No place for old

I have seen zero old tourists so far. That is zero with an infinity of zeroes to the right of the decimal.

I must have looked bad when I reached the kiosk at Bodega Dunes park because the lady said, “We aren’t accepting bike campers but goodness, I’ll make an exception for you!”

I was grateful beyond any words; set up camp, cooked dinner, and crashed hard.

On its surface touring doesn’t look hard. 50-80 miles a day, not that tough even with sixty pounds of bike. But throw in the daily uncertainty of where to sleep and what to eat, and suddenly 70 miles feels more like a hard hundred. As exhausting as it is, you come to realize that although people desperately seek predictability, we hardwired for uncertainty. In the same way that people can survive on minimal food but acquire “lifestyle diseases” from surfeit, not being sure what’s coming next is what we are uniquely set up to handle.

It may sound like a simple thing; that’s because it is. Nothing is simpler than food and shelter, and nothing more essential. So when those simplicities are thrown into daily question, something very basic kicks in. There is a level of mental acuity that accompanies the uncertainty of where you’ll sleep and what you’ll eat. Whether it’s good or bad I’ll leave you to judge!

Bryan and my friend Vlad Luskin accompanied me from Berkeley; Bryan all the way to Mill Valley. From there I was back on course, and it was kind of cool to be able to cross off Map #2 of the Adventure Cycling Map series, which goes from Santa Barbara to San Francisco.

The ride north of San Francisco is not a good one, or rather it is the moment you realize you’re not riding into any kind of new and beautiful place, but rather you are hop-scotching from one man-beaten area to another, interspersed with tiny jewels of beauty.

In Fairfax I stopped for coffee and groceries. There was a couple all loaded up on a 1-week excursion up the coast. They had planned a longer trip but had to cut it back due to the covids. I was struck again by that thing they had going on, young.

Throughout Marin County I was badassed by all kinds of racy riders. The ones who badassed me the most were those in my age group. One guy rolled up next to me. “How much does that weigh?”

“50-60 lbs.”

“That’s not all that much,” he said, and badassed away.

The only person who wanted to talk was a guy at the coffee shop, Dennis. He’d toured Guatemala and Central America by bike and had a great broken derailleur cable story.

“Yeah, broke my cable in Belize.”

“Fuck. What’d you do?”

“Stopped into a grocery store and bought some fishing line. It worked like a charm for the rest of the trip!”

Leaving Fairfax the traffic was as dense and angry and Mercedes/Porsche/Audi/Rage Rover as in LA, only with narrow-to-nonexistent shoulders. Money acts the same everywhere, I guess. With about 20 miles to Bodega Bay the wind kicked up and suddenly I had to fight for it. The rollers were continual, some steep and long, all miserable and punctuated with only the briefest downhill relief.

Skeptical that I’d find a campsite I began scouting the roadside. A couple of likely spots were going to be too far to backtrack if I struck out in Bodega Bay. At one point I found a giant tree, pulled over, climbed down a few feet to rest under the boughs and away from the wind. There is something magical about peanut butter in the quietude of an ancient tree.

Two guys rode by, saw my bike, and pulled over. “Where you going?”

“I don’t know.”

“Best answer ever!” Then they rode off.

As trite as it sounds, one of the women back at the Big Sur campsite had told me about meeting a surfer in Oregon as they were setting up camp. The guy had walked up to them. “I know where you’re going,” he said.

“Where?”

“You are going on your happy.”

She had said the same thing to me. “You’re going on your happy, I can tell.”

And she was right. This trip began because of my heart, not my head. Inside me, all my life my heart has known the course to chart, the one mapped in pencil and subject to storm winds, shoals, shallows, and horse latitudes, but my head has insisted on traveling by GPS. With each of us, though, there comes a time when the 1s and 0s no longer get you to the right place, if they ever did, and you have to go back to the old ways, when sunrise, sunset, weather, wind, hunger, the imperatives of the flesh and the insistence of the heart are what bring you safely into port.

The last climb until the descent into Bodega Bay was wind and reef indeed, and the safe harbor was a county park marked “camping.”

I tried for a bike campsite, but the kiosk martinet was merciless. “Yeah we have bike spaces but you have to make a reservation.”

“Does anyone ever?”

“No.”

“That’s because bike tourists usually don’t know where they’re ending each day.”

“Another reason to drive,” he concluded.

The kind lady at the state park kept me out off the roadside for at least one night, but her warmth and mercifulness drove another stave into my slowly withering cynicism, the first casualty of any journey of the heart.

END


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22 thoughts on “No place for old”

  1. alan stoddard

    Fifth paragraph down comes flooding memories of wandering the woods of East Texas. Totally enjoying this saga…

  2. Beautiful writing!! We’re old cycle tourists! Been doing this for 40 years. We’re hoping to cross paths with you – we’re currently cycling South from Eureka. Do the Lost and the Unknown Coasts, they’re beautiful. Take Usal Rd to Shelter Cove and then to Honeydew, Petrolia, and Ferndale. Good dirt and steep hills.

  3. I would like to get to that spot where I wouldn’t waste my time telling the Kioskhole to FOAD…or did you leave that part out? Just know that we really appreciate your stories Seth….truly truly

  4. So, did I ever mention logging trucks? I don’t think they have cut down all the trees yet, and you are getting into tree harvest territory, so be alert. Those trucks get paid by the run, or at least they did, the more runs, the more money. Fortunately you can hear them. Especially in those sections of roadway where 1 (going North), bends to right, drops 200-300 feet, crosses a creek, and then climbs back those 200-300 feet and bears right again until that repeats. Just not enough Bixby Bridges to go all the way up the coast. Anyway, I recall the amount of shoulder on those little bits was small, and when we heard one of those trucks coming, we just got off the road. Some mornings it was foggy AF, and then you really needed to keep your ears open. Those trucks moved fast, and I don’t think there was one that didn’t scare the F out of me.

  5. Glenn Chadwick

    Pretty sure we saw you while driving near Pt Reyes and the painted bridge. I shouted to my family including two teenagers who occasionally race bikes “That’s Seth!” Nobody gave a sh*t. But I forever will. Even if I was imagining it.

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