Years ago, I lived on a little cul-de-sac in Northampton, Massachusetts. In the winter, the plows would come through and the walls of snow the blade created would make driveways impassable. Most of my neighbors were the original owners of the homes, which were built back in the 1950s. They were elderly and not so good with a shovel. Two of my neighbors, one a buddy I rode with, owned 8-hp. snow blowers; I owned one with a whopping .75 hp. My neighbors would use their two big snow blowers to clear the wall of snow from each entrance and then I’d follow behind with my ersatz blower and clear the rest of the driveway and walk up to the front door of our most elderly residents.
No one ever discussed this, so far as I can recall. I’d hear one of those big blowers start up and I’d simply get dressed and head out. Afterward, no one discussed it, either. There were no cookies, six packs of beer, hugs in doorways. We simply did it.
Of the many things I miss about Northampton in general, and my specific neighborhood, that sense of community is something I ache for when I feel cold weather. It bound us tight.
That feeling was something I never enjoyed anywhere in Los Angeles. I looked for it. I tried to find it. There were true friends here and there, but my neighborhoods were always bastions of anonymity.
In the middle of the night on October 9, I received a text message from Kevin Gambini, the owner of Breakaway Bikes, whose shop is less than 100 yards from my home.
As you can see from our exchange, I was not all that alarmed, initially. I tend to remain calm in emergencies, but I wasn’t yet convinced we were having one. With the clarity of hindsight I can say that leaving was the right thing to do, even though our home didn’t burn. The air here was bad enough that even inside conditions were difficult for our youngest, who has lasting, if not serious, respiratory issues dating from his time on a respirator at birth. Staying here would have been bad for him. That says nothing of how nervous you’d be wondering if the fire was bearing down on you.
That day, and in the days that followed, I had enough different offers of places to stay that had I done a night at each place offered I still wouldn’t be home yet. Old friends, newer friends, mere acquaintances, people were ready to help. I was offered everything from couches to whole homes at addresses that stretched from here in town to the Sierra and all the way down to Temecula.
Grasshopper Adventure Series empresario Miguel Crawford gave me a spot to store some stuff and even sent his sister and brother-in-law to help me transfer stuff. People I met through the Annadel Mountain Bike Group helped me store more stuff.
What I find most amazing is that there are riders I know who lost everything and despite the monumental needs they face they’ve already moved on to helping others.
This complex of fires, Tubbs, Atlas, Nuns, Pocket, etc. comprise four of the most expensive fires in California history. Tubbs alone dwarfs the second most costly fire in our history. We’ve lost 5 percent of our housing in a city where we had a 1 percent vacancy rate. Just clearing the debris to prepare for rebuilding will last into 2018. In short, our community faces a monumental challenge and all those of us who depend on the bike for our sanity will struggle to keep our keels even.
What I find mysterious in this is how no one I’ve spoken with has voiced any reservations about staying here, any willingness to leave. Housing inventory and housing costs are but two of the solid reasons to leave. Yet everyone I know plans to stay in Sonoma County; the hashtags #SonomaPride and #SonomaStrong are identities we’ve taken to wear like so much road rash.
Yesterday Miguel Crawford got a group of us got together in Duncans Mills to do a modified version of his Grasshopper Adventure Series’ famed Old Caz route. It’s got everything: fall-line climbs, winding singletrack descents, the bright sunlight of a clear fall day and the cool damp you feel when diving between Redwoods. It was a chance to gather the tribe, trade hugs, have a few laughs and remind ourselves why our love for this place is as fierce as the love we have for our children, how the best part of any place isn’t the land itself, but the people with whom you share a bond.
Image: Miguel Crawford
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