I feel irrationally tragic about the old Bay Bridge.
In this overwrought piece of early-days Photoshop are reflections of freshman year, both the clunky camera and the amped-up ambient glow. I was (am?) a serious, suburban child: my town banned leaf-blowers and plastic lawn chairs; I never had a curfew because I always came home to my AP History notes of my own accord. So there was something to that particular bay crossing. It was summer, and I was riding to the city with boys. I had my nose to the glass, I remember, and the steel beams passed over my head like a benediction.
It’s a stupid expression in more ways that one, but since this is already leaning lachrymose I’ll say also that I’ve fallen both out of and in love on the lower deck, on each occasion in view of Treasure Island against the water. Possibly a bridge primes us for such transitions, suspends us alone with our dilemmas, catalyzes coalescence of something solid from the empty air. But like that picture this is fanciful abstraction. Reality is that the FS bus is a good place to cry, because it’s dim and loud and everyone’s facing forward, whereas the inside of a motorcycle helmet is not, because it fogs.
I don’t dislike the new bridge, exactly, but I must alas join the hipsters and native grouches and all the other wrongfully nostalgic in finding it sort of sterile. It’s too white, too obviously empty of whatever it was that the old one roared at you out of its bare bolts and bad pavement. But this is always the challenge, in the end: to find faith that in time all things might be acquired, to believe one day there will be more than what’s inherent in the build.
I had three good bike days in a row but was scared to write it down for fear the scent of something celebratory might, per usual, attract the unwanted attention of whatever little demons control my musculoskeletal system (shut up, Science; don’t tell me how to feel). But they found me anyway, so I guess now I might as well post whatever grainy iPhone photos I want.
Mt. Tam road-dirt, 8/24
I haven’t been up to East Peak since the first summer I had my bike (ponytail throwback, 2007). I thought the long absence might make for novelty enough, but by the time I got across the bridge the idea of the slog up the pavement was already so unappealing that I bailed onto Railroad Grade, where I had a totally lovely time and cut the shit out of a pair of new tires. Whatever. Worth it, as always, to look down on that town.
Annadel MTB, 8/25
There’s excitement in novelty and then there’s the thrill of the familiar—a real thing, actually, because of what it takes to round a corner at a speed incompatible with correction for the unexpected. I’d missed going fast, but I’d also missed the company of like-minded folk who’d rather leave it out of all the uphill portions. Do you have a mountain bike? Do you like to putter up climbs and stop frequently for picnics? I Want to Hear From You!
Berkeley CX, 8/26
An attempt at an efficient after-work ride ended at the bottom of the Smackdown with the realization that I was already too hungry, followed by 20 minutes spent actually foraging for blackberries (sparse and still sour, if you were wondering). But the delay meant I caught the sunset, watched the bay fill up with fog and light and Mt. Diablo gather itself into a silhouette against the evening.
Between the dark days of knee drama (here I’m crossing myself with one hand and knocking on wood with the other) and sheer laziness, it’s been a fewyears since I’ve ridden Mt. Diablo. But I’m pining for real mountains, so it seems a good time to take what I can get.
Very few people have the patience for 50 miles at my pace, these days—I’m not even one of them—which made me appreciate Arielle’s company even more. She’s an internationally accredited master of the long haul, a lover of ludicrous Alpine death rides and the ultimate good sport. (Like Oliver Sacks and Primo Levi, she’s also a scientist who can put a sentence together: If you’re bored enough to be reading my blog you should definitely read hers.)
It’s a poor form of thanks to post this awkward selfie, I know, but like the inadvisable summit snacks themselves I can’t resist.
I spent my most indoor weekend in recent memory at a wilderness first-aid class. This was less an attempt at preparedness than a genuflection, a superstitious offering of time and money to the injury gods in the vague belief that anything I bother with I’ll never actually need. It’s like bringing an umbrella, right?1 … Right?
The 16-hour NOLS starter-course served mostly to reinforce what I already knew, specifically that I don’t know enough to deal with anything serious and am so fundamentally horrified by gore that I’d probably vomit all over any attempt to learn2. A stage-makeup abrasion to a volunteer’s palm had me rocking silently in a ball at the back of the class as the instructor plucked off bits of gravel with tweezers. The casual wagging of model arm with an open fracture made me teary. And it isn’t just blood or the ick factor, honest; it’s the very idea that we are permeable, can be ruptured, jumbled, spilled. It’s appalling.
Which is not an excuse for ignorance, I know. Even a delicate snowflake like me can strive to be competent enough to provide the relief of knowing a situation won’t get any worse, reassurance that someone’s on the way with a uniform and better drugs. That’s something.
But for the rest of it, you’re going to need another type of person. So I’m grateful this week and always for those of you unruffled or compelled or delighted by the notion of our bodies as bags of faintly electrified goop. To you—to everyone I know in nursing school or med school or whatever, to every EMT who’s ever scraped me or the people I care about off the pavement or the trail—thank you, thank you, thank you; better you than me.
1. I have no idea what this is, but it exists on the Internet.3 2. Another thing I already knew was that you should always approach a helicopter from the front. I originally learned this by walking in on this godawful scene from ER. That was 2002; I have never recovered. 3. I swore I wasn’t going to continue this footnote bullshit on this new site, but here I go again.
Spent the past weekend in town with a stack of magazine proofs and my sinus demons, so it was good to keep things mellow. Saturday I did a very pleasant dirt ride that allows me to make the first installment in a series I will call either “Shit Jacob Says” or, more generally, “Fighting on Bikes with Boys.” Ready?
Later we set aside our differences in order to eat burritos on Memorial Glade, where a sunny day never fails to bring out some interesting characters.
This encounter with my cycling spirit animal really set the tone for Sunday, much of which I spent sitting on my ass watching Real Athletes slaughter themselves at the Berkeley Streets Criterium. A spectating benefit of having very fast friends is that I have people to yell at, and to provide exclusive post-game analysis. “We tried a kamikaze attack for the yoga-mat prime,” Joanna said after her second race (having already won the first). “It didn’t work.”