Every ride has a theme. Occasionally, they are obvious and heroic as an arena rock power chord. Other times you have to be patient, hunt for it a bit, but be confident it will reveal itself and concious enough to recognize it.
On some routes, beer cans are a theme. I’ve often wondered if you could figure out which supermarket or liquor store promotion worked the best among the drinkin-drivin-tossin-empties-out-the-window crowd by counting dispersion patterns of given brands. Bud Light seems a particular favorite. Guess folks don’t like to pack extra calories with their road buzz.
I only came across one recent beer can on Sunday - it was a Bud Light, but that was certainly an inappropriate sample quantity - while rolling along the edge of the bay. I’d looped out to head around China Camp point. Normally little traffic in the early hours, and I’d heard some turkeys while on the trails the day before, and wanted to see if I could maybe spot them.
Pedaled easily in a just-right gear and smelled the tang of low tide. Saw the aforementioned beer can - a 16 ouncer, mind you - and kept one eye up in the hillsides. Down near the Village, something big and whitish moved up from the road. Turned out to be a hen turkey with almost ghostlike qualities. Don’t know what would cause her feathers to look almost sunbleached, but there she was. I pulled the camera out as I rolled up to her, and eased off the roadway to see what else was there. Sure enough, her sleeveless-T-shirt wearin’ boyfriend was all puffed up like a feathery beach ball. Another 4 or 5 hens moved quietly through the branches of a downed tree, foraging but making little noise.
Working my way around the point, it began to smell like real rain, and with a minute or two, my tires were wet and I was appreciating fenders. Never got too bad, and in the distance I could see sunshine to the south over San Francisco. It remained like a strong mist, and another couple miles that too was behind me.
The first poodles appeared somewhere in Ross. They were large standards, alert, happy to out walking. They exhibited the curly hair that is a sign of that breed, but weren’t overly coiffed, certainly nothing like you see in the bad movies, dog shows or cartoons. Just lively dogs setting a good pace, enjoying what the winds brought them.
I saw another one in Larkspur, then another in Corte Madera. By the time I’d gone over Camino Alto and gotten near the dog park on the bike path, another 3 or 4 had gone past. Somewhere around 8 on the day; a sudden spike in the standard poodle count statistics. All the dogs were out, bright eyed and happy to be strutting about, excited about the park, their owner, buddy dogs they walked with or just anything at all. It made me smile and made me very sad, all at the same time.
Y’see, we just lost a poodle cousin a week ago. She had been my mother-in-law’s dog, and we’d watched her from from a tiny little fluff ball to a snow white standard over the last twelve years. We’d cared for her frequently over the years, whenever her real parents had traveled on an extended trip or were merely unable to get home during the day. About 6 months ago, when she was over one afternoon, she’d chanced to pee almost directly in line with the low winter sun. The urine was unmistakeably dark, almost reddish.
As you can guess, that observation initiated a whole bunch of other events, which ended in the diagnosis of a tumor pretty much entwined around her bladder. Not something you could operate on. They did all they could short of that, a gamut of treatments which worked, failed, gave hope and seemed to ease her increasing pain and immobility. She started to really falter late in the week. It had been putting more pressure on her kidneys, so she kept wanting to go out to pee. At least every hour, day and night. By the end, she was putting out mostly blood.
Like all these things, the dog lets you know when it is time. Midday Sunday, she finally stopped wanting to get up, wrung out by the efforts. You can see the pulling in when it happens, the acceptance of the next step. My wife and a neighbor contacted the vet who made house calls on a Sunday afternoon, who specialized in hospice and final releases. When he arrived, my wife tells me that the poodle stood up, and went around to those folks she knew, letting them pet her and scruffle her fuzzy hair one last time.
I was not there. Instead I was in a class where I’d been all day, not reachable and not aware until it had transpired. I’ve been at other final goodbyes like that, and they are not easy to attend, but would’ve liked to have petted her one more time.
Damned rain. How’d that get on my face? Anyway.
These brite and happy dogs, tongues lolling out and a spring in their step made me recall more of the good times than the moment of passing. They kept popping up throughout the ride, and by the time I’d reached home, had seen more standard poodles and large poodle varients than I had in a while. Or maybe I just noticed them.
This was one of my favorite shots of that poodle. We were out on a levy walk and she was romping and running and being a big goof. That was a great day.
Bumped over the bridge on the bike path and kept heading south. I wanted to climb a little today, and had intentions of looping around the headlands, which has a decent bit of uphill. In this stretch on that path, you get to see (and sometimes avoid) a large number of cyclists. Today was no exception. One rider stood out from far away, if only because his headtube looked like a ship’s mast. A big tall, long-leggity fellow, but the thing that stood out was that he had a cadence that seemed glacially slow. Mind you, he moved along at a pretty decent clip, but his legs seemed to cycle like those oil pumps you see out on the fields with the eccentric arm. I wasn’t sure if it was an optical illusion, but it did seem like watching one of those older movies, where the frame rate isn’t quite right and actions get slowed.
And danged if the same thing didn’t happen another quarter mile down the path. Another tallish rider, at least one who needed a headtube maybe twice the height of mine, chugging right along at a cadence in the low 30’s. This time I had noticed the slow cadence first, then shifted attention to the size of the bike and rider. And I timed it as he came towards me - about 3 or so turns of my pedals for one of his.
Definitely a day of statistical anomolies. I mean, you see enough riders that you get a feel for the average size distribution. Both these guys were on the thin edge of the bell curve. And pedaling like they were both coached that way. Seems to me the low & slow would put more pressure on the knees, which is probably tougher on taller folks anyway. On the other hand, trying to move a 36″+ leg probably takes a significant amount of effort, regardless of gear.
Slid through Sausalito, encouraged tourists to use their pedestrian right of way in the crosswalks, saw a couple more poodles on the Bridgeway promenade and worked my way up to the bridge overlook. A Modern Girl shot past me in the narrowest bit of the descent - we’ve never met but we’re Flickr contacts, and I recognized her about two seconds after having any chance to wave.
Reached the Conzulman mini-crest, just above the northwest parking lot. Normally this is where folks seem to congregate, before heading up the first pitch or swooping down to Sausalito. I stopped here for a second to check the time. With the earlier rains, I’d stowed my phone in the Country Bag to make sure it stayed dry. From the parking lot below, a large gang of bikers swarmed up and around me like fixated honey bees, the uniformally yellow hue of their outer coverings adding to the effect. By the time I put my toys away and started climbing, they were all around me.
It was kind of a bad stretch to get to know new folks, as it’s noticably steep and receives pretty steady auto traffic. We grunted a few “heys” back and forth. More than a few sported Grizzly Peak jerseys, so I figured they were engaging in a little west bay club ride. They were regrouping where McCullough road splits down towards the old base housing, and I continued onward to the semi-deadend near the top. I snapped a photo of no bridge and then rolled towards the one way section which hugs the edge of the hill. A kindly driver encouraged me ahead of them, and I waved a “thank you” before dropping in.
This stretch of road is a little daunting. The angle of the topography, the lowish guardrail, the sweep of the road and the lack of anything in your field of view other than the Pacific Ocean are downright disorienting. People have been lost here.
It was unnerving to come across three riders off their bikes at the first sharp turn. The car hadn’t even started their descent yet, and I immediately slowed to a stop. One guy was propped up against the guardrail with a pretty good bit of visible road rash on his right arm. The other two people were tending to him, one on a cell phone and the other down next to him. He was alert and concious, though he looked a bit shaken up. They said they were calling for an ambulance, and I tried to see if there was anything that needed to be done. In the end, they said they had it under control, and I descended to the visitor center. The first ranger I saw was speaking with another car that had gone by earlier, and it was clear he was getting the lowdown on the accident. Sure enough, before I was another 1/4 mile up the road, two rangers roared by with their lights on, and a paramedic went past a couple minutes later with sirens blaring. Can’t seem to find any news about either on the wires.
It’s the second crash I’ve come upon in the last two weekends. The other happened on the narrowing downhill bit coming down into Sausalito. In both cases it appears that they were single rider crashes, and in both situations, they occurred in narrowish, somewhat tricky, twisty bits when the roadway may have been a bit damp.
It made me wonder a bit about the causes. Certainly, a lot more people are starting to get out onto the roadways, now that most of the winter rains have passed. Road skills are probably a bit rusty and clunky for most people right now. Both of the bikes seemed to be common road bikes - lightish compact frames and skinny tires. A little off-camber zig-zag and something unexpected - a moment’s inattention, a car slightly over the centerline, a bird that flits out and just misses your head - you overcorrect and then tighten up and get slapped down right quick.
I think back on the hours logged on 23mm tires and remember how they felt when I’d been off them for a while - skittish comes immediately to mind. With the 33 1/3rd’s, things feel solid, even when the pavement isn’t optimum. I’m not in any way saying that was the cause of those accidents - I wasn’t there. I don’t know - just that the bigger tires give a margin of error which I’ve come to appreciate even more.
Thought about pilot error. How something I read a long time ago discussed plane crashes and how most commercial pilots could handle one problem OK. An engine loss. System failure. That sort of thing. When you added a second failure to the mix, that’s when things got bad fast. They tended to focus on one to the detriment of the other. You work so hard keeping the plane in the air that you don’t realize you are out of fuel, or you keep it level but forget to watch the altitude. As flight simulators got better they could address that, but I guess it was a problem for a while.
With bikes, too few riders really have edge of control experiences. You can see people riding stiffly, or tightening up when their bike drops into a shallow pavement crack. And we all have good days and bad days. Sometimes we over-correct instead of relaxing. I always try to remember that the bicycle basically wants to stay upright, so if I stay mostly out of its way, things should work out. Looking where you want to go. Having a horizon as reference. Staying loose. All good things. All helped by hours in the saddle, goofing around and getting sideways occasionally.
Eased my way home, tagging along with some racy-racy folks for a bit, seeing one of the tall guys with his slooow cadence again, coming across yet another poodle in the wild and enjoying every minute of the rest of the ride.