"My name is Milo Minderbinder, sir. I am twenty-seven years old."

I'm writing a journal, because I have a lot of thinks and no place to put them. I am twenty-two years old, and live in a small room in Berkeley. I work two part-time jobs. During the week, I work with Lee Worden of the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management at UC Berkeley's College of Natural Resources. On Saturdays, I sell vegetables for a small organic farm at the local farmer's market.

I often feel depressed and isolated. Last November, I broke up with my girlfriend of three years, Nicole. Despite our differences, Nicole and I were very close; after the break-up, she begged me to return to her, and refusing seemed to take tremendous resolve. I miss her very much and often think of being with her. While I do not mind being free of her abusive, controlling aspects, I felt a communion with her that I have felt with no other person. Our intimacy seemed like an impenetrable sanctuary, which made our spiral into dysfunction all the more painful.

Today I joined the Grizzly Peak Cyclists for my first large group ride. We rode a long route in the hills east of Berkeley, covering some 35 miles. Starting from the BART station in Orinda, we rode north and then climbed into the hills along Wildcat Canyon Road. Arriving on the Berkeley side of the hills, we rode south for miles along Grizzly Peak and Skyline. We followed Redwood, Pinehurst, and then Canyon, moving through the isolated town of Canyon into the suburban Moraga area. (However, looking at the map now, I think I inadvertently took a shortcut -- lost, I must have taken Pinehurst right to Canyon, shaving five miles off the route!) From Moraga, it was a straight shot back to Orinda.

I attempted to arrive at the meeting place in the BART parking lot promptly, for an advice clinic scheduled for 8:30. Unfortunately, the first eastbound BART train of the morning was scheduled to get in at 8:30, ensuring I would be slightly late after exiting the station -- a first impression I felt I could not afford! I rushed down the stairs and turnstiles of the Orinda BART station, and in my haste I pedaled toward a group of some fifty cyclists assembled in orange windbreakers, who politely informed me that they were training for an unrelated charity ride. I felt rather melodramatic -- unable to find my group, I assumed they were meeting in some undisclosed location, or had all canceled without telling me! Fortunately, I overcame my nervousness and mumbled something to another cyclist assembling his gear from the back of a car, who revealed he was also riding with Grizzly Peak. We stood around (uncomfortably?) for a few minutes, and then I followed him to the other side of the lot, where the group was meeting. I approached with some trepidation, but succeeded at riding up to the group and introducing myself to the ride leaders. In keeping with my instincts, I opted to hang back and observe the conversation among the small group of riders, and I was discouraged by what I heard. The ride leader, Mark, was apparently hurt that more people had not showed up at 8:30 sharp for his safety lecture, and when someone asked about it, Mark brushed the other off, saying that no one had showed up, and he would only be able to give an inferior mini-lesson before the scheduled departure at 9:15. I tried to explain that I had tried to arrive as early as possible, but he seemed to have none of it, and I'm hardly one for aggressively arguing with strangers. Later, a woman arrived asking if the ride had not, in fact, been canceled due to risk of rain. Discussion followed and one participant mentioned that she had checked the weather forecast that morning, which had predicted rain the following day but not today. The first woman defensively answered, with a downtrodden, contradictory tone, that she had also checked and seen that rain today was likely. Disregarding the obvious subtext of defensiveness, the second joked that there was a virus on her computer -- perhaps a harmless suggestion to a friendlier crowd, but one that only made things worse. I was shocked that people twice my age displayed such immaturity and lack of social awareness. I felt an urge to jump in and separate them like bickering children, explaining forcefully the virtue of mutual respect, and I cringed at the thought that the trip might be nothing but hours of grown-ups squabbling like animals.

I also felt self-conscious with regard to the equipment I brought to to the ride. As more riders arrived, I felt pressed by a sea of fancy gear. Most riders wore a synthetic windbreaker over a cycling jersey (many in the offical club jersey), spandex cycling pants for the cold weather, clipless shoes, good cycling gloves, and a sleek pair of goggles under the helmet. Every rider I saw in the lot (barring one guy on a recumbent) rode a drop-bar road bike. Most were of a nice brand with bright, new-looking parts and storage in bags on the top tube or behind the seat. On the other hand, the only dedicated cycling gear I brought was a racing-styled jersey, a pair of out-of-place offroad cycling shorts, and a pair of Pearl Izumi socks, all part of a too-expensive anniversary gift from Nicole. I wore sneakers that cost just $30 more than a year ago, a crappy pair of woolen gloves, and a black light jacket that's nice in the rain, but bulkier than any windbreaker. My bike seemed even worse. It's a mid-1980's Specialized Hardrock mountain bike with a tough but heavy steel frame, cheap Suntour and Shimano components, and lots of character -- in the form of parts in lousy condition. Sure, I'm fond of it and it's served me well (perhaps the only positive thing to come out of Chuck's tenure as head of the Wilson household) but it looked ridiculously awful compared to every last bike there. I was a kid in mismatched clothes, standing over a rickety deathtrap about as old as I, trying to play along with a bunch of middle-aged professionals riding sleek aluminum and carbon rockets. Who was I kidding?

Mark eventually decided to give his chat once many riders had assembled. He went over some basic points of handling that seemed obvious, and some tips on group riding that seemed a little more useful. Lots of people were forming into small conversational groups, and I felt left out, reluctant to approach anyone. Instead, I fought imaginary rhetorical duels with hypothetical assholes who might criticize my bike. The leaders led, and the group started to stream off, so I made my way out onto the road with the pack. We started on a lame highway section -- while there was a bike lane, cars were speeding by, so not much room to maneuver. It was pretty congested too. I started near the back of the pack out of worry that people would be too slow, but I found it was too damn slow pretty quickly. I felt pretty cramped until I got the nerve to start passing on the left, which requires hammering pretty hard around the folks in front of you while dodging cars and even faster riders.

So we got into a hill climb on Wildcat Canyon, and that was hard. But I had trouble going a slowly as I probably should have, so I was pedaling hard and passing a lot of people, with no real opportunities for conversation besides "Car back!" Before I died, we reached the regroup point and I rested and watched people. I knew it looked kind of dorky, but I was hot so I took off my jacket and tied it around my waist. When most of us were up, we took off again. The next leg was a slower, longer climb along Grizzly Peak. I initially was kind of racing with another rider by keeping up very close to him as he plowed along downhill, but as I lost him and the course went upward, I joined up with a small pack of riders at about my pace. While I found that getting close enough for a real paceline was too intimidating (I worry about hurting someone else, too), I thought it was kind of fun, and good motivation. We moved into Berkeley proper and along Grizzly Peak, where I'd been a few times cycling and running. After a fast descent (fun, but tough on my unprotected eyes!) we started a long climb up Skyline road. I felt ambitious, and charged past many riders until I was all alone in the dense fog. At this point, I had started to have a really good time. The long climb didn't make me sad, but it did make me very tired -- and not just in the thighs; I was feeling some pressure in my stomach and face (perhaps related to allergies in the sinus?). I got really tired and it seemed like my pedal strokes had negligible effect, because I was near the lowest gear ratio possible. The riders I'd passed by mostly passed me up again, and the regroup at Sibley Park came just in time, as I really needed the rest.

I had a good time talking with some other riders there. One guy, Tony, complimented my riding on such a heavy bike and still keeping a good pace. We chatted for a bit -- he lives in Berkeley and is training for the Grizzly Park Century. This was true of most riders, I think, as this was officially the "Century Prep Ride #2". Chatting, even casually, with some other folks really made me feel good. I also pissed, ate a Powerbar, drank a gallon or two of water, and stretched, which refreshed me nicely.

As we took off, I didn't stick with any riders -- which was, I think, a poor decision. The road after that was not so hard, though it was a long trip back to Orinda. We rode a ways through some pretty areas on Skyline, and I was speeding along at a great clip, with no affiliated riders obvious ahead or behind me. Lemming-like, I tagged along with some other riders, only to find they were taking a different route when they stopped for a woman handing out snacks. I felt embarrassed (this was at the Skyline-Pinehurst junction) and was relieved to spot the fellow I'd been racing with earlier. Unfortunately, he was convinced we were to go down Pinehurst, and I was convinced of the same thing! The ride down the sharp downhill was great fun, though -- I kept up with him for a little while, but he was better at the nasty downhill turns the road had to offer.

It's no wonder it was so isolated when I got onto the real route again, because I was far ahead of most Grizzly riders. The rural scenery was pretty cool, but the climb was a pain, and a pace group could have been a real boost. I sped by the tiny town of Canyon, and into Moraga. From there, the road was pretty flat and dull into Orinda. The suburban region, even in smaller cities like those, always seems to be so utilitarian and devoid of real life, I felt sort of depressed -- plus my thighs were aching quite a bit. I got through it, recognizing some places I'd been by before when I took a solo trip to Orinda, that summer long ago.

But when I got into the town there were lots of bikers who happened to be out, but no one from the club. I asked some of them, but they had no real idea. I felt really frustrated, thinking perhaps they'd left without me. (I didn't yet realize I'd skipped a portion of the ride!) I went over to the BART station and thought I was lucky to recognize one rider from the trip, talking with a group of other riders who'd led the pack. He directed me back to a spot in town and complimented me on being so fast with the mountain bike (though it was not really true I'd been so fast, I felt good to hear that anyway.) I went back to the town and while I chatted with a guy I'd seen in Moraga, he wasn't with the ride, so I just sat in front of the coffee joint for a while until folks started to roll in. I chatted with an old guy who came down from the hills for a little bit and got a tea. He left and I sat and watched the street for a while until another rider came and sat with me. She was a cute girl of about my age who seemed interested in me, which is probably a good thing but certainly made me feel awkward. I was both attracted to her and interested in making a friend in the club I could relate to more -- add that to mention my natural awkwardness around strangers, and I felt pretty nervous. I found myself trying to strike a careful balance between acting like an aloof jerk and acting like an overinterested creep, which turned out to be surprisingly tough. I felt I was fighting the urge to prattle on and on and excitedly ask for her number or whatever, which would have undoubtedly gone badly, even though she genuinely wanted to talk to me. And I know I'm still going to be thinking of her even though I will see her rarely, if ever. Ugh.

Also, she shares my name, Jesse. So Jesse (she) was going to leave for BART, so I (Jesse) tagged along with a couple ride leaders for lunch in Orinda. They seemed like nice enough people though they weren't all that interested in me, and I like talking with folks with a little more experience. We were headed to a hof brau place serving meaty meat meat, but I figured there'd be something vegetarian because this was the Bay Area. No one told the restaurant owners, I guess, who didn't even see fit to make a crappy vegetarian sandwich available. As I contemplated the nutritional possibilities of a huge bowl of mashed potatoes, I came to realize that I would definitely prefer to be waiting for the train with a cute girl than eating food I didn't really want with old people. But I didn't want to seem obnoxious by whining about the food available. Then I had an amazing epiphany -- I didn't need to give a reason at all! I said I was leaving, thanked them for their help and left. That was pretty cool. I sprinted like an idiot over to the BART stop where I caught Jesse and got to talk a little more.

Girls are hard, dammit. I wonder what she ended up thinking of me. I was hoping we'd get to ride some of the way home together, but she was going to ride further down the line to transfer to a train that'd go right into Berkeley, while I got off a few miles out to ride into town without the hassle. When I found she wasn't joining me, it threw off my internal simulation of the way things would go, and I bet it was kind of obvious because I wished her goodbye in only a stuttering, weird way. I think I'm really going to have to do every step in the dating process many times before I get used to it -- I'll have to meet and talk with many girls to get a little more comfortable, have to ask out many of them, etc. Honestly, it seems like a terrible burden. At this rate, it seems like it will be many years before I can equal the kind of closeness I had in my past relationship.

Cycling today was a lot of fun. I really wish I could get a better bike for longer rides. Despite the fact that I have savings for pretty much that purpose, my checking account is perpetually low and I hate to make big purchases at such a time, especially when I hardly know how much I'll use it. I feel frustrated at not knowing the best course of action here - sell my current bike and buy used, or keep it? I certainly can't get much for this one - it's so beat-up. I feel like I really expose myself to some sort of risk by trying to sell the bike on craiglist. I don't know -- it just seems like such a blah bike, and I hate to think I'd be ripping anyone off. When I asked online about how to fix it up and sell would be best, the posters pretty much informed me I was an asshole trying to scam ignorant people by trying to get the most value out of it. That's not what I want! Even if I was free to throw money at the problem, I wouldn't go nuts, because I don't want to be some gearhead moron, I just want something reliable that can keep up pretty well in the hills.

By the way, I'm trying to be introspective as much as I can here. I read some of David Burns' book Feeling Good, and he suggests doing this sort of thing, though he probably doesn't require that I spend hours and hours writing out a compendium of everything that happened! I'm at 2,900 words just on today alone -- I scarcely expected I'd be pouring out this much. I haven't written anything this long in years. But it does seem more fulfilling than watching another movie or playing another video game.

WRT cycling, I suppose it's not really practical to train for the club century in June. While it'd be fun, it's a hard ride that I'd need to train hard for, especially on my bike (though I guess it's doable, I'd just need to pace myself.) I really should be doing other stuff - like getting a job outside Berkeley (though Burns suggests "should" is not useful...) But I calculate the main ride today was 27 miles for me. A 62 mi "metric" (100 Km) is hardly out of the question, and might be a reasonable training goal. Maybe there are even cute girls training for that!

Well, that's how I spent the part of my day that I didn't spend crashing at home and writing this stupid thing. More next time on my work, my goals, and my ridiculous dream program I'm going to implement in a language I don't know.

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