I am happy.
The tiny crack on the horizon, letting in fingers of multihued sunlight split more perfectly than by any prism; the coos of mourning doves and the braying joy of grackles; the blustery night’s wind tamed to a gentle pre-dawn breeze … and time, uncurling at its own pace, unhurried by alarms, to-dos, notifications, meetings, phone calls, emails, texts, and the imperatives of modern enslavement, simply unrolling with the rising sun, beckoning, asking without rush or threat or command, “And what will you do TODAY?”
Today is of course nothing more than yesterday’s memories, tomorrow’s expectations, and today’s necessities condensed into the mortal now. And yesterday, well, she was a doozy. My crib was a culvert beneath CA 111, southbound, and shared with a colony of greatly disturbed cliff swallows.
As the sun dipped they would twist, careen, and jet into the culvert for the safety of their adobe nests only to find human encamped at the far end. For a while they refused to roost, calling, warning, pirouetting, then racing back out to reconsider, reconnoiter, loudly chatter and complain.
I lay motionless in my sweat and waited for the dropping sun to do its work, forcing the swallows into the now-questionable safety of home. Because on the road, when done properly, you learn to wait. Things unfold, sweat dries, breezes spring up, and birds eventually roost. Immediately above my tent, in the failing rays, the last two holdouts wafted in and performed the most intricate ballet ever, rocketing from full speed to zero, wings folding, tiny feet opened to grasp the mud doorstep and, upside down, vanish into home.
So tell me again about that quad you did on the ice that time …
My wake-up call was repeated throughout the night as BNSF blew its train horns ceaselessly until I got up, packed up, and started the 60-mile slog from Mecca to Brawley. The early morning air smelled so sweet and the breeze blew cool, pretending that desert, heat, dryness, and wind weren’t rattling the cage, roaring to be set free.
And they were.
CA 111 along the east coast of the Salton Sea is spectacular. There is nothing there but sand, water, sky, and an impeccably paved road with manicured shoulder and zero traffic. The absence of cars makes the heart grow fonder even against a hot headwind.
Routes like this, raw beauty, tough conditions, and a culvert for a hotel make you feel like you really are traveling. Call it touring or bikepacking or roughing it, but don’t call it easy, don’t call it scripted. After 24 days of hard traveling you either find the groove or you find the fastest way home that you can.
I was mulling this and other things when I saw a border patrol checkpoint. The shade beckoned and I was ready for a couple of oranges and some water. The agents graciously let me borrow bench and shade, and as I got ready to leave, up rolled two cyclists. To say that the Salton Sea is not a typical bike tour route is an understatement.
But these guys weren’t typical.
They had simply thrown some shit in a crate, strapped it on their bikes, slapped on a sombrero and started pedaling. Forget the gear, the hashtags, the branded clothing. Their brand was “Fuck let’s go,” and they had smiles pasted from ear to ear. The night before they had camped in Slab City, itself more adventure than a hundred culverts. Google it …
I found my campsite, $7 a day, but not before loading up on food at Niland. I drank a quart of milk and a quart of Gatorade, sitting in front of the grocery and watching the parade of desert people. I saw more hardened, DGAF, dirt poor, nonchalant, generally happy people in that half hour than I’ve ever seen in LA.
Well, one thing is things. The less you have, the happier you are. And as my life is distilling down to what I can physically carry, I’m nearing 190 proof, the capacity to carry only a few things but also to carry infinite love. Having no things seems to equate with having no-thing to do besides, you know, live.
My reward for the day’s sweat was a sunset performance without peer. Every diet should include daily helpings of sunrise and sunset. They help digest the day, reset your soul, make the cycle complete. And the only limit on how many servings you can have is the length of your life.