Saturday, April 19, 2008

Forty Days and Forty Nights

Forty Days and Forty Nights
By Audrey Adler

It was the winter of 1998. Los Angeles.

I had just completed my first series of triathlons the previous summer and eagerly anticipated an off season filled with outdoor training opportunities, sowing the seeds of fitness for the spring season’s new and improved personal best. Winter in LA, you must visualize, meant that a light wind jacket and arm warmers may be necessary for the first hour of an early morning ride! To every outdoor athlete’s chagrin (by the way, in Los Angeles, anyone with two legs and a pair of Air Max is an "athlete") predictions of the terroristic storm El NINO' promised to keep all at bay out of the thrashing angry open waters, off the flooded and avalanched coastal stretches of breathtaking infinite Highway 1, out of the sinuous bowels of the Santa Monica Mountains' single track. Reduced to pumping iron in the acrid arena we call a gym, and lounging around the fireplace darning those not-yet-ready-to-trash cycling socks, I relented to the omnipotent forces of Mother Nature.

As the rains continued mercilessly to inundate our thatched-roofed metropolis, I visited the gym daily to teach my regimen of indoor cycling classes to loud, yet meaningful and inspiring music. At least, I rationalized, I was spinning my legs, virtually recreating and sharing the climbs of the real world roads I knew so intimately. Sitting at the helm of the class on my spinning bike rhetorically repeating the mantra of my mentor and friend CK, "the music is the road," I would stare out of the huge plate glass window at the gray sky, wondering where all of that rain had been stored for five long, dry years. Turning my legs over laboriously against a self imposed mountain, sweating profusely, wondering where I was really going in an existential way, Tina Turner suddenly belted out, "I can't stand the rain".

It was at that moment I believe that it happened.

I experienced my first attack of cardio-pulmonary claustrophobia. I HAD to get out. I needed to feel the dirt in my bronchioles, the tingle of blood pumping through my enlarged veins as I bolt down the side of a mountain, my heart pounding with the rush of fear and fortitude.

I rang up my buddy CK, a seasoned off-roader quite undaunted by less than optimal road conditions. "Let's do an off road ride this weekend." I could not spend another minute indoors. "Meet me at Malibu Creek State Park", he said.

"What if it rains?" I panicked. "Don't worry, Eagle," he reassured me.

Sunday. 7:30 a.m. Malibu Creek State Park. No rain. Naturally. Huge open sun drenched skies filled with trees, streams, bridges, stone pathways, rolling green hills and an occasional house tucked way into the side of a mountain.

Trails abound. The temperature is moderate outside. I am in heaven for sure. We mount our bicycles and begin our epic adventure. A dirt trail leads us through the woods out to a clearing. We stop in our tracks. Ahead, the “trail” was nothing but a water-filled ravine. We continue. Wading blindly through obliterated trails of freezing, frenzied, waist deep murky waters, treacherously weaving each step through the unknown depths of the boulder-strewn river bed, our bikes in tow dangling precariously on our backs hung at the mercy of our stiffening phalanges and searing deltoids, we revert to our origins.

Earth, Dust, Water.

As we emerge up onto the slip and rock of the hillside, legs numb with cold, we mount our bikes and climb through a never-ending potpourri of ankle deep black mud, newly arranged rock beds, wild brush and virgin weeds. The air, scented heavily of that unique musk ensuing a heavy rain seems a comfort. Hours have passed.

My strong, steady legs reassure my body that the still long and difficult journey ahead will be a rewarding one. As we climb endless miles up the mountainside I struggle to relax and gracefully balance my bicycle over the enormous random rock piles which pattern the trail. Momentum. My heart beats thriftily inside my chest, patterning a strong syncopated rhythm to the cadence of my pedals. My lungs generously cycle the flow of oxygen and carbon dioxide renewing each muscle with the promise of redemption.

And so it goes. On and on,,,,

I am redeemed.

Photos of the author and CK taken on a much warmer and drier day a few years later, on or near the Whoopdedoo Trail and the Nike Tower above Brentwood in the Santa Monica Mountains

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