I spent nearly 20 years in Los Angeles, with some 17 of those in Redondo Beach. During that time, two themes dominated my life: writing and bicycles. They were the constants, the cornerstones on which I constructed the rest of my life. They allowed me to dismantle a marriage that wasn’t working, enter another relationship and later give me the balance I needed to marry my wife and become a father. I started businesses thanks to the bike and it served as my refuge when any of those dimensions troubled me.
But Redondo Beach was nearly without seasons. January and August were unmistakably different, but winter in Redondo Beach was gentler than summer in Maine. I could do group rides any day of the week, save Monday. Year round I was on my bike by 7:00 am at the latest and ten months of the year I was in arm warmers as I rolled to the ride. After I stopped racing, the flood of group rides, the drive to try to keep the same fitness all year, caused the calendar to virtually disappear. Time nearly stopped.
It was, at some level, a cruel trick, a way not to face aging, to ignore it as it crept in through a cellar window. It’s the perfect setting of a monstrous fairy tale, the paradise that causes you to forget your past, to abandon your future. It was the evil witch that poses as your dream come true.
That is, in part, why I had to get out. I’d been on vacation too long. I needed to move some place where the seasons existed, even if I managed to dodge five months of snow. A climatic middle ground.
But there was a deeper unrest. I’d spent so many years as a self-professed roadie, I’d given up too many other things I’d cherished. It was the opposite of infidelity, the same dinner each night.
Santa Rosa has been a therapy for that. Here, I’ve found a community of riders for whom the bike is as much an end in itself as a means to an end. It’s a way to access the beauty of this place, but it’s also a lens by which we perceive this geography, a way to compare the pine duff and loam to volcanic rock.
And while racing here is popular, a periodic gathering of the clan, the experience is lower-key. That’s not to say people aren’t fast and don’t ride as hard as they are able, but it does mean that before, after and even during the race there is a markedly more chill attitude.
I’ve fallen in love once again with mountain biking and been reminded of skills so long dormant I had to relearn them, like the once-fluent French speaker who returns to Paris after 20 years stateside. I’ve branched out, even beyond the gravel riding, taking in our local pump track and skatepark with my eldest son. I might not be as fast as I was, but I’m a more complete cyclist, and my love for this device feels more unconditional now, less tribal.
It was William James, brother of Henry who wrote to Gertrude Stein and commented, “As a rule reading fiction is as hard to me as trying to hit a target by hurling feathers at it. I need resistance to cerebrate.”
Resistance. It is that rock against which we hurl ourselves, that quest from which emerges growth. Here, I am the new guy, unfamiliar with the roads, as yet unsure of the best lines. I’m still learning names, connections, loops, culture. In that, I’m forced to confront who I am, how I want to relate to the world around me, and just how much remains to be known.
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