Riding After the Storm

It seems like it’s been raining for weeks but in reality it’s only been raining on weekends for weeks. So, for three weekends in a row, I’ve been off the bike.

Four weeks of rest takes a noticeable toll on one’s fitness level and technical skill level. However, the sandy trails are compacted into a downhiller’s dream, allowing speed and cornering that inspire confidence…even recklessness. The wash trails are made even more technical by newly exposed rocks, recent abundant growth in foliage, and ruts that used to be trail.

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Sadie sits at the edge of a new obstacle in the trail.

One of our favorite trails had completely disappeared, eaten up by a newly formed channel.

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Sally and Mango scout ahead, looking for the remnants of the trail.
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Decades of topsoil, washed away in one storm.

There’s a stretch of our route that takes us briefly to Hwy 38, where we are forced to ride on the side of the road through a narrow gash cut through the hillside. It’s only a few hundred feet, but the traffic is fast and heavy, especially on a three-day weekend when the ski resorts are open. We leash the dogs and pedal as fast as we can, hoping that the oncoming drivers will have more concern for the dogs than they might for two stupid women riding bikes on the narrow shoulder. Leading up to this sprint, is a steep, rutted bank that takes everything we’ve got to pedal up.

I had Sadie on the leash because of the proximity to the traffic, as I labored up the squishy, rain-softened hill. Near the top, a rock-strewn rut opened up and I downshifted to my lowest gear to try to stay above it on the off cambered slope. Just before the summit, I stalled. Clipping out of my pedal with great alacrity, I caught myself before falling into the rut, but the front of the bike wheelied off the ground and we began falling back down the embankment. I hopped on one leg in a fruitless attempt to stop my descent with Sadie doing her best to stay out of my way. When my third hop planted my foot in the rut, my leg buckled and the bike landed uphill from me.

Sadie stood as far away as her leash would allow, puzzling at the unfamiliar expletives that poured out of my mouth. It must have seemed like a strange place to take a break but she didn’t question my reasoning for lying with my feet uphill from my body and my traitorous bike lying inertly on top of me. Sally kindly asked if I needed help rising and took me at my word that I could extricate myself as soon as I could assess if there was any damage. As is normal in slow tip over crashes, the pain soon subsided and we were on our way.

Mtn Bike Crash Cartoon

Returning that same way, I released Sadie’s leash as soon as we approached the rut, allowing her to drop behind as I rode down the steep bank. We continued a couple of hundred yards away from the highway and then I stopped to remove Sadie’s leash. We waited for Sally to catch up. We waited, and waited, and finally, Sally rode into view, wet dirt clinging to one side of her jacket. She had been pulled off balance by Mango trying to avoid the rut, which pulled her front tire into it. Over the bars she went, in the same place I’d gone down.

A crash that results from having too much fun, also known as riding too fast for one’s skill level or trail conditions, confers bragging rights. But stupid crashes are demoralizing and confidence shattering. Thankfully, neither of us incurred injuries that will make these tumbles memorable to our geriatric brains.

Bragging Rights
Bragging Rights Crash

A Persnickety Man

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“Mama said there’d be days like this, days like this, my mama said”. The song writer who penned this must have had a mate like mine.

I wonder if hyper sensitivity is the flip side of the genius coin. Yesterday, he told me he didn’t like the unusually large raisins that I bought (they were on special at the same price as the Thompson seedless).  This morning, he said he didn’t like the smidgen of cinnamon I’d put in his oatmeal, after a conversation we had had about the health benefits of cinnamon (he says he likes cinnamon desserts but not for breakfast, though yesterday, he loved the fried bananas WITH lots of cinnamon and cheese blintzes I made for breakfast). So, I’m going back to the original recipe: one cup steel-cut oats, four cups water. It’s better to dump it into boiling water, cover, and let it sit overnight because the slightest overcooking renders it inedible. I’m not complaining; it’s far simpler than the cereal I cook for myself.

My conglomeration begins with a nine-grain mix and gets more interesting with each ingredient that follows. Into the pot goes flax seed, salt, sunflower seeds, cinnamon, and hemp seeds. Then it’s topped with walnuts or pecans, raisins, craisins, dried cherries, dried blueberries, and any suitable fresh fruit I have ripe in the kitchen.

God forbid this man ever goes to prison or experiences being stranded on a desert island! He would starve to death in three days. And don’t even THINK about hiding him in an attic to evade detection by the Nazis. His stream of consciousness flows through his vocal chords spontaneously and he snores like a freight train. The Gestapo would hear him a block away.

We joke about the pea under the mattress because the slightest irregularity in a seam, a fragrance, a spice, is unbearable. And yet, he rarely complains about my farts, wet dogs, burnt toast, or mismatched linens. Go figure.

Food Snobbery or Tightwaddery?

Reading Murisopsis’ “Looking At Souper Bowl”, I couldn’t help but wonder how I became such a food snob. She posted a recipe for wild rice soup that included the ingredients bacon and Velveeta “cheese”, two items I don’t consider food. Oh, I’ll grant you that bacon is probably in the top three, no make that THE very best of dead animal flesh, but if we are talking nutritional value it sinks like the Titanic to the very bottom of the list. I mean, if you like salt and fat, fried to a crisp perfection, bacon is absolutely the creme de la creme of taste sensations. But nutritionally speaking, your heart actually skips a beat at the thought of turning it into something useful for life. Or perhaps it’s skipping a beat because your brain is anticipating the pure joy of the mastication of it.

The road to good eating habits hasn’t been difficult but it has been a long journey (66 years), and it still includes side roads into temptation. As Oscar Wilde put it, “I can resist everything but temptation.” As a kid, I think my mom despaired of ever getting me to eat anything but potato chips and raisins. She wasn’t an adventurous cook because my dad was, like many men and children, scared to death to try something unrecognizable. When we moved to California from Michigan, he stoutly refused to try any “Mexican garbage”. So, while mom, my sister, and I dove into tacos, tostadas, burritos, and quesadillas, Dad ate hamburgers. To this day, at 95, he still eats, with great gusto and kechup, the comfort food served in the dining room of his senior facility.

And that may be the crux of the whole “healthy diet” argument. For ninety-five years, my dad has eaten salt, fat, and sugar in copious quantities. My mom, at 94, is beset by peripheral neuropathy and memory loss, despite her relatively healthy diet. Granted, Dad has been hospitalized numerous times for various ailments (mostly blood pressure related but including gout) and takes dozens of medications daily, while Mom vegetates in her recliner, taking nothing more potent than a baby aspirin.

So, my question is, how important is good nutrition? I mean, if you are willing to spend a big portion of your discretionary income on pharmaceuticals, and you don’t mind being handicapped by layers of energy-sapping fat, is nutrition even an issue? If the ethical treatment of animals never crosses your mind, and you have the time to linger over a bowel movement, why even include vegetables in your diet?

Fatso on Toilet

I’m not going to weigh in on this argument because it’s too late for me to change. My brain is irrevocably wired to prefer a plant-based diet. My self-brainwashing has ruined the pleasures of a perfectly cooked prime rib or a bratwurst on a crisp roll. But you, my friends, still have a choice.

 

Best Tomato Soup Recipe

I’m going to share with you the absolute BEST tomato soup recipe in the world and it’s really simple. First, buy a box of Trader Joe’s organic creamy tomato soup. Set the soup on the kitchen counter (unopened). Then take your dogs for a hike up Morton Peak.

MFN Tara and I hiked from the bottom of the Santa Ana River Trail to Morton Peak, as far as Cougar Rock.

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The lookout tower was in sight when we decided to retrace our path back to the car, knowing that the descent would be punishing to our knees and feet.

Morton Peak Lookout Tower
View of tower from Cougar Rock
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Super dog, Sadie and me…and MFN Tara’s finger (lower left)

Noting the snail-paced line of cars making their way up the highway below, we felt quite smug about our view from above.

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The entire hike was about ten miles with nearly 1,700 feet of elevation gain and loss. I realize that, for real hikers, that’s not much of a hike; but for this mountain biker it was significant.

Once you have completed the hike, dump the box of soup into a bowl and microwave for a couple of minutes. I guarantee you will think it’s the best tomato soup you have ever eaten.

Familiar Dangers

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This morning my chubby, little kitty gobbled down her breakfast, made the rounds of the other cats’ plates to check for leftovers, then sat at the back door, plaintively mewing to be let out. I couldn’t help but marvel at her seeming disregard for the dangers that lurk outside the safety of the house. When I opened the door, she blithely bounded into the domain of  neighborhood tom cats, stray dogs, hungry coyotes, and calmly sat in plain view to groom herself. Does she not realize what a tasty meal her rotund body represents, what great sport she poses to playful dogs and horny tom cats?

I remember reading somewhere that we are comfortable with the familiar, even familiar dangers.

Wondering at the courage of my little kitty, I waved to my next door neighbor who lit a cigarette as he slid behind the wheel of a car for his morning commute on Southern California freeways.

A Nod to Just Joan

My favorite blog du jour is https://justjoan42.wordpress.com/2018/10/21/spotlight-on-bodily-functions/comment-page-1/#comment-2590 . Her uncanny ability to make virtually anything funny, including poetry, makes me a fan. Today, she wrote about an inopportune call of nature which, of course, reminded me (and probably everyone who read it) of similar calls.

My story is more a lesson in Karma than a rib tickler. While on vacation in my hometown in Michigan, I’d gone for an evening walk. If you have never been to Holland, you are in for a Dutch treat when you get around to crossing a visit to this charming town off your bucket list. Holland consists of lovely old neighborhoods, with immaculately landscaped yards and a church within walking distance, almost anywhere you wander. So, I set off for a walk to enjoy the long summer evening and the aromas of home-cooked supper wafting from open windows. I was about two miles from home when I felt an unsettling twinge. I ignored it as it was totally the wrong time of day for anything solid to be coming down the pipe. But within a few blocks, it became increasingly obvious that simply releasing a bit of air pressure wasn’t going to be sufficient. I made a bee line for home with the cold realization that walking faster was going to be counter productive…or perhaps more productive in this case. By this time it was growing dark and there was no question of disturbing some pious family’s post-dinner Bible study with a request to use their powder room. Just when my situation looked hopeless, I spotted a church a block away and I nearly sprinted towards it. I was almost within calling distance when I saw a man come out, close the doors, and turn off the lights. All hope dashed, I looked wildly around for any private place to do the unspeakable. Behind the church, there was a hedge that afforded complete and utter darkness and there, to my shame, I left a nasty surprise for the gardener, who was probably a church member volunteer. My cheeks burn at the memory.

As you may recall, I happen to work at a church which is in a downtown area where occasionally homeless folks find sheltered space to bed down. So it came as no surprise when I found a tidy pile next to the wheelie bins when I put them back in place this morning. The custodian wondered aloud what kind of a degenerate would do such a disgusting thing. Without explanation, I told him I would clean it up. She who poops in the road will find flies on her return.

Oh, by the way, I passed that church on my last visit home and they had removed that bit of hedge. I can’t say that I blame them, you know it was an attractive nuisance.

More Age-related Agonizing Reappraisals

Looking back at previous posts, I realized that I might need to reconsider my “Mountain Bike Musings” title. I haven’t posted anything about mountain biking since September! That’s not to say that I’m not riding, Sally and I ride almost every weekend; but, as I tap ever so gently at the door to septuagenarianism (yes, I will turn 66 in a few days), I find that the thrilling, rutted, rock-strewn, precipitous descents that once lured me into tongue-numbing fits of euphoria, just don’t. I still like to remember how it felt to defy gravity and harness it to my own need for speed, how absolutely alive I felt, sliding to a reckless sideways stop at the bottom. But now, when I look over the edge, contemplating the coordinated focus of mind and muscle it takes to navigate such a trail safely, my peripheral mental vision sees the inconvenience of self-induced, paraplegic retirement. My mantra, “Damn the rocks, full speed ahead” has been amended to, “Well, there’s always golf”.

The other factor in the taming of the desire for downhill fun, is the cost of gaining the requisite elevation. My mature legs complain when I try to push the higher gears of my new bike up the steeper grades. By the time I’ve climbed a couple of thousand feet, my legs are too spent to enjoy crouching over my back wheel as I slide down a roller-coaster steep trail.

Yesterday, we ran into a couple of old cycling acquaintances, one of whom had recently purchased an e-bike. An e-bike is a battery powered bicycle that basically turns any rider into Lance Armstrong. This chubby woman boasted that she was the only one in her group who could keep up with the fastest young guy in the pack. She extolled the benefits of this “bicycle” with such enthusiasm that Sally and I could not help but consider it as we pedaled home.

I had to confess that there were two factors preventing me from seriously considering purchasing what I think of as a lightweight motorcycle. The first is the cost: $5,500, which is $2,000 more than the beautiful, motor-less Intense Carbine I purchased just two years ago.

The second, and maybe the more compelling, is that I’m an elitist snob. There is something about self-propulsion that builds self-confidence. When I watch dystopian movies (seldom) and I see people desperately scavenging for gasoline, I think quite smugly, “I don’t need fuel; I have legs”. Also, all of the people I know who have e-bikes are overweight. Mountain biking is inherently a competitive sport, and when an out-of-shape, couch potato cruises next to me, chatting blithely while I gasp for breath like a decked fish, I am not thinking about how much I enjoy her company. I’m thinking how much I’m going to enjoy dropping her like a hot potato on the descent!

But then, I start thinking about the trails I could ride, ones I haven’t been able to climb in years. With a little assistance, I could get to the gonzo-abusive downhill that awaits at the top of those exhausting climbs! Maybe when I turn seventy…