The Rural Rider

Contemplations on cycling

“Praise then the light…

…and creation unfinished.”

I’m riding south on county road 95. It’s one of my very favorites although it’s only a mile or so. The sun is rising, light streaming over the Sierra, below a very high strata of cloud. I struggle with the quote. I know where it comes from: The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin. I know the ending: “creation unfinished”. And it begins with praise. I know the context - the powerful last portion of the novel where Genly Ai and Estraven pull a sledge in desperate flight across the ice.

The wind is blowing from the west-south-west so leaving Davis I had been riding nearly into a headwind. Now, turned due south, it’s almost a cross wind: gusty. The ride up road 31 had been harder than I had expected. The start had been stranger than expected. Now the sunrise is glorious and it lifts my spirits, returning me to the context of the novel, the hard work of the ice crossing, of creation unfinished, as I am unfinished, a work in progress, a journey, and then there was Genly’s reaction to the journey that even as I ride fills me with a fierce burning spirit that lasts the whole ride and afterwards.

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Back End of Foxy

I am riding through a Maxwell Parrish painting. It’s a bit after 9:00 AM and I’m riding north on Gordon Valley Road. Fairfield is behind me. I’m following the route of the Foxy Fall Century. The day is still, unusual for Fairfield. In fact yesterday the whole valley had been scoured by a north wind. The wind died with the sun, eucaplytus trees stretch wide in the vivid morning light. The roads are quiet. I’m gradually climbing and have been since I reached the bottom of the pedistrian overcrossing that connects the Amtrak station to downtown Fairfield.

I’m having trouble getting into the ride. I awakened a bit before 7:00 AM, dressed quietly, ate my breakfast of grapenuts and yogurt, loaded up the bike and headed downtown. The weather station told me it was 46 degrees outside. I stopped at Peet’s, bought two large coffees and walked my bike down the three blocks to the Amtrak station. I drank my coffee on one of the benchs. I was surprised at all the bikes parked around the station, maybe a hundred of them, some locked to the iron fence that lines the concrete platform. The tracks arc eastward, climb over the slightest of rises to the west as they disappear toward the south-east.

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The long road to Chico

An hour into my ride to Chico, turning northwest from Knight’s Landing
on California 45, I know I’m not in Kansas anymore. There aren’t rice
fields in Kansas, I’m fairly certain of this. I’ve crossed the mouth
of a slough feeding into the Sacramento River and then I’m down off
the levee and riding with rice fields on my right and tomato fields on
my left. I don’t think tomato fields play a large part of the Kansas
agricultural economy either. In the slanted morning light the Vaca
Range lift tall and distinct to the west, a bank of cloud rises
ominously along their far north-western flank, threatening for the
afternoon’s ride, perhaps.

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Two Rides

Early on Friday morning as I turned west onto Road 29 I found myself behind a trio of massive farm machines making their way to the next field for whatever task they were designed to perform. Making about 15 MPH, they were going slower than I wanted to go but would take a bit of effort to pass. Also, at 8:30, there was a lot of traffic on the road, mostly on-coming but sometimes passing. So I hung back until I crossed Road 98 and then carefully passed each of the behemoths in turn, making sure someone in a hurry wasn’t about to run me down from behind. Then, chased by the evil blades and clashing gears, I fled westward, speed up to 18, then 19 for a while, heart rate rising to 145 then 150.

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I want to write about the joy I find in cycling so maybe I understand why it matters so much to me.

My serious cycling began while I was doing a substantial weight loss program. Starting in January of 2006 I began a nearly 9 month long medically monitored supplemented fast. You might call it a kind of liquid protein diet although it was more complex than that. I began to look for an exercise component that I liked and there was my Peugot PX10 in the garage. So I took it down to Davis Wheelworks, got it spiffed up, and began to ride: slowly and not very far, maybe only a few miles and not even at 10 MPH.

But over time I started to ride further and instead of riding the bike paths inside Davis I began to venture out onto the roads. Davis is an urban island in a sea of farmland and one Saturday I boldly chose to make a 10 mile loop out along the county roads south of town. It felt good and afterwards I felt good. So I began to ride further and then, as I finished the fast, I treated myself to a new bike: a Felt F75. Wow — it was a revelation. My rides became longer but then the weather got cooler. I didn’t have a lot of energy reserves coming off the fast and as winter came on cycling became less important.

But the kinetic part of riding called. In Arizona I rode to Prescott, the first long climb I had attempted. And when I came back to Davis, early in March, the Davis Bike Club was doing their March Madness event - challenging each other to see how many miles could be ridden. I joined the bike club, did 250 miles in the remaining days, and I’ve been riding over 200 miles/mo since then.

Riding has changed the way I drive, the way I travel, the people I know. Maybe I can understand why. And, perhaps, share the passion.

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