Fading

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Autumn in northern California is always a strange time, a neither-fish-nor-fowl period. If you think for a minute, you’ll realize that we don’t have four real seasons here; it’s more like three seasons: a short, green spring; a dry, dusty brown summer; and a wet (we hope), cold winter. This year was no different. The transition period we call ‘fall’ was practically nonexistent, as we had a hot Indian summer followed by a perfectly warm period with plenty of sunny days. Riding this fall has been decidedly excellent because of blocking Pacific highs sending almost all the rain into the Northwest keeping us dry and giving us plenty of enviable riding days. And in Contra Costa where I live, we went from blistering heat in October to November days that were warmer than summer in SF! Well, it has all come to an end. I finally had to don knickers and a long-sleeved jersey this week.

But not before we had one last blast up Morgan Territory and Mt. Diablo last Saturday. Morgan Territory Road is one of our few remaining Road Less Traveled routes, at the margins of Bay Area urbanization and dangling by a thread from becoming just another subdivision. Just down the road are Clayton and Concord, and probably what’s keeping Morgan Territory from being invaded is the current lack of water. But for now it’s ours and it provides a beautiful experience of what the nearby San Ramon and Diablo valleys were like a mere 30 years ago before Walnut Creek, Danville, and San Ramon engulfed all the open space. (Yes, it’s difficult to imagine now but in the ‘80s we simply crossed over the Berkeley hills to ride on country roads.) David Goldsmith led the four of us up Morgan on what has become a fall tradition. Summer on Morgan Territory is like a friendly visit to a furnace—not the best time to go—but fall is perfect if you don’t have rain—it’s not boiling hot, the weather is kind, and the leaves are turning, giving one a taste of what Easterners experience annually (and tenfold in grandeur). When you’re not anoxic and semi-conscious because of the 14% and 16% bumps on the climb, you’ll realize that you’re all alone on a beautiful, winding road surrounded by trees turning luscious colors. At the top, Morgan Territory Preserve, you’ll find a view of Mt. Diablo from the south and a panoramic vista towards the Livermore valley. For the most part we lucked out and the sky was clear allowing for great views. But as we rested at the Preserve and ate our snacks the moist air driven up the west side of the mountain was condensing and clouds began covering the hillside. Chilled by the breeze we set off on the descent to Highland, which sadly always ends in a frighteningly fast blink of an eye. All that altitude gone in minutes aided by a double-digit grade, the near complete lack of traffic, and decent sight lines that only made us accelerate with abandon. After lunch at Domenico’s in Danville, David made us climb up Diablo for more fall fun. By now it was cooling off and all my clothes went back on despite the uphill. It was still sunny but the autumnal heat was now gone. David and David continued on to the top while Roger and I descended back to BART. A good end to a near-tropical “fall”: an all-day, 82-mile ride with friends. Next stop: winter rain riding!

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