The landscape of my backyard changed this week. For quite a time, the backyard was a mass of paved hills lining Twin Peaks in San Francisco. Hopping on my bike, Poppy Jr, and heading out for a spin involved a trip down an elevator, over steep grades, down to Ocean Beach and beyond. Now that I’ve moved, I can see the green and yellow foothills lining the bottom of Mount Tamalpais in Marin County from my kitchen window. The backyard has grown from a seven-mile island to the possibilities of a morning ride up to Point Reyes National Seashore or evenings spent mountain biking on the mountain across the street. No more concrete stairways and electric bus rails, honking horns and mean motorists. I can step out my front door and go left, right, straight or back and ride until I can’t ride anymore.
I’m committed to adventure. Tonight I set out to explore my new “hood”, the nooks and crannies of San Anselmo. Poppy Jr. had been neglected since her 100-mile race around Lake Tahoe just a few weeks ago. She needed attention and I needed to explore. We took off just before dusk after a long day of shuffling papers and making phone calls in San Francisco. I live on a street called Butterfield Road. It’s somewhat heavily trafficked and connects a main drag to what I discovered to be the quiet, tree-lined community called Sleepy Hollow, with upper-middle-class homes and beautifully manicured lawns (flowers, sprinkler systems and hummingbird feeders). Each street has a name like “Crane Road” — invoking the spirit of Ichabod himself — dead-ends with private ranchlands or trailheads up to the foothills. I rode along at an even pace, smiled at women walking her children in strollers, nodded at other cyclists and yelled, “Whoa! Hey, how’s it going,” to a twelve-year-old on one of those motorized skateboards as we just missed colliding. The back roads of Sleepy Hollow are the kind of places where kids play catch in the middle of the street and yell, “Car!” at the top of their lungs before scrambling out of the way.
I took as many side roads as I could, looking for a street that might lead into another town like San Rafael or Marinwood. I didn’t find any so I turned back and relished in the tailwind, full speed on a mild downhill. I took bunny jumps over potholes, impressing myself with my agility and strength. Just happy to be out in the sunshine clearing my head after a grueling two weeks of moving, classes and making a living in the city. My speed got the best of me and I found myself saying “Oh, look. That’s my house,” as I whizzed by, heading towards the funky community called Fairfax. I have stopped to get coffee at the corner cafe a few times, sampled the local Thai food and browsed through the second-hand bookstore, so I have a feel for Fairfax. I didn’t want to go there. I wanted to check out San Anselmo. So, I took a left at the stoplight and followed the bike path signs, hoping to access a safe commuting route around a busy main street.
I found a safe route. I rode through mellow, yet alive, streets lined with small wooden homes displaying a myriad of personal interests in the windows and yards: ceramic frogs, outdoor grills, rainbow kites, bicycle harnesses and jungly flower boxes. Everybody was out on their bikes. Dads and Moms with kids. A woman washing her car in the street. A somewhat cluttered and shabby storefront advertising shoe repair. People smiled and said “hi” as I rode by. I reciprocated in kind. A band played funky jazz in a little café as a 30-ish woman relaxed on a bench outside and nodded her head with the beat. People gathered at an outdoor burrito joint called Taco Jane’s and sat underneath Christmas lights.
The town was a mystery to me. I’d never been there before, and I know no one who lives there. And, yet, it was so familiar, so inviting, so peaceful, so loving, so community. I found home. The kind of home we know in our hearts. I rounded a corner and said to myself, I’m just gonna cry, I love it here so much. And, I did.