What I Think About When I Am Riding

After being sick for a couple of weeks in the middle of the month (which set in the day I pushed myself to ride up Tam in the morning, and then went to Allison’s shuso ceremony in the afternoon), it was nice to have some time to get out during Christmas week and get some miles on the bike. The weather has remained alarmingly dry, and just a touch chilly; on one of my outings I was chatting on the way out of the city with someone who was visiting from DC, and on the way back, with someone who was visiting from Minnesota, and both of them were very happy to be back in California (I also heard from a friend who went running in Maine in 12 degree weather).

I had suspected that the hardest part of riding three times in the space of a week would be the slight tedium of following the same route out of the city, over the bridge (though tedium is not the word for that on any level), through Sausalito and along the bike path to Mill Valley – which is basically the first and last hour of a ride into Marin. On Boxing Day I took a right turn at the end of that and headed down to Tiburon under bright blue skies. On the Thursday I took a left and climbed over to Four Corners, down past Green Gulch and Muir Beach, and then back up the Muir Woods road, which I pushed myself hard enough on to really wear myself out. On New Year’s Eve I was heading for Terra Linda and Sleepy Hollow, which makes for a fairly easy four-hour ride without many hills.

What I had not reckoned on was the tides. I knew that there was a full moon coming round, but when I got to the beginning of the bike trail, it was under water. This is not a new thing, but I hadn’t experienced it for a while, and the level was worse than anything I remember for the last few years. On the first little stretch you can duck behind the shops and cafe, but after that, the only alternative would be riding on the freeway shoulder (and I have seriously contemplated that before). There were at least five submerged sections, some of which just covered my rims, but a couple of them were deep and long enough that I had to keep pedalling, and water seeped into my shoes… Apart from that discomfort, it is quite beautiful in a way, with Mount Tam reflected in the almost endless water across Richardson Bay and the marshes (this is a picture that represents the scene well), and egrets and wading birds making merry all around.
I got to thinking how optimistic so much of the infrastructure in California is; the trail is the old railway line, which presumably was raised a little higher, and probably was rarely stopped by the high tides. Further along highway 1, there is the constant entropy of landslides and slippages, which have meant some sections I like to ride are still closed after last winter’s rains. Much of the New Year’s ride was on the course of old rail tracks – once over Camino Alto, I took the path towards Larkspur, and then the tunnel to San Rafael, and then the cutting north to Terra Linda, where the restored rail line tunnels under, and the 101 gouges out the slopes.
On the return leg, the water had receded enough that there was mostly jetsam, though I did misjudge the depth of a pool as I came off the curb at a side road, and had a real jolt. Crossing the bridge with a nice tail wind, for once I was not wondering about what would happen if a large earthquake struck while I was mid-way across.

I thought about earthquakes again on New Year’s Day. Last year I had woken early and gone for a ride downtown before there was any traffic, taking roads I would normally avoid – Mission into the city, California out towards the ocean, Geary back. This year I went up Masonic, in on California, looped back via Columbus, over Mason and back home on Market. It was a misty morning as I made my way from Corona Heights to Laurel Heights, Russian Hill and Nob Hill – plenty of climbing to get my heart pumping. I had a chance to get views that I do not normally see, and imagined, as I passed the old mansions at the top of Nob Hill before the rapid descent to the Financial District, what it must have been like for the citizens in 1906 to stand at the top and look down on the devastation. I had the feeling, as I often do in this country that the city is just a thin skin on a long deep natural history.

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