SFR Del Puerto Canyon

I wrote this last October (2012), after the San Francisco Randonneurs’ Del Puerto Canyon ride, my second 200k brevet. Just found it again. It hasn’t been edited at all.

Coming up out of the canyon, around mile 75 or 80—before, I should say, the big hill starts—I get what I think is a glimpse of what makes people ride ever-longer distances.

I am over the halfway mark, just past the point where setting out becomes returning. And while there’s a comfort and a victory in this—as What if I don’t make it? turns slowly into Let’s get this thing done, there’s a sadness too, like the way that afternoons are more melancholy and less hopeful than mornings. The course was mapped out all along, but the illusion to the mind is that the first half was more indeterminate. Then, we were headed away from the world and our problems. Now we’re headed back. That’s what it is, more than anything else. There’s a potent feeling of escape in a long brevet (long, for me, is 200k now, and I understand now how this distance might have to ratchet up, longer and longer distances being necessary, as one’s skill and familiarity with the activity improves, to provide equal-sized quanta of escape, in the well-known pattern of an escalating drug addiction). In the early morning hours, and the night before, all my attention was focused on the ride. Phone calls and email and work and friends were squeezed out. It was: how are your tires? Where’s the maltodextrin? Have you boiled the potatoes? It was the knowledge that there’d be no snoozing when the alarm clock went off, no fucking around, none of the choice that defines and, sometimes, sucks the life out of an ordinary day. For once, my purpose was singular.

For the first 15 miles of the course, my purpose was singular. It was: catch up. Find people. Get to the first control. Our BART train was late and we missed the formal set-off. There were four of us on the train. We found the volunteer and got our brevet cards. Jesse zoomed off, saying “I have to catch those guys!,” and for a moment I though no you don’t, felt like the martyred girlfriend. I left the parking lot with David and almost fell off the bike before even leaving it. I followed him as long as I could, trying to make it to the back of the peloton, pushing myself (“Find other riders and stay with them, even if it’s painful,” Jesse said once), worrying because conventional wisdom for getting through a long ride is not to push yourself in the first third, to save something.

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Extreme Transit

This weekend, I went on a transportation adventure. I had some reporting to do up in Point Reyes. Getting there was like a story problem. Point Reyes is 42 miles from Berkeley. You have to be in Point Reyes at 11 a.m. on Saturday. You’re not allowed to ride your bike over the Bay Bridge or the San Rafael Bridge, but you can take BART under the Bay Bridge, or north to Richmond, where you can board a bus that will take you across the San Rafael Bridge.

Honestly, I had thought I was going to rent a car. Before that, I thought I might do Zipcar. That was before I realized that Zipcar doesn’t think I’m a member anymore, that joining would cost about $60, and the car would be $11 an hour, for at least five hours. Screw that, I thought, I’ll rent from Enterprise or something. The cheapest traditional rented car would be $24 for the day (more like $40 when you add the extra insurance I need because I’m not an insured driver), plus gas, plus bridge tolls, so at least $50. I would also need to take BART (several more dollars) to downtown Oakland to pick up the car around 9am (hassle), and then drop it off afterward and take BART back.

They were two unappealing enough scenarios that I talked myself/let Jesse talk me into a third option: gonzo transportation.

Maybe it was a nostalgia trip of sorts for Jesse, even though he didn’t go, because I was following the convoluted path he used to take on his bike when he was courting a woman who lived way up in Sebastopol. According to Google Maps’ public transit feature, I could leave the house at 7:45 a.m. and take BART to Richmond. From there, I could board Golden Gate Transit’s 42 bus for the trip across the bridge, past San Quentin, and into San Rafael by 8:52 a.m. From there, said Google Maps’ bike trip feature, it would be 19.4 not too hilly miles to Point Reyes Station, the big red barn, and my work-date, over some of the same roads I covered on my first brevet, the Point Reyes Populaire last fall. I sort of imagined someone might offer me a ride back to civilization (San Francisco, say), but if they didn’t, I would be prepared to return the way I came.

I let my contact know I would be arriving by bike. He seemed appropriately impressed-with-a-tinge-of-weirded-out.

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Swimmer’s Shoulder

I made a list of any number of ways I could start this blog off, from thematic (deep thoughts on the nature of physical activity), to chronological (first moments I became aware of my body, or thought about exercise), to stylistic (a smattering of disconnected yet crystalline vignettes, adding up over time to an organic whole). Then I sat there, produced a lot of sentence fragments, wrote the word “fuck” a number of times, and watched the cursor blink.

So much for the lofty notions. I will have to start with what’s easy and let this thing find itself if it can.

What’s easy? After 21 years, writing diary-style comes pretty naturally.

Yesterday, we swam. Someday later I will describe the pool. It’s a wonderful, peaceful place, the kind of semi-secret spot I’m almost reluctant to tell people about, lest it become better attended than it is. It is outdoors, six lanes, standard size. 1960s architecture, a wall of round quartz pebbles on one side, simple with an old clock, tall adn leading straight to the sky; on the other side, the same wall but lower, and behind that a row of pines that catch and spread the late afternoon sun.

It belongs to a local high school, and is open for public lap swim between five and six p.m. each weekday. I like this limited window of opportunity. You have to commit to going, and then you go, and then it’s all over before you’ve even thought it through.

I never swam before this summer. I knew how, from childhood, kind of, but I’d never liked it. I associated swimming with lack of agency (being dragged to the pool), with vulnerability and with social awkwardness (having to take my glasses off, not being able to see anything). The pool was shrieking kids. It was a reminder that I didn’t feel at home among my own kind—and having no clothes to cover that sense of alienation. It was loud whistles, and a dressing room full of larger, naked female bodies, with painfully nubby rubber mats underfoot and a faint whiff of something like cheese.

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September 21, 12 p.m.

Mile 1.

Here I am in California, casting around for something new to write about.

I often joked, while working on and finishing a book about antidepressants and depression, that my next book would be about rainbows and unicorns—noteworthy spas—fine dining locations. Orgasms. Something fun.

Mile 2.

I was standing somewhere in the house the other day when it occurred to me that sports is the one thing in my life I feel unequivocally good about.

Mile 3.

I don’t mean that to sound maudlin or self-pitying. Life is complicated. Biking, running, and swimming are not.

Mile 4.

The goal, for now, is to write about sports and have fun. I want to describe things. Things in the real world. For too long, writing felt like something that was taking me away from actual life. That’s not what I want. I want writing to make my experience of actual life more deliberate.

Mile 5.

Here are some other things I want with this site:

• To stalk the S.F. Randonneurs
• To write about California, before the flood of NYC/California comparisons dries up
• To choose a cycling goal and keep track of my progress toward it
• To get better at having that impulse in the moment: I should write about that!, and then really doing it

Mile 6.

This is my training blog, then, two ways.