My life is so inextricably intertwined with cycling it’s hard to tell what bits of my life don’t relate to cycling or haven’t been influenced by cycling in some way. There are times when it seems as if the line between me and cycling is blurred. I’m actually okay with that. It’s not as if I don’t have a fine sense of self; I do. But because cycling has given me so much, I’ve just given myself over to the sport in as many ways as possible.
So in the wake of the fires here in the North Bay, it has seemed only natural to fully immerse myself in the efforts going on in our community to help those who suffered as a result of the fires. There are several reasons for this. First is that life here is not the same. There are those who are more patient, more forgiving as a result of what they’ve been through. There are those who are more fragile and need a bit more generosity, and then there are those who are hair trigger about everything. When you haven’t seen someone since the fires the conversation opens with, “How’d you fare?” You can’t not ask the question.
But you have to brace yourself for the answer. It can be embarrassing to admit I only lost a fridge of food. Embarrassing. I still can’t even square myself with that emotion. As a result, I’ve invested myself in an effort to help as many local cyclists get their cycling lives back together as possible. And you readers have been incredible with your donations. People thank me for doing this, but I really can’t conceive of not doing this. My friends’ lives haven’t returned to normal, so why should mine? The concept of survivor’s guilt comes up with regularity. I suppose this is my expression. If the lives of my friends can’t be normal, there’s no way I can be comfortable blithely continuing on in my life.
This past weekend a previously scheduled event at Trail House, a benefit for REMBA, the Redwood Empire Mountain Bike Alliance, became a reunion of sorts for local riders. Zander Ault and his partner Heidi Rentz of The Cyclist’s Menu have been doing what they called the Ride Bikes Eat Food Tour, which is as sellable an idea as I’ve encountered. Generally, they roll into a town, do a ride, cook up some amazing food and then raise bucks for local trails. The meal sources ingredients locally, so it becomes a simultaneous farm-to-table celebration.
I got to meet Chef Z and Coach Heidi at Dirty Kanza this past summer when I stayed at the GU House in Emporia. So often, when we describe people as forces of nature, the connotation is that they blow in and through the sheer impact of their will and personality, they wow people. For that reason, I hesitate to refer to Zander and Heidi that way. There’s a synergy to them, where each brings out the light in the other and when they are in the room, there’s a zest for life that’s more contagious than ebola.
Zander may not have a Culinary Institute of America background, but his love of fresh ingredients and the process of cooking give him a chef’s soul. After a day with him, I look in my refrigerator and conclude I’ve been trying to use long division to figure out how to plan a menu. I’ve got it all wrong and he’s maybe the only person I’ve encountered who has inspired me rather than caused me to note my own inadequacy.
Saturday, as Zander and Heidi began cooking, those of us who registered for the event went for a ride. Trek Segafredo rider Pete Stetina, back from Europe, led the ride with help from Levi Leipheimer and Trail House’s manager, Shane Bresnyan. Our ride went south into Bennett Valley, over Sonoma Mountain, into Kenwood and through the neighborhoods directly to the south of Trione Annadel State Park where many homes burned.
I can’t speak for the others on the ride, but I know my emotions were elevated. It felt so good to be out for a ride with friends once again, but it was difficult to see so many homes I’d previously ridden past—and envied—reduced to ash and some brickwork. Burned out cars sat on the ground, wheels melted and gas flaps sitting open and caps long gone. The fire is difficult to comprehend; the heat some abstraction. But exploding gas tanks. I’ve seen enough Jerry Bruckheimer films to know what an exploding car looks like. That’s when the violence registers.
Back at Trail House, 11 of the 12 taps were taken over by local brewery, Henhouse Brewing, with several different IPAs and four different Saisons, among other beers. The only tap that wasn’t Henhouse was reserved for Russian River’s Pliny the Elder.
Chef Z had sourced some locally made cheeses and bread from local baker Goguette, so we dug into that as we sipped our first beers. Then we got in line for tacos he cooked up with local cabbage, carnitas, nesplette peppers, pickled onions and a cilantro crema. After my third taco I was convinced I could eat them nightly for the next six months.
Near the end of the evening Shane, the manager of Trail House, turned on the PA and stood up in front of the assembled throng to thank everyone for coming and to announce that more than $8k had been raised for REMBA. Those funds will go toward efforts to repair and stabilize trails damaged in Annadel in the fire and subsequent fire-fighting efforts. And then he dropped a bombshell. With his voice cracking, he told us that the front half of Trione Annadel State Park, the 39 percent of the park that hadn’t burned, would open at daybreak the next day.
We’d been nearly a month without a place that is for many of us an alternative to Prozac. The cheer that went up caused me to tear up, and thinking back on it, I tear up even now.
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