Between the clouds

July is generally fog season in San Francisco, but this year we are having more sunshine than I am used to, thankfully. Trump may still be government by apoplexy, Brexit may still be an omnishambles, and the collision of the two this week has not been pretty, but the jacaranda trees are flowering throughout the Mission, the purple flowers glowing in the bright blue skies.

This weather does make motivating myself to get out on a ride much easier. After a nice outing on the 4th, over to Stinson Beach and back along Highway 1, and a couple of my favourite short hilly loops last weekend, to San Bruno Mountain and the Headlands, when my scheduled teaching event was postponed yesterday, I decided to take myself off for a nice long ride and leave the weekend a little more free for the last games in the World Cup. Having given my last talk of the series in San Rafael on Monday, and taught the last class of the series at City Center the next night, I feel a certain amount more space than I have since I returned from Tassajara.

There are certain rides that I can use as a benchmark for my fitness, and Alpine is one of them – that one word serves as shorthand that local cyclists use and recognise. I expect it to take four and a half hours, and there are three big sections of climbing, two of which I usually enjoy. I had a sense of apprehension starting the ride, having not been so far for a few months, and started gently, trying to keep more in reserve for later. As it happened, I felt much better than I expected to, especially on the second climb, away from the dam, where tiredness can really start to take its toll. There was very little traffic on and around the mountain, a pleasant change from weekends these past few years, where there seem to be a lot of drivers impatient enough to pass too close or try to pass on blind corners. Since I am free next Friday as well, I may well try to tackle an ascent of Tam that day.

It was a lovely warm morning, with high clouds, and, as I climbed high enough, I could see the mist sitting over the ocean below me, and later, nestled in the Muir Woods Valley. I was surprised, though, as I started my descent from the shoulder of Tam, to feel a few drops of rain falling. Luckily that did not amount to anything, and it stayed warm.

It is rides like this that remind me I am very much in my element on a bike, just as I feel on the trails at Tassajara. Steady effort on the climbs through peaceful trees, a sense of liberation as I coast downhill, the joy of body memory as I navigate corners and well-loved stretches of road, watching a kingfisher glide over the surface of Alpine Lake. And afterwards, feeling the benign emptiness of complete physical exhaustion.

The beautiful sunset on Thursday night presaged the high clouds on Friday.

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