Monthly Archives: December 2011

Annual Mount Hamilton New Year’s Day ride

67 degrees for the forecast high on Mount Hamilton this coming Sunday! If that holds true, it will be the second-nicest day yet for a ritual I’ve been doing for over 20 years now.

This is not an organized ride in any way, shape or form (in other words, there’s no mechanical support, no food or water along the way). It’s just something that people do to start the new year out in the right way… on a bike, climbing a hill! My son and I will be starting at 9am from the base of the hill (Alum Rock & Mount Hamilton). Unfortunately, CalTrain service doesn’t start early enough on holidays, with the first train not arriving in San Jose until 9:51am.

We’ll be riding a 1 hour, 45 minute pace to the top, which would be equivalent to riding up Kings in about 30 minutes or so. The views of the not-snow-covered Sierras should be great, and if it’s really clear, you’ll see Mount Lassen.

There’s a coke and food machine (“food” being candy and energy bars) at the top, but it only takes dry dollar bills. That means putting them into a plastic bag; anything even slightly damp won’t work in their machines.

If you haven’t been up Mount Hamilton before, it’s mainly… long. Really long! The grade is never steep (it averages out less than Kings Mtn), and it’s got two short descents on the way up. Make sure you’ve got two bottles of Cytomax (or whatever your drink of choice is) and some energy bars for the trip up. And the ride back down? Mount Hamilton, for most of us, is not a descent we look forward to. Random gravel in the turns and invisible pothole keep your speed down so much that you actually look forward to the two short climbs on the way back!

And when will you be back? Leaving at 9am, assume you’ll be back around 1pm, still time to catch one of the New Year’s Day football games, and feel guilt-free about nachos & cokes & whatever else you might be tempted to eat because everybody else is. Everybody else who didn’t ride to the top of the Bay Area’s highest peak!

I don’t feel so old anymore

My grandmother, Nana, closing in on 102 and the final days of her life

This morning after my ride I got a call from my mom, letting me know that my grandmother, Nana, had been admitted to the hospital last night with breathing problems. No biggie, for most people. And for all I know, it could be no biggie for Nana… which would be something of a surprise, since she’s closing in on 102. But my mom sounded like this was pretty serious, so we (the wife & kids included) paid her a visit tonight.

If this is what someone on death’s door looks and acts like, my fears of getting older have been greatly misplaced. Sure, she hears primarily from just one side, but she does hear and understand quite well. Yes, she has trouble recognizing some people sometimes, but retains a tremendous amount of memory of subtle things; events in your life, events in hers, and little things that didn’t seem too important at the time but now, 30, 40, 50 years later, you can see that they were.

Interesting to think about what might be important to you 30, 40 or 50 years from now. It likely won’t be what you got for Christmas or anything having to do with your finances.

She’s also happy. Really happy. Almost to the point of displacement (as in, having no sense of her current situation). She smiles, and in those moments where she gets serious, she’s mostly admonishing people for worrying about things too much. She could talk about all the unfortunate things in her life, in particular relatives she’s outlived by far more than a country mile (my cousin Jon cut down by pancreatic cancer is his mid-40s, my aunt Judy who passed away a few years ago, my grandfather, Pompa, one of the great influences in my early life, who has been gone for maybe 27 years… her sister… ohmygoodness, when you live to be nearly 102, I guess there are going to be quite a few!).

But Nana focuses on life. And it’s kind of strange, because you can’t tell if she’s really aware that she’s not that far from joining those now gone. In her late 80s and early 90s, it (her death) was all she talked about. But somewhere, sometime, that all changed. She seems completely at peace with where she is, and doesn’t spend much, if any, time discussing where she’s going. Is that so bad? I wish I knew. I don’t. Part of me says there are things to discuss, not plans, but questions to ask while she’s still around, and for her, things to get off her mind so she can be at peace. But she’s a pro at the final stage of life, expanding it from the usual too-short a time (a short chapter cut even shorter by an ending that came sooner than expected) to something approaching an epic novel in its entirety. She’s been “preparing” for this for maybe 20 years. Or more.

I will miss her when she’s gone, but probably not as much as I fear, because what I won’t miss will be the memories of many years past, and those memories don’t die with the person. There may be just a few short days to create new memories, and in fact, visiting her, I struggle a bit, looking for something new to learn and share. But that’s missing the point and putting far too much emphasis on the next few days, weeks or months, than should be the case. The point is that she’s been part of my life since I was born, and the memories are already in place. There will be few, if any, unanswered questions upon her passing. And what I am today is at least partly a result of the time I spent on Nana & Pompa’s ranch in the Sacramento Valley during the summers while a young kid. That won’t die with Nana.

Addendum 01/02/12- Nana’s left the hospital and is back “home” (one of those “assisted living” places that can take care of elderly folk 24/7), apparently more determined than her doctors thought to make it to that 102nd birthday in February. Pretty amazing!