All Before Breakfast

Pre-sunrise, Eastern Sierra

Ask how my summer was and I’ll think of the time before breakfast. Those routines before the “real” work began define and reflect the mood of each moment in life.

Mid June — End of August

6:07: first alarm begins. The homemade loft of this sublet room makes for an emphatic thump out of bed. I paw through a bin of unfolded sports clothes for something fog-appropriate. Electric kettle must go on before teeth-brushing. There’s ten minutes to drink coffee, pick through news. Then the next alarm interrupts, asserting that if I don’t leave now, today’s window for exercise will close. 6:26am: sneakers are on, house key is tucked in shorts, and I am out the door.

The two blocks until Divisadero are warm-up walking blocks. (Funny how that designation stuck day one). I shuffle, then run, through the Panhandle into Golden Gate Park. The austerity of early wind and fog summons up college summers on wilderness canoe expeditions. Waking up early to head out into the world brings a familiar hard energy.

Fog and ocean, San Francisco

I investigate new trails (phone keeps me un-lost, un-late) and sometimes visit the ocean. As the summer progresses, I accumulate recognized runners, dog-walkers and walk-to-workers. Once or twice I smile, awkwardly, and realize that this anonymous overlap merits a nod, but not full smile. Back through the Panhandle, I’m running through the turnaround checklist: chug water, grab towel, throw shoes in a corner, hope housemate isn’t in the bathroom. Two-minute cold shower precedes a 30-second selection of outfit.

Next alarm goes off at 7:53am — that’s “go to work.” I grab the backpack packed last night, maneuver my bike around the long line of housemates’ bikes cluttering the hallway, and bump down the front stairs.

One block alone, and then I join waves of commuters. Who’s mastered the logic of the bike lane? Stop signs to run, potholes to avoid, busses to bypass: I copy. The goal is efficiency without back sweat.

The proper bike lanes end blocks from my destination, so I hone my skills at darting through traffic and identifying when to jump onto the sidewalk. What felt risky becomes the efficient move. Even if I left on time, I feel late now. But I’ve done so much before breakfast.

Most of September:

I wake at the same time each morning, no alarm, buried too deep in my sleeping bag to see much light. But when I poke my head outside, the familiar color suggests a similar moment. Pre-pink, pre-yellow, pre-blue: the sky is almost grey at first glance. If you forgot that summer in the Sierra brings only clear skies, you might mistake this color for clouds.

Still morning at Golden Bear Lake, Eastern Sierra

Near-frozen from the night, contacts hit my eyeballs hard. I slip on shoes, crawl out of the tent and make my way toward water. We always camp by water. Before sticking my hands in, I roll two sets of long underwear and two down jackets up to the elbows. A few splashes of chilly water on my face accomplish little cleaning, but does remind me to stretch up, stand still, and be happy. Some mornings, I appreciate effortlessly; other mornings, as wind half-freezes water off my face, the smile is more forced.

The evening before, I’ve laid the groundwork for breakfast. The pot is clean and full; the stove remained assembled right outside the tent. More than saving time, I’m optimizing for saving camp fuel. I lay out all breakfast ingredients: oats, dried fruit, rock-hard brown sugar, powdered milk, and cinnamon. Measure out a portion, add to pot. Light stove, bring pot to boil, then let sit as coffee water boils in the kettle. Check again — done or more time? Meanwhile, re-pack bear canister.

Maps are morning reading. Even during days meant for savoring and wandering, I want to plan where we’ll go and perfect our systems for getting there. Just as I seek adventure in routines, I seem to crave routine in adventure.