Sunday, December 25, 2011

As if this weather weren’t enough …

... San Luis Obispo LOVES me!

Yes it is true; we came here primarily in search of bright, sunny, sunshine. To be sure warm temps, no rain or fog, tailwinds, great food and fellowship would certainly be appreciated. But in matters such as this, where I have little experience and less success, I tend to aim low, and plan short. So far we seem to be awash in blessings, could it be the season? For example:

I didn’t mention that on my Solstice 200K jaunt I suffered a mechanical but was able to continue. About 30 miles into the ride, as I was shifting through the gears on one of the many climbs I got a surprise pinprick in my right index finger: This is the ‘check engine light’ of bike riding. It means that your shifter cable is fraying, and that sooner, not later, that cable will part and your fancy 10 speed shifty bicycle will become a one speed Huffy. Midnight, half way through the Big Sur coast is no place to pull over for cable change, or any repair of consequence for that matter. Long story short, I nursed it along, shifting less and giving my quads a workout more, and the cable never broke.

One of the locals gave me a run down on the three or four bike shops in town and recommended one. I had visited one the first day we got to town for other needs so returned to them. This is not a big project for a bike shop; however I figured it would be a drop off and pick up later deal. Not so, the guy immediately switched out the cable, and while working on the bike, he gladly loaned me tools to do a little work on the car top carrier. It is awkward to ask to borrow tools to go out in the shop parking lot to do some fixing. Shops usually have an iron clad no loan policy. In this case there was no hesitation. This could have gone any number of different ways, but I got a little dose of SLO love there and I was thankful.

Today (Christmas Eve) we broke camp and moved on to another motel. We rose early, had the motel version of breakfast, then back to the room to load the little Japanese prairie schooner. By 9:00am we were ready to roll out. The plan was for Ms. Dr. C to motor out to Avila Beach (stopping to do a little light shopping along the way) while I and the Big Horse would roll through the country side, taking the long way. Today was forecast to be another gift: sunny and in the low 70’s, my personal sweet spot. Those who know me have heard me pronounce rather sarcastically, many times, “Sunny and 75 with tail winds out and back” when inviting others on a ride. Today it was no joke, even the locals are carrying on about how nice it is, … and my, how very nice it is. Thing number two to be thankful for.

Just as Mrs. Dr. C was readying to pull out of the parking lot, the guy from the room next door looks down and says: “Say, you’ve got quite a big nail stuck in your tire there!” I look down and sure enough, that’s one big nail poking its head out of my right front tire. His buddy, who is a local, sends us to the best place in town, The Tire Store, on the way to Avila beach as it happens. “They’ll have you fixed up in no time!” OK, so, load the big horse back on to the car and drive to The Tire Store. I could be bummed at this inconvenience but there is reason enough for thanks: I could be stuck on the side of “The 101” one of those tourists broke down on the side of the road. Thing the third to be thankful for.

Shortly we arrive at The Tire Store and, … hmmm closed for Christmas eve. Back up the road to the Shell Station we just passed. I never noticed until just today that you can get 27 kinds of beer, 40 kinds of potato chips, deodorant, canned chili, bad espresso from a robot machine, and here in California, a half-gallon of almost any kind of hard liquor at a gas station, but in most such places you’re not going to be able to get a flat fixed. It’s an inconvenience store but flat tires are not the inconvenience you are going to be able to address. My glorious Xmas eve bike ride is slipping through my fingers.

The shop keeper turned out to be really helpful, I mean, really. He thought it over a bit and said there was another place just down the road, Tire Pros and if that didn’t work, Sears (also a little further down the road) would probably be a good bet.

This is now taking on an uncanny resemblance to my Christmas story of 2007: kindness of strangers and all that.

We stop at Tire Pros, they were open but things did not look hopeful: four cars out front, people standing around squinting in the bright sun and two guys working madly. I talk to the guy, he’ll help me but it will be at least an hour wait, and he was hoping to let his guys off early for the holiday. “But try this” he says, ”A little farther down you’ll find another place, Big Brand Tires, they might be able to help”. We roll on down and there it is, a couple cars being worked on, four bays open.

“Sure, fill out this form and we’ll have you fixed up in about 10 minutes.’ And it goes just as smoothly as that. I go in to pay and he says “Flats are free”. I saw the sign but figured that’s probably for folks who buy their tires there, not any old pasty tourist he will likely never see again. We go back and forth a little but eventually he realizes resistance is futile and l return the favor with a little gift from the wallet. Kindness of strangers act number what, …we up to four now?

By now the sun is up and working its magic, the way ahead seems clear and I-think-I-am-going-to-get-to-go-for-a-bike-ride (it is all about me, isn’t it?) MORE thankful.

Get the bike down off the roof rack, send Mrs. Dr. C on her way, with a hug and a peck, head in to the use the men’s room and just as I am readying to roll out: one dull little click and instantly something is very wrong. I look down and there’s the rear derailleur, dangling inches from the ground by the chain. I can’t believe this; somehow I have cleverly broken off the rear derailleur hangar. OK God, what is it you really want me to do on Christmas Eve? Because it is starting to sink in that a bike ride might not be number one on your plan for me today.

This too is a relatively easy fix, but it is going to require a special part that you are not going to be able to get at each and every bike shop. Oh, and let’s not forget, it is now mid-day Christmas Eve. This is no longer checkers, it’s three dimensional chess. I could be bummed but I choose to think, it’s not so bad. I could be out in the boonies, out of cell phone range with a coaster bike at the mercy of the elements, I’ve been there and this is imminently better. I guess I’m thankful.

Phone the co-pilot, she returns and I once again load the bike back up on top of the econobox. Who knew biking was such great upper body strength straining? At this point I declare that I’m no longer thinking ‘bike’ ride but more interested in unwrapping this strange package to see what is inside.

During the tire quest we had driven past Wally’s bike shop several times. This is the one that my friend recommended first. So we check in with Wally to see what can be done. Now I need to make a disclaimer here: I try not to judge a book by its cover, but I often do a very bad job of following this noble edict. This is because I think I am clairvoyant and can read people and their nature with just a glance. This is one of my super powers that gets me in trouble often as not.

That bike shop I went to yesterday is a ‘mall shop’ just off the campus of Cal Poly. It’s tidy, the kind of place with carpet, where you can get an espresso while you wait. Many high end bikes usually of just one major brand, and a fleet of ‘pink bikes’. A place where a soccer mom can feel safe about getting Brittany her first bike and matching pink helmet. Most of the staff are young preppy looking guys. Remember, they treated me well, I liked them.

Wally’s is a different kind place. It’s an old yellow painted quonset hut looking affair on a commercial/industrial route out of town. There is a sign, it says ‘Wallys’ and there is the requisite row of low end mtb’s out front with one strange addition: A very high end Catrike. A Catrike complete with carbon disk rear wheel. A Catrike is a three wheeled (two up front on in the rear) recumbent bike with complex engineering and components. The rear wheel alone adds an extra zero to the price. For a savant such as myself this just seems out of place; like Snow White cavorting with warty dwarves.

So we swing in and before I am much more than through the door this really short hispanic guy with a smile bigger than Bob Barker is asking what the problem is. I lay it out and he says sure bring it in; we’ll have you riding in no time! I’m skeptical as any good savant would be, but who’s going to argue with that.

Not to make too much of it, but the big horse is a ‘custom bike’. Almost a one-off, this bike does not have a recognizable name on the down tube, something that might be considered a snob bike. I am always a little self-conscious about this, but I also really like my bike. Not just what it says about me that I have a ‘custom bike’ but also this bike really fits me, and riding it feels really good. Wally is chattering all the while he’s got the big horse up on the stand, as S and I browse.

This is a very fun place to browse. There are glass cases filled with stacks of old Shimano derailleurs, old campy stuff, more kinds of chamois cream than you can count, old club jerseys marked half off on the racks, and bikes of every caliber. Featured prominently and clearly signed ‘please do not ouch;’ is a Calfee Carbon Tetra, tricked out with aero carbon TT wheels and the latest Shimano electronic DIY shifting set up. I forget the price exactly but I recall it would easily pay for two of my ‘custom bikes’. Clearly my savant system heeds recalibration. There’s an old 50’s Bianchi, complete with a worn pic of someone who looks vaguely Italian crossing a finish line attached, tons of built bikes and more frames. Everything from lugged steel (a very nice Ritchy Breakaway, completely built WITH the travel case for under $2,800!) and lots of Colnagos and Pinerellos.

There’s no carpet on the floor here, but there is one fo those old folding card tables set up with a Mr. Coffee coffee maker and a box of doughnuts. A few guys stop by and chat with Wally or the other two mechs. Just hi, and how are you and have a nice Christmas. Pictures of Wally with pro racers, signed with thanks for his help. As we talk I learn he runs training camps out at Solvang, they’ve become popular with 100 to 150 racers training. He says he makes it hard, very hard, and the harder it is the better they like it. As we say in bike circles, ‘to suffer is to learn’. He’s from Guatemala but has been here a long time.

When we came down, I brought bib nickers and bib tights but no shorts. I am getting by but most of this stuff is fleeced and is just a bit too warm in the heat of the day. A new pair of shorts might be in order and he’s got a few pair hanging. I try them on; is it coincidence or was bias at work. The Wally’s branded shorts fit just right, and they are surely going home with me.

Shortly Wally is going through the gears with the big horse on the stand. He’s making micro adjustments, and getting the shifting just right. The chain is cleaner and better lubed than it has been in some time. As he does this he tells me that one of the gee springs in the shifter needs replacement, the shifting is not as perfectly smooth as he knows it can be. It’s fine to ride now but will need work. Brute that I am I can barely discern that things are amiss; the deaf guy trying to tune a guitar, that’s me.

He calls me over and shows me that he’s installed a universal derailleur hangar because he did not have the exact part in stock. He explains how this will work for now but I should probably get it replaced, and when I do I can just put the Universal unit in my seat pack as an emergency repair part. He can tell by the Brooks saddle, fenders, and the old weathered Carradice that I’m more likely to find myself out in the boonies than the racers. We talk more about our plans and he gives us tips on where to stay and ride in the area. I didn’t know until later than S had told him I had ridden the Solstice ride a couple nights earlier so maybe that garnered me some degree of cred despite all appearances.

I compliment him on his incredible bike inventory, he says that’s nothing so we walk out to the bigger Quonset hut behind the shop where he shows off an enormous stock of bikes. More Colnagos, more Pinerellos, and lots of no name carbon bikes. Presently I’m looking at one of these and amazed at how prices have come down on these light weight high tech bikes. Wally picks up on this and he’s talking about how this this high zoot carbon stealth machine could be built with 105, as opposed to the SRAM low spec gruppo it has. I ask if it would be up to the task of handling a big load such as myself. “Oh sure” he says. “We’ll build you stronger wheels, and there’s eyelets for a rack and fenders! Clearance for 28mm tires with fenders!"  We are both sort of laughing as we are having this conversation, … but only sort of.

It’s clear that this guy loves life and he loves what he does. It is also clear that he is very good at it. I swallow hard, back away from the racy bike and tell him not this trip, but who knows? I take his card and thank him and his mech profusely. At times like this, thanks seems such an inadequate gesture. I mean REALLY thanks. He shrugs it off, happy to be of service and all that. We head back out into the bright sun.

Unless I am mistaken I appears that the way is once again clear for me to depart … on the bike … for a ride. I struggle but can find no reason not to actually get on with it. Once again, very thankful to be blessed with the kindness of strangers. Fortunate and thankful.

S. goes her way, and I go mine. We meet up at the motel four hours later. I’m sweaty from the little bit of climbing involved, and tired, but in a good way. I shower and we stroll down the beach in hopes that we’ll find victuals in the little beachfront store, ... and we hope that it will still be open at this late hour of Christmas eve. Most of the shops are closed, but the Merc is open and we find a few things that should tide us over for Christmas. A couple cups of Easy Mac, oranges and bananas, a box of crackers, oh and one of those little ‘travel size’ bottles of Champagne, the classic Christmas eve feast celebrating the newborn.  Oh wait, store still open at 6:00pm on Christmas eve? What’s that, muchas gracias el número siete? I’ve lost count.

I had suggested a couple days earlier that we might check the listings for a Christmas Eve candle light service at one of the local Churches. I’m not very religious but I am a little spiritual and I do believe I have much to give thanks for.  S. had found a few offerings; we picked one (not far from Big Brand Tires!) that offered a 7:00 pm service.

It’s not the place you would expect to find a church. As I mentioned earlier, the area is primarily ‘light industrial’; warehouses, machine shops, wholesale supply and distribution. We found it easily enough but being that it was a converted industrial building it didn’t have the parking lot access that you’d typically find for a ‘house of worship’. This looks like this could be interesting. As a relative new comer to the Church scene I keep my savant skills in close check, still I have my theories.

We are in tourist garb so are self-conscious but all that melts away the moment we enter: Lots of 10K fun run T Shirts, jeans, shorts, and tennis shoes. The sanctuary s nothing more than a bunch of folding metal chairs (I mean LOTS) and a small stage with a drum set, a piano and a ‘pulpit’ such as it was built from stacked wooden packing crates. No flowing red curtains of giant displays of red and white Poinsettias displayed for the greater glory. The open steel girders, exposed roof insulation, and bare concrete floors all say this could just as easily be a truck repair shop or irrigation pump whole sale center. It is clearly a ‘young’ church and the savant in me suspects it might be just a few followers of some charismatic (here I go again) but it will certainly be interesting to see who shows up. In matters of church, I really do try to make no judgment, I’m way out of my element.

As if on cue in a movie almost ALL of those folding chairs filled. A young women steps to the piano and warms the congregation with familiar carols. The pastor is young, dressed in black jeans, a black shirt(sleeves rolled up), black vest and a red floral tie tucked into his vest: the reverend Mr. Black. It’s all very casual, likebut  meeting over at a friend’s place only with 250 of your newest friends. The family seated in front of us introduces themselves. They have two teenage daughters, lived up in Washington for a while and moved back home to California three years ago. The girls miss Washington. It’s odd but I get that, I’m a Washington Native and I suspect everyone has some inexplicable connection to their first home.   They say the congregation is mostly college kids, but of course most have gone for the holidays, otherwise there would be a conisderably bigger crowd.

The pastor lays out the program (there are no ‘programs’ handed around) assuring us that it will be a little different (and shorter) tonight and that there will be no service tomorrow, this is it for Christmas service.

We sing a few songs and then he invites a young girl, maybe 9 or 10 years old to step to the stage and give us a reading from her children’s bible. She reads the Christmas story; Mary, Joseph, the Shepherds and angels, and the manger in Bethlehem. It’s quite a long story and she sails through it with confidence. She gets a big round of applause and well deserved.

The pastor then gives us a passage about the symbolic significance of light, specifically candle light. While he’s at this a few teenagers are handing out candles to everyone. The pastor lights five candles on the packing crate alter. It’s the Advent tradition; one for Hope, one for Peace, one for Joy, one for Faith, and one for Love, and the final one symbolizing Jesus as the light of the world. Once he’s done, one of the parishioners steps forward and he lights her candle, she in turn lights one of the seated parishioners candles, who then turns and lights the next persons candle and so it goes.

One of the girls sitting in front of me lights my candle, I turn to do the same for the person seated behind me but see all the candles are already shining brightly. Maybe mine is the last candle? The piano strikes up and we sing Oh Holy Night, and a couple more carols. The pastor winds it up, sending us off with the message to spend a little time on Christmas in devotion, and to have a very merry Christmas, and then we are on our way. I guess when your sanctuary is a concrete floored warehouse and the pews are folding metal chairs you don’t need to worry too much about getting wax on the pews or carpet. Not saying that fancy Churches are bad, but for me, for this Christmas this is just right, more about the content and less about the wrapping. A side of SLO I didn’t expect to see. Again, thankful, and blessed.

It’s Christmas Eve, we say our goodbyes to our new friends and walk out into the cool dark night. I get in and start the car and the check engine light comes on. I check the oil (it’s low) so head to the nearest Seven/Eleven (which happens to be open at 8:00 pm on Christmas Eve) and put a quart in. Light still on, it’s only a few miles back to the Motel so we head out, what else are you going to do?

Am I worried or grumpy that my check engine light will be glowing brightly on Christmas day? Not in the least, SLO loves me!

Merry Christmas to all.

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