“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

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