Thursday, November 19, 2009

Something in the air.

There’s something about the fall that always triggers a potent urge in me to get back into mountain biking in a big way. I like it when there’s a nip in the air—and the significant reduction of sweat this brings—but mostly it’s because it’s the harbinger of winter and the end of another long and dusty summer.

Last Sunday I dug myself out of bed later than I would have liked but still escaped unnoticed as my family slept on. I had gathered up my gear the night before and so was able to avoid the dread hunting and gathering the morning of the ride which always adds way more time than it should. Besides, it sure makes it easier to get out the door with everything accounted for, even in a pre-caffeinated state.

I hit the trail down by Shell Ridge in Walnut Creek and pointed my bike towards
Wall Point – always a good ride when I feel the need to be humbled by the vertical element. The shadows cast by the pale rising sun lay long on the powdery ground – the deep dust scoured smooth by the big winds the day before showed only animal tracks and a few tenacious tire treads. Gathering speed I felt the cold air as it cut through my jersey and arm warmers and wondered if I had brought enough gear. My knees were happy enough in knickers, but the rest of me shivered for just a little while before I started pedaling. It didn’t take long to feel just right.

Not many people were out yet, but the acorn woodpeckers were in full song as I threaded my way up the trail. A coyote crossed ahead of me and paused – balefully staring at me with its bright yellow eyes and only moved on when I was less than 5 yards away.

It wasn’t long before I was fully warmed up and at the foot of Wall Point when a long string of riders came bombing down the trail. After a while the last of the stragglers finally hove into view – all goggle-eyed and covered in a fine layer of dust after obviously having sampled Diablo’s mineral wealth further up the hill. The funky plaid shorts and red converse sneakers were a nice touch, but the dangling laces were just waiting to facilitate another encounter with the ground, but before I could say anything he was gone – skittering over the sandstone as he struggled to stay upright on the razor-thin edge of control.

This brought back a memory of my first attempt on this trail back in ’96 when I was a rank Diablo newbie, and although I had more common sense than to wear laced sneakers I didn’t have enough sense to know that this was not a beginner-friendly trail. I pulled it off in segments and came to know why it’s called it Wall Point. Now when I ride past the places where I stopped to gasp like a dying fish as my heart tried to jump out of my throat, I think back to those early days it always makes me smile.

There’s something about climbing that always makes me pensive. Usually because I’m typically off the back when riding with friends – and of course when I ride alone I've got nothing but time. I’ve learned to not hate climbing, and not because I’ve gotten any better over the years as I still go uphill as fast as Sisyphus rolling his rock, but because it gives me time to think and clears my mind. I’ve gotten some rather good thinking done while cranking up merciless hills all around the Bay Area.

Once up at the top of Wall Point on this my first official ride of fall, I thought back to the many times I’d been here before – at this very time of year – and how lucky we all are to have beauty of such grand scale available in our back yards for our enjoyment. The last of the dust-infused yellow Manzanita flowers and sage released their scent as the sun rose higher. The air was exceptionally clear, definitely one of those days where you can see forever which stirred in me a deep urge to keep riding. I clicked back in, looked up and said Namaste to the universe for the joy that riding a bicycle brings and started turning the pedals again. Life is good.

M. Bearns

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