All systems not quite ready

August 30, 2022 Comments Off on All systems not quite ready

Everything went great until it didn’t. We started late, which was okay as we were only riding about 25 miles. It was already hot when we left, and in Kernville we stopped for groceries.

Riding out of the parking lot I spied a wallet in the middle of the road, picked it up and found it loaded with cash and credit cards. We rifled through it, found a business card, and I called the guy up. “Hey, Scott!” I said.

“Who’s this?”

“It’s Seth and I’ve got your wallet.”

“What?” he said. He obviously hadn’t missed it yet and was checking his pocket.

“It was lying in the road by the supermarket.”

“Oh crap!” he said. “I’ll be right there, thank you!”

You might think there would be some good bike karma after that but it was not to be. The heat, my loaded bike and loaded pack, my general weakness and old age quickly ground me down. Seven miles up the river we stopped for a snack of cold watermelon that Kristie had packed.

That revived me for another seven miles, after which we swung into McNally’s for fries, cheeseburgers, and milk shakes. My body went into toxic lard shock as we remounted to finish the last seven miles, the final two up a brutal climb to our wild camp by the waterfall.

I lay down, destroyed.

“It takes you five days to acclimate,” Kristie reminded me.

“What day are we on again?”

“This would be Day One.”

We stretched out our sleeping bags in the dirt and I fell deeply asleep. Kristie fell deeply awake but at least she had company as Orion’s Belt crossed the heavens until she nodded off around three.

Day Two arrived as crisply and fresh as my legs, which was great because we started having done only two of the steep twelve miles up to Parker Pass. “How are your legs?” she asked.

“Great! Yours?”

“So-so.”

A mile later she asked again. “How are your legs?”

“Utter shit. Yours?”

“Great!” she said.

I don’t know how to say this gently, but it took me three hours to go ten miles. My day’s plan had been to ride as far as Ponderosa, but that would have only worked in conjunction with an airlift.

We stopped for the day at Holy Meadow and camped beneath a young sequoia that was only about six or seven hundred years old. It had already been there a couple of centuries by the time Columbus showed up. Who really belongs here, they or we?

The rest of Day Two involved me sitting and lying around a deserted campground. I like that.

On Day Three I knew what was in store: the day began with a 13-mile climb up to Ponderosa at 7,000 feet, followed by a long descent into Camp Nelson. My legs finally felt like legs and it took a mere 1:40 to go thirteen miles. The store at Ponderosa was closed so I sat on the stoop with an amiable dog and ate raisins.

The drop into Camp Nelson is a straight 10-mile descent, beautiful and isolated, the road occasionally cut by clear mountain streams. There is a general store in Camp Nelson so I bought tuna fish, an orange, and a red onion, and rode up past the campground to a trail that leads through an ancient grove of giant sequoias. I camped next to the pristine waters of the South Fork Middle Fork (not a typo) of the Tule River and slept beneath hoary, towering alders.

Day Four started with the most amazing surprise imaginable.

——

END

Unbearable

August 25, 2022 Comments Off on Unbearable

I’m not afraid of bears. Unless I see them. Then, I’m really afraid.

There is a healthy population of black bears around here, although many of them left after last year’s fire because it devastated their habitat. I’ve seen a few while riding my bike and once while walking, but they run like hell, which is good, because they are terrifying. I don’t care how scared they are of people, I’m scared-er of them.

Yesterday I was coming back from a bike ride, passing the Chico Flat campground. Chico Flat is always filled on the weekend, people hanging out at the river and camping. It has a massive dumpster. But today the area was completely empty except for one car. School has started and summer is over except for the last big Labor Day Alcohols Celebration.

As I passed the campground a voice said, “Hey!”

I looked but couldn’t see anyone because my view was blocked by the huge dumpster. Then the voice said, louder, “Want a beer?”

I was on my loaded touring bike and going slow, returning from a test ride for a little trip that I have planned, a trip up into Bear Everywhere Country. If I’d been unloaded and going faster I would never have heard him. I slowed, did a u-turn, and only saw a lone car. As I got around the dumpster I saw a man and his girlfriend set up underneath a giant tree. Chico Flat is hot.

I pushed my bike over. “Want some water first?” the woman asked.

“Sure,” I said. “I’ll pass on the beer, though.”

“Man, we had something happen last night,” the guy said. He was really shaken.

“What?”

“We were in the tent and we heard somebody trying to get into our car, so I grabbed my flashlight and baseball bat and yelled ‘Hey!’ and the noise went away, then it started coming towards the tent and I figured they was going to rob us and I shined my flashlight and saw these two blue-brown eyes set about as far apart as my dog’s, at my eye level, and I yelled again and it dropped to all fours and ran off.”

“It was a bear,” the lady said. “He was coming to our tent looking for food. Look what he done to my car.”

“Did you have food in it?”

“Yeah, of course.”

The driver-side handle had been torn off. There were big bear prints on the hood, and claw marks all around the window, along with the dried white glaze of saliva. “He was hungry,” I said. “And he intended to get in.”

“So fucking glad we didn’t have any food in our tent,” the man said.

“Yeah,” I agreed. “That tent doesn’t look big enough for you two and a bear.”

The lady laughed a little but the guy was still very rattled. I don’t blame him. The only time I’m brave and fearless enough to make jokes about bears is when they are gone. Long, long gone.


END

Boozy P. and me

August 3, 2022 Comments Off on Boozy P. and me

Kristie and I don’t get a lot of visitors here in the Southern Sierra. It’s mostly because I never invite anyone up. It’s also because I only have four friends, one in Texas, one in Illinois, one in France, and one in Torrance.

The handful of times I’ve invited less-than-friends, they’ve all said, “Yeah! Awesome! Sounds great! Lemme check my sched and get back with ya!” Their scheds are, shall we say, busy. Or their email is broken. Or both.

But my Torrance friend Boozy P. said, “Yeah. How’s next weekend?”

“Uh, great.” I was shocked.

“Let’s go camping.”

“Ah, yeah. Right!”

“Ok. See you then.”

Boozy P. showed up with most of his camping gear. “Where’s your sleeping bag?” I asked.

“I’m going to cowboy camp,” he said. “Just find a spot under a tree and curl up in my jacket.”

“Dude,” I said, “It’s early May. We’re camping at over 8,000 feet. There’s snow. It may freeze.”

He laughed. “I’ll be fine.”

Because he had made the special effort to drive all the way from Torrance I decided to take him on a special route, Sawmill to Portuguese Pass via Rancheria Road. It’s only 28 miles from here to there. But it does have a touch of elevation, almost 7k feet of climbing, and it’s all on sand after the first three miles, and we were going to be on fully loaded bikes with full backpacks.

Boozy P. was not intimidated even though it’s the hardest climb I’ve ever done, because once every three years he’s fit as fuck for six months, and he was only about a year away from being fit. We started up Sawmill and it wasn’t pretty. After a while we were both walking. I knew he wasn’t going to quit. He’s one of the absolute toughest people I know.

We got to Rancheria Road and I said, “It’s downhill all the way to the next climb,” which made it sound like a long way, but it was only downhill for a mile, then uphill for seven. We crossed the 155 and continued on towards Portuguese Pass. The temperature was in the 50’s.

Eventually we stopped for a snack and Boozy P. announced that he was stopping for good. We were only a mile from the pass but he’d reached THE POINT, where further pedaling wasn’t an option. I still couldn’t believe he’d gotten that far on almost no training lugging a 30-lb. pack up the gnarliest 25-mile climb you’ve ever seen. It only took us seven hours or so.

We hiked down into a small ravine and I set up the tent next to a creek. It was in the high 40’s. “Dude,” I said, after we’d had dinner. “Why don’t you climb into the tent? It’s not going to be getting any warmer.”

He did, and it didn’t. I wasn’t a good enough friend to suggest he crawl into my sleeping bag with me, but he wasn’t too far from asking as it dropped down into the 20’s. He finally got up around four and went out hiking to warm up.

We had breakfast after he got back and he told me about a trail he’d found. “Goes up to Sunday Peak. Looks great!”

He led the way and we did the 3-mile out-and-back hike, taking in amazing views that stretched all the way to Mt. Whitney and beyond, with vast snow-capped peaks in the far northern distance. He sprang up the trail and down, no worse the wear for yesterday’s beatdown or the frigid temperatures of the night before.

We loaded up the bikes and turned towards home, where he put on a dirt descending clinic. I watched from a fearful distance as he sliced the 28-mile descent like it was a tomato and he was a razor.

“That,” he said, “is my new favorite descent!”

Home. In time for lunch.


END

One moon

July 14, 2022 Comments Off on One moon

Last year I slept outside on the deck for several months, but then, when it started getting really cold, I began sleeping indoors. Spring sprung but I remained inside. Summer showed up, and even with the door and windows open I stayed inside.

Three nights ago I dragged my blanket and pillow out to a patch of dirt behind the garage, laid them down, and tried to sleep. There were no sounds besides crickets and the neighbor down the hill, who was shooting his pistol in the house. After he ran out of bullets, or all the blood had run out, there was no noise at all.

The full moon was blocked by the house, but it was as bright as a floodlight and the garage threw a giant shadow over the yard. The human in its natural state, like other critters, doesn’t like sleeping unexposed. I kept waking up and swatting ants that crawled all over my arms and neck. Mostly they were imaginary ants but every now and then a real one would squish nicely between my fingers and I’d go back to an uneasy sleep.

The ground was harder than the floor I usually sleep on, which has a carpet, a Persian rug atop that, and a blanket on top of that, a veritable Sealy Posturpedic. I kept shifting to find the right spot on the hard earth, then waking up and shifting again.

Finally the moon crested the house and I had a monster headlight beating down on my closed eyes, causing them to open. Across the way the mountain peaks looked foreboding. My sleep relapse was fitful.

Morning came, the pre-dawn faint line across the peaks.

I got up quickly. There is no luxury sleeping late on a patch of dirt. I folded the blankets and tossed them in the garage. Everything was cool; my arms had gotten chill in the late hours. I went inside to feed the cat and to feed my coffee habit. Pepper had killed a couple of grasshoppers and left them as offerings. He wondered where I’d spent the night, so I told him.

He scarfed down his treats and kibbles and I took my coffee out onto the porch to watch another sunrise. Pepper sat next to me. “The sunrise never gets old, does it?” I asked him.

He purred.

END

Protected: Paloma Meadow

July 2, 2022 Comments Off on Protected: Paloma Meadow

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Ditching life for dummies

May 3, 2021 Comments Off on Ditching life for dummies

Here’s a question I’ve gotten in various forms: “How were you able to ditch everything in your life, everything you valued, everything you worked for, everything that you represented and that represented you, and embark on a quest for happiness, understanding, enlightenment, and peace?”

The most common form of this question, however, has been “What the fuck is wrong with you?”

Followed by, “Congratulations. You’re now a bum.”

The answer is simpler than either of the three questions. Great change only comes out of great crisis. It’s that easy. We cannot change without crisis of the spirit, of the mind, of the heart, of the body, or of the pocketbook, and frankly, to really walk away from life you need a crisis so profound that it encompasses all five.

No person willingly subjects themselves to such changes for purposes of change–those that do are suffering from pathology. The crisis must be external in that circumstances alter so profoundly that you must either double-triple-quadruple down on the status quo, or you must change.

Society exists to buffer us from those crises, and give us a framework within which we can rebuild the life that we lost. Society shuns the person who accepts crisis as a challenge to society, society has no place for the person who, broken into bits, refuses to rebuild what was and insists on continuing the disintegration that the crisis began until, with a clean piece of ground unencumbered by the shoulds, oughts, and musts of society, seeks to construct a life that is new.

Such people end up as the founders of religions, as martyrs, as nameless hoboes, as corpses under a freeway overpass. They never return to, say, accounting or the financial sector.

My crisis came after years of lying and deception about what I really wanted in life, which, in a word, was simply freedom.

From my earliest years I rebelled at authority, at rules, at orders, at things designed to reign in that most fundamental of all freedoms, the freedom to move where I wanted, when I wanted, in the fashion that pleased me most. I tried to run away from home, I got into fights at school, I disobeyed every teacher I ever had, I got suspended, expelled, spanked, beaten, threatened, had things taken away, had sick punishments visited upon me, and was always reminded that I would piss where I was told and nowhere else.

Nor do I speak of pissing idly. It had never occurred to me that being told where to piss was yet another restriction on my freedom until, at age 24, I was standing in the yard of the father-in-law of Jean Reigner, outside Angers. Jean spoke no English and didn’t need to.

“This,” he said, “is the land of my father-in-law. He is a good man and had only one daughter. When I married her, he said to me, ‘Jean, I have plenty of land. Why don’t you and Colette build a house on some of it?’ But of course I refused.”

“Why?” I asked.

“It is very simple. If I build the house, it is still his land. And I did not want that.”

“Why?”

“Because. My piece of land is very small. But you know what?”

“What?”

“If I am on my own land, and I want to piss here, I piss here. If I want to piss there, I piss there. I piss where I want.”

I’ve never forgotten that clearly expressed wisdom, as it sums up my entire life’s quest, simply to be able to piss where I want. And unlike Jean, I want to piss in far more places than a tiny homestead in the Loire Valley.

Despite knowing from age two that I wanted to be free, in one shape or another I have voluntarily ceded that freedom. The details don’t matter, but every person can relate to jobs and relationships that were inadequate. And almost every person can relate to accepting those inadequacies as the price you pay for fitting into what society calls a good spouse, a good parent, a good employee, a good person.

What people cannot accept is that they can still be good, and more importantly, live a good life, without also accepting the inadequacies. People can be happy. People can be satisfied. People can be free.

More radically, we were designed in nature to be all those things. We were engineered for happiness, satisfaction, and freedom; it took society and its blessings to convince us that we can stumble along until death with a life full of compromises, of unhappy moments/days/months/years, and that the only real freedom we deserve is the freedom that someone else tells us we can have.

There were so many signposts telling me that I was on the wrong path, but I was fortunate because my father, for all his shortcomings, steered me into philosophy as a freshman in college. The first course I ever took was an upper division class on Ancient Greek philosophy taught by Ed Allaire.

Tall, gaunt, chain-smoking Camel no-filters in class, on our first day he went straight into Plato’s “Euthypro.” Do we revere the gods because they are good, or are the gods good because we revere them?

It’s safe to say I never graduated from that first day. In various ways, I’ve asked that question and delighted in the non-answers for almost forty years. That gift of dad’s, the ability to question the nature of the belief itself and the origin of the belief, is what has allowed me to walk out of the rubble of my former life and, rather than return to it on bended knee, follow the string laid down by the unseen ball of twine.

Each night that I sleep under the sky and look at the stars it is driven home thus: “You are a complete fucking moron because you don’t even know the phases of the moon.”

Or, in wonderment: “You are so dumb that after a year of stargazing you still can’t locate Arcturus.”

More profoundly still: “You are part of the cosmos not apart from it. Your life is only an infinitesimally small particle existing for the smallest fraction of a nanosecond amidst the utter randomness of nature. Whether you die or live, whether you succeed or fail, whether you discover meaning or only empty space, in five hundred billion years only a relatively small number of people will be able to recall your birthday, your favorite color, or that KOM you fucking owned on Strava that until that little bitch stole it from you.”

None of which is to accept nihilism, any more than accepting that the sun’s core is 27 million degrees, and therefore I’m not wearing a coat when it snows.

Rather, great crisis led to great questioning, places where there are no firm moorings and where the answers shift, exactly the way my answers always used to in math class, where variety was exactly not the spice of life.

Paying your debts means recognizing the gift that my dead father gave me, and also the gift of my dead brother, which was the love of bicycling. As life fell apart, the only thing that seemed to provide stability was the most unstable thing of all, a device that falls over the minute you quit pedaling it. But faith is a funny thing and indeed, the more I’ve ridden, the more layers I’ve sloughed off so that within a year or two or five I will be down to the skin and bones of me. Each thing that falls by the wayside proves how unnecessary it ever was, both by the clang it makes as it rattles off into the ditch, and by the Subtraction Theory of Necessities: Take the thing away and see if you can still live well without it.

As the things reduce in number, which were actually never that great to begin with, I’m left with some simplicities, the bare bones of shelter, clothing, food, bike, cell phone, and the occasional wi-fi connection. That’s actually quite a lot until you consider that the shelter is a small tent or nothing at all, the clothing is one set of wool everything, the food is something prepared and eaten in minutes, and the cell phone is primarily a camera and typewriter.

The reduction in things has been accompanied by, of course, a reduction in human relationships because the only way we can sustain myriad relationships is with myriad things. Study after study confirms the depressing effects of social media, and history confirms that people do best in small numbers and worst in large ones.

Without the “things” to hold those relationships together, they simply go away, and with them go the stresses, the uncertainties, the insecurities, the fears, the judgments, and the emotions–good and bad–attendant with each relationship. The thing we know innately, that it’s better to have one true friend than a thousand acquaintances, is borne out by my stripped down life. Some tiny number of people show me love and compassion for who and what I am, some other number … don’t.

So although Ditching Life for Dummies isn’t easy, it is simple, and in truth, I hope it never happens to you. Some pain is so great that the outcome isn’t rebirth, but death.

But if it does happen, and if you do have a chance to look at life with a fresh set of eyes, I’d (mostly) encourage you to take a long, solo bike ride somewhere far away. You’ll be surprised at the person you end up riding with.

END


A little recovery

April 24, 2021 Comments Off on A little recovery

Thirty-six days, about 1,500 miles, lots of up and down, a bunch of heat, a ration of cold, lots of people, countless cups of instant coffee, zero flats, one achy derailleur, twenty gallons of milk, and a billion or so stars … after all that, a fella needs a rest.

Oh, and death. Yeah, that.

When you keep turning away from the comforts of home, so much so that you begin to see comfort as an enemy, home as “a place to come from or go to, that you pray you’ll never reach,” that’s when you begin sloughing off the skin, layer by layer, and finally get to see what’s underneath. Pretty or not, it’s the real you.

In my case, what was underneath was tired. But along with the unraveling comes something else that Huck Finn knew as well as anyone, the inability to sleep indoors or in a bed. My recovery began at night on a pallet on the porch, staring fitfully at the stars. And of course it reminded me of Woody Guthrie and one of the songs that my dad used to always hum, “Make Me A Pallet Down on Your Floor.”

A couple of days later, Kristie decided that what I really needed was less “laying my head in a bed on her floor” and more “active recovery.”

“Let’s go for a hike,” she said. “I found a perfect campsite for later and want to show it to you!”

I didn’t ask whether it was going to be hard, long, and miserable, because walking with Kristie always is. The only thing I ever ask is that we not climb up and over granite faces, which is what she does when left to her own devices. I’m not afraid of dying, but I’m not going around knocking on the door, either.

It took us two-and-a-half hours to get to the campsite, going up fearsomely steep and sandy trails that, however hard they were to climb, promised to be lots harder going back down. This is one of the beauties of walking: All movement requires that some muscle somewhere contract. Unlike bicycling, where you work might and main to go up with the dessert of the downhill on the other side, walking applies equal misery equally, because walking downhill is every bit as hard as walking up.

“You did good!’ she said, which simply meant “You didn’t complain.”

Typically, she runs these impossible trails; what took me 2.5 hours to ascend she mountain goats up in an hour and a half.

The weather was perfect; cool and clear, and as we sat on the grassy knoll alone, so far from anyone or anything that “people” were simply an ideation, a gentle breeze kicked up. I made camp coffee and she whipped out some bananas and string cheese.

You probably know this about hiking and biking, but I’ll say it anyway. It makes you really hungry and the simplest things taste so good. This makes sense. People evolved eating things that tasted like crap, leaves and roots and bugs, and sour and bitter things with nary a shred of cumin or crushed black pepper to soften the blow to their tongues. Hunger was a way that the organism knew it was time for fuel, and also a mechanism to convince you that crap tasted great.

And what could be crappier than instant coffee and string cheese? Nothing, but it tasted sublime. Sancho Panza, my favorite traveler of all time, said it best: “Hunger is the best sauce.”

After the feast we lay down in the grass and napped in the sunshine until it felt like we should begin walking back down. As we got towards the bottom, Kristie asked, “How do your legs feel?”

“Exhausted. Sore. Tired.”

“Oh, that’s good. It means you’re in shape. If you’re sore the day of, you’ll be fine tomorrow. It’s the delayed soreness that’s the worst and the sign of being out of shape.”

I consoled myself with this professional advice the rest of the day, as my legs hurt like hell. The following day I awoke and could barely walk. “I thought my legs weren’t supposed to hurt?” I said.

“You’re just out of shape. But at least they won’t hurt tomorrow.”

And she was right. The following day they didn’t hurt, they were excruciatingly painful in places that no one ever gets sore: The area above my ankles. I didn’t even know that was a place.

A few days before getting back to Wofford Heights, I’d gotten a message through Warmshowers.org that a couple of Belgians were riding north and coming through town. “Could we camp at your place?” they asked.

“Of course,” I’d replied. Kristie gave them instructions on how to get into the house and when I arrived they were happily camped in the living room. However, there had been a few miscommunications that we had to iron out, which ironing basically involved them moving their shit outside.

They were 26, architects, and about as adventurous as it comes. They got to L.A. with a duffel bag, then started looking for a tandem on Craigslist.

“You’ll never find one,” they were told. “There are no bikes anywhere.”

So they immediately found a racing tandem that fit perfectly, bought some cheap touring wheels and a set of panniers, and off they went. “We wanted to ride to Canada,” they said, “but first we went to San Diego.”

This is the kind of misdirection I love. Heading north? Then for fuxake go south.

Lacking anything besides Google maps, they proceeded to take the worst roads they could find, ending up on the 14 freeway at one point, and for one terrible stretch pedaling endlessly into a desert headwind out of Victorville.

“We were so hot and tired that we threw our bike down against a wall abutting an RV park in the desert,” Martin said. “We hoped we wouldn’t get evicted.”

After a few minutes out came the owner of the park, a drunken Ukrainian. “Are you thirsty?” he asked.

“Yes,” they said.

“Here, my best vodka.”

“We can’t. We’re still riding today.”

“Strong vodka make strong Ukrainian leg. Here, I give you water.” He went into the trailer and came out with two full glasses.

Martin and Mjelma sniffed the water. “It has vodka?”

“Of course it have vodka. But weak with water because not Ukrainian.”

After getting hassled by a pickup while they were on the freeway, they changed routes and ended up taking the Willow Springs-Tehachapi pass up through the wind farms. “We had difficulty,” Martin said with beautiful Belgian understatement, like Eddy saying after winning Paris-Roubaix, “I had difficulty.”

I knew. I had barely made it up that same pass on a bike, much less a 140-pound tandem.

“The next day we had more difficulty. Our base tape on the rim broke and the nipple flatted all our spares. We had just gotten over that big climb.”

He was referring to the 10-mile climb up Bodfish-Caliente Road. “What did you do?”

“We camped next to the road and the next day we got a ride here,” he said.

I asked them if they had any cycling maps, which they didn’t, so I gave them a copy of my Sierras-Cascades route to Canada. They photographed all the maps, ate all of our food, and cheerily set off the next day filled with optimism, confidence, and tummies stuffed with my best eggs and hash browns.

How can you not love two young people on a tandem riding to Canada cluelessly? How can you doubt that all you need in life is desire and will? How can you not smile when you play the tiniest role in some young person’s life memories?

This is the other thing about riding around on your bicycle. It’s a circle of kindness, only sometimes you’re the giver and sometimes you’re the beneficiary.

In my case, the penultimate day of riding deposited me in front of a supermarket in Tehachapi. It was late in the day, I was famished, and had no place to stay the night. There is a park that prohibits camping, so I figured I’d go there after dinner and set up camp when the sun went down.

Dinner in this case was bagels with peanut butter and ham, washed down with ice cream. I sat on a bench and spooned the chocolate concoction into my mouth.

A fellow walked up. “You made it,” he said.

“Sort of.”

“We saw you back on 90th and Rosamond. How’d you like that wind?”

“I think this would be a good place for a wind farm.” Tehachapi has about 10,000 wind turbines that you ride through as you climb the pass.

He laughed. “We wondered how you were going to get over the pass into that headwind, loaded down and everything.”

“Same way I get over every pass.”

“How’s that?”

“Keep pedaling. And cursing.”

He laughed again and began asking about my bike. I knew it. Another cyclist. “Where are you staying tonight?” he asked.

“I was going to camp illegally but all I need is a tiny space to lay down in. Don’t even need to pitch my tent, it’s not cold at all now. Any chance I could camp in your yard?”

His eyes twinkled and with no hesitation he said, “Absolutely. I live a couple of miles from here. You look pretty safe. Not too many mass murderers eat Ben & Jerry’s.”

Mark texted me directions, I finished dinner, and rode over.

He and his girlfriend Chris welcomed me with a perfect place to lie down, a fire pit, kabobs, and great stories. Mark had been in the navy and was now a science teacher; Chris was a private tutor in Las Vegas who was also working on her search-and-rescue diving certification.

They both ran marathons, and though Mark had almost been killed when clipped by a truck a few years ago, he still rode bikes, though sticking to off-road. The next morning I made breakfast, packed, and made the final leg back to Wofford Heights. The climbs were hard but I had tailwinds the entire day.

Isn’t there some saying somewhere about “May the wind always be at your back”? Well, it was. And it was mighty nice.

END


The ask

April 15, 2021 Comments Off on The ask

Shortly before my father died I began sending out a handful of texts and emails to people who I owed apologies.

It was an odd feeling to watch the replies trickle in, as well as the silences.

Some forgave quickly. One imposed impossible conditions. One called to talk. One forgave then, incredibly, asked forgiveness himself.

It’s trite but the apology and the plea for forgiveness are not for the offended but for the offender. Whether given or refused, it’s not being forgiven that cleanses, it’s the act of getting on your knees and begging.

Those who forgive want to uplift you and to validate in themselves that they are good people, that they believe in redemption. Those who prefer to rub your nose in your own shit, or let you twist in the wind, have their reasons: the hurt was too big, the apology was too small, the protection of anger is more important than the vulnerability of forgiveness, or simply that they don’t believe in it.

But when you’ve begged, you can’t then judge or condem the victim whatever his response. Beggars can’t, in truth, be choosers.

And for my part, the act of asking was enough.

Almost.

One person to whom I apologized, Rich Hirschinger, suggested that I could do it publicly. That stung but he was right. If you are willing to say “I’m truly sorry” in a whisper, you should be willing to say it in a shout.

Death isn’t an endpoint, it’s a reorganization. The person who was, is gone, and others seamlessly fill in the space he once occupied, be it a desk, a room, or the communications crackle of a phone line.

With that reorganization come new feelings and realizations, primarily sadness and regret. As one friend wrote, you become an orphan. In my case, there weren’t a lot of unsaid things between me and dad. But in the reorganization, I realized there were things unsaid to others.

As Lincoln famously said to Edwin Stanton, “The things I have said, I do not now unsay.” Because once said, it’s forever.

On the other hand, I can say to Rich and a handful of others, accepted or not, believed or not, understood or not, “I am truly sorry.”

To which he shot back these ancient Jewish words of condolence: “May your father’s memory be a blessing.”

END


Of shoes and ships and sealing wax

April 8, 2021 Comments Off on Of shoes and ships and sealing wax

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.

Perfectly.

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.

Why?

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.

END


Day 23: High desert beauty

April 6, 2021 Comments Off on Day 23: High desert beauty

There are ditches, and there are ditches.

A few days spent with friends was enough to rejuvenate the legs and get some spectacular desert views.

Yesterday we returned to Joshua Tree National Park. There was a whipping tailwind all the way to the bottom of the 12-mile ascent, but cheery conversation and fresh legs made it pass in a flash. Of course beforehand we loaded up on necessaries like … water.

All the campgrounds were full, so we wandered off the road and improvised. When you don’t have a car or an RV, and the size of the park is bigger than Rhode Island, it’s easy to slip away. So we did! It was the ditch of all ditches.

We made camp coffee, drank some more water, then realized that we might not have enough. I walked back over to the road, stood on the shoulder, held up my empty bottle and begged. A nice couple stopped and gladly filled up my bottle for me. I walked back to the rock camp and we waited for the sun to descend. The giant stone we’d camped under threw a big cool shadow, so we sat and talked and whiled away the rest of the day.

When the colors began to get right, we got up and stomped around, taking pictures.

We put up the tent but left off the fly. “Let’s be quiet,” I said, “and see what we can hear.”

The only things we heard became our lullaby, coyotes barking mournfully at the moon, and the soughing of the wind.

END


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