A Weekend of Roams

After the previous weekend’s later-than-usual rain, we had some long-overdue high temperatures this past weekend, and I was extremely glad that I had lined up three consecutive roams, which meant I was outside a lot.

The Friday roam was a last-minute addition; I had had a dentist appointment scheduled for six months, which was reconfirmed and then almost immediately rescheduled. With nothing much I needed to do, I thought it would be nice to enjoy some time in the rose garden in Golden Gate Park, which I had recently seen was full of blooms.

Earlier though, I had followed up on a plan to catch the first sun at Stow Lake – having ridden around it a little while ago but only been able to take pictures on my phone, this time I returned with my new camera, and the difference in quality was reassuring. It was already warm as I rode around almost entirely empty spaces in the park, saw another coyote, captured many roses in the soft light, and made my way home catching the low sun bursting through the trees.

There was a breeze for the roam that made it pretty pleasant, and although we didn’t see a heron as wished, we did get to enjoy some of the lakes and many of the roses. On Saturday, having ridden through the fingers of fog creeping in from the ocean on the way to Sweeney Ridge first thing, I took a group around the much-loved Glen Canyon – Billy Goat Hill loop on another lovely afternoon. On Sunday, the annual Zen-a-thon roam had a mostly foggy time of it, as happened last year, with some detours on Corona Heights because of coyote pupping; the sun came out as we descended from the top of Buena Vista.

All of that just about tired me out, and then I have a busy week ahead – some extra teaching sessions, a wedding on Thursday, and then a weekend at Wilbur (not that being there can be called busy, but the organising will be), as well as another weekend retreat next weekend.

My Mondays have filled out as well, with the lunch-time sitting followed now by a trip to South San Francisco, where I sit at my student’s biotech company on alternate weeks, and make it home just in time for the Dogen Study group. Plenty of teaching, like plenty of sun, keeps me happy.

My favourite shot of the whole morning. The phone would not have been able to cope with the contrasts.
Roamers sitting at Metson Lake, where I also did my Earth Day Within class.
Sunrise over Lake Merced on Saturday morning – I call it Monet from a moving bike.
What the fog – which was still creeping inland – looked like from Sweeney Ridge.
Roamers at Billy Goat Hill.
A foggy climb up Guadeloupe Canyon Road on Sunday morning.
We couldn’t see Twin Peaks or the Sutro Tower on the Sunday roam, but Mount Olympus was just visible.

Maintenance

The long Memorial Day weekend was quite the mixed bag in terms of weather. I had a notion to try to get out on my bike every morning from Friday onwards, but Friday was so grey I did not feel inspired to go, and spent the day reading and studying instead. On Saturday it was still grey, with a typically damp fog along the west side of city and at Ocean Beach. We had one of those half-and-half afternoons which felt promising enough that I went downtown with my camera, and walked home, catching the angle of the sun on things, as I used to do on my Saturday afternoon camera walks when I lived at Zen Center.

I was quite surprised that Sunday dawned totally clear, and I enjoyed my ride up San Bruno mountain, before I dragged more than a dozen roamers up the south side of Mount Sutro and Twin Peaks on a pleasant afternoon. Monday was also clear, and I had a sunnier time down along Great Highway before climbing over and round to the bay side.

After my pre-Tassajara stretch goal of getting up Mount Diablo, I looked at my calendar for the summer, and realised that between some consecutive weekends away, and the planned trip to the East Coast and the UK, I wouldn’t have a solid block of time to get my fitness back to that level again – it being one of the sadly inevitable facts of aging that it takes quite a while to regain form once you take a couple of weeks off. I made a little pivot more to maintenance rides, and have, dispritingly grey days notwithstanding, kind of gone back to the riding I was doing at the beginning of the pandemic: one serious ride a week, one that just felt like a good stretch of the legs (going up Twin Peaks, for example) and one which was more of an outing, where I felt fine dawdling and taking photographs. 

A couple of weeks off the bikes certainly helped renew my enthusiasm for some regular routes, and there is something about the freshness of a summer morning before the sun is up, with perhaps the exhilaration of seeing a coyote close byin Golden Gate Park, having a pair of herons flying overhead, or hearing the parrots in the palm trees on Dolores St as added bonuses.

Perhaps the main drawback of the rides that I did this past weekend is that, while I could feel the tiredness in my legs, even with the roam, I did not wear myself out in the way that I have done for decades – one of the reasons endurance sports appealed to me back in high school, to burn off the stagnant energy that saps my mood. 

I had an early morning leg-stretcher on Wednesday that took in Stow Lake.
A damp Saturday morning along the Great Highway.
Clarity on Sunday morning from the top of San Bruno Mountain.
Surfers are also early birds – Monday morning
Looking across the former Buri-Buri ranch to the south side of San Bruno mountain on Monday.

May Days

We do finally seem to have lumbered on to the left shoulder of summer, and none too soon, though the all-prevading nature of wind means it has not been as warm in the city as it might be – I had more of a taste of summer heat when I took the train down the peninsula on Saturday afternoon for a back garden birthday party.

After my sign-off tempting fate last Tuesday, I was a little worried to wake up with a slightly sore throat the next day. I had not slept especially well for the previous two nights, and had talked perhaps more than usual, not least at my student group. I welcomed three to my place for that, and a fourth was joining on Zoom from Singapore, which was amazing, as he sounded as clear as he ever does from Oakland.

A friend, who had had a bad case of COVID over the last couple of weeks, was planning to go and get a PCR test locally that day, so I went along. Thankfully I didn’t feel any worse as the day wore on, and the test came back negative, so I was able to volunteer as planned at Bike To Wherever Day with the Bicycle Coalition, and enjoy a few hours engaging with riders and fellow volunteers. As I wrote on Patreon recently, with Zen Center still closed for public events, I have more of a community with people on bikes these days – not least a couple of new riding regulars on the ferry.

It feels like it has taken a full two weeks to catch up from the two weeks away at Tassajara, and I made sure I kept a chunk of the weekend free, not least because it was the last day of the Premier League season, which I tried to watch as much as possible without spoilers. 

On Monday I had time and space to catch up with writing and preparing for a couple of teaching events this week, as well as going to sit as usual, where it really did feel warm, before diving into the continual nourishment of the Dogen study group. Maybe by Friday I will feel that I have caught up.

I saw this remarkable cloud as I was heading to the birthday party on Saturday.

In Person

While I have been doing outdoor events since last summer, as vaccinations started to ease the dread before the variants came along, I have been doing very few indoor gatherings at all. And somehow, despite all the cases popping up – and I have several friends who have had recent unpleasant infections – this past week has brought a sequence of in-person gatherings.

We roamed on Saturday, which I count as the 27th roam since restartiing. It was not as warm as advertised, but we got to Marshall’s Beach without the fog that had been threatening, but with a fairly insistent wind. On Sunday, Bay-to-Breakers unleashed its usual mayhem. I had gone out on my bike early, so had the park almost to myself, but ended up battling damp fog and strong winds for most of the three hours I was out. And then I went along to a gallery on Gough for a relatively new offering for Within, that other teachers have been covering so far, and which may become a more regular fixture in my weekends.

On Monday, after the sit on Embarcadero, I took BART (since the Caltrain schedule had completely changed since I last checked it) to my student’s company, which since I last led a session in their offices, has moved from Mission Bay to South San Francisco and almost doubled the number of employees. There were some familiar faces from the old days, some people I had only seen onscreen, and one person who was on their first day.

It was again a little too cold and windy to be sitting outside (though we had done okay in the sun on the Embarcadero), so we sat in a generic meeting room. But the joy, for me, of feeling the group’s energy settling as we got into the session, was amazing, and a real reminder of what we have all missed.

Unexpectedly, I got home in time to join the Dogen study group at the beginning. The exchanges were fun and lively, but I did have in the back of my mind a renewed feeling of the hollowness of meeting on Zoom.

Tonight, my student group will be meeting in-person for the first time since March 2020. I look forward to making tea and offering biscuits, and I am sure the shared sense of pleasure will be there.

And If I end up coming down with COVID, it would not be much of a surprise…

Above Baker Beach on the roam on Saturday.
I went up to Kite Hill to watch the lunar eclipse on Sunday, which was just about visible, in the wind and clouds that evening.

Incrementally

I was only gone for a couple of weeks, but I noticed changes when I got back. The big buckeye in my yard had burst into flower, and most of the flowers were already shedding on the deck. The morning sun arrives in different places in my kitchen, and in the middle of the day, the sun seems higher in the sky than when I last noticed it. The sun feels warm, but there has been a constant and cool wind that have kept the temperatures much lower than I was expecting. The moon is filling, and I am planning to walk up the hill to see the moonrise and eclipse on Sunday evening. 

As sometimes happens, it took me a couple of days to fully unpack my bags and put things away. I felt a lack of motivation as I got back to city speed, and on several consecutive days I slept until it was already light – though of course that is earlier than it was a fortnight ago. After a mostly quiet weekend, sitting on the Embarcadero was a pleasure, and later in the afternoon, the debut of the Dogen study group was very energising. Many of the participants were familiar faces, and the conversation and questions were lively. I am looking forward to this continuing to unfold.

After the weeks away from my bike, I have been taking it gently, but have had some lovely outings already. Apart from taking a trip on Saturday to see the mayor signing the legislation to make JFK permanently car-free, I went out early on Wednesday morning to stretch my legs. I had an idea to go to Fort Point, and then took a little detour to check out the new Battery Bluffs open space in the Presidio, discovering that it included a beautifully smooth bike trail. I will be adding this to my repertoire of low-stress routes, as well as taking a roam through there in the coming weeks.

Rev David Myles films the mayor in Golden Gate Park – this is the San Francisco I love, twenty-two years after arriving..
My first time seeing the buckeye in flower
The new bike trail in the Presidio
The Upper Great Highway was naturally car-free over the weekend.

Stretch Goals

One of the benefits of not having really gone anywhere in eighteen months is that I have continued to ride my bike steadily (even the weekend I was just away had a two-wheeled focus too!). Over the winter I was focusing on getting in steady hours, nothing too spectacular, but the arrival of spring – and a new rear cassette which had one gear that was easier than the previous one – got my attention back on hills. I tried a varied collection of them, San Bruno Mountain, Sweeney Ridge, the climbs in and out of Pacifica, and without my usual taster of going up Mount Tam a few times, decided that I might as well try Diablo before I went away, and lost that edge of fitness for a few months.

Last Saturday I ended up on the first BART out of the city, unexpecedly in the company of several women who were joining an AIDS Lifecycle training ride; one had never been up Diablo, and was asking for advice. They got off a couple of stops early to add in some more miles; I was just getting up and down the mountain. 

It was fresh along the valley, but a perfect temperature for climbing. I knew I hadn’t been since before the pandemic (in fact it was the summer before that even), but it felt intimately familiar in terms of the effort required, the turns that followed each other. About half way up the wind got a little stiffer, but I wasn’t going in the same direction long enough for it to be a problem. At the top, another cyclist and I shared that we would take it easy on the way down in case of unexpected gusts. 

It was so early still that there were very few cars out – even though people were preparing for a running event most of the way up. Only one person tried to pass on a blind corner – despite the numerous new signs warning against it – just as I was indicating that I would move over into the turnout, and I smiled to see a couple of rangers who were parked on the corner chase after the driver to give them a talking-to.

About half way down the north gate road (I had gone up the south gate road on the assumption I would do better having a break in the climbing), I decided that the experience was so great I would have to do it again this weekend. And then I saw the forecast. 

Like the first spring of the pandemic, when the rain seeped regularly back until May (hence my amateur conclusion that our weather seasons have been running a month late for a few years now), we went from eighty-plus degree weather last Thursday, when I rode to work in my thinnest shirt and shorts, to barely scraping fifty, with a couple of days of serious wind blowing me around on my bike in the city, and several bands of rain, with more to come over the next week.

There was another reminder of the past this week as well, as I went up to a nearby Kaiser clinic and got my second booster, a year to the week after my first jab at SF General. Luckily this time, though there was steady foot traffic, the safety waiting afterwards was the longest part of the process. This time, unlike my first booster, where I just had a nasty headache that reminded me of a day with a hangover, I woke up the following day after some very vivid and fast-moving dreams, feeling rather groggy, and called in for a sick day, probably my first in a couple of years. So perhaps even if the weather had been grand, I might not have had the energy for another crack at the mountain. Another goal to let go of.

In theory I will be leaving for Tassajara a week today, but, as with my trip to England in the summer, I confidently make plans while suspecting that something will cause things to be cancelled. My fingers have been crossed for some time.

About half way up the mountain, with a fair distance still to go.
The views from the top, including the road down (on the right) are always inspiring.

On The Dharma Seat

I was relatively happy with how the talk went on Saturday. I had been a little nervous beforehand, until I was actually sitting down in front of my computer. There was my usual worry that there wouldn’t be smooth connections between the main points I wanted to make. In the end, I extemporised more than I have in the past beyond what I had written, and my only worry was that bringing one section back to the place I originally had it, before I had moved it later in my last run-through read, had somehow caused me to skip a page. The question and answer session was rich as well. I was gratified to have familiar faces from Young Urban Zen represented, as well as other long-time practitioners and friends.

The day before I had given the first meditation to the Hyperice (who took over Core) all-hands meeting, of around 150 people, which was also a little nerve-wracking. It was not the size of the crowd, but rather the guidance I was given about the tone to set in the meditation; I worried whether I could address that while being authentic and consistent in how I usually teach – it is a pretty high energy, ‘go-getter’ group. I made a few notes of the points I wanted to get in, which is very unusual for me, especially for a five-minute session, and I was pleased with how it turned out. 

I have another interesting session coming up, this time in-person at a fashionable online name I think I am not allowed to identify, on Wednesday, to celeberate returning to working in the office, and I will be mulling over how to approach the suggested themes for that one as well. 

March did not exactly go out like a lamb – it was chilly and somewhat gloomy for chunks of last week – but it seems to be getting a little warmer now, and we have high temperatures promised for later this week. I had a most enjoyable ride up Sweeney Ridge early on Sunday, before roaming in the afternoon – the wind had picked up by then, so it wasn’t as warm as it could have been. We also didn’t get as close up to three of the Goldsworthys as used to be possible, though we happily took a tip from another group of people on the same mission as to the best way to see Earth Wall. No coyotes this time either, but we did get to hang out with a heron and have several hawks close overhead.

I took a break from preparing my talk to ride in the oark, and came across a perfectly blossoming tree at Stow Lake.
Looking towards Tam from Twin Peaks on Friday.
And from Sweeney Ridge on Sunday
The fog line was subtle but unmistakable on the Pacifica side.
Stalking a heron in the Presidio.
The Spire has been fenced off since it was set on fire, but in no way diminished.

A Week of Weather

Following on from where I left off last week, it did indeed rain for most of Saturday. I was able, thankfully, to get out at first light and ride the short loop I had wanted to do – south on Skyline to the 84, taking the descent to Woodside, and coming back up King’s Mountain Road. It was still mostly quiet out, and it only rained for the last five minutes; the ride itself felt like pretty hard work, though I was glad I did it.

I spent the rest of the day relaxing, watching football, observing the rain fall from the inside of the cabin, and seeing the mist and cloud roll through the redwoods. I decided against trying to explore any trails, as the rain never seemed to move on as forecast.

On Sunday morning it was chilly, but I dressed up and went out at sunrise, to the 84, this time descending in the other direction to La Honda, which was even colder, before emerging in the comparative warmth of the coast, and having a decent go at the climb of Tunitas Creek Road, as the sun shone through the trees, illuminating the evaporating damp. I was torn about wanting to take the longer loop to Pescadero, but I was on a timeline.

I dropped off the rental car at noon, and wandered over to the start of the planned roam. It was a sunny afternoon in the east end of the city, and I enjoyed taking people around the old and new spaces.

We had a warm day on Tuesday, which I enjoyed until I started riding back to the ferry in the afternoon, and suffered a double pinch flat on my way to the Park St bridge. At first I though only my front tyre had gone, but when I stopped on the other side, I realised both were out. I had one spare and some patches and a mini-pump, but it took a while to even find where the tell-tale parallel slits in the tubes were. I knew right away that I would miss the ferry, so I rode back to Fruitvale BART and was glad of the little bike store there, where I could pump my tyres properly and buy a new spare tube.

Unusually, the warm, still weather moved on – the wind picked up again that evening, and the temperatures dropped. The extra roam on Wednesday afternoon took place on the cusp of the rolling fog, as we made our way around the five squares that were first laid out in the plans for the western addition to the city (west of Larkin, the previous edge of the street grid) in the 1850s.

Nancy asked me if I would offer the dharma talk on the 2nd, which I am very happy to be able to do. I am kind of at the magpie stage, just pulling in loose threads of ideas while letting things roll along (something I wrote about on Patreon after my last talk). On Friday I had a couple of corporate meditation presentations to do, and I also have some recordings to take care of, including a trio designed for middle school students, so I need to focus just on one set of things at a time, which, in this realm, is not so hard to do.

That will be my third consecutive weekend of donning robes; today, assuming I return a second negative COVID test in the morning, I will be attending Kim’s shuso ceremony at City Center, which will be a treat.

The rain looked good from here on Saturday.
Down towards San Gregorio on Sunday morning.
The sun breaking through on the upper reaches of Tunitas Creek Road
A temporary visitor to the Embarcadero during Sunday’s roam.
The fog rolling in towards Alta Plaza during Wednesday’s roam

Mountains And Waters Without End

The next wedding on my docket, after the recent pair, was one initially discussed last summer; the bride-to-be, as a graduate student, knew she wanted to get everything lined up before she got too busy. The couple had family names I recognised as having roots from different Eastern European countries that are now adjacent to the war in Ukraine, but they loved – and spent all their free time on –  the mountains and the oceans of California. The initial plan to hold the ceremony deep in the woods of King’s Mountain had to change after one of the parents became too sick to hike any distance.

Plan B was a beach wedding on Saturday afternoon. I decided it was a great opportunity to treat myself to a weekend away (having not managed to do that in almost eighteen months). I found a sweet little Airbnb cabin just off Skyline at King’s Mountain, and started thinking about fitting in rides on Friday afternoon, and Saturday and Sunday mornings.

The forecast intervened though, as rain loomed for Saturday. The couple inquired if it would be possible to have the ceremony on Friday afternoon. I had a teaching session in the morning, was due to pick up the rental car at noon, so I said sure, I could make it by three. In the end the teaching session was postponed, so I had plenty of time to get everything ready and motor down – and the Airbnb host was happy for me to arrive earlier than I was supposed to.

It was such a clear and sunny afternoon, it seemed hard to believe that rain was on the horizon. Conditions on the beach could not have been better, and we had a very sweet ceremony featuring some very expansive vows, with just immediate family present.

After I had driven back up into the hills, I wasted no time in getting out on my bike to make the most of the good weather, even though I was starting to feel tired – I had slept badly, perhaps from a combination of the full moon and the anticipation of everything I had to get done. Luckily traffic was sparse on Skyline – I could usually hear cars coming from a long way off, and judge how fast they were travelling. There were a few people who seemed to be letting off steam after work, but nothing that especially worried me.

The cabin was just north of the intersection where the King’s Mountain Road crosses Skyline to become the Tunitas Creek road, so I was on fairly familiar territory from rides I took years ago. I rode down (or rather up and down – Skyline is always hard work – the flats seem like uphills, and the uphills, which don’t seem to be much, have me reaching for the lowest gear; it’s only when you start heading down that you realise what a slope there is), and turned west on the 84. Stretches of road and details were still clear in my mind, and I remember how fast I used to take the descent, when I was younger and a little more reckless, but I also remember how cold it would be going down into the hollows early in the morning. As I turned back up the peaceful narrow and winding Old La Honda Road, lush with wild flowers, the afternoon sun was still extremely pleasant. Back up in the redwoods, it was naturally a little cooler, and the road home was just a little further than expected.

If it does rain today, I might still have a chance to get out first thing. Otherwise I will explore some of the amazing hiking trails all around me, and hope to get in a decent ride first thing on Sunday (when it will be cold) before heading back to the city for the roam.

A great location, and great afternoon, for a wedding
The photographer gets his shot
Old La Honda folds back on itself
It’s a gentle and quiet climb
… with views
This was downhill on Skyline, but it’s hard to tell sometimes.

Dislocations

As the war continues in Ukraine, and the news reports continue to depress and horrify, I asked teacher colleagues how they were talking about it in classes. I heard back that they were saying similar things to me: the world is always in turmoil; we never have the resolution and stability we seek and wish for; this is more especially evident in times of crisis; we may feel powerless but we can focus on the things we are in control of; sometimes all we can do is send out lovingkindness and compassion to everyone who is suffering; it may not feel like much, but we can never fully know the impact of what we do. I have been strongly feeling the dual tendencies that humans excel at: suffering because of greed, hatred, and delusion on the one hand, and affirming community and altruism on the other (Rebecca Solnit is excellent to read on the latter).

Closer to home, on more mundane levels, it was a week of changeable weather, with cold mornings, warm afternoons, a band of rain passing through, a day of strong winds, and finally clear and warmer again. I doubled up on roams again: on Friday a group of us went from Mountain Lake along the Lobos Creek trail. Once we left the shelter of the trees, we were lashed by the wind – arriving at Baker Beach it was hard to face the ocean with the sand whipping along. At China Beach at least there was a little shelter. We were also accompanied by the new hum from the bridge, which was not especially pleasant, and I am glad I don’t live close to the bridge to have to endure that. On Saturday a larger group took in climbs of the four tallest points on San Francisco, Mount Sutro, Twin Peaks and Mount Davidson  – the wind had eased, and the temperature was just about perfect for a strenuous hike, though by the time we headed down from the highest point in the city, around 4:30, it was feeling quite a bit fresher. 

Naturally I had a couple of bike rides as well – on Friday morning, between the overnight rain and the wind, I tried a couple of climbs in the city, and on Sunday I made a long-overdue return to Sweeney Ridge. It was mainly notable as I had had the gears changed on the bike, with one larger rear cog than I had previously, allowing a little more ease on the steeper slopes.  After a few years on the same routes, I have a clear memory of the gear I would usually be in at a particular place, and each time on these two rides, it felt a little different, as I would guess that the new cassette had different cog sizes throughout. It was also the last Sunday before the clock change. I made the most of the early light, knowing that will go away for the next month or two, though generally I happily trade that loss for the longer evenings. It will be another dislocation to navigate.

A week of skies: Tuesday from the evening ferry.
A walk in Buena Vista park on Wednesday morning, with a fresh, soft light
I mostly avoided getting wet on Thursday morning, but not entirely.
Damp light on Friday morning from Twin Peaks
Busy waves at China Beach on Friday afternoon.
Twin Peaks on Saturday afternoon.
Lingering mist along Sweeney Ridge on Sunday morning – it was burning off between the time I arrived and the time I left.