The Rural Rider

Contemplations on cycling

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.

At 7:55 the train arrives, precisely on time. I lift my bike up through the double doors and with the generous instruction of the conductor I strap it into place. It sits vertically by one of the stairways leading to the second level of the car. Normally the first level is for handicapped, and this morning there is a woman in a wheelchair along with some of her supporting family. The chatter along in Spanish. I find a seat and watch Davis slide away outside the window. Twenty minutes later I’m unfastening my bike. The left-hand doors slide open…well, that’s not quite true…ONE of the left hand doors slides open. I push through with my bike. As the train pulls away I realize that one of the rubber caps that covers the cleats on the bottom of my right shoe is still in the train. Damn. I’ll survive.

The pedestrian over-crossing is just beyond the station building toward the east. I’m the only person headed that way, maybe the only person who got off the train at Suisun. I walk my bike to the top of the structure, walk over the tracks, snap a few photos and then mount up and ride (in a careful and controlled manner) down and onto the Fairfield streets.

The streets are nearly empty. Straight ahead is the Solano County courthouse. I turn left there, onto West Texas Street. This is old territory. I vividly remember picking up the Kellys here when they came to visit us. I still had the Lotus Elan and Tom Kelly sat in the passenger seat, leaning back a bit and starting a smoldering fire when the metal in the seat contacted the terminals of the battery creating a dead short! Not one of my better moments. I ride through the downtown, under the Fairfield arch, to Pennsylvania Avenue. Left there and on toward Travis Blvd. I turn on Travis but if I continued I would reach Intercommunity Hospital (probably called something else now) where Tom, Erik and Margaret were born and where Louisa was taken after she drowned. With my polaroid sunglasses the sun has some of the same characteristics as the glowing sky had that awful day when I drove to the hospital to find Jan sitting on a chair in an empty hallway. These moments live deeply in my mind, available for unexpected, undesired recall at the flip of some subliminal switch. Riding past the mall I am pelted by all the emotion of that day. I compensate by remember the birth of each child, Chris Cammisa there each time to catch the little one as they arrive to start their first day on Earth. Today those memories sweep away the other. I pedal on, working up the steep overpass over I-80, and onward.

Finding a rhythm is difficult. Even at the start I’m climbing slowly. Cadence won’t come. But the world is vivid. In my mind riders are passing me, being derisive, I’m riding a bike far better than I am. The voices of scorn.

I let the voices blow past me and glory in the light. This is what I see, what I live for. Light that glows. The hills, dry and parched, still look golden and healthy in this light. The oaks and eucalyptus are sculpted and detailed – sharp contract of illumination and shade. The texture of bark. I turn onto Mankas Cornet Road a few cyclists wave as we pass each other. I wonder where they came from.

Mankas Corner is a jog to the right and then to the left for me and then I begin the climbing. At first its easy, through vineyards: a woman walking a dog the size of a small bear waves and wishes me a good ride. I wave but she’s behind me as I work to find some pattern to this ride. And again a group of imagined riders passes by and leaves me as I flicker between sunlight and the shade of the overhanging oaks.

I wonder if it’s starting out on the train. Normally I leave my driveway and I’m starting to spool up my cadence, looking to find that 90, then 95, that seems to keep my knees working and happy, not too much strain on the bone-on-bone between tibia and fibia. But this day I start out riding downtown, stopping to buy coffee, waiting for train, riding the train, then maneuvering through Fairfield. Thoughts of loss. More likely it’s the simple fact that even at the start it’s a long, slow climb toward Mankas Corner and I’m just not used to riding that.

A vineyard gives way to oaks closing in, I’m riding through bits and pieces of sunlit road and then deep shade flickering bright and dark; it makes finding a good road surface difficult. There’s almost a hypnotic quality to it. I flash to the image of “Andromeda Strain” where the scientist with psychomotor epilepsy misses a critical result because a flashing red light induces a seizure. No seizures but it could be a headache if there’s lots of it. And in the shade it’s a bit cool. I’m wishing I had a long-sleeve silk on!

The road also begins to roll, not steep, but it’s climbing steadily all the time. To my left is a hilltop. On the south and west it’s mostly grasses with a smattering of oaks but to the north-east and north the oak forest has gained victory in, as Loren Eisley would say, “the eternal war between trees and grass.” Wooden Valley Cross Road marks the northern edge of this hill. I ride westward now, through much denser shade on a narrower and rougher road until I return to Wooden Valley Road just after crossing a narrow one lane bridge. There is no sign, as there is in Finland, Minnesota, asking drivers to “Take Turns” however. I’ve always liked that sign. It’s a reminder about manners and politeness. No wonder others aren’t common.

Wooden Valley Road is much wider, newly paved with bright white lines marking the edge of the road and signs reminding drivers to be on the lookout for cyclists. I’m at an elevation of about 250 feet when I turn. Wooden Valley School, where the Foxy will have its lunch stop, is at 610 feet and 4 miles or so down the road. I pause and take off the skull cap I wear beneath my helmet, shift off my full gloves for the regular bike gloves, take off my jacket and store them all in my jersey pockets. The gloves are the most bulky by far. I’m perspiring at this point and my glasses are fogging up so I wipe them with a kerchief and then I’m headed toward Rt 121, not really realizing what is to come.

What’s coming is some clmbing. The juntion of Wooden Valley Road and Rt 121 is at 723 feet. It’s a climb to the stop sign and then beyond the sign the climb begins. In the next 1.5 miles the road climbs to its summit of 1,126 feet. It feels steep. I’m down on the small chainring and I’m doing some serious heavy breathing, heart rate is pushing up to 156 before I slip over the top and begin the descent. This fun riding. There are a few climbs but mostly the road is winding through oaks. I wonder what riding this with a lot of other riders will be like. Gulp.

Then I reach the junction of Rt 121 and Rt 128 at Moskowite Corners. I see a couple of cyclists pulling into the little general store/restaurant so I follow them down. I need to change water bottles. We talk about routes. They have ridden over from Winters where they parked. They hadn’t considered the idea of taking the train although one of them calls the idea “sissy”. He sounds French. I resist a snap judgement. We chat a bit more then I turn around and pedal up to Route 128. Cardiac lies ahead.

I’ll fess up here. I’m not exactly sure just what stretch of road Cardiac Hill refers to. I’ve always thought it was the climb from the foot of Monticello Dam to the top. But I think it really begins about five miles east of Moskowite Corner. There it climbs from 595 feet to the top at 1,043 feet in 2 miles. Then it drops to 480 feet in the distance of 1.5 miles or so. So this climb is tougher coming from the east than it is from the west. The opposite of Cantelow. This rapid descent from the top if a great ride, nothing like doing 35 MPH or so with no work at all! I’m sure I could go faster but I wasn’t interested in going faster. I was much more interested in going safer! Grin.

Then came the worst part of the ride. A potty stop was needed. This became clear after I passed the resort at the bottom of Monticello Dam. But there are parking areas along Putah Creek and I know they have porta-potties. I’m good for that. They are all closed. The gates are pulled across. CONSTRUCTION. Damn! So I pedal on until I get to Lake Solano Park where I take a dive into the men’s room. All of this required because I chose to wear mid-calf cycling BIB knickers. Wearing these means, essentially, getting naked cause topology demonstrates that the jersey needs to be off to get the shoulder straps off so those knickers can be down around my knees. Bike shorts are sooooo much easier!

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