The sky is so blue, the sun so bright, and the people are nearly perfect. It is southern California, near the ocean and mountains.
The occasion was a vacation to ride bikes with friends. Not hybrid cruiser bikes; these are carbon fibre multi-suspension machines meant to navigate rocks, dirt, sand, gravel and even mountain streams. Most are doctors, but this is no golf vacation.
At the trail head, the picture on the sign is of a muscular mountain lion and a rattlesnake. Words read, “If attacked, fight back.” Immediately, you know this is not the city park trails at home. While climbing alone for brief periods through the dense desert vegetation in which carnivores reside, the picture on that sign flickers in the mind. Ah, it is good to be in yelling distance to a friend.
The dirt roads and double track are steep —really steep. The speeds are hard to modulate and unlike home, ruts are ubiquitous, and a misplaced front wheel will result in sudden deceleration. All know the consequence of crashing in an unfamiliar remoteness, often out of cell phone range. Additionally, the temperatures at sea level do not reflect the harshness of the higher elevations in the mountain ranges. On the ridge line, the noise from the wind precludes conversation without yelling, the cold pierces the thermal layer and a simple cloud which only transiently blocks the sun, speaks to us in completely clear language —get moving now! A seriousness sets in. Three hours ago, there was the comfort of a resort —a stark contrast indeed.
Descending a rocky trail alongside a mountain is breathtaking. A mix of emotions swirls inside. Exhilaration, nerves, joy and gratitude all skirt the mind as I navigate the trail. The bike floats over the rocks, turns around the exposed corner —do not look down— and just as the legs and hands begin to cramp, the trail leaders and pals await at a corner. Those who wait to regroup greet the slower descenders with the widest of grins and the fraternity is palpable. Yes, it now seems worth the plane ride, rent-a-car and time away.
Even amongst the joy, the exhilaration and companionship, there is still a longing for more. Staci could ride this, and when she did I would love to see her grin. Will could climb that mountain and when he did I would like to see his look of accomplishment. Catherine would love hanging in Laguna Beach, and I would like to have coffee with her at the Orange Inn. My best friend Bob is not here. As I climb side by side with my teammates, or descend over a rock ledge, I think of my gang, wishing they were here too.
In past trips, the riding was all encompassing. Now, older age has set in. Other interests creep into one’s life. Things change. Coming back into the hotel room after the morning ride, I look at the MacBook, and wish there was time to sit and write words. Preparations for the afternoon ride preclude other endeavors. A book sits on the table, the story is so good, but it will have to wait as well. To go to the pool and read and type seems so attractive, but the fraternity says we need to ride; in the mountains, through clouds and down the impossibly long rocky descents. Like the eighth grade boy, who repeatedly plans his approach to the girl, only to freeze when real time interaction ensues, it is difficult to tell your friends that other interests could supplant a ride.
Southern California provides a remarkable set, but “regular” life with the usual scenery has many great stories, if only the eyes and mind are open to see.
Back to the usual, and really happy for it.