The Taste of Raw Onions (11/11/2008)

This is another oldie from the days when my work used to take me to Los Angeles regularly. The last time I posted something like this was earlier this year.
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“This is K-EARTH 101.1” said the voice of the announcer on the radio. I was in the process of turning my super-efficient Toyota Prius Hybrid car from Century Boulevard on to Aviation Boulevard, just before Century went under the railroad bridge on its way to LAX airport. It was around 7:00 am on a nice sunny Thursday morning, and I was joining the other Angelenos heading off to work. George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” started playing on the radio as I drove out towards the end of the airport runways on Aviation Boulevard. All of a sudden it hit me! This felt like a scene from some movie made in the 70s. I must be dreaming. This cannot be real! What am I doing here?

I worked somewhat late that day in the office in El Segundo and finished around 6:00pm. I decided to treat myself to a good dinner in a decent restaurant, but also decided to order a salad along with my beer so that I would be eating something healthy. My destination was Cozymels Restaurant that evening. The black and white Ahi Tuna salad that was shown on the menu sounded just right. When the food arrived I was in for a shock. The sliced pieces of tuna were all pink. It was basically a lot of raw fish with some kind of decoration of white and black spots on the surface of the tuna – with lettuce, mango pieces, raw pink onions and a few other things. I could not finish the food. The mango pieces were tasteless and I still had the taste of onions in my mouth the next morning. Yuk! This was my great treat during my last night in LA last week.

I also traveled to LA the week before. That was a longer trip that lasted the whole week, and I spent the days in Hollywood at a conference. The area around Hollywood Boulevard is a very strange place. The conference that I went to was in an upscale hotel next to the famous Chinese Theater and the Kodak Auditorium. From an open verandah on the fifth floor just next to the conference rooms one could see the famous Hollywood sign up on the hill, and if you looked down you saw all the high-end stores and restaurants located beside the hotel. But things were different away from the hotel. I took a walk along the street at lunchtime one day and noticed that, outside of where the conference was being held, it was a very rough and tough place. It looked really run down and the buildings looked their age. There were lots of cheap stores around – T-shirts for tourists, cheap electronics, smoke shops, cheap luggage, cheap food, etc.. There was the smell of urine in the air, there were people loitering around on the street that it seemed wise to avoid, and you came across the occasional homeless person sitting on the side-walk talking to himself. One person was looking into all the garbage cans trying to find stuff. It occurred to me that although I was a little uncomfortable during my walk this was home for a lot of people. Would I still have been uncomfortable if circumstances had been different, and I had to spend more time in that place. We develop our comfort zones, and our own limited sense of reality that we can deal with. That may not be the real world.

The trips back from LA the last two times have worn me out. It is not the flights that have done me in, but it is the drive back home from the airport. I leave LA early in the morning, and by the time I get on the highway at Dulles airport to go back home, it is already dark. I join the long lines of red tail-lights of barely moving traffic on the Washington Beltway and one wants to get stop the car, get out, and scream. It is then that one actually feels the complete sense of futility. You know, I have been in a situation for many years where I have wished that I could stop what I was doing, take an extended break, and try to do something more interesting and fulfilling. It looks like I am not going to get there for a number of reasons. But I still persist with what I am doing, and I wonder if there is a choice. Is this a trap? It is only when you are stuck on the highway of life behind the red tail-lights, with little sign of progress, that it all hits you like a ton of bricks.

Well, the trip back from Hollywood ended in a bad way. I was not in a good mood when I arrived at home and I declined to go for the Halloween party at a friend’s place. I stayed at home by myself and went to sleep, and promptly woke up the next day feeling sick. My throat felt like sandpaper and it was on fire. I recovered after a sleepless Saturday night, and a Sunday of high temperatures, only to have to head back to LA once again last Wednesday. Fortunately, this last trip ended in a better manner. I did not fall sick, and I was able to head out to the towpath on Sunday morning to recover.

What a beautiful day it was last Sunday! The colorful leaves of Autumn have almost all fallen by this time, but some of the sections of the park were still really quite pretty. The woods in the area near Carderock were a strange combination of yellow and orange. Dried leaves covered the towpath in most parts and lay on the waters of the canal like a carpet. Where most of the leaves have fallen off the taller trees, there were still some short trees left behind that were a very bright shade of yellow. Looked great! When the wind blew, you could see the leaves that were left of the trees come loose and fly away over the canal. There was this one large dried leaf that kept floating over the canal and refused to come down. There were beautiful reflections of some of the colorful trees in the waters of the canal. In a certain section, there was a deer that was running along beside me in the woods next to the river, behind the thinned out foliage. It looked like it was keeping me company. It was sunny out there and the temperature was just right. There were many folks enjoying a Sunday morning outing. Kids were on bikes. Kids were in little carriages that were being pushed along by the jogging adults. There was this young couple who were just thrilled about seeing a great blue heron for the first time. The guy had to tell me about it. I just smiled. I am now a veteran. I just kept going, in no hurry to get to the end of this outing. It was the perfect day. But I did tire out at the end….

By the next weekend there will be nothing left to see on the trees. Another cycle of life would have completed. One will have to await the rebirth in Spring.
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The Kids are Alright – maybe..

Anybody remember this song?

I have put in quite a few miles on my bike on the trail this week.  It occurred to me that, remarkably, I was not feeling bored in spite of the repetitive nature of the rides.  I remembered a blog I had read from a webpage tracking a couple’s hike on the Pacific Crescent Trail.   This particular posting was a guest blog by somebody who was traveling with them for a short stretch. He talks about what the experience of hiking means for him.  I could empathize with some of what he was saying –  about the silence and the thinking that goes on.  You  can cover a lot of ground, both physically and mentally, without even being aware of it.

A couple of days back I was cruising in the cool of the early morning, lost in my own thoughts, on a section of the trail near Carderock.  Between the mind games and the focus on the act of riding (something that has become more automatic these days) I was having a ball.  I was brought back to reality by the sight, out of the corner of my eye, of two older gentlemen who were walking in the other direction.  When you are riding a bike at a decent pace people pass by quickly, but I did notice that one of the guys was smiling  broadly, looking at me, and giving me a thumbs-up sign with both his hands.  He was encouraging me on.  I had to smile back.  Or maybe I was smiling already, and this was his response.  Did I look like I was on a mission and needed encouragement?  Or was he simply happy to wish somebody on the trail.  It does not matter.  He had reached me somehow and raised my spirits even further.   Everything was good!

With the distances I am covering, and with the coming of summer, I am seeing kids everywhere on the trail. There are summer camps and outings, with bike rides, horse rides, boating (tubing/canoeing), fishing, swimming, and other kinds of activities to keep the young ones occupied.  It is great that the natural resources of the area are being taken advantage of so that kids learn about the great outdoors all around rather than getting stuck indoors staring at the screen of some electronic device the whole day.

But with kids on the trail there is an additional element of caution that is required, especially if one is cruising on a cycle.  Sometimes they seem to be completely oblivious to what is going on around them.  Last week I was passing a group of kids and everybody moved out of my way except for one lad who basically got on his bike a started riding straight towards me on the wrong side of the trail.  I had to yell and brake hard.  He finally moved away at the last minute.  Who knows where he mind was at.

Then there was this group of kids on bikes who rode off the trail at Whites Ferry while I was trying to get on to it.  They did not know enough to even get out of my way.  I had to stop and let most of them get through first. Their adult leader apologized once he got them going properly.

A couple of days ago I rode up behind a group of adults and kids on horses.  While most of the horses were well behaved and were keeping to one side of the trail, a couple of them were not cooperating at the back of the line.  They were wandering all over the trail, standing across it to look at me (maybe they were curious) while their riders were trying to talk them into getting back into line.  At one point one of the riders thought that the horses wanted to get in line on the other side of the trail (the wrong side), but that was obviously not their intention. The horses finally cooperated and I was able to pass on the left.  On my way back on the trail, as I approached the same group and started passing them from the front, the little kids on the horses started shouting to me. They told me that the last two horses in line were in training and that I should be careful.  The kids seemed quite concerned about my safety and they were so sweet about it.  I yelled my thanks without slowing down too much.  The kids are alright!

During the last couple of days I have run into more issues with people, both adults and kids, on the trail who do not seem to know what to do when a biker comes by.  Sometimes people are not keeping to their side of the trail and they get very confused when a biker comes up behind them.  I announce myself loudly so that people can move aside, and if at least one person in the group hears me I am usually in good shape.  But sometimes somebody darts across the trail into my way at the last minute and I have to brake hard and yell.  Just yesterday,  a kid almost ran me off the cliff near Anglers Inn.  He apologized while I tried to recover my composure.

But I want to come back to the thought I started this blog with, which is that it does not matter how many times you go over the same territory when hiking or biking.  The experience simply does not get old.   Just yesterday I was riding past a section of the trail that always catches my attention in the early morning light.  As I have done several times in  the past, I stopped once again to take a picture.  Perhaps you have seen this picture before.
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Then there are these other experiences from the ride.
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And, yes, it is hot as heck outside right now.  The folks in the picture below have more determination than I do!
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We will  see what the next week of riding brings.