I threw my bike up against a giant stone. “I’m done. Quit talking to me!”
“What is wrong?” Kristie said, exasper-worried.
“I don’t know.”
I drew up my knees and cradled my head, which was pounding. My mouth was dry and all my parts was covered in a crust of salt. I was shaking. Chills started to go up and down my body.
It had seemed like such a perfect day until we’d stopped for lunch. Actually, it had been a terrible day. The only good part of it was the beginning. We’d had coffee and breakfast with Michael, given Ruffy a final pat, and pedaled out along the glorious California coast of North County San Diego, headed for Mission Bay.
Yesterday’s ride of 95 miles seemed like it had done nothing but make me stronger, and my pack, which I’d been able to weigh with an actual scales, was a mere 35 pounds, and the bike a piddling 36. Legs felt great, too until magically we hit the climb at Torrey Pines. It’s not long and it’s not steep, but after a hundred yards we had slowed to a crawl, and then we crawled to almost a stop. Badasses zoomed by us on the way to work.
Summiting Torrey Pines we began trying to find our way out of San Diego to the route that would take us to our campground at Live Oak Springs.
“It’s about ninety miles there,” Michael had said the night before. “You’ll make it with no problem.”
All we had was problem. Every mile or so I’d check the map and inch our way to the next stoplight. The bike path sucked ass. By the time we got to the edge of the city we’d been riding almost three hours and had gone barely thirty miles, if that. The only bright spot was running across a guy named Scott.
He was seated at a bend in the bike path smoking a cigarette. He eyed us coolly as we slowed to navigate the little hairpin. “Morning!” he said.
“Morning!” I said back.
“Where you guys going?”
“Wow. That’s a long way.”
“You camping around here?” The bike path ran along a dense canopy of trees that lined the San Diego River.
“Too bad. You guys look like fun.” He was skinny and worn.
“You hungry?” I asked.
“A little. You got something to eat?”
“Yeah. But I also got some cash if that’ll help.”
He cocked an eye, ready for the catch. “When did a little cash not help?”
“Exactly.” I peeled off a ten spot from the roll I’d been given the day before by Benefactor Bill.
He didn’t take it right away. “Really?”
“Hot damn. Thank you. Don’t bother with the food.”
“Okay,” I said. “Have a good day.”
“I just did!”
We continued. It wasn’t hot, but it wasn’t cool. We took Michael’s advice and skirted the Mission Gorge climb, dodging into a county park that went along Father Junipero Serra Trail. It was gorgeous and cool and best of all, it was mostly flat. Somehow though the beautiful lightness of the backpack from the day before had vanished.
Now it was fucking heavy.
And the padless, no-bibs underwear and riding jeans setup was once again turning, if not into a screaming cat, at least a loudly meowing one.
By ten-thirty we had only made it to Santee and it was time for lunch. We were famished. Luckily we had plenty of Oreos and peanut butter, and at a 7-11 we loaded up with half a gallon of milk and some 1-dollar burritos. There was no shade anywhere and it was already ninety degrees. I chugged most of the half-gallon as we slathered our Oreos in pb.
Weirdly, about fifteen minutes later I started to feel not so supreme. About thirty minutes later I felt sick. “Are you okay?” Kristie asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Do you want me to be quiet?”
“No. Please talk. It’ll take my mind off wanting to throw myself into oncoming traffic.” We were going about five mph up a nasty hill.
“What if I recite The Wife of Bath?”
“That would be great.”
“Do you want it with or without the meter?”
“Look, I can’t really think right now. Just talk. I don’t care what you say or how you say it.”
She rattled off the poem, which took my mind off the horrible pounding in my head. “What did you think?” she asked.
“It was great.”
“Do you want me to say it again slowly?”
“Please, I don’t care how you say it.”
“I can do it either way. Sometimes it’s harder saying it slow, though. Are you sure that’s okay?”
That’s when I gave up and threw my bike against the rock. “I can’t do this.”
She sat down next to me. After a few minutes she said, “You have heatstroke.”
“There’s no way we’re making it to Live Oak Springs. That’s 45 miles from here and it’s all uphill. It’s already 1:00. We’re a few miles from Alpine. We can get a motel there or a campsite.”
“Okay,” I mumbled.
The next five miles took about an hour. I dismounted in the shade and lay on the sidewalk. “I’ll get you some Gatorade,” she said.
I drank the Gatorade and we began calling motels. There were only a couple and they were all full, except for one that had a room for $179. “I’d rather die of heatstroke,” I said.
“Isn’t that what’s happening?”
None of the campgrounds accepted tent campers. I looked at my GAIA GPS app. “We’re just a few miles from the Cleveland National Forest. That’s public. We can wild camp there.”
“Okay, let’s go.”
We hadn’t gone far at all when we saw a sign that said “Biker Shack.”
“Sweet,” I said. “Let’s stop here. Bikers will always help a fellow biker.”
I walked into the shop. A surly badass was sitting at the counter. “Hi,” I said.
“Umn,” he grunted.
“We’re riding to Houston and I sort of came unstitched out there. Now we’re looking for a place to pitch our tent for the night.”
He looked as concerned as if I’d said that I had an ouchie on my pinky. “That’s a bummer,” he non-sympathized.
“We can stay anywhere.”
“Then I guess you’re good to go, huh?”
“Yeah,” I said. “I guess we are. Thanks anyway.”
Of course this drove home the first rule of karma: Doing good things for others guarantees that good will spread out in the world, but it doesn’t mean it will spread to you when it’s late in the day and you need a campsite.
We got a mile up the road and saw a sign that said “Motel.” It was in front of a burrito joint. “How about there?” I asked.
“I called them already. They didn’t answer, just asked me to leave a name and number but they never called back.”
“Maybe the burrito people would know.”
There was a lady munching a giant burrito. “Hello!” she said.
“Where are you going with all that stuff?”
“Houston, to visit my dad who is older than dirt. But for now we’re trying to find a place to stay. All the motels are full.”
“Try the RV park at the casino. They have camp sites.”
“Not anymore. We already called them.”
“Well, these burritos are really good if you’re hungry.”
Kristie went to the window to try and get motel intel.
“If I had a house here I’d let you stay in my yard,” the lady said.
“That’s awful nice of you.”
“I don’t know anybody in town, either.” She was really worried about us.
“That’s okay. We’ll find something up the road.”
She thought for a second. “You know, there’s a creek across that ditch on the other side of the street. You could probably hike down there and up the other side and put up your tent. Wouldn’t nobody see you or care.”
“Yes,” she pointed. “Right over there.”
“Wow, thank you! We’ll check it out.”
Indeed there was a small creek and over the far bank a grove of trees completely hidden from view. The ground was flat and soft with duff. In our hour of need this kind lady had pointed us to salvation. “I’ll get groceries,” Kristie said.
I put down the footprint and staked down the tent. We didn’t want the whole thing to go up before dark so that we could remain as inconspicuous as possible. Even though we were invisible from the road it was right off the highway in the middle of town.
She came back with a bag full of real food and two pints of ice cream, which we ate. As my mom used to say, “Ice cream before dinner spoils your appetite.” Mom was right. I chugged some more Gatorade and we finished putting up the tent. We called it a day before five p.m.
Maybe my first rule of karma was wrong.
Route: Leucadia-Torrey Pines-Mission Bay-Santee-Alpine
About 60 miles