“Slippery as an eel up here” I said aloud to nobody but myself as my front tire drifted out of the apex of the turn. The ground was baked hard as concrete, coated with a skim of dust, dried leaves and dead grass; a toxic combination with about as much traction as an air hockey table. This particular trail, carved laboriously into the side of a steep hill behind my barn over the previous two winters, is a narrow exercise in wheel placement and constant turns. It punishes lapsed concentration even when the traction is ideal. Traction had been far from ideal, blown-out and greasy, since June.
I locked the back wheel to slide it past the apex, hoping the front would find some bite as the rear let go, gave up leaning into tire edge knobs and drifted off the side of the trail and down the hill in a plume of dust. Sweating profusely in the almost 80-degree weather, I emerged from my own wreckage caked in dirt. It was Dec. 27, 2017.
It is pointless to complain about summer weather in California in December when the rest of the nation east of the Rockies was at that same time falling into the grip of a massive cold snap that would by early January be known as a ‘Bomb Cyclone,’ causing widespread and very real chaos from Maine to Florida. “Ohhh, you poor thing, you have to ride in a T-shirt and the trails are all hard and dusty. Should we call you a waaaahmbulance? It’s -24 degrees here, so just shut your hole and let us deal with the real weather.” That’s what I imagined people in Marquette, Michigan, saying. We had been riding bikes there in October. It was an autumnal feast of varying traction and cool riding. As I type this, the daytime high in Marquette is 4 degrees Fahrenheit and snowing. They are probably breaking out shorts and sunscreen.
Playing in the medley of texture that Marquette offered—grippy rocks, slippery rocks, dry leaves, wet leaves, tacky soil, slimy mud, bony roots—then heading straight to another chunk of fall weather in North Carolina sent me back to California resentful of summer. The endless summer was becoming an endless bummer as first Napa got devoured by flames, then in December (December, for cryin’ out loud!), Ventura and Santa Barbara went up in a quarter-million-acre blaze. As so many friends lost homes, it suddenly became meaningless to worry about whether the trails in Annadel State Park were going to survive, or if Tunnel trail in Santa Barbara got scorched. Mountain biking itself seemed like