Monday, October 31, 2016

Riding Through Spooky Hollow, 2016

Pete had been away a long time, years in fact had passed since he had last seen these hills and canyons, smelled their distinct dirt scent, ridden their twisting trails. First school, then work, and marriage had forced him to move further and further afield. There had been some returns, those quick visits to family and friends, their shortness mostly unsatisfying for everyone but, like himself, most of the people he associate with the old neighborhood had moved away as well. Each visit there were fewer and fewer around.

He was maybe a half mile into the ride when he heard the first whoop of excitement. There was a familiar pitch to it that he couldn't quite place. It troubled him for a moment, and instantly brought forth a wave of memories. But then he thought those kind of shouts probably always sounded the same, and he turned his focus back to the trail. The second shout came a couple minutes later and carried with it that same familiarity. It came rolling down the canyon from somewhere up ahead and, in response Pete, almost instinctively, quickened his pace.

A favored section of the trail stretched before him - shaded from the hottest sun, little rollers and banked berms, twisting and splashing through the stream. Yeah, he could understand the enthusiastic whoops which, came a third time, just as he wheeled an embankment down into the shallow waters. This time the yell struck him a blow to the heart, so clear was the peal, so defined the memory of the last time he heard it in this place. Just as the voice came from up the trail now, so too in the past did he always seem to be chasing it.

Sean Noonan was one of this oldest friends - instant chums at Oak Grove Elementary. None of the other kids around and, truth be known, many of the adults as well, could agree that the letters S, e, a, and n should be pronounced Shawn, so everyone simply preferred to call him Nooner instead. Nooner was the most adventurous of their little generational bunch, and since his planned and spontaneous outings invariably ended with huge smiles, laughter, satisfaction, and a weeks worth of bragging rights to go with the many cuts and bruises, Pete always sought to fully join in, or at least tag along, attempting to follow in his friends' wake.

A shadow moved quickly through the trees and undergrowth, far enough ahead that neither form nor color could be defined. Though intent upon the pursuit Pete, never-the-less, couldn't help but notice that there were no wet tracks leaving the water at any of the stream crossings. Odd.

After chasing shadows for a quarter mile Pete reached the gradual climb out from the canyon bottom and began to pound his way up. As he knew it would the top opened up into a broad, airy plateau where he expected to finally catch sight of the rider he was pursuing. There was a lot of sky, distant mountains, but the only person in view was a trail runner headed towards him. As he approached, Pete asked the runner if he had seen another rider pass by - the lack of response made the situation all the more odd. Though he momentarily glanced back, a strange look of confusion on his face, the runner continuing on down the trail without a word. Maybe there was a side trail Pete was unfamiliar with? Maybe the other rider was moving that much faster? Whatever the case, any impetus for continuing the pursuit dissipated into the open air. As his breathing and pulse settled back into a resting range, Pete stood over his bike in a kind of daze, thinking of the first time he rode the canyon.

It was a Friday and the afternoon school bell was just about to ring when Nooner leaned across the classroom aisle and asked if he wanted to join a ride after school. Pete knew all but one of the six kids gathered at the trailhead gate: all but the one were from the same grade. All the kids rode bikes, some old, some birthday new; they rode the streets through town, to the park for baseball, to the store for milk, but this would be the first time they would ride into the woods beyond town. A real adventure. That day, by the time he reached the plateau Pete was alone, having chased the shadowy form of Nooner all along the lower portion of the canyon, the other kids stretched out all along the the lengthy trail.

"Nothing's changed" he thought until his reverie was broken by a couple ravens nearby, startling him with the sound of bones rolling somewhere deep in their throats. "What do you know?", he rhetorically asked the pair. The remainder of the ride passed uneventfully in a rather uninspired fashion. His thoughts kept wandering beyond the trail to that image of Nooner riding elusively ahead and how he might be able to track him down over the next couple days.

After that first ride Pete frequently chased Nooner through the hills and, occasionally even managed to hold his own. Most of the rides were of a couple, maybe a few, hours duration, but there were also weekend expeditions during the summer. Nooner never held back during any of those rides, and there wasn't a one during which he failed to let loose with one of his characteristic, emphatic whoops as he lost traction, gained air, railed a berm, or simply called attention to whatever vista happened to strike him at any given moment.

Two full days passed before Pete was able to make it into the canyon again. Looking back on the morning of the third day he thought of all the people he had seen during the preceding forty-eight hours, people he had not seen in years, some he thought had moved from the area, others he was sure had passed away. What he could not remember were the conversations he had with those people; sifting through his memory all he could dredge up were strange muffled whispers. It was almost as if everyone wished to avoid talking about his old friend. In those meetings eyes held his, lips moved, but it was as if a fog absorbed all sound, whipped it from his memory. He felt there was something disturbing about that, but could not bring himself to be concerned, strangely content to let it be.

His questions were going nowhere and time was running out. If he was ever going to find Nooner, it had to be this day, for tomorrow he flew back across country; it was do or die and he was determined to not give up the chase, not let his friend escape this time. He rode up and down the canyon all morning, stopping frequently to soak in the day, relive the memories. The ravens were out again, more of them this time. They perched in clusters on the twisted branches above him wherever he stopped. During those moments they were silent, black eyes seeming to bore into him, piercing. Once he began to roll, however, their cackling voices both preceded him up the trail, and followed from near behind. Several times he could have sworn they spoke in demanding tones - "clear away," or "one way," he was not sure which.

It was late in the day, and nearly dusk when he finally heard the "whooooooo!" from up ahead and, turning on his light, set off in pursuit. Several times the yell came from off to the side, forcing Pete to stop for a moment and consider. In this part of the canyon trails wove around, but almost always came back to the main path. After twenty minutes of hide and seek, Marco Polo, tag, or whatever similar game springs to mind, he caught sight of a light, still ahead.

The rider up there was climbing now. Pete knew this part of the trail well - it rose out of this canyon before descending into the next one over. Redoubling his efforts made it impossible to call out, yet Pete believed he had closed the gap before the top. That would be a first. In the past it was always Nooner pulling away. The descent into the other canyon was a tricky one, even in the light, but his confidence was high now and he rode in greater command than ever before. Reaching the canyon bottom Pete found himself in complete darkness except for the beam cast by his headlight. At this point there was only one way to go and that was down canyon and back toward the valley. The trees grew thick here, enclosing the canyon bottom like a tunnel with dense canopy of intertwining branches and leaves overhead. The trail snaked in and out of the stream, the splash of water making the suddenly chill air seem even cooler.

Rounding a bend after a couple minutes' ride Peter entered a small, sheltered clearing. Standing off to one side was Nooner, bike laid at his feet, back to Pete, motionless and staring at the ground. Pete wanted to call out immediately, but for some reason hesitated, content to watch whatever was unfolding in front of him.

Dismounting he began to walk toward the other side of the clearing, yet his steps were agonizingly slow, as if he were walking through a long tunnel, the goal, a distant point of light remaining small and ever so distant. At one point during that long walk he clearly hear Nooner say "another ride for you, buddy. Wish you were here for it." He bent over, placed something on the ground, then turned and picked up his bike, and ever so quickly pedaled out of the hollow and into the trees. In that time Pete could only watch, unbelieving as Nooner seemed to dissolve like a wisp of smoke into the air, a shadow merging into the dark of the woods.

Returning his attention to the spot where Nooner had stood, Pete now noticed a small cross and a few bottles of beer, some opened, others not. There were other things scattered about, mostly bike stuff - inner tubes, a patch kit, some spokes, wrappers from various food-stuffs. He hadn't noticed them before, but there were ravens as well, many ravens perched in the surrounding trees, hidden behind their black plumage, and suddenly calling out in a language he understood - "dark", "death", "go." Pete jerked his head up at the sound, startled by the fierce insistence of their calls. The chorus went on, a deep pulse in the woods, and Pete swiveled his head around, from tree to tree, seeking the source of each morbid call. All the noise made thought confused, if not impossible, the passage of time lost until, suddenly, all sound ceased and the present returned, Pete's eyes focused upon the small cross illuminated at the end of his headlight. Upon the horizontal arm was written a single name. It was not the name Pete had come to expect it would be, the name of the phantom that had led him to that spot. Instead, the name engraved deep into the wood, was his own - Peter O'Malley.

(I don't normally write much fiction, but when I do it is usually for the annual Spooky Hollow short story. There is a reason I don't usually write fiction but it is different, a change of pace, kind of fun, is what it is, and there you go. Thank goodness it is only once a year,)

Friday, October 28, 2016

The Marshall Canyon De-Duster: Location, Location, Location

With Halloween just a few days away I had some ulterior motive to do the Marshall Canyon - Cobal Canyon Loop this morning, I needed some up-to-date photos for the annual Ride Through Spooky Hollow story. Appropriately enough we got some dark rain-type clouds moving through to help mute the sunlight; unfortunately those rain-type clouds have, so far, done nothing to quench the regions thirst - a few drops from a momentary sprinkle made it through the oak canopy, and that was it. Not exciting at all. Maybe it was for the best, I did get a good ride in, I did get those photos I needed, and I got to see the brand new De-Duster - I guess in an election year, getting the Parks Department to put your name on things is a good way to get your name out there. As the plaque on the bench says - 24 years a trail boss - does carry some clout. Not that I am necessarily complaining mind you, if Mr. Antonovich made this little canyon improvement possible, as well as the new trail signs here and at Bonelli, I guess we can live with his name on it. I am kind of curious about how they determined the location, however. Not two hundred yards away, down the trail, in a nice shady hollow is a long-established equestrian group area with a few picnic tables, hitching post, even a rustic restroom. Nice place. The De-Duster on the other hand sits at a sun-baked bend in the road, no shade, no other amenities - but it does have the view. I say that made all the difference. Location, location, location.

just a taste of things to come

a little trailside henge monument

my first impression was a directional arrow, but on second thought a very elaborate peace sign

the Antonovich De-Duster

a respectable view today

hitching posts are good for wheeled steeds too

not quite sure all those signs are necessary, but "sign, sign everywhere a sign..."

Coyote Howl Pointe view with (I believe) Santiago Peak rising in the southern distance

Thursday, October 27, 2016

PVBC and Pappas

Bananas, desserts (as in cookie, brownie, ice cream sandwich concoctions), poll workers, landscape design, nearly sharing birthdays with presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, and donuts, as in the soon to open Pappas Artisanal breakaway in Claremont - Grizzly's Biscuits and Donut's. Talk, listen, compare, joke. After that I think my mind started to become a bit addled and I lost track of the conversation.

But no, things are not so bad inside the old noggin'. It was the October community meeting of the Pomona Valley Bicycle Coalition (PVBC) so, beside the incidental talk of donuts and dessert, there was also more frivolous sound bites about bike lanes, cyclist rights and responsibilities, Operation Firefly, and the ever-popular topic, "what's up with La Verne?" That last is always an interesting one - for a city generally regarded cycling unfriendly (or at least indifferent), there are a goodly number of residents trying to change things, and businesses (as well as the University) within the city's boundaries who understand the advantages of reaching out to cyclists. One such business was host for the evening get-together, Pappas Artisanal; a few people were gathered before I arrived, at which point there were a couple more, and later a few more still - not enough to fill the patio perhaps, but still, enough to keep the topic of conversation rotating and swirling. If I had not met everyone before, attempting to keep track of what was being said to my left, my right, in front of me, at the other table, across the patio, while making sure no one tried to sneak (I tried to type snuck there, but none of the spellings - snuck, snuk, snuque - looked quite right, and I figured it must be one of those words you can say, but can not properly spell, though admittedly Google says "snuck" is okay), up behind me to swipe my fish tacos, did not help matters. Even so, I knew the people I ride with, the Facebook friends, others with well-known names, and got to meet some new people, who I am pretty sure don't fit into either of those other three groups. Yet. 

Anyway, rarely is an evening revolving around bicycle people and their bicycles not a worthwhile couple, or few, hours. If you are local cyclist and not a member of the PVBC it really is something you ought to consider - beside the lively conversation, the good food and drink, the greater number of members, and participants is encouragement to organize more of those fun group rides we like to do. It also enables them / us to do more of that community activism - bicycle safety classes, outreach, Operation Firefly, etc, that ultimately benefits us all. For more information about the PVBC, or upcoming events, check out their website, or group page on Facebook. Maybe next time we can fill that patio.

Cycling Claremont: The Old School House Restoration

If you are a Claremont resident you probably already know (because you read the Courier, or shop at Trader Joe's, or something) about the continuing Old School House restoration. If not, well here you go - to restore a portion of the building (east side) to its original appearance, a later addition which previously housed the restaurant Casa de Salsa, was demolished, uncovering three bas relief sculptures on the walls at ground level. I stopped by this past weekend hoping I could get a shot of them. Unfortunately, with all the construction fencing and equipment, they just are not visible to the public right now. However, while I was peeking over fences and around bins, the mrs. commented that she could not recall seeing the two column-top sculptures (shown here) before. While I know they have always been up there, I think the old restaurant created so much distraction that they were not really noticeable until now. Without the visual clutter they clearly stand out, and are very distinct. You can check out the pair now but, like myself, will need to wait for the restoration to be completed in order to see those bas reliefs.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Two Wheel Tuesday: The Mob Rules

When Black Sabbath released the Mob Rules in 1981 (yes it was that long ago) I played the title cut alot, so, "come onnnn,

Close the city and tell the people that something's coming to call...

Break the circle and stop the movement, the wheel is thrown to the ground
Just remember it might start rolling and take you right back around
You're all fools!
The Mob Rules!"

In an interesting twist of the norm, the cycling types outnumbered the car club types, and kind of took over the main room at the La Verne Brewing Company following last evenings Two Wheel Tuesday rides. There were so many folks that the good people at the brew house brought out extra folding tables and chairs to accommodate everyone, then called up the Big Guyz Grill so we would all have something to eat at the end of the rides. Hard to say if all those bodies was due to an increasing popularity of the rides, or if the promise of birthday cake, to go with the beer, brought extra people out for a little mob fun. The joke afterward was that, maybe, a birthday should be scheduled every week.

the Mob Rules

special headgear for the birthday girl

they're off

we're off

superstitious? the Headless Single-speeder don't need no stinking headlight to ride the trails in the dark

a quick regroup

like looking in a mirror

did someone say cake?

Two Wheel Tuesdays

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Who's There?

Back in 1971 there was this earthquake, known to history as the Sylmar Earthquake. I was a youngster back then, younger than now anyway, but remember being shaken awake in the dark hours of early morning. Actually that is not quite right, what I do remember is standing in my bedroom doorway in the dark hours of early morning. My baby sisters bedroom was right across from the bedroom shared by my brother and myself. It was dark in her room, and made even more dark for the lack of lights, the shaking having knocked out the electricity. Anyway as I peered into that darkness I noticed something even darker, something I couldn't take my eyes off, as aftershock followed aftershock. Whatever it was sat on the floor hunched against the wall. In the inky black I was sure I recognized a body and rounded head, but who was it? Everyone in the family had been accounted for, and because of that I kept a watch, staring, expecting it to move towards the doorway at any second.

Forty-five years later I climb Fatt Hill on the newly signed Lakeview Trail, and upon sweeping around a right turn and reaching this straight stretch of trail I spot something in the distance, hunched at the side of the trail. In the shade of a tree, the shadowy form is devoid of detail, but human-like in posture. I am sure there is someone sitting there, but after all these ascents know that it is merely a few pieces of wood. That doesn't matter - memory, imagination play strange tricks, and there is always that initial shock that someone is there. Waiting.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Monday Blues: Dia de los Muertos en Claremont

 Dangit, I can't believe it came out blurred. Guess I will need to do another photo ride-by.  It is time again for the annual painting of the windows in the Village for Day of the Dead. I have not seen them all yet, but of those I have seen, this one on the Kut Haus is my favorite. If you want to see them all, simply walk around, but I am pretty sure there is also a map with locations of each posted at some businesses and, maybe, at the Chamber of Commerce. If not, this Claremont Village link has a list of the sites.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Long View

With some atmospheric disturbance moving through the southland today, and the ground plane continuing to plague us with its visually uninspiring drab dryness, the show this morning was all one of distance, the dramatic pall of light and dark clouds, streaming whispers in diagonal slants between earth and sky, tendrils of moisture, visible in that narrow band above the far horizon, dropping but not quite reaching a thirsting ground. The cover, providing shelter from the sun, inspired a longer ride, multiple hilltops each with its own slowly altered view. Periodic bouts of sunshine spilling through rifts adding a brightness of color here and there, but always the clouds, reclaiming dominion.

It may not last long, but the change was welcome - I will go into the new week feeling refreshed - the Tuesday evening ride is not far away and I understand there will be a light demo this edition. That might be worth checking out even if you don't do the ride. Two nights later (Thursday) the Pomona Valley Bicycle Coalition will be holding a community get together at Pappas Artisanal in LaVerne - it will be a good opportunity to share stories and put forth ideas for cycling in the region.

And as I finish up this post, it is starting to rain - whoo hoo, how awesome is that.


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