July 15, 2020 § 9 Comments
Perspective. You can’t get it at home or on a couch or on the tee-vee. You can’t get it in a bottle or in a pill or on the Gram. It’s not for sale at REI or available from behind the windshield.
The only way you can get it is to go out and let it get you.
I left my hideaway beach campsite a little after six thirty and immediately began climbing to Ragged Point. After an hour and a half lugging my bike and my ass up an endless series of climbs I reached the town of Gorda, There was one café and it was open, though you had to eat outside. This was going to be my second breakfast, like a hobbit.
The first item on the menu was the cheapest, two eggs, bacon, toast, and hash browns for $15. I’d have balked but for the sign on the tip jar: Thanks for helping us stay open.
The covids have destroyed all of the mom and pop tourist businesses in Big Sur. This is their peak season and there were three of us at the breakfast witching hour. I dug deep and was glad to do it. The eggs and bacon were worth it anyway.
If you haven’t ridden the coast from Ragged Point to Big Sur on a 60-lb. bike you’ve missed out. On a lot of misery. The scenery is stunning but who cares when you are about to blow a gasket and there are still “only” 25 miles to go to the state park in Big Sur. I began counting the mile markers, always a terrible sign, then I started timing my miles, which took 4-5 minutes each. At that moment when you truly realize you are doing the wrong thing at the wrong time with the hopelessly wrong equipment, you hit the long downhill into Big Sur.
Suddenly it’s all worth it. I waited in line to enter the park as the ranger explained it to the cars like this: “No, we’re full. This is the most popular state park in California. Reservations are typically required a year in advance.”
Then it was my turn. “Sweet bike!” she said. “Bike camper? $5 please. $10 if you’re staying two nights.”
The venomous looks of the disappointed cagers felt sweet like Twizzlers. I could tell you that my campsite was beneath towering redwoods a stone’s throw from the Big Sur river. I could tell you that it was silent, beautiful, restful, the kind of place you never want to leave. But by the time I got done telling you all that I’d be too tired to tell you about Ross.
And this post is all about Ross.
He and the two women who had adopted him somewhere in southern Washington were the only other people there. Ross had begun riding on May 16, leaving from Ennis, which is right outside … Bozeman, Montana.
He had a beat-up old Surly with cantilever brakes and down tube shifters. He was in his mid-20’s, shaggy bearded and shaggy haired with two brilliant laughing eyes that couldn’t seem to stop enjoying the world as it pranced by. He was from Florida but had worked all over the Texas oilfields as a mud logger before ending up in Montana working at a ski resort. One day the itch hit and he lit out.
I started complaining, as I always do, about my heavy bike and packs. Ross looked at my gear. “How much does it weigh?”
“A little under sixty pounds I’d guess.”
“That’s heavy,” he said.
Then we talked of other things, and his two friends shared their stories. Ellen was a third grade teacher from Culver City who didn’t ride anything besides a beach cruiser from time to time. Her girlfriend Kristin, a third grade teacher from Brooklyn, had finished a family event of some kind or another in Santa Fe and decided to ride her bike home.
Flustered family had implored her not to, and her mother had insisted that she talk to her good friend Ellen who would dissuade her from the insanity. Instead, Kristin talked Ellen into doing the ride together, only they’d start in Seattle and ride to LA where Ellen’s boyfriend had “something” planned for her. Everyone agreed that it was going to involve a ring. Afterwards Kristin would fly back to her husband in New York.
“I practiced bicycling for a week,” Ellen said. “So I’d be in shape.”
It was so astonishing to see young people in action. Her bike was a $250 rental that looked like it would barely get you down the bike path for a cup of coffee. But that’s what young people do, some of them anyway. They don’t fixate on gear or garb or meticulous preparation, they get on their fuggin’ bikes and go. If they have problems? They’ll worry about that later.
They’d found Ross along the way and adopted him up like the rescue biker he was.
Ross was handy, good with a wrench, built like the front end of a truck, and looked pretty rough from a distance, as long as you couldn’t see his eyes. So they’d been riding down south together and knew each other pretty well.
As the evening wore on, Ross allowed as how he’d go to the store and get some marshmallows. Everyone thought that was a great idea and off he went.
“That’s some bike Ross has there,” I said.
“Yes, it is,” said Ellen.
“It looks pretty heavy.”
“It is, but it’s down to around 90 pounds now.”
I stuttered. “90 pounds? What was it before?”
“He said it was 110 when he left Montana, but he’s eaten all the food so it’s down to 90.”
“What in the world does he have in there?”
The two women giggled. “You won’t believe it.”
“His rock collection.”
“His rock collection. He never goes anywhere without it.”
“You’re telling me he has ridden for two months with panniers full of rocks?”
“No, he has lots of other … things.”
“His hatchet. And his giant Bowie knife that he made himself. And some other stuff.”
Before long Ross returned. I didn’t see the marshmallows right away but I did see his bike groaning under the weight of a giant load of wood.
“Figured I might as well get us some kindling!” he said with a laugh.
I was on the verge of asking him about the rock collection when he opened up one of the panniers and took out the hatchet. In seconds he was chopping the wood into smaller pieces for the fire pit. Within a few minutes there was a small mountain of it.
The fire got to roaring and the marshmallows got to toasting. They had a thing where they stuck pieces of Hershey’s chocolate into the middle of the marshmallow, a thing that, well, can change your life if you let it. I listened to them talk and laugh and suddenly I felt old, no, ancient. And I felt that they were letting me into the secret world of young, if only for a few moments, where I could re-see men who rode thousands of miles with beloved rock collections on rickety bikes, women who thought of a thing and then simply did it, only because they were all young and tomorrow seemed like a forever away.
The beer cracked open and I said good night. It was past my bedtime anyway, being 9:05 and all. Inside my sleeping bag I heard them talking until late, an owl hooting along with them until I drifted off to sleep, the whispering leaves of 400 year-old redwoods wishing me the sweetest of dreams.