Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Suddenly I Was Possessed With the Notion That I Should Take Monday Off Work and Go for a Long Bike Ride Instead

Mid-day August bike ride in Phoenix: aw yeah

Rather than spending my Monday off in front of the computer watching our economy self-destruct, I opted instead for a morning of reading John Muir's My First Summer in the Sierra, and then a mid-day+early afternoon August ride in Phoenix. 

The book is about Muir's first extended visit to the vicinity of Yosemite, with which he fell head-over-heels in love. He went there as part of a small band moving 2050 sheep around to graze them and fatten them up, and his observations of the "wooly locusts" in action caused me to laugh out loud several times. I learned that sheep are terrified of water, and that getting 2050 sheep to cross a stream is much worse than trying to herd cats, or in Muir's opinion, wolves. 

But of course the main reason to read this book is for Muir's descriptions of nature, of clouds, rocks, mountains, animals, trees, flowers, and lichens, nothing escapes his careful consideration. He writes often of tying some bread to his belt and setting out on his adventure for the day. I guess he probably carried it in a canvas bag or something, but I have this image of this heavily bearded sheep-herding naturalist with a loaf of bread tied to his belt tromping through Yosemite with a starry-eyed curiosity and an indomitable climbing spirit. Man, this guy went everywhere and covered miles every day fueled by bread! What was in that stuff? "Muir Bread: it will get you up El Capitan and back, just tie a loaf onto your belt and go."

Muir writes that out on one of his extended rambles, he suddenly had the unmistakable sense that his old friend Professor J.D. Butler was down in the valley, and so he set off to look for him. It turned out that his sense was correct, so he called this chapter "A Strange Experience," as he couldn't exactly explain why he was so certain that his old friend was visiting. I know what he means: over a week ago I felt that Monday, August 8 would be a great day to unplug, disconnect, read a book, take a day off, and go for a long bike ride. Man, can I pick 'em or what?

When Prof. J.D. Butler has to leave Yosemite a few days later, Muir writes, "Calling Carlo [Muir's dog and wooly locust herding machine], I scrambled home through the Indian Cañon gate, rejoicing, pitying the poor Professor and General, bound by clocks, almanacs, orders, duties, etc., and compelled to dwell with lowland care and dust and din, where Nature is covered and her voice smothered, while the poor, insignificant wanderer enjoys the freedom and glory of God's wilderness." I was seeking Monday to be unbound by clocks, almanacs, orders, duties, etc. myself.

No need to clock in or clock out with this machine

The cicadas were in full song all along my canal path, buzzing at a volume and pitch very similar to my freewheel. Muir has this great habit of reporting the daily cloud cover as a decimal, so I started off the ride with clouds .35 I would estimate, somewhat wispy, but definitely taking the edge off some of the midday heat. I left right at noon, and I think it was just still under 100F, which with slight overcast and a breeze warms the muscles and the soul without instant total dessication. I think we stayed in the low 100s the whole day, with clouds approaching .75 by mid-afternoon. The humidity was up, though, between 25 to 50%, dropping as the day wore on. I had sweat running into my eyes, at times seeming to almost shower from the pads in my helmet. I stopped to wring them out a couple of times. I made sure to hydrate before and on the ride, though, with an ice cold insulated bottle of JRA electrolyte mix (pinch of salt, spoon of sugar, ground up potassium tab, squirt of lemon).

I saw only a few other people out cycling on this August afternoon in Phoenix, we cyclists were far outnumbered by the cicadas, although I tried to hold up our end with my freewheel going zzzzzzzz, wzzzzzzz, wzzzzzzzzz, wzzzzzzzzz, wzzzzzzzz, but the red-eyed tree buzzers seemed unimpressed.

Sure, it wasn't a season in Yosemite, but it was a day reading and riding my bike, temporarily unhooked from the lowland cares and dust and din, which I needed. The fact that it was a hot August day in Phoenix, with a long canal path all to myself, and Nature's voice singing to me through the cicadas, made it almost perfect. I'm thinking about baking some bread in the morning, and tying it to my belt before I head into the office.



  1. Seems like a near perfect day. I wish we had your humidity; we're used to 65% or more, and yes, it feels like the sweat faucet is turned on and left on during an entire ride. 25% would be awesome.

  2. good stuff!
    thanks for the kick in the head to get me to go and ride my bike!

  3. You know how to spend a day off. looks like some excellent riding and scenery. NICE.

  4. JK it was great, although I forgot the bread.

    gordy, thanks! Any time is a good time for a ride.

    Apertome, it was a nice day, but it made me wonder about riding my bike around Yosemite. Maybe not the central valley which had traffic jams when I was there, but along its quieter lanes, to camp and hike.

  5. you should camp an bike - bikepacking!

  6. Gordy, yes, you're probably right about that. Hmm, I wonder if I would need a new bike for that...


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