Day by day in Jefferson


Of dogs and people

I’m most likely a sociopath. No, this isn’t the same as a psychopath or a schizophrenic. A sociopath lacks empathy and in some cases, the capacity for true emotions. Hard core members of this diagnosis group are often ruthless leaders, both publicly and privately. These folks are able to use their lack of feeling as a tool in their arsenal when climbing the social, political or corporate ladder. They aren’t necessarily mean or evil, but the missing parts of their psyche allow them to step on the fingers of those climbing behind and below and then take a nap or grab a sandwich. It isn’t that they necessarily know they are sociopathic nor that what they are doing is less than socially responsible. Most people are not that self aware. They simply act as they have always acted and if they consider it at all, most likely it’s in the vein of feeling sorry (or more likely, disdain) for those who aren’t as good as they.
I think I’m more of a middle-of-the-road sociopath: I feel pain and love (at least I think I do) and even some empathy. I felt the loss, though at a distance, when my father passed. I felt something when friends have ended their battles. Truly though, not strongly and not for long.
Over the past two years, we’ve lost our three dogs. I had a 14 year old mini dachshund and my other half, a 15 year old boxer-mix and a 10 year old staff-mix.
First, the staff developed heartworm, after which followed a long and trying recovery. Shortly after that, she began behaving strangely and in the end, it was determined that she was suffering from a brain tumor. Following her passing, first the boxer (after a long decline) and then our doxie both passed. I was moved by the way the staff died: it was sudden and harsh and she was young. I also knew how much she meant to my girlfriend and I felt her loss. I was present when they ended her suffering and I did cry. No matter how it sounds, I was not affected when either of the other dogs passed. Some of that was that both were suffering (and had been for a long time) and honestly, both had been very trying at the end.
I know that just the manner in which I describe that sequence would anger or horrify some. I understand that and it’s why I believe that my self diagnosis is correct. The staff and I spent eight years together and most of the last six months of her life in direct proximity to each other. I took care of her, day and night through her recovery from heartworm. Yet I really didn’t have feelings for her.
In the thirty years since I was a boy, I’ve had many dogs. I’ve lost many dogs. In all the cases, I was largely unaffected.
When I was a kid, about five, our family got a lab-mix. She was with us until I was twelve, when she passed from cancer. The night before she went in to the vet, I jumped out of bed and landed on her foot. She yiped and limped the rest of the night. My mom took her to the vet the next day, never really saying what was wrong. She was gone five days before our parents let us know she wasn’t coming home.
It hurt so bad that I told myself I would never allow myself to get that close again. I pushed the hurt down and buried any thoughts about her. I’ve used that technique every time I have been faced with a loss since then. The less you think about something, the less it can hurt you.
After the loss of all our dogs, I told my girlfriend about my decades long desire to own a puli. I did some research and found one of the few US breeders and contacted them. I mentioned to the breeder that while I’d like a puppy, I’d actually prefer an older dog. Hopefully housebroken and obedience trained. She responded with the fact that she had a two year old female that hadn’t worked out as an ability candidate and she was looking to place her. After a few more back and forth about pedigrees and health testing, I said yes.
I have a tendency to get excited about a project and then lose interest after a while and my girlfriend was concerned that this would be one of those projects. She made me promise that I would never leave her outside and that she would be a part of our lives. I promised.
Polly was shipped to us from Michigan and we drove to Reno to collect her. I had seen a pair of pulik many years before and except for a few websites and TV shows (where puli were featured as unique rare dogs), I really didn’t know what to expect.
We went in the terminal and the first thing I could smell, from dozens of feet away, was Polly. (That would turn out to be due to getting wet and not being dried properly. Polly would NEVER soil herself, even after 15 hours in a dog crate.) After collecting her and getting out of the airport, we decided we would get her out for a quick potty break. She immediately slipped her lead.
For 90 minutes we chased her through high speed streets, with traffic blazing by, honking. Through parking lots. Through industrial areas. All in the dark and chasing a terrified, black dog. How it ended is still bizarre. My girlfriend had been circling the area – we lost sight of each other two minutes into the ordeal – and somehow she saw me. She pulled into the lot and pulled out the crate. Polly, despite having only been in the car five minutes before the chase begun, recognized it and ran there and into her waiting crate.
From there things got worse. She was beyond terrified of us. She jumped over kitchen counters to escape. I put a leash on her and for the first week, that was our only means of capturing her. I told my girlfriend she had to go back. I couldn’t imagine ten years like this. My girlfriend, who really hadn’t been all that enthusiastic about getting her in the first place, now said, no way. You promised to work with her and there’s no way we are sending her back to the situation that produced such a terrified dog. I knew I had to keep my promise, so I said that if it took me a year, I would work with her.
That night I grabbed the leash and made her lie on my tummy while we watched TV. She hyperventilated and her heart beat a million times a minute but she stayed there. I took her out to do her business every day, many times a day. I kept her on me while we watched TV every night. And slowly, oh so slowly, she calmed down. I took off the leash. She started coming when called. She laid on the floor next to me and I pet her or just let my hand rest on her. She decided to sleep with us at the foot of our bed.
She worked her way into my heart and for the first time, I let her.
Over the months, I told her every day that I loved her and I would protect her. I did love her. She looked at me and I knew she loved me. We walked together virtually every day. We spent almost every waking hour together. If I left the room for a glass of water, she followed, nose in the back of my knee. When I took a shower, she relaxed on my bed and waited. She rode in the back seat of my truck everywhere. Everyone in town knew Polly. She slept on my bed every night.
In about the sixth month we had her, we went to the National Puli Specialty. We met many we had talked to on Facebook. We met a breeder with a litter of puppies. Our goal was to get a boy for my girlfriend and this breeder had some boys. Once she knew that my girl was intact and who the breeder was, she refused to sell us a pup until Polly was spayed.
Over the next six months, I went back and forth about the procedure. For whatever reason, I was scared. I made appointments and broke them. Resolved myself to it and made appointments again. I looked for excuses to cancel and I did.
On April 18th, I took her for a walk, hoping for loose stools or hard stools or bad gas.
I took her in and told the tech how worried I was. She said that things happened but not often. I left my best friend and the only thing that truly loved me. My last view of her was watching her leave the room, tail held high.
An hour later the phone rang. I could see it was the vet. I figured she had some blood work that showed something. I heard the voice and it was the doctor. My blood actually became so loud in my head that all I heard was “cardiac arrest” before I dropped the phone. My best friend was gone.

There’s more. There’s the horror scene of me at the vet. My Polly Pocket laying there, looking like she was sleeping. But there’s no more to be gained by me writing it or remembering the pain. I lost the only one who loved me. She lost her life. I don’t, can’t, understand.

We have a new puppy coming. Vadrozsa Pyper at the Gates of Dawn. Pyper. I will be with her every day, just like Polly. She won’t be Polly, of course. With Polly, every little thing, every bit of trust earned, every time she ran back to me, was a victory, celebrated. Pyper will be a tiny puppy. The love will be there. I just don’t know how I will feel.
Can I let myself feel for this youngster what I allowed with Polly? Can I be vulnerable?
I don’t know.

What I do know is that I miss my Polly every day, every night. I will look down at the foot of the bed and see Pyper and try not to see Polly. I will love her.

Even sociopaths feel. Maybe we miss the depth of feeling that normals experience. Maybe we don’t – miss it, that is. I do know that I would not trade the love I felt from her and for her for not feeling the pain now. Maybe that’s what being human is. Makes me feel a little lucky to be not so human. Sometimes.


Riding the Ridge

No, no mentions of Denzel Washington here (outside of this mention). Ever notice you could take him from any movie he’s in and put him into any other movie he’s in and nothing about him would change? He’s not really a character-driven actor. He drives the character. In other words, there’s a whole bunch of characters who act exactly like Denzel Washington. I call that a one-trick pony.

In any event. The February 10th Showdown on the Lowdown… er… Love Ride is coming up. Chico Velo historically had this as a tandems event, so it’s pretty low impact. 40 (around the Buttes), 60 (from the Fairgrounds to around the Buttes and back to the fairground) and 100 (I don’t know the path cause I ain’t taking the path) mile rides. I guess there’s some other side rides and such to vary your mileage to your own personal degree of pain…

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Riding the Ridge

OK, so I visited my LBS today – and I’ve kept the name out since I was miffed at their treatment of me since I’d paid for the bike, but here it is: North Rim Adventures in Chico. I bought the bike from Alex with some help from Kat. The owner, or who I’m guessing is the owner, was also there and even while I was preparing to spend money on the bike, largely ignored me. No one fitted me. They only pulled bikes for me to test when I pointed them out.

Alex was and is, great. He initially tried to point me toward the ‘comfort’ bikes, but as my list showed, I wasn’t having any of that. He’s great – when it comes to selling bikes. He seems to know nothing about the components or upgradability or which tires are best – basically, not much other than selling…

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Moving my cycling posts to my new blog: Ascending to Paradise!

Riding the Ridge

Paradise, California sits along a section of the foothills known locally as ‘the Ridge’. The Skyway, which is one of the four main roads to Paradise, runs from Chico (at around 100′) to Inskip (at around 5000′) and now, beyond to Butte Meadows. Along the way, as you climb, you’ll run into Paradise, Magalia, Lovelock (pop 10), Stirling City (pop 300) and finally Inskip (pop 3 if they aren’t out shopping). The Ridge itself is a narrow backbone of rock and dirt running between two small valleys. One side contains the Feather River, the other, an area known locally as the Little Grand Canyon or Butte Canyon. One of the two Chico Creeks runs through Butte Canyon and Honey Run runs alongside the creek. If you take Honey Run, you’ll also pass by the Honey Run Covered Bridge and then come to Centerville (pop 20?) before climbing up to Paradise…

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Of Cisterns, Cycles and Thunderstorms

It’s weird. Cycling has brought out a part of me that has remained hidden for fifty one years: I’m not sure what it is that pushes me to ride. True, I used to ride my Harley in cold, in rain, in 100 degree heat. But dressing up and letting a motorcycle pull you along is really not the same thing. I can’t stress enough how I’ve never exercised before in my entire life. True, again, I was in the military. So yes, there was a brief period where I was forced to exercise and a much briefer period following that where I did some exercising voluntarily. So, those times excluded – and they were very brief – my life has been blissfully exercise free.

Which is why I find it interesting surprising and confusing that the bike has brought out this side or slice of me. I’m not riding every day, but I am riding every fourth day or so. And if it were nicer outside, I might be riding every other day. And I enjoy it. I actually enjoy, for the most part, the most intense part of the ride – the climbing. My location provides a number of opportunities to climb.

Today was a brief respite in the series of winter storms that have been pounding us for two days with two or three more to come. So when 2pm hit today and it was not raining, I decided to go. It was warm and nice inside the house. I didn’t need to go out, at all. My Christmas shopping is done. I have food and coffee. Still, I put on my my bib knickers, my sweats and a long-sleeve shirt and sweatshirt. I added my beanie and helmet and my most insulated leather Harley riding gloves. These things go about eight inches up the arm. Warm. Thick socks. High top Nikes. Ready.

Here’s part of it – and if the idea that the desire to ride, all by itself, is confusing, then this is downright baffling: I’m trying to train for a race. Right. On Feb 10, there is a (34, 40, 60 or 100 – choose your poison) mile race. I’ve chosen to try the 40 miler. Given that I started riding November 4 and today was my longest ride to date and totaled 15.3 miles, and that I have six weeks to get ready and all those are in winter, I must be insane. Perhaps the gastric bypass is leaving my brain starved for fuel and it’s not operating correctly. Why else would I leave the warm house to go out in 33 degree weather?

Discussed the route with the better half. One of my ‘problems’ is going from zero to hero in no time. In my mind, at least. I also dislike doing the same thing over and over. So the idea of doing the bike trail yet again didn’t appeal. Longest ride to this point: 13.5 miles. 7 miles of uphill with 1800′ elevation change. On the plus side, not downhill. So the hero part picked a new route: 8.9 miles downhill, turn around, 8.9 miles back up. Go from 1850′ to 125′ and back to 2050′ then down to 1850′ at home. After a bit of Google Earth’ing, realized it was actually 11.9 miles down, then 14 miles up, then 2.1 down again. Hmm. SO suggests that there might be some other mis-calculations going on in my grey matter. I reconsider under threats.

New route is a partial of the previous new route. 6.2 miles down to the cistern (a good landmark). Turn around, climb 8.3 uphill to my turn around spot and 2.1 back to the house. 1850′ to 810′ to 2050′ to 1850′. A good day’s work.

Properly dressed, check the pressure. Tires are OK. Take off the little under-the-seat bag and replace with big rack bag. Out from the little comes fingerless gloves (into the closet they go) and multi-tool (that goes into big bag). Toss in tube, tire levers, slime bottle, big pocket knife (in case of wolves, bears or hobos), garage door opener, and …should be other stuff, but ready. Slip headlight on (finally get to try it out!) and tail light clipped onto back of bag. Iphone goes into SlipLock mount. Fire up tunes. Fire up riding app. Slip last glove on and go!

Ride down to Nunelly and realize it’s pretty bleak out. Big black clouds line the horizon – which is very, very close. Glasses fog up from breath. Pass the bank – 31 degrees. Up and over the small hump and down past the churches and to Pearson. Up the little hill there (in 6th gear!) and cross the road and meet the bike trail. Pop over the curb and down.

This time, after the fails when it comes to tunes, I’d set up in advance a couple of playlists. For whatever reason, the concept of “random” once again defies the abilities of either me or the device. I choose to blame the device. I’d selected the playlist called “hard riding”. Hard for the music type. Riding cause…I’m riding. Hard includes everything from Sammy Hagar (best of) to Iron Maiden. Random would have been nice but the gloves are on and the iPhone requires the human touch. Not going to happen so Sammy’s  album “Anthology” begins with Bad Motor Scooter which moves into Rock the Nation and Paper Money. The entire downhill is taken up by the rest of the album.

Riding the trail is relaxing in terms of safety. The worst that will happen (barring running into a giant crane truck or a falling limb) is being in the wrong place when someone wants to pass. Maybe the threat of a dog is in there, too. Both leashed and unleashed dot the trail. Riding the city streets, on the other hand, is not relaxing at all. No shoulders or sidewalks and blind corners are the norm on Neal rather than the exception. Sammy does help as he rocks out Red and You Make Me Crazy. Cars whiz by my elbow. I’m going downhill at speeds up to 24 mph – in a 30 mph zone. The app says I’ve crossed the mile 4 mark. I wonder what the cars will do when I’m going 5 mph on the way back up. Sammy tells me This Planet’s on Fire. I agree.

Mile 5 is more downhill, now out of town and in the ‘hills’. Ranchland extends on both sides as far as the eye can see. About sixty feet in the fog. Mile 6 is announced and I’m keeping my eye out for the cistern. I’d promised to make that my turn-around and by the time I’ve reached it, I’m quite happy I’d agreed. The cold is something at 20+ mph. I spot the cistern and look for a turn around spot and Sammy croons Two Sides of Love. I downshift and flip a u-turn.

There’s another aspect to leaving the trail. The trail is built on a railroad track – which naturally limited the angle of attack. Trains don’t go up steep hills willingly and inclines are limited. When ‘scaped for bikers and hikers, incline is kept in mind. As such, even though climbing often exceeds 300’ per mile, it’s smooth and steady. No such restrictions cover the pavement meant for motor-powered vehicles. Fittingly, Sammy sings I Can’t Drive 55 as I begin the climb. Immediately, the lack of concern for people-powered vehicles becomes apparent. The incline is much steeper than anything on the trail and is possibly matched only by the climb at Old Skyway. That was optional – I chose to do it. This is mandatory – otherwise I’m pushing for the next 6 miles. Down to 1st and start spinning.

The app comes on to goad me and make fun of my progress. When did I switch it to ‘nag’ mode? Since I did not ‘clear’ it, it is telling me I’m behind my previous pace. Note to self – CLEAR the app. I don’t need to know I’m running slow. I can see I’m slow. The app says I’m making 5.5 mph and averaging 19 mph. That’s cause I went down 6.3 miles and I’ve climbed… about 800 feet. Mile 7 is announced. Tunes switch to Testament and “Practice What You Preach” – one of my favorite Testament albums. And it has nothing to do with me being friends with the lead singer, Chuck Billy. I enjoy their first three albums very much. The fourth too, but a bit less. And a lot less as time has gone on. “Formation of Damnation” is a return to form, but I’m more mellow these days. I find I don’t like new metal – even if it sounds like old metal. Old metal is familiar, has memories attached. New metal is often just noise.

Chuck attacks the title song and I keep climbing. I try 2nd gear and quickly switch back to 1st. No new mile markers are announced by the app. I’m actively looking for a place to catch my breath. My plan is usually to find a bench and rest, sitting on the seat. There are no benches along the street. The incline increases. My desire to find a spot to catch my breath does, too. Envy Life plays in the headphones. I’m envying breath. A side street appears and I aim for the curb. I miss by a couple inches and instead fall less-than-gracefully to the gravel. Since it was slow, and I’m numb, there is no pain outside pride. I pretend like it was intentional. The bike is held up by a pedal and gets no scratches. I rest and grab my water. This is perhaps the longest break I’ve taken in all my rides. On my ass. In the gravel. In someone’s front yard. At least the lycra is hidden by sweats this time.

Chuck sings Blessed in Contempt while I lounge.

He starts Greenhouse Effect as I pick myself and my steed up. Breathing rate controlled, I start back up. Mile 8 is announced. I detect snickering. Might be my imagination.

Road levels out a tiny bit. It’s slightly less than straight up now. I try 2nd again. The wind laughs as I go back to 1st. Again. Testament belts out The Ballad and I am looking for a resting spot again. A convenient side street presents itself. I make the curb this time. I look like a pro to no one looking at all.

The album switches again. Motorhead and “Ace of Spades”. Again, one of my favorites (which makes sense since I created the playlist). Lemmy abuses the title track and the road abuses me. I keep the climb going. I can see the end of the the now hated Neal. A quick right turn there will send me north up the bike trail. As Love Me Like a Reptile plays I make the firm decision that I’ll get to Pearson and, if need be, push it over the steep part of the hill. Then I can ride down to Clark. And push it another 2 miles back home? No. My firm decision changes. I’ll get to Elliot, then…same thing. All east-west roads have a very steep rise in between the trail and the road home, Clark. Lemmy tilts his head back and scream/sings We Are The Road Crew and I firmly decide to go to Central Park and THEN turn right to head home.

Before any of these can go from decision to reality, of course, I must make it to – and past – Pearson, which I’ve still not reached. I cross Foster and Lemmy, ‘Fast’ Eddie Clark and Filthy Phil Taylor play Jailbait. I cross Pearson. As I enter the trail again, a notice a few drops falling. Uh Oh. I read somewhere that if you ride in inclement weather you are a badass – period. I am now a badass. Mile 10 or 11, I can’t remember which, is announced. Since I’m back up to 6 mph, the app has ceased to taunt me. I am not forgiving and make solemn promises to kill the programmers. The rain increases dramatically as huge lightning flashes light the sky. My focus is downward and watching as water drops flash by my 600 lumen headlamp. The occasionally hit the front and sizzle a bit. Cool. A sad sack walker shields his eyes from the lamp. I’d not adjusted it prior to leaving – I’d not thought about anything outside keeping myself seen from the front. I rasp an apology as I pass.

Bite The Bullet gives way to The Chase is Better than the Catch – one of the standout tracks on the album, in my humble opinion. And I cross Elliott. Along with the change in tracks is my change in turnaround spots. I’ll make it to Rocky Road. As described in prior posts, that’s the one spot I can take where the east-west portion of the trip can be made with only a small hump in between the trail and Clark. And as Bille gives way to Wagstaff, “Ace of Spades” gives way to “Iron Fist”. Lemmy and company do the title track and launch into Heart of Stone as I turn onto Rocky and the app announces I’m not behind previous times anymore. Not because of my blazing speed – no. Simply because I’ve gone further than I ever have before – mile 14 is recorded. I finally am heading downhill again.

Between Elliott and Wagstaff, I rode through torrential rain and hail. I had to stop to take my phone out of the mount and put it in the bag in back. My hood filled with hail, which opened it further, allowing it to also catch freezing rain. That dripped down my back. My legs and feet are drenched, soaking. My beanie is completely soaked, dripping into my eyes. I took off my glasses, too, as I couldn’t see with the fogging and water. Strangely – I’m not bothered. Either I’ve actually HTFU or, which is far more likely, I’m so numb I’m not really noticing.

As I go down Rocky, I usually hear tell from the app of high speeds – 20+ mph. There’s a white coating of hail on the ground. Lightning and thunder actually drown out both my 600 lumen headlamp and Lemmy gently suggesting we all Go to Hell. And suddenly the tunes are gone. I’m much more concerned that I’m going to hit black ice than I am that the only sounds now are my heart beating and the thunder. I’ll worry about that at home. Suddenly the app comes on and tells me I’m going 12 mph and I’m at 14.3 miles. Huh. so the phone and headphones didn’t die. Maybe one or the other is protesting my choice of musical accompaniment. Again, bigger things to worry about. Mini-rivers run along the road. Cars pass by my elbow, running through the rivers and splashing a bit more on me.

No one coming at Wagstaff so I don’t slow down and turn east. Down to middle ring and 3rd gear. Pedal hard. I can hear my breaths and my heart. Both sound good. Down to middle ring and 1st. Up over the corner and it’s all downhill on Clark from here. The road is white with snow and hail. The sidewalk is brown and white – pine needles, cones and snowplow residue. It’s pouring. The app says 15 miles and I’m going 14 mph.

I make the light at McDonalds and the woman who should be crossing in front of me from the side street – she has the green – is instead texting her bff about how it’s raining. Or maybe her mom about how she’s a DUMB FUCK! Put the damn phone down and drive you stupid…. sorry. I yell at her as I cross in front of her. She has her window down partly but DOESN’T EVEN NOTICE. Doesn’t notice me. Doesn’t notice the green light. She goes on to kill seven in their mini-van cause she needed to text her aunt that her dog pooped. Or whatever it is that driving-texters find important enough to text each other about. I secretly wish her bloody stools and wisdom teeth pain on Christmas eve. Instead she’ll probably get a new phone.

I make the west turn onto my side street at a crawl. No sense in sliding across to the ice-covered pavement to a crunching death on the curb on my own street. Probably end up being video’d by the texting bitch at the light and my dying lycra-covered ass ‘trending’ on YouTube two hours later. None of that happens because I take the turn slowly. My last turn onto the court. I glide up to the garage.

1:48 time riding. 1900+ feet of elevation change. 15.45 miles ridden. 1002 calories burned. Two Motorhead albums plus one Sammy Hagar. Turns out my helmet bumped a button and killed the tunes. Last trip, the helmet kept summoning my digital helper Siri. I’m gonna have to find a different way of wearing these things. Numb fingers freed from soaked gloves, I press the opener. Headlamps and tail lamps off. Route saved on app. App ‘cleared’. Garage closed.

I’m happy. I say that at the end of every ride and I mean it every time. Some weird thing has taken over. I’m stripping off wet clothes, soaked clothes. Ice drops from them. Ice. Shoes and gloves are soaked completely. Dripping. Even underwear – under sweats and bib knickers – are soaked. And I’m happy. Stupid endorphins.

Can’t wait to do it again.

(A note here: I’m going to be moving these posts to my other blog: Ascending to Paradise. I will dual post for a while and leave a link to the other site. This blog was never intended to hold my cycling and I don’t want to bore you with other interests. Please wander over to the other location and please subscribe, comment or browse. Thanks)


From the Bottom to the Top – in lycra

I decided I’d ride today since the sun was shining and I hadn’t showered yet. At 9am. 35 outside. My plan was my regular (regular meaning 3 times now) route of down to Pearson and up to Rocky Road, then back down. 8.3 miles. Last time, I did Pearson to Pentz and got in just over 10. The intersection of Pentz and Skyway (and the end of the bike trail) comes at around 2100′ and I knew it was gonna be cold there. Below freezing.

Go grab my gear: undershorts, my new Pearl iZumi ‘Attack’ bib knickers, my Pearl iZumi tights and a tshirt (I love Chumly) and my heaviest sweatshirt. Insulated and armored Harley gloves. Carhartt beanie. Some thick socks and high top black Nikes. Alrighty. I’m going out, from the waist down, in lycra. Two layers. One has a seat pad. Let’s roll.

App on. iPod on my iPhone set to All Songs, random. It decides some Slayer is up first. I have insulated HD gloves on, so whatever it picks, that’s what we got. If it keeps picking Slayer, this is gonna be a long ride. For some reason, black metal and riding, at least in the cold, don’t mix. Start down the hill. Get to Pearson and west toward the bike trail. Start up and over the park entrance and decide, what the heck, let’s rock on down to at least, well, at least Foster, one street down. I’m at mile 1 and 6.2 instead of my usual 4 minutes since I spent over a minute in indecision about heading lower.

Some Animals (A Girl Named Sandoz) comes on. Excellent. Seems to be telling me going a bit further down is a good move. Even though I thought there was an actual trail this way, I head off down over what looks to be painted bikes on about a six inch wide space at the shoulder. This is the trail? Hit Foster sooner than I expected and blow right through. Then I come upon the trail proper. Oh, here it is. Right turn, Clyde. Since that was so fast, I decide to go down to Neal. I’m at mile 2 and 10.3 minutes.

Neal is just a couple minutes away, coasting down about 161′ of elevation.

I gotta get an air horn or something. The town demographics include 60% over age 55, so there’s lots of …older folk. And they are all on the trail this morning. They do NOT hear my calls of “on your left”. Either that or this is their way of protesting. What they might be protesting, I’m not sure. An air horn would do something: get them to move or know I’m coming. Have a stroke – SOMETHING. Neal is here and I go a little past to downshift and SLIDE ALL OVER IN THE FREAKIN PINE NEEDLES! Whoops. Note to self, even 2mph can be too fast in pine needles. Turn around and begin the climb. App tells me I’m at 3 miles, 14.5 minutes and 1240′. Let’s rock this Ridge! I begin uphill.

Next mile is slow, I’ve been coasting downhill and need to get in a rhythm, but my ass is killing me for some reason. Huh, that hasn’t been happening till mile 5 or 6 lately. Nice, some Rush comes on…we’re on a train to Bangkok, aboard the Thailand Express…and the pain is forgotten. We climb. Hit that intersection at Foster and blow through it again, this time on the trail. PinkFloyd and A Pillow of Winds playing. Love Meddle. At the park. Already? This is where I normally (again, 3 times) start my climb. I get a green light, cross and notice, wow, I’m in middle ring and gear 3!! Hey, I’m the man.

For another forty or so yards. Then I’m back in small ring and gear 3. Ironically, Faith No More’s Small Victory is on the headphones. God has a wry sense of humor.

Coming up on the benches at Elliott. Well, bench. I rest for a moment while Joplin sings A Woman Left Lonely. How the hell did that album get on my playlist? 3-4oz of water and away we go. F*$%^CK!!! Old people also drive!! Trying to cross Elliott has just become an exercise in survival. Old guy never even noticed me. Not even when my water bottle ricocheted off his rear window. I liked that water bottle. (I am kidding. I do not throw water bottles. I do not condone throwing water bottles, except as a last resort and only in response to a like threat.) Triumph plays A World of Fantasy. The app interrupts to tell me I’m now at mile 4. That mile took 10.4 minutes. I can crabwalk faster.

Across Elliott, adjust seating to try to bring back numbed parts and pedal uphill. It’s all uphill. It’s always been uphill. There’s never anything but uphill. Kids, we walked uphill to school. In the SNOW. BOTH WAYS. Uphill never gets easier, you just get to use higher gears. I’m in 3rd. It’s higher than 1st. Phil Colins sings Abacab. Mile 5 has flown by at an incredible pace of 9 minutes. I climbed 300′. Steve Miller finishes off the mile with Abracadabra. Nice randomizing.

I keep climbing past Bille, heading for Wagstaff, then Rocky Road. I like Rocky Road (not the candy bar or ice cream, just the road) because I can turn south and catch Wagstaff east and have very little climbing during that part. Then I join Clark and it’s all downhill. Iron Maiden (Up the Irons!) plays Aces High  live and I’ve noticed something. I didn’t hit random, it’s just playing them in alpha order of song titles. To confirm, Zep’s Achilles Last Stand plays and I pass Rocky Road and keep pedaling uphill.

That second wind you always hear of comes on and mile 7 disappears in 9 minutes as I climb another 350′. “Action” from Sweet and Steven Tyler with Adam’s Apple whisper in my ears (at 105db) as I climb mile 8. 150′ and 9 minutes of riding the pine needle (and pine cone) strewn trail. I note that I’m actually, excepting my neck and wrists, not cold. Weird. Two layers of lycra is all it takes to do that. I’m somewhere around 2000′ and it’s below freezing. Yes, I’m a human thermometer. Actually, I saw ice covering a puddle and noticed some ice is in the needles when I last slid on them. I’m at 5.2 mph so the chances of me sustaining a high speed crash are effectively nil. I’ll probably actually gain speed as I fall, if I do.

I don’t.

After the Thrill is Gone from the best of the Eagles gives way to Against the Wind by Mr Seger and mile 8 is in the books. I’m nearing the intersection of Skyway and Clark and I’m pretty sure I’m turning around here. It’s cold. I’ve ridden – and will ride, since I’ve got to still go home – further than I ever have. My ass hurts again. One of my ears, I’m pretty sure, has frostbite. Aggressive Perfector from Slayer ends that. Wait a tick. Slayer started the ride. What song of theirs could have led off? Who cares? More uphill.

Behind the 7-11 Kwickee-Mart thing. Oh yeah. I still owe the owner $5 from a magazine she didn’t charge me for that one time. I keep saying I’ll pay her every time I pass the place. Better to owe her than cheat her out of it, I suppose.

This section is flatter, I’m in center ring and 3rd. Making decent speed, probably around 8-9mph. No, I don’t know exactly cause I use my iPhone as my bike computer and it shuts off the display and it would be dead by now if it didn’t. Music is more important than knowing current speed. Besides, the app interrupts every so often to tell me how slow I’m going. I don’t need constant reminders.

I’m sitting at Pentz and Skyway now. This is as far as I’ve ever gone uphill. The reason for that is…I don’t know where the trail goes from here. It seems I’m at the end and while it appears to cross Skyway at this point and go up Old Skyway, I’m not keen on that. It’s VERY steep. I’m already 8.2 miles in, 5 of those essentially uphill without a break.

I’m also not tired. I’m winded, but I can deal with that by 1 or 2 minutes of standing here, resting.

Ain’t it Fun from GunsNRoses and two versions (one live) of Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love from Van Halen keep my ears happy as I cross Skyway and downshift to 1st and attempt the climb. I’m shocked. I never need to stop going up the old main drag of the Ridge.

This was my goal for the end of January. Neal to the top of Old Skyway.

So now I’ve lied to you and me. I never considered trying Old Skyway. I was just planning Neal to Pentz.

Mad Season rewards me as I cross the gravel parking lot of the old church with All Alone and I am. I take a picture of my bike and the Sawmill Peak fire observation tower as photographic proof of my climb. My impossible climb.

Just prior to the lot, I passed a school I’d seen in the past. I was unaware that it was a continuation school until I spotted several groups of our finest young people gathered outside, smoking. One young man in particular was eying me as I approached and I could tell he was talking about me to his companions. Judging – and I’m a fairly good judge, even though my entire assessment is based on his muted actions, dress and companions – he’s going to grow up to be a fine, upstanding young man. Right.

Sammy is still singing “…Love” (even though he’s one of my favorite singers, that song will always belong to Roth) as I approach and the young man steps out from his group to blow a huge smoke and vapor cloud at me as I pass. He says or asks …something. Since I have headphones on, a beanie covering those, 70% hearing loss and – oh yeah – I don’t fucking care what he has to say, I’m not sure what he’s asking. His face is a mash of defiance and challenge while he waits for his answer and I smile and say ‘good morning’ as I pass.

Mad Season is done and so Zep plays All My Love as I circle the lot and enjoy my place in the world. My place physically. No, strike that. Geographically, not physically. Even though 3000 feet of Ridge still lie above me and beyond that, the Sierras with their peaks and even Shasta and Lassen…ok, really,

Still, I’m celebrating sitting atop a small rise on a small ridge in the midst of a large mountain range. Temple of the Dog does All Night Thing and I’m brought back to the now. I love Temple and I’m loving this moment. This Little Victory. I ride over to the church and Meat Loaf comes on with All Revved Up… and I decide I do have some place to go. Downhill. It’s all downhill from here.

Once again, geographically speaking.

As I set out from the church parking lot (and appreciating the fact that I’ve kept these ‘hybrid’ tires since they don’t slide a bit in the gravel, even tho I really wanna replace them with something higher pressure and more puncture resistant), I notice the young man I passed earlier is still out, but now, save for the immense cloud of smoky vapor that envelops him, alone. Mile 10 begins with Gene belting out Almost Human and as I pass the kid I marvel at how some of these song titles just seem to work out. Just then he actually smiles and kinda sticks his hand out in one of those stationary waves. Huh. Go figure. On my way up, again using my superior judgment, I’d figured him for a career involving jumpsuits with phrases containing the word ‘corrections’ on them. Perhaps not. Simmons sings (sings?) “don’t run away, cause where ever you go I’ll be a step away”. Er, no, that doesn’t match up here.

The kid is gone in an instant and both of my brakes are on, hard, as I descend. I decide the rear brake needs some adjusting and since I’m about to hit 100 miles on my ride and I get a free tune-up at 100 miles, I make a mental note to try and get it in this week. Yeah, the week before Christmas. Which I’ve done no shopping for. None. Alone Again Or plays from UFO. Uh oh.

Skyway, which is the bottleneck through which all traffic destined for – or from – the upper Ridge must flow, is naturally crowded as I approach. There’s no light and no crosswalk and I’ve already almost been killed by a guy so old he’d never heard of a single song on my playlist or any of the artists….wait, maybe Joplin… so I’m careful. I do have my new Niterider tail light back there flashing away but I doubt it will help – except as perhaps a targeting tool. Magically, Skyway opens up as I arrive and I cross with no drama. A quick turn south and I’m back on the trail.

Already Gone vibrates the magnets in my headphones as I enter the tube of firs and pines and oaks that line the old logging train trail. The Eagles very best plays as I negotiate, now at triple the speed, the pinecones and needles and debris the last storm deposited for my riding enjoyment. Ah! And a huge crane truck that covers the entire paved trail! I carefully wheel my way alongside the truck (which is actively removing – well, not the truck, the guy running it – branches that have snapped already, but hang above the trail waiting on the next unsuspecting jogger and a gust of wind) as Chickenfoot – and Sammy – send me along with Alright Alright.

Mile 11 passes by in just over 4 minutes and I take another southernly turn onto Rocky Road. I’m in center ring and 4th as I try to keep cadence up down the road. Since there’s no shoulder, I’m also trying to avoid becoming road kill. Rather bothersome is the fact (and I kid you not) that Slayer is currently playing Altar of Sacrifice at breakneck speed. I really have to pull Slayer off the playlist.

Rocky Road joins Wagstaff and a quick look (along with the Escape pulling out) up both ways tells me to blow the stop sign and head east down Wagstaff. Along with bottle throwing of any kind, I don’t endorse blowing stop signs. They are there for a reason and you should respect them when you’re on a bike. Unless you can keep up momentum and blow by them while being semi-protected by someone pulling out with you to serve as blocker as you cross. Still. You really should stop. I’m not going to, but you should.

Wagstaff requires a little downshifting but I keep in the center ring and mash instead of spin. I am helped along by Jonathon crooning Am I Going Crazy from the Issues album. Yet another turn south onto Clark. My thumb is so numb by mile 12 that I can’t upshift into my big ring up front, even with the damn trigger shifters, so I’m spinning my pedals uselessly as Petty sings American Girl and mile 12 flies by at an announced 23.4mph. I have to abandon the safety of the sidewalk for the street as I pass two elderly women out for a stroll or an escape from one of the many old folk homes that dot the town. (Did I already mention the town was the destination of several high-ranking Nazi women following the ‘great’ war? No? Now I have…) So maybe I just passed Himmler’s secretary or maid or something. Petty gives way to Green Day and American Idiot as I pass KFC and the app tells me I’m going 25.5mph and just passed mile 13. Slowing down now, braking hard to Green Day as I turn west and then south again and into my court.

I pull up, happy. I am actually not tired. I wasn’t tired at the top. I could keep going. Instead, I push the garage door opener with fingers that feel nothing and realize that most of my body is numb beneath my lycra. But I’m happy. It’s sunny out. I’m frozen. I accomplished something no one else is going to care about today. I made my goal a month early and then some. I learned that if you select ‘all songs’ and don’t push random they are going to play in alpha order – and somehow become a weirdly accurate soundtrack for the ride. Well, for the most part. I found I had extra reserves I didn’t know…have never known…. were there. I climbed 1000′ feet and rode 13.3 miles today. My legs spun and mashed for the better part of 93 minutes. I’m happy.

I can’t wait to do it again. This time, I’m going to push random. Imagine what will happen then.


One of the things that I worry about when I get in a new hobby is GAS. Gear Acquisition Syndrome. It often characterizes how I behave with my hobbies. The path goes something like this:

  • Something sparks my interest in new hobby. As a boy, I saw an ad for a ‘Chinese Hawkheaded” pigeon. That somehow lead to a lifelong interest in falconry. I was rather lucky here, because falconry is highly regulated and getting in takes lots of time, money and most of all, effort. Yet it did result in a 12 year old boy taking a bus (this was 39 years ago) over 100 miles to get a book from a library about falconry. Something simple and off-handed can often result in my interest aroused and from there….well, anything is possible.
  • Interest piqued, I now begin to learn. Most often, this process (with the advent of the web) begins with forum searches. In the old days, when there were actual ‘print’ magazines, I would find every magazine, every book on the subject. Since for me, it must MUST be the rare, the unusual, the off-beat or off the main track to interest me in the first place (hence, falconry in the 1970’s). Even when I choose a mainstream interest, I always choose the most obscure of the pieces. One of my current fascinations is reptiles. The variety is lizards. The special group is monitors. How many folk have monitors? Few.
  • Initial research done, I now begin the coveting. Hannibal Lector said we begin to covet what we see every day. My ‘research’ phase is typically done every day and so I begin to covet what I see. Quickly, I progress from entry level to whatever the ‘pro’ version would be. When I first began to be interested in reptiles, the usual firsts are, for snakes the ball python and for lizards the bearded dragon. For ‘shelled’ reptiles, most go for the red-footed turtle, some for the russian torts. For me? Ah well. I love a challenge. So I picked for snakes, the green tree python. For lizards, the chuckwalla. For tortoises, a desert tortoise.
  • So the GAS begins! When I was “into” motorcycles, I began with my 2002 Harley Davidson Fat Boy. Then I added seats, engine work, chrome of all kinds to all places, wheels, another Harley (a 2001 Dyna Low Rider) onto which went the same gear. Thousands and thousands of dollars. With my reptiles, custom caging and lighting, racks for those cages, special grow chambers for bugs. Diet packs. More lights.
  • The last stage is typically overwhelmed. Too much. Too many. And finally, a loss of interest. There are a few exceptions. I wouldn’t have sold my Harleys if my back was not a ruined piece of garbage. I would still ride. I still have (and acquire pieces for) my cameras. That started at 15 and has never quit. Perhaps because you can keep adding and never really reach the end. I have so many computers, I need to use my toes to count them all on, not just my fingers. And I love my lizards.

Which brings me to my topic: cycling. I did something out of sorts here. I knew I needed a bike. I wasn’t going to walk, not alone despite what Green Day may sing of. I knew I needed exercise. I wasn’t going to the gym. I wasn’t going to use a treadmill or a treadclimber or a stationary bike. I’d checked out the recumbent lineup and liked them – cause they were unusual – but they weren’t for me. My back does not like all my weight, however much reduced, resting on it’s lower portion. So I was left with bikes. What was unusual is that I did not research. I “knew” what I wanted. And took off to get it.

I skipped stage one and two: the initial entry was not some obscure finding and I did no research. I jumped straight into GAS. I bought the bike. At the same time, I also bought new bars, grips, seat and bag, plus a bottle mount. I had most of the other needs from my trike adventures. For a month, this sufficed.

Now I did research. And began to covet. Oh dear god how I covet. The height of coolness, for me, has to be internal geared hubs (or IGH) and planetary cranksets. Add to those the new carbon fiber belts (oh, reminders of the Harley days!) and you have a formidable GAS buildup. Plus the knowledge that perhaps my 25lb bike is a bit heavy. So maybe a Spot bike…perhaps the Acme? OHHHH YES!.

An Alfine 11 IGH in back. Add a Patterson drive up front (two speed planetary geared crankset). Comes WITH a Gates carbon fiber belt drive. Throw some new Ergon grips on that barset and you are set! Ah yes. Yum.  I already have hydration, pedals and lighting.

Those of you in the know will see I’m reasonable. Right? I didn’t say a Rohloff. I didn’t say a Schlumpf. And while I didn’t pick an Alfine 8, either, I’m not being absurd here. It’s not a carbon fiber frameset. I’m being realistic. Right?

What I fear is two things. That my SO will notice that’s not the DS 8.3 that once graced the garage and that I will hit final stage: disinterest. I’ve not ridden in three days. It’s been pouring every day with MASSIVE lightning and thunderstorms yesterday, so I’ve reason not to ride. But today, there are patches of blue and shafts of sun. I’ve a new Pearl ‘Attack’ bib knicker. Not insulated, but workable. New Niterider tail and headlights. My headphones are charged and my outer sweat gear is clean. And the kids are still in school.

I’m pretty sure, on the inside, that, despite the war waging in there about what’s right and what’s wrong and whether I should have more coffee or some cereal (with the gastric bypass, there’s room for one, not both at a time) to warm me before I go, that I will see that spot in my garage filled with that Spot from the website. Particularly if I can talk to them and find out if I can indeed swap out that crankset with the Patterson. I’ll sell my Trek and that will help pay. $2100 for the bike plus $300 for the drive. Plus tax.

Ah well. Maybe the monitors will lay eggs in spring and I’ll make three or four thousand dollars. Then I can buy the SO one, too. GAS to the second power.

Notes on my ride to follow. It’s 36 degrees out now. And that’s here at 1825′. I’l be going to around 2200-2300′ so it’s most likely below freezing there. After last nights’ rain, probably some ice on the ground mixed in with all those pine needles and cones. Yea!