This is the time of year when I first visited San Francisco, sixteen years ago, on my way to Australia from London, via the East Coast. I remember being surprised that it was warm enough to be able to sit on a beach – it did rain one day during the week I was here, so that day I rented a car and drove down to see Big Sur – but was otherwise clear and bright.
I took a ride to the Headlands early on Saturday morning, under similar bright skies, the sun already starting to warm, the city nestled in hazy blue hills, and remembered the first time I rode along Crissy Field and over the bridge, on a rental bike I took to the top of Mount Tam, having no idea that I would ever come back to the city. The anniversary of that time allows me to be grateful that, having met the person who introduced me to zen and Zen Center, I was able to contemplate making the transition from my life in London to come and live here. Now that I am making another big transition, I am grateful for all the support I have been receiving that allows me to contemplate staying in San Francisco to teach in various arenas.
I have lived in California now longer than I lived in London between graduating and coming here, but I still don’t think of myself as American (I am not sure I ever really thought of myself as a Londoner either, though I had my loyalties to ‘south of the river’). Indeed, when I first started imagining leaving Zen Center, I could feel an urge to go back ‘home’, as England has always felt to me. Having sat with this for some time, earlier this year it felt clear to me that what was really pulling me was the sense that it was time to move on from residential practice and see what my life would look like outside of those parameters.
Generally I plan my rides ahead of time, and run through them in my head, as a way of preparing myself for what I am going to put myself through; I had thought of going out to Stinson Beach and back along highway 1, but had some hesitation as that feels like a long ride right now, and I didn’t want to stretch myself. I have come to accept that, as I age, it takes longer to get back into what I think of as good shape; knowing also that good shape now is not what it was when I first arrived. It doesn’t bother me that I am slower than I used to be; I am happy just to be able to climb up whatever hill or mountain I set myself to, or to make it around the circuit I choose.
There were many packs of riders heading out on Saturday morning. While I know that riding in company is less effort, and also can be a good way to challenge yourself, I prefer the opportunity to be in silence and enjoying the landscape at my own speed. That does not mean I feel separate from everyone else – I deeply appreciate the community of riders out on the roads, and am so glad that it is a much larger community than when I started riding seriously in the early nineties. There are always times when I can chat easily with people I find myself sharing a stretch of road with, and I enjoy the nods that riders give their fellow women and men as we pass in opposite directions. If you are ever at the side of the road with a mechanical problem, people will check to see if you need help, and I do the same when I see people in that situation.
In a similar vein, on Sunday I volunteered at Winterfest, the Bicycle Coalition’s annual party; one of the things I enjoy about having a more spacious schedule is that it feels easier to offer this kind of help. It is also a way of giving back, as without that event, I would most certainly not be here. In contrast to previous times I have attended, it was held on the top floor of the Metreon, with views over to the high-rise end of the city. It was nice to arrive before the action started, having a chance to look over the auction items before people started pouring in and the music got louder. The few of us assigned to our task had fun, and I met several other people I know in the city; the sense of community and celebration was strong. I didn’t talk much about bikes, but it is always nice to talk with bike people.