Circling the Wagons

I try to stop.

I try but I can’t.  The sun.

The blue sky.  Swooping roads.  An attack of medium-sized black birds with red shoulders.  A lake.  A glisten.  Hills and green.

According to my schedule, I’m supposed to turn around right now.  I should go back home, duckwalk into the garage, pull off the blue-black spandex and call it a day.  I should go home to pasta and cookies.

But I keep riding with the red-shouldered birds hot on my heels.

I don’t live here, but I used to.  San Jose: a sprawling and massive suburb full of mall-shoppers and car drivers.  Flanked by overflowing freeways and packed with the glint and glimmer of wealth.  Or remnants of wealth. Or tokens of wealth.

We’re not sure anymore.  No one is sure.

I lived here during a time that was similar – the dot com crash full of anxiety and uncertainty, a crumbling and volatile economy.  We were young when the walls came down so it seemed less terrifying then than it does now.  We downsized and moved into the little rambler on Pearl Avenue with Sal’s family.  We slept under a shiny gold cross and I woke up to an image of Padre Pio every morning at 5:00am to catch a train to my job in San Francisco.

I commuted 5 hours every day.

It didn’t matter.  We were safe.  Safe and tucked in and sheltered away.  We kept our heads low and went for long runs in the warm evening air.  We ate homemade pasta and told jokes in Sicilian and drove out to the ocean on the weekends.


I cannot help but feel comforted when we return.  It’s the touchstone.  The grounding point.  And we need it right now.

Flying out on McKean Road I can feel the frenzy of South San Jose falling away.  I’m 15 minutes into my ride and rolling fast toward farms and hills and horses. It’s 65 degrees and sunny and I’m shocked to feel the breeze on my arms for the first time since Arizona. There’s a resounding quiet.

I’ve been worried.  Maybe we all have been.

I’ve been worried and working too much and wondering.  Straining to see what’s ahead of me, taking deep breaths and telling myself not to worry about it.  Long rides now feel like luxuries I can’t afford.  Time that could be spent working, or planning, or budgeting, or willing the economy to turn around.

But, really, the long rides are necessities that I cannot afford to go without.  A physical reset button.  A place of uninterrupted joy or pain or both.  A well of calm and certainty.

We came here to San Jose this time for work.  To tie up loose ends and have hard conversations and do things that we weren’t looking forward to.

But we’re doing them.  And we’re regrouping.  Circling the wagons.  Planning an attack.

I should turn around now, but this road keeps rolling forward and my bike won’t let me stop.  I keep chasing the red-shouldered birds around corners – out of dappled stretches and into sunlight that arranges itself into long beams.

I’m sun-powered and calm.  And when I do finally decide to turn this bike around, I’ll be ready for what’s next.

I’ll be ready for everything.

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  1. Indeed, I think a lot of us are feeling this way right now… Alex doesn’t understand how I’m not a complete wreck right now. I AM worried, starting a biz ain’t easy, but I think my rides keep me (relatively) relaxed and sane. Hard to be freaking out when you’re wiped from a 60-miler into the wind. :)

  2. Lovely photographic writing. Deep saturated colors and sharp contrasts. Thank you.

    If we didn’t know that feeling of “I should turn back. I can’t turn back. But I should turn back.” then we wouldn’t be reading each other’s cycling blogs after a long day’s work.

  3. If it weren’t for my riding and running, I’d be on some kind of medication. I need to run and ride almost as much as I need to eat and breathe. Besides, when you’re out on the bike you can’t be looking at all of the doom and gloom on the various news websites.

  4. I’m glad you kept riding instead of paying attention to “a schedule”. Good luck with all that you are dealing with right now.

    Hey – my aunt and uncle that are fans of yours used to live in San Jose before they moved to Beaverton.

  5. Okay, so explain this to me. I’m in the union and have tenure. My husband’s job is ridiculously safe. We are not even close to dire straits. Yet, I, the complete NON-worrier, am slightly panicking about the economy.

    All of could use about 2 long rides a day to keep it all sane. Or maybe a powder day every day. Or both. You know what I mean.

  6. I am thinking of you and so glad to see your words.

  7. Elizabeth – that’s so funny! I so love/hate San Jose. :)
    NoPo – I hear you. These are crazy times. We’re all going to make it and be ok, but sometimes I do barrel rolls across the living room in the morning just to avoid seeing the headline on the front page of the paper.
    Velosopher – Thank you so much for coming by and for the kind comment.

  8. PS – Lea!!! :) xo

  9. Your writing is great, and spot on. Thanks for the blog…I gave it a plug on my blog.

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