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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

So What's More Dangerous?

I'm inclined to count the days injured cycling and compare them to my days injured running.  And while I'm at it, I should compare them to the total days in a year...  Can you tell I'm getting weary of being injured?

Well I nearly started the clock over again today.  I've been cycling pretty regularly to get my fitness level ready for full recovery and a return to running.  I have high hopes of placing well in the Mt. Diablo Trails Challenge this spring and to do so will require a lot of running over the next few months.  Well, I'm not running at all right now, and some days it even hurts to walk.  So, until I can get in for an X-ray I sit, worry, and cycle.  But today I nearly put the entire shebang on hold.

Descending Pine St. toward Alhambra on my road bike, I was approaching the last hard right corner at around 25 mph when a small car darted out into the road and sped off down the hill in front of me.  It pulled away from me as it entered the corner, but the next instant it was standing still.  I found myself faced with one of those "make the best of a bad situation" moments.  I was leaning into the hard right turn in the middle of the lane.  A pull to the right would have only placed me on the right hand side of the small black trunk, probably spitting safety glass through broken teeth.  Inertia was in favor of a pull to the left, but all rules of the road prohibited such a move.  Rules became unimportant as I chose a few more moments intact over a breach of the California Driving Code.

It occurred to me in that spectacularly lucid eternity which parses the milliseconds of pending disaster, that the stoppage was the result a second vehicle - ahead of that small black car I had just passed on the left. That particular vehicle - a red Nissan SUV - was waiting to turn left, indicating that another oncoming car was imminent.  All of these thoughts, plus the fact that I had not shaved my legs yet, and would likely be wishing I had, sauntered through my consciousness as I rocketed past stopped cars.
Struggling to maintain control of my bike, and avoid allowing the ever capricious friend and fiend, inertia, to pull me into oncoming traffic, I rolled between the double-yellow like on rails, feathering my brakes to keep friction and my tires in an amicable relationship.  Too much on the brakes and I would be sliding under the oncoming traffic instead of flying over their hoods.  Oh, the decisions we aren't truly given the requisite time to make...

And then bad got suddenly worse.  Traffic cleared.

The red Nissan finding a gap in the oncoming traffic, pulled left.


The large dent near the rear must have been my right shoulder, and the dent ahead of the gas door must have been my right brake hood.

I lay in nearly the exact middle of the intersection for a second as all of the witnesses witnessed from the safety of their cars - and then drove away.  The poor gal in her red Nissan felt so bad that I eventually had to put my hand on her shoulder and tell her I would be ok.  Because I am.  Basically.  

The bike came through remarkably well with only minor scuffs and about 1 year's worth of wear removed from the rear tire.  I scrubbed some skin off my right elbow, and have a bizarre streak of road rash right down the middle of my right shin.

My right shoulder and neck are already making mutinous rumblings in spite of 800 mg of ibuprofen, so I suspect that when I wake up in the morning they will have conspired to effect a full revolt.

I finished my ride, but I took it easy.  I took the corners a little slower, and looked just a little harder around the corners to see what might be lurking.  Cars were definitely the enemy for about 25 miles and that ominous crunch kept replaying in my mind.

The good news - I think I can keep my plans to ride on Saturday.  The physical injuries seem to be superficial, but the psychological ones will keep me tentative in the corners again for a few months.  And, I suspect I'll be getting a phone call from her insurance company tomorrow.  Fun.  Wish I could find that little black car with no brake lights...

Sunday, October 28, 2012

October Snow

Our original destination of Relief Reservoir and Emigrant Lake was strongly discouraged by the park ranger. "Your trails will be impossible to find, they're under two feet of snow," he said, "and unless you're extremely good with a map, compass, and snow shoes, I don't recommend it."  

His further recommendation was to head south and enter the Emigrant Wilderness at Cherry Lake.  The elevations there are approx. 2000 feet lower and the assumption was that the snow would be less of a factor.  After some last minute research, I called in our wilderness permit for a 2 day 1 night trip to Styx Pass - out and back from Cherry lake.

Tim and I had both missed our annual group backpacking trip earlier in the summer, so we were cramming this one in between an autumn storm and our busy fall schedules.  

 We have agreed that this ranks among our best backpacking trips ever.  In spite of its brevity, this mini adventure was a perfect respite from the chaos of California Bay Area  life.  The temporary re-calibration of priorities from "profit and loss" to "eat or get eaten" is good for the body and therapy for the mind.

 We had hoped to see snow but held no expectations other than that it would be cold and possibly wet.  Cherry Lake at 4600' had no snow, but in less than an hour of climbing we were already spotting small patches of snow in the shadows.

 Climbing through 6000' the snow gradually increased to where all that was not covered were protruding rocks and the well trodden trail.  After 6500' even the trail was covered with snow and I was beginning to wonder how those whose footprints we were following had located the trail.


 Within two miles of the pass, we were on our own.  Alongside a small half frozen lake the foot prints we had been following made an obvious circle in the snow and headed back down the hill.  This provided us with a unique understanding.  We were absolutely and verifiably alone.  No other trails came up that slope, and there was no sign of any human activity from here to the pass.  We would soon find that no tracks headed up from the far side of the pass, and thus we concluded that since the last snow fall - two days prior - we were the sole humans to occupy this crystalline expanse.  Ordinarily one cannot know if others may be nearby until you happen upon them.  Here on this trail we could be certain - we were alone.

 Arriving at Styx Pass (7500'), which is also the boundary between the Emigrant Wilderness and Yosemite National Park, we were faced with a decision.  Our original plan sent us two miles down the other side of the pass to Cherry Creek where we would camp for the night.  Ordinarily a water source is requisite for a suitable campsite, and Cherry Creek would serve as that source.  Atop the pass, surrounded by acres of pure water, Cherry Creek diminished in importance.  Abetting our pending decision was the fact that the trail completely disappeared on the frosted open rock face of the pass.  I suspect that some serious recognizance would have eventually revealed our route - but taken by the striking beauty of the spot - we opted to search out a suitable campsite there.
 It was Tim who suggested the igloo.  Neither of us are architects or Eskimos, but the concept seemed pretty basic and a great means of occupying ourselves in lieu of a hike down the north side of the pass.

Let's just say that by the time we were done, we had figured out how we should have begun.  However, the finished product was not only self supporting, it was also functional.

As darkness approached, we stopped construction long enough to collect firewood and establish a fire ring.  (Don't tell anyone that we created a new fire ring in the wilderness.)  As Tim prepared a fire, I put the finishing touches on our shelter.

 In a final moment of brilliance Tim offered his rain-fly as a door, and it was staked to the face of the fortress to ward off the icy blast that had risen with the moon.  His collapsed tent and my ground cloth were spread on the packed snow as some meager insulation against the chill.

Dinner was typical backpacking fare and delicious as all well-earned meals are.  The wind swirled over the pass.  We burned the fire high as we pulled on layer after layer.  When we ran out of layers we ducked into our shelter and crawled into snug sleeping bags to wait out the night.  We both slept soundly.  I woke only briefly every few hours, and heard the constant pattering of the rain-fly against the hard packed snow.  I woke very early and noted with some confusion that I could see starlight.  I'm no Eskimo, but I'm fairly certain that igloos do not have stars.  The small hole we had left in the center of the roof had enlarged, and the windward side of our shelter was pocked by holes growing larger by the hour.  The wind was wearing away at our protection.  I emerged from my dreams long enough to recognize the potential for alarm, but in a half coherent conversation with Tim, we decided that the gains (staying snugly inside our sleeping bags for another hour or two) far outweighed the risks involved in a total collapse of our structure.

At 5:55 am I awoke to a new sound.  Silence.  The wind was gone and the forest was completely still.  Extracting myself from my North Face cocoon, I crawled under our now motionless door onto an icy moonscape. In a moment as black and cold and still as any in the day, I stood outside our beleaguered cave and felt more than saw the immensity of our mountain.

I restarted our fire from coals and quietly watched a competing flame spread across the ridges far to the east.

Birds we had not noticed the previous day now heralded this great awakening.  I put on water for tea.

Sunday, October 21, 2012


The 2 bridges - Carquinez and Benicia, which I crossed in turn, on my solo "Bridge to Bridge" Marathon.

We categorize people - face it.  There are the cyclists (guys) who shave their legs, and then there are the ones who don't.  (This may be true for women also, but I personally have not been confronted by nor looked for it.) Shaver and non-shaver, each falls into his own category.

There are the runners who have beards, and there are the ones who don't.  They each have a category.

Ok, so let's step away from the subject a few yards and address this on an even more basic level - there are those who run and cycle and any enjoy any number of other endurance sports, and there are those who simply do not.  Both, catagorized.

Like it or not, open minded as we may claim to be, we are similar in surprisingly few ways but love to lump each other into vast genres of humanity based on those limited similarities.  Often the most poignant discriminations come about based on the criteria of "those who are 'like' us" and "those who are not."  Alas, along with that comes the inevitable determination that those unlike us are more (fill in the blank with something negative) than we are.

Only a few days ago I inadvertently found myself in a sub category probably disdained even by non-athletes. But first let's get the record straight on what categories I belong to.  First, I'm in the bearded runner category.  This category is renowned for embracing the best long distance trail runners in the world, and in juvenile fashion, I feel that the best way to achieve similar results is to do my best to look like them.   Also, follicly challenged as I am, I'm a believer that I may be able to make up for the absence of  head hair by allowing it free range in other areas.

Thus, I am also in the "non leg shaving cyclist" category.  Yeah, I get it - It's a stretch to think that hairy legs are any sort of substitute for thick wavy locks - but vanity is desperate, and often misguided.  So unfortunately, while the beard puts me in company with some of the greatest runners in the world, the whole leg shaving thing puts me squarely in the cycling nerd category.  I'm outnumbered 20:1 on my weekend group rides.  When my friend Matt shows up we basically double our numbers.  There are a few others, but really the best riders shave their legs - and faces too for that matter.  One notable exception is the guy I met on this past ride who's electric shaver must have bogged down somewhere around his knees.  From the knee to the hem of his shorts was a dark forest.  I've never seen this before, and I suspect I will have to chisel out a little category just for him.

But my point is not that strategic hair placement is the basis for all categorization.  While hair certainly has always played a role in positioning a person in the sociological strata, we unfortunately create many other criteria which disqualify us from acceptance into any number of categories.

Blue jeans are one of those disqualifying attributes.  You cannot run as an athlete in blue jeans. Period.  As I understand it, even hiking in blue jeans is grounds for excommunication from the Sierra Club.  So this past Wednesday I gave the 3 Sierra Club candidates I met on the trail ample opportunity for ridicule.  Each of them gave me a sidelong glance being careful to avoid engagement, and wide berth to prevent contamination.  I powered past them in the foothills of Mt. Diablo on a short 2 mile loop.  By all criteria this run should have disqualified me from everything.

And it was my wife's fault.  No matter that we often share laundry duties - I blamed her for my being out of my customary work T-shirts, and begrudgingly pulled on the first white one I came across in the drawer - a sleeveless one.  So yeah, let's back up...

I just purchased a pair of hiking boots for my approaching Emigrant Wilderness Hike - an overnight 30+ mile jaunt in the Sierras.  Word of snow finalized my decision to purchase my first pair of hiking boots in at least 20 years.  I've been content with trail running shoes for backpacking - but the thought of slogging through snow and slush in running shoes was, shall we say, chilling.  So I've been wearing the boots to work in an attempt to find a truce between them and my toes  before the long hike.  Wednesday, my travels brought me in close proximity to one of my favorite trail heads on the north side of Mt. Diablo.  I briefly considered going off the grid for a few minutes and giving my boots a real workout - but my collared shirt, heavy belt, and worst of all - blue jeans - held the idea at bay.  After checking in with my carpenters on the job, I was again confronted with that random thought.  Hike in blue jeans?

Then it dawned on me - I was wearing a sleeveless T-shirt.  Somehow that singular thought brought resolution.  I would not hike.  I would run.  So without the requisite running cap, running shoes, or even shorts I set off up the trail at a jog - in blue jeans - and hiking boots - and my sleeveless cotton T-shirt.  As I passed the Sierra Club group (see, they've got their own category) I was just beginning to realize why blue jeans are a bad idea.  However, I was now on a mission powered by a purpose not too far distant from the purpose that likely motivated the hippies, not long enough ago.  I was doing something radical, I wasn't hurting anyone else in the process, and I was getting some attention.  So there I was clomping my way around the Diablo foothills.

Now, there are reasons why we don't customarily run in jeans and hiking boots - which should be self evident.  But it occurred to me as I ran, that no one observing me could have any idea what category I belonged in.  I basically looked like an idiot.  Just 2 weeks ago I finished a 3:32 solo marathon (Bridge to Bridge) with nearly 2000' of elevation gain.  But with my belt cinched up snug around my waist to keep the ever increasing weight of my jeans from dragging it all down around my ankles, my boots turning a practiced stride into a lumbering trot, and my pace somewhere south of spectacular, any causal observer would scoff or at best look sympathetically at the well intentioned poser.  "He's not fooling anyone," might be the comment.

And indeed - I was not trying to fool anyone.  I own several great pairs of running shoes.  I own running shorts in a rainbow of colors.  I can run up and down those hills all day without tromping.  But on that day I was having a great time breaking in my hiking boots.  I was in a category formerly undefined.  And what did it matter?

It mattered not at all.  I was proving again that fitting in is highly overrated.  I was content to be running, plodding, tromping, or whatever it was I was doing.  When nearing the end of my run, I spotted a kid in baggy shorts a sweatshirt and basketball shoes running toward me - I did drop him into his category.  But somehow it was huge.  His category included all of us - out enjoying God's spectacular creation that beautiful Wednesday afternoon.

Some photos from most recent Sunday Morning Run.

Fall has come to the Bay Area

New artwork at the John Muir tunnel.

After crossing under Highway 4 through the tunnel and then up the day's hardest hill, this is the reward...

And this is the view on the descent - with the Benicia Bridge in the background.