Through a Haze of Bubbles

When I got up this morning, I had no intention of getting out of bed. But as the day wore on, and new bike blogs were discovered, and articles about Paris-Roubaix were read, I couldn’t help myself and ended up on a 20 mile solo ride around Alameda and Bay Farm Islands. I was hoping there wouldn’t be any traffic since it was Easter Sunday, but not so much.

The people who drive on Easter Sunday are not normal people. They are either in some sort of food coma, or have not yet arrived at their destinations and are blissfully eager to spend an iconic afternoon with people they will only realize too soon they don’t even like. The pre-gathering euphoria was really cramping my style this afternoon. But more than the drivers, I had forgotten completely that Paris-Roubaix was only today – it felt like a million years ago. The internal note I handed myself when I arrived home was ‘never, ever go on a casual ride on a race day’. All of the post-PR folks were out in full kit, attacking climbs that were not really climbs, into headwinds that were obnoxious but not unmanageable. It was both silly and wonderful to see adults behaving so unnecessarily. But being overtaken again and again by hyper-zealous cyclists was not my idea of a good time. Of course, that might just be the envy talking.

Bay Farm Island, where I had never ridden before, is pretty amazing. There are multiple bridges that can take you anywhere, and though I did not follow the route I initially intended, I still somehow managed to take a 20 mile ride – I’m not really sure how that happened. There is a bike path that is sort of a joke – tree roots are coming up through the concrete and huge bumps in the asphalt. If I had been on a road bike, this would have been a serious problem. Since I have neither clipless pedals nor toe clips, I cant bunnyhop over things like this, and instead have to stand up and bend my knees, hoping to absorb the shock as gracefully as I can without hurting myself or my bike. This bike path just stops at some point, and I realized I was riding on the sidewalk before jumping off into a wide and lovely bike lane. If it had not been for the wind, this ride would have been serene and extremely relaxing. I couldn’t even hear the music in my headphones for about a mile, until I turned and got the tailwind. The views from the paths near water are stunning. Today was extremely clear and I could see all the way to San Francisco. There were a couple of near misses as I was so caught up in looking around. It never ceases to amaze me how easily my breath is taken away by a good view.

There were a shocking number of families out on the trails today and it seems that every child’s most ardent desire is to make friends with adult cyclists. We are like mysteries to them, even though their adult parent, also on a bicycle, is close behind. Unfortunately, the way kids know to become our friends is to move directly into our path and then stop abruptly, often catapulting themselves off their bikes and onto the ground. Of course, on paved trails where lots of people are present, I bike more slowly, waiting to avert just such a crisis. There was one particularly magical moment, though, that reminds me why I so much prefer biking to driving. Two little kids were standing on a bench, blowing bubbles with bubble guns and the bubbles were drifting over the trail in front of me. Seeing my approach, they started trying to blow as many bubbles as possible, creating a dense, sticky fog I now got to ride through. As a huge fan of bubbles myself, that was just fine with me.

I also stumbled on this place today. I have no idea where it came from or why it exists, but this was where I took a break for some water and almonds. Coincidentally, R.E.M’s ‘Nightswimming’ came on as I was sitting there, taking in the sights, which made for an arresting moment.

view from the deck, where many almonds were consumed.

This view, in particular, reminded me so strongly of a trip I took in 2009 to Australia, I had to share it with the people I met and stayed with while I was there. On the River Murray, I walked a dog for hours and hours, steeped in jetlag and climate shock, and it was brilliant. It was a nice spot to reminisce.

From here, I started the long slog home – back in the battle with the headwind. I got a little lost once I found my way back to Alameda, but eventually found the bridge I needed to return to Oakland. No matter how or when you do it, there is always, always at least a small headwind when heading west, since the breeze coming off the bay gets channeled by the buildings. It is a strangely satisfying and intensely exhausting way to end a ride – even a short one. There are several freeway exits and entrances, most of which are being used with frequency, meaning that just as momentum is achieved, its time to stop again.

A mile from home I ran into a friend, and talked with him a while. Normally, this is something else to love about biking in cities – I could never have done that from a car. In fact, I would never have even seen him. But at the end of a ride, with sore legs and sweat that was quickly drying and making me very cold, I was not into it. What I wanted was to finish out my last mile and go home, feeling sated by the adventure I had just taken. But to have a gap so close to the end really bothered me. I was tempted to keep going – past my house and maybe loop the giant lake in the middle of the city before coming back. But in the end, I climbed my stairs and took a shower. Next time I will linger for longer in different, solitary places.

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