What I think about when I am riding

‘Each moment is perfect if you don’t compare it’ (Byron Katie)

A friend of mine noticed recently that I have been talking more about running than about cycling, and it is probably true. I have been covering enough miles in my running recently that I am feeling like a runner again – when I started training in the city a couple of years ago, I felt rather self-conscious, and it took getting fit through last summer at Tassajara  to wash that away. Now, even though I am so much slower than in my youth (in my college years, my criterion for feeling ‘fit enough’ was to be able to run ten miles in less than seventy minutes and not feel completely exhausted afterwards), I feel happy if I am able to run for ninety minutes, over whatever slopes I may have put in my way.

Saying I am a fair-weather cyclist may be going a little far (in London I commuted by bike every day through the nineties, and when I was living at City Center and only going out for big rides on Sunday, the weather was not a deterrent, though I would usually temper my plans accordingly), but in this wet winter, when I have supposedly had more free days to ride, I have found myself not progressing much – if you have been following the blog for a while, none of this will be news to you, and as such, I have not been feeling like I could really call myself a cyclist.

Last month, in consecutive weeks, I managed to ride Alpine, which is local cyclists’ shorthand – the route takes in Fairfax, Azalea hill, Alpine Dam on the north side of Mount Tam, Ridgecrest or Seven Sisters, Pantoll, the Panoramic Highway and Mill Valley. I did it once in each direction, but that way round is how I prefer to tackle the climbs. This is a tough ride – I was glad to get round it and feel okay afterwards. I was noticing that I consider myself a cyclist when I am at that level of fitness and endurance, or better, whereas going out and doing two or three hour rides I still feel like I am not really there. These rides were followed by travel, work, and rain, and not so much decent riding.

Yesterday, the squally rain having blown through for a while, I set off to climb Mount Tam. This is not such a long ride – in my early years in San Francisco I could get up there in two hours, and back in an hour and a half, whereas now it is pretty much four hours round trip – but the amount of climbing, and the sense of achievement when you get to the end of the summit road, make me feel once again like I am a cyclist.

I have written about riding up Tam before, and remembered today that I have been riding up it since 1999, when I rented a mountain bike and made my way to the top on my first trip to the west coast, imagining that I would never come that way again… how little we know of the future.

Even though it was sunny, what wind there was blew in from the north west, making it less warm than advertised, and I was glad I had brought a jacket for the long descent. As so often (and I might get into this more in a forthcoming post), it was a relief to turn off the Panoramic, where drivers are sometimes impatient enough to pass on blind corners, and onto the quieter summit road. The remaining miles are pretty steady, so it is a case of setting a sustainable rhythm. There is a corner below the rock springs junction where you are suddenly presented with a view of the ocean, stretching out from far beneath, which always energises me for the last stretch. At the top, the chance to sit on the bench looking back to San Francisco, surveying much of the road just taken; today there was a lovely play of light and shade, as the clouds seemed to have stalled over Throckmorton Ridge. My legs were sore – I took it pretty gently on the descent and the run back from Sausalito, and the bridge was packed with tourists on bikes and on foot, which was predictably messy to navigate.

The truth is, any time put on my shoes and run, I am a runner, and any time I ride my bike, I am a cyclist, but it is interesting to see the extent to which my stories get in the way of that simple fact. I was going to add, any time I sit zazen, I am a buddhist, but that one may not be so simple.

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