Friday, June 29, 2007

My Big Commute

Here's a panorama shot of my big commute from Tehachapi down into the Great Central Valley. This was taken this spring before the grasses had a chance to turn golden brown, their most common color. We get only a few weeks of truly green grass around here, especially in dry years. Keep clicking on photo until it fills the screen! Also, for best view, select "full screen" on your menu bar then scroll across the width of the photo.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Thor's Dyspepsia

I had a fine, if challenging, ride yesterday. I did a pleasant ten miles in the morning and a draining thirty in the afternoon. It was that second session that spanked me good. In Tehachapi, the winds come in generally two flavors: heavy from the east and heavy from the west. Westerlies are the most common. Anyone driving over the pass will notice the hundreds of wind turbines lining the mountain ridge to the east on the edge of the Mojave desert. We have some of the steadiest winds in the country and the mega-watt production to prove it. This, of course, has special meaning for cyclists.

It is my opinion that if you can ride regularly in Tehachapi and enjoy it, you can ride anywhere. With altitudes between 4,000 and 6,000 ft. and nearly constant winds, riders get toughened up pretty quickly. My most common rides take me to the west over hills and passes, and, because of the prevailing winds, I get a tailwind for much of the return trip. Psychologically this works well for me: battle the frustrating winds on the way out and reap the rewards on the return--nice. This area has pine and oak covered roads, open agricultural zones, views of soaring Cummings Mtn, almost 8,000ft. high. Another loop that I ride to the east involves dipping into the Mojave, creosote, tamarisk, Joshua trees spicing up the views. Usually I reserve this ride for times when the winds shift and blow out of the east so I can enjoy the turbocharger effect on my return. Yesterday, I didn't wait for these conditions.

Part of preparing for this TransAm means I ride regardless of the weather, give or take. Out on the Big One, I won't be able to pick and choose: Ooooh, the winds are out of the west so I'll just ride east today. A big part of the challenge is taking the world and its weather on its terms. Granted, some weather will just be too dangerous, and I'll just hole up somewhere and ride it out, but for the most part, we saddle up and move 'em out. Git 'er done. It was in this spirit that I jumped on Mojo, my trusty Street Machine, and headed east, the winds pushing pleasantly along into my waiting punishment for the return.

The sun, now just past the apex of the Solstice, glared out of the sky with acute intensity, but some reasonably cool air had been working down the state so temperatures were only in the low 80's. Cycling at 4,000 ft. has its advantages. To the south, a big fire still smoldered. For days, helicopters and fire bombers had been buzzing the skies, a fierce battle raging just over a distant ridge. Now, finally, the level of smoke appeared to me diminishing. I was deeply grateful for the brave souls out there in the desert heat, working for all of us.

The miles slipped quickly and quietly under my wheels. I have just recently put on some wider, tougher touring tires. They didn't seem to be much slower, but the wider footprint is reassuring. At the top of the major climb on Tehachapi/Willow Springs road, I caught the full force of the funneled wind and zipped down the other side. In no time, I was ripping at over 40 mph and braking to control my speed, wind turbulence smacking me about. As I descended, I got a clear view of the scorched valley and the bombing runs.

At the bottom, I turned north on Cameron Rd., and so ended the easy fun of my ride. Headwinds and hills, brothers and sisters, headwinds and hills. Still, I was happy to be out. A fire fighter sitting in his truck yelled out: "I'm glad that's you and not me!" What could I say? "I'm glad it's me, too!" I cranked up through dry, grassy hills and a forest of wind turbines, real monsters over 100 ft. high, spinning regally in the sharp summer sun.

After a quick descent, I joined Hwy 58, a major truck route, and began working for a 6 to 7 mph pace. Gear down and have patience, grasshopper. I was beginning to feel a bit blasted after a few miles of this and took refuge under an overpass after leaving the highway. Out of the wind and sun, I stretched and listened to the traffic groaning above me, vibrating the stout gray pillars, the resonant gastric distress of some Norse god--strangely soothing in its own way. But I couldn't stay here forever, so back into the wind tunnel it was--a miles long straight shot, no shade, no shelter from the winds.

Near the end, once back in town, I celebrated with an icy coffee drink at Starbucks and then finished the ride, which, as always, ended in that half mile stinger to our house--into the sun, into the wind.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Relationship

The evolution of this trip has been a long affair, hatched first in the primordial soup of our touring-addled brains several years ago. From the beginning, this was to be a tandem sojourn, Jodi and I and the faithful hound, Django, riding across the country, having a great big old epic adventure. But the direction of evolution cannot usually be predicted, and so it was with my trans-continental dreams.

Unlike many long distance cyclists, I am married, with a home, a job, settled in some very conventional ways. I am not a student between colleges or fresh off the stage with a newly minted degree. I'm not hanging in the abyss between jobs or careers. What the hell am I doing taking off for three to four months by myself? How does such a thing happen? Have I been served with divorce papers, or is that my desire upon my return? Fortunately, none of these apply, but the path has not been without its obstacles, pot holes, flat tires and headwinds. It seems important to me to address this more personal aspect of how a long journey comes to be.

Jodi's career as a holistic nutritional consultant has been growing like a summer squash on steroids. Besides advancing her education beyond a basic master's, she has been doing a lot of writing for Bauman College and working closely with its founder and her mentor, Ed Bauman. And she loves it. She's good at what she does and wants to develop her knowledge and connections. She simply does not want to leave while everything is developing so wonderfully. Who can blame her? But what about the tour, our journey? She said that I should go alone. Hmmm.... Well, okay, I could do that, I guess.

But simple sounding resolutions are rarely so. When I began obsessing a bit more about the trip, planning, posting questions on line, starting this blog, I could really feel Jodi getting upset as the reality of our separation began to set in. Her natural resentment at my departure, envy at my impending adventure, home duties she would have to face mostly on her own while I was out having "fun"--all these came boiling to the surface on more than one occasion. She would be in tears, I in mute anxiety, wondering, in my typical, klutzy male fashion, how to deal with this overflow of emotions.

At one point, I decided that I would not do the TransAm. I'd do something shorter, plan a couple of trips, one solo, one with Jodi. That would be great, of course. I could live with that. Compromise, right? A good thing. But a splinter was lodged in my brain, festering. I'd dumped a dream. Something in me, deep inside, needed to try this, no matter the risk of failure. I walked with Django on the steep mountainside above our home and stared out over the valley. Could I let this go? Would my life be complete? Can Jodi and I work through this? After all the planning, time invested so I could take a leave of absence from work, I just couldn't let go.

Ever since becoming a mountaineer and rock climber in my mid-teens, I've been drawn to big dreams and plans, adventures that pushed me in deep, meaningful ways. El Capitan, Half Dome, peaks in the USA and Canada, I found the best moments of my life, times of such burning intensity and joy that I cannot imagine a life without them. And many of these times were with Jodi. But I never did take that really big expedition to the Himalayas or the Andes. I never felt what it was like to push over 20,000 ft. In a way, that particular kind of dream has morphed into this continental crossing, a ride of ridiculous length and scope. As Werner Herzog, author of Annapurna, said, "There are other Annapurnas in the lives of men." I will never climb an 8,000 meter peak, but this ride is my Annapurana. I can only hope that I have the good luck, physical attributes and determination to see it through--although I would like to keep my fingers and toes, which were lost to Herzog after he achieved the summit of his desires.

So I went back to Jodi and said, "I don't think I can give this up. I need to ride across the country." She understood, but the understanding comes with pain, the knowledge of a separation longer than we've ever known--and this pain and worry is mine, too. I don't shrug off her concerns easily and delight in my own "escape." Besides some physical breakdown that would nullify my dream, my greatest worry is leaving her, the woman of my life, the only one I've got or will ever need. I imagine some moments, stopped in the middle of an Iowa cornfield, really needing her by my side, wanting her input, intelligence and good sense of humor. I suspect that such moments will provide some genuine challenges, maybe the toughest. I try to rationalize my feelings and wonder if such contortions work for Jodi: It's ONLY a few months--not the rest of our lives. We can both work through this...blah, blah, blah.

But still the emotions sit there, staring back at us, creatures often deaf to the prattle of our rational selves. As Jodi has taught me, however, we have to let the feelings run their course. We will be okay, of course. We just have to let our emotional selves get used to the idea.