather, noticed, a couple of fathers out with their toddlers.  Some of the fathers were dressed still in their business clothes, but there was nothing formal in their delight at engaging their children in games along the path. I saw, or, again, I noticed the big beefy guys with their little dogs, the tender ways in which they were trying to cajole the pups into playing. And I saw the couple sitting on a bench by the water, or rather, the woman sitting on the bench, and her companion in his wheelchair. Their happiness was indelibly bright on their faces. And I also saw the guy with the matted beard and disheveled hair, wearing what looked like blue hospital clothes, ambling up to the fences of the houses along the path, busy muttering to himself and peeing at one of the gates. Further down the road I saw teenagers washing down the sculls at the boathouse of Marin Rowing Association. Earlier, I saw them out on the water, catching momentum, perhaps in the wake of fast waters from the ferry.

There was so much to see, so much to take in, that there was no way I could keep my heart rate steady in any pre-set zone…

Mt. Tamalpais, July 31, 2012

Mt. Tam glimpsed from Bon Air Landing, Greenbrae

Earlier today I was out riding my bike along the path by the Corte Madera Creek. This was my first ride in the new training program I set for myself. I planned to get out early, but by the time I took care of chores, it was close to noon. At this time on the path those who would be out would be either the very young or the very old int he company of their respective caretakers. The “adults” would be at work, presumably.

As I went about the business of my loops, I biked by kids who were happily and chattily meandering in small circles on the path. I biked by other kids still, much younger and quieter in strollers pushed by mothers or nannies, some talking loudly into tiny mikes clipped to their ears.

Among the geriatric set I passed, some were holding on to leashed pooches ambling this way and that, depending on the whims of their pets. Others, fully hatted and buttoned up and gloved with barely an inch of skin exposed, gripped Nordic poles and made strides through a snowy bank of the imagination, as if each step were a tiny catapult that could spring them forward and free of the infirmities gathering force with the passing of years behind them.

As I rode along back and forth, with the wind hindering and then helping me along, I thought of what it would be like to be young again. Not because I feel so terribly old, but because I wish I would have gotten myself on a bike a long time ago. For a moment, I envied all the young kids out there for the rides they’ll have, the ones I’ll never get to take. Or rather, the ones I’ll never have the chance now to call up in memory.

This was my Faustian moment on the bike, right around the bend in the creek, but there was no Mephistopheles rounding the corner from the other direction on a Binachi, showing off a devilish map of ripped muscles under shiny spandex.

Instead of the sinister specter of Mephistopheles, what came around the bend at that moment was an old woman in a wheelchair. Her dress, though bright and clean and ironed, was old too; it must have been something she wore perhaps 20 30 years ago. The chunky turquoise necklaces draped around her neck, lit up her face, while they seemed to weigh down her fragile frame. When she saw me, she smiled and reached out with one hand, finger pointed, as if she were about to accuse me of something or maybe bless me. She said something, but what, I didn’t hear as I rode past her. A barbed fear in the pit of my stomach had powered my feet as they bore down on the pedals and I rode on as if I had seen a ghost. A familiar ghost: me, down the line of years, asking for an account of what had I done with all that was given to me. Like this day in its full beauty of summer…

Yes, start where you are, even if that place is between envy and fear.

Mt. Tam glimpsed by Celia Graterol while riding on the Larkspur bike path

Today’s view of the mountain is courtesy of Celia Graterol, who captured the peaks on a recent ride along the much-loved and very photogenic Larkspur bike path that links Corte Madera and Larkspur together, providing plenty of opportunities for pedestrians, bikers, skateboarders, and other amblers to get around some of Marin’s most picturesque neighborhoods without getting into a car.

I am writing this post, sitting at the dinner table with Celia and Sally Kuhlman slightly under the influence of the most aromatic roasted chicken mingled with that of sauteing Brussels sprouts, all this laced with the more delicate hint of roasted  potatoes, getting hungrier by the minute. Poncho, the dog, has already sampled some of the fare we are bout to share and he is breathing heavily in approval.

Mt. Tam glimpsed past my Breezer bike from the bike path along the Corte Madera Creek in Greenbrae

In this video, Joe Breeze talks about the origins of mountain biking, building the first mountain bike, the “Breezer #1“, and of those first rides on Mt. Tam.

I ride a bike that bears Joe Breeze’s name and which, of course, is designed by him. My bike is not a mountain bike, but calls to mind a lighter version of that high-flying original. My bike, when I look at it, makes me feel like I am part of a link of sorts, however lightly tied into the lineage that rolled out up there somewhere by the peaks I can see from the safety of the paved path on which I ride.

My bike, built so perfectly for people like me, both a little too old and a little too afraid to head up the hill and over the wild call of the rocky road, is the perfect vehicle to get people like me back on wheels, the kind of wheels that gave dreams of speed in our youth such easy traction.

My bike, so much smaller and lighter than the prototype of the original mountain bike, is still both sturdy and fast enough to get me moving through wind, the kind of wind that will blow through the stale passages of those steep and weirdly angled ruts in my mind …

My bike, a Breezer, couldn’t have been more aptly named.