The “worst” storm of Southern California’s “winter”. Where else should one be but in the mountains? Snow, sleet, slush, rain, wind, and muddy mayhem with Adan and Michael. Poetry reading, howling, shivering, strategizing, slumbering, coffee brewing, and menudo eating. Awakening to coyote laughter at 3Am, echoing through wind and trees. Three thirds complete, what one of us forgets, another remembers. To start Monday morning tired and cold from the weekend; It’s good to know people as foolish as I.
Spearing with Adan on Saturday AM, north Malibu. Sunrise glare in the clouds, calm conditions, water getting brisk. To think we call this “winter”.
Fishing was sparse, not too much action to be had; visibility was 10-15′ at best, often less. Fish appear like dark ghosts out of the haze without much time to react or give chase.
I lost a shot at a calico bass at ~20′ deep. Rookie mistake: as a group of 4 or 5 appear in front of me, I miss a split-second opportunity when the butt of my spear clanks against my stringer. They’re gone in an instant due to the noise. Lesson: Put the stringer on my belt opposite my shooting hand.
Adan made friends with jellyfish (from a safe distance), briefly hypnotized.
Home in time for a second round of morning coffee. Skunked, but who could complain?
A few months ago I snapped the derailleur hanger on my Kona MTB in a near miss crash with another bike on a local singletrack. We both rounded a blind curve simultaneously, each launching into opposite sides of the trail to avoid a head-on hit. Somewhere in the mix I snapped my hanger off. Six miles of coasting and pushing home without a chain. Yay.
This was the impetus needed for my building my first clunker. For those not familiar with them, look into some MTB history. Alan Bonds’ Clunkers.net is a good place to start. An old black beach cruiser sitting in the yard for years got a quick makeover a few weeks ago. Removal of chain guard, kickstand, reflectors, and swept back cruiser bars. Installation of some 2.4 knobby tires and an old MTB riser bar. Done. I’m a big fan of the beater bike, the clunker, the scraper, the frankenbike, the daily workhorse of the average Jane or Joe. One must resist geeking out too hard on components when building a clunker; it would defeat the very nature of the beast.
The ensuing riding is the most fun I’ve had on a bike since…?
I attribute most of it to the coaster brake. “Stopping” is a very relative term when talking about a coaster. Slowing, sliding, drifting, and flat out panicking are more appropriate adjectives. Timing one’s pedal rotation in order to be able to brake is a bit tricky (read: fun) on technical stuff.
But with the relative lack of control comes the demand for a sort of flow that was immediately reminiscent of my early days of learning to ride a brakeless fixed gear in city traffic. Anticipating trouble, picking flowing lines, riding smarter. It also brings back fond memories of being ten years old and having neighborhood competitions to see who could lay down the longest skid mark on the sidewalk.
I just returned from what was supposed to be a ride to the trailhead for a trail run up the canyon. I locked up the bike, started to jog, and turned back for it after 100 yards, turning the afternoon into a 10 mile MTB ride instead.
Too much fun.
I hear there’s a local group sponsoring coaster brake only MTB races….
I park and hike out to the cliffs to check the conditions. A strong onshore wind has picked up since surfing in the morning, a storm front looming dark on the ocean’s horizon. I can’t tell what the water’s visibility is, too much texture on the surface. I’m assuming it’s not good. But I swear I can make out kelp forests beneath the surface, so I figure it’s worth a try. I drove this far.
The water looks black. Seals are appearing and disappearing around the rocks, in the kelp. It doesn’t look too hospitable for humans out there.
I go back to the car and suit up. I’m a little nervous. I’m not sure if I should be going out alone. There are a few people poking around the tide pools and rocks, but not a single person in the water, kayaking, boating, or otherwise. Probably for reason.
Don’t think. I double check my gear, and begin the swim, ducking a small set of waves before I’m in the clear. There’s a little more surge in the water than I thought, sweeping a few meters to my left, then back to the right, especially near the rocks. Visibility is poor. I can barely see the tip of my own spear. I hope the deeper kelp beds will be better, so I keep swimming, staring into a dark and soupy grey-green, no bottom in sight, only the sound of breath in my snorkel.
I make the outskirts of the kelp beds. A man-sized shadow passed underneath me. Only a seal. But enough to feel a little shot of energy down my spine, a slight quickening of my breath. If I were a shark, these are the exact conditions I would hunt in.
Relax. You’re OK.
I clip my dive buoy off to the kelp, breathe, and take my first dive, hugging the edges of the forest. I’ve over-weighted and reach the ocean floor at roughly 20 to 30′ with a little less effort than I’d like. Visibility is still poor. The surge pushes me into the kelp. I see fish, but I come up on them so quickly in the murky water there’s no time for a shot. I surface to find three seals looking at me. I’ve apparently headed right into their midst; they regard me with skepticism, curious annoyance, and go back to seal business.
I circle a kelp bed a few times, taking a few short dives, towing my buoy further offshore, deeper, hoping to find some clearer water. It doesn’t take long to admit that it’s not going to happen. I also admit to myself that diving in these conditions, alone, is a bad idea. I head in, fighting a bit of cross current to stay on course.
Sometimes we back down from things that make us nervous. Sometimes we have to fight our better judgement and do some things anyway. This is how we grow; this is how we can get in trouble. A fine line.
The ocean makes me feel small. Very, very, small. The poor visibility was isolating. The sound of breathing and nothing but green-grey static beyond my mask, the surging tide, and weightlessness in the water are certainly enough to invoke mild panic if I start thinking too much. Occasionally a shape, a shadow passes within my view. I feel like a speck of consciousness in an infinite space, out of control. It is our very own planet, the very ocean that spawned us, but it might as well be another world entirely.
Making shallow water, I take off my fins with a sense of relief, a sense of pride that I went out anyway. I did not shoot any fish, but I overcame something today, I got a little stronger, a little more comfortable.
The ocean is truly wild, seemingly more so than any land environments I know. The life- the sheer abundance of life is staggering. It is a highly dynamic world and when bearing the cold and the tides and holding one’s breath, it is easy to feel that one is part of it, not merely a visitor passing through. Just another swimming creature amongst many, many, others.
Drifting out of the fog and onto the median
a thin woman draped in a red blanket,
wearing baby blue tights,
eyeliner and mascara running in black streaks down her face.
Lost looking, dazed, she crosses the street,
circles slowly in place in a gas station.
The light turns green, I pull away, craning my head
to catch one last glimpse
of her simply standing there.
A sign on a beauty shop next to a liquor store
boasts 100% natural Indian hair
and I wonder about an Indian woman
who shaved her head, perhaps her daughter’s head,
standing in a marketplace, a kitchen, maybe a field,
fresh white scalps and deep brown skin.