Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Foggy Mountain Breakdown

The Haze has settled upon us. For days and days it will stay. It is the defining condition of a Sacramento winter, this haze, this valley fog.

The fog is a silky-voiced seductress. She pulls you towards the darkness, urges you to fall in love with sadness. Cold, dark and damp, she plays with your psyche, tries to break you. Even though the winter days are short, they can seem so very, very long. The time grinds by slowly in this perpetual dusk. The mind, relying on the sun for its internal clock, loses its rhythm. Without seeing the sun for a week, one feels an imbalance. Something is not quite right. Tired and cranky, you just want to hibernate. This is how the mind responds to prolonged gloom.

Normally I am immune to her charms where I live. My house sits at 1650 feet, well above true fog. But this pattern we are stuck in now is actually a low stratus layer, which is hanging right about 1500 feet. My house is socked in, but if we descend into the valley the visibility improves greatly. Still, the stratus layer hangs low and oppressive, right above our heads.

I awoke this morning to another day of this; I did not want to ride. Spending a few hours in 41 degree cold and 100 percent humidity just didn’t sound like fun. But the key to breaking the spell, to breaking the monotony of gloom, is to get out and face it.

It had been a while since I made it out for my “normal” Wednesday single speed ride. Thanksgiving break, contractors, rain and Christmas break all conspired against me. I caught myself smiling as I lifted my bike from the back of the truck. It was good to be back.

Though it was cold, the trail conditions were nearly perfect. In the summer, the searing sun bleaches the trails white, hard and unforgiving like polished bones. Today they were dark, fast and tacky, like ribbons of sweet, velvety chocolate. I pushed the bike hard into the corners, feeling for the edge of adhesion, but never really finding it; traction seemed unlimited.

I saw no one for the first hour. The cold seemingly kept the dog walkers and runners in their homes. More trail for me.

I stopped after about 12 miles and looked out over the lake. It was difficult to tell the difference between sand, water, sky and surrounding hills:

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep:

Nearing the point where I would turn around, I had to dismount and climb over a fallen tree. When I came back through only about 25 minutes later, the tree had been removed. I saw nobody around and heard no chainsaws. It was kind of bizarre.

On a stretch of paved trail between the two main dirt trails, something possessed me to pull a wheelie up a hill. I rode it. And rode it. And rode it. It was by far the longest wheelie I have ridden in many, many years. Maybe since BMX days.

As I came around a corner, an older couple witnessed about two-thirds of my wheelie show. The man stopped me and said I reminded him of "that guy on the Internet." My blank stare prompted him and his wife to describe a guy who "hops around like a madman . . . off buildings, walls, spiked fences . . . "

It was the spiked fence reference that made me ask, "Danny MacAskill?"

"Yeah, that's the guy!" they exclaimed. Yes, today my awesome handling skills were compared to Danny MacAskill's. Too funny.

I ended the 32-mile ride with cold feet and tired legs, but it was a fun ride.


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