Friday, October 11, 2013

Eventually home

Last month Pico Iyer wrote a piece for the New York Times on suffering.

I read his words on a warm fall day in California, where an entire culture based on seeking pleasure and avoiding suffering has evolved. No one talks about suffering here. It's a no-no, a downer.

While the rest of the world is asking, does a lack of suffering also drain life of its meaning? Can any meaning exist, in the absence of suffering and loss?

At this moment I'm sure of exactly one thing: China Grade is the steeper, shorter way through Big Basin State Park. Narrow, forested, devoid of other humans. Quiet. In the greater Bay Area there are a few places to be organic and still.

The suffering takes the form of a mile and a quarter of 11%. It keeps on coming too, demanding all your focus and attention. Today it's good.

Hullo, another cyclist! Stopped in the road. On a town bike with panniers. Feeding treats to a dog!

As the canine trots over to check me out, I put down a foot and remove helmet and glasses. To pass muster, look more human, less stormtrooper.

What's he doing out here with touring gear? I have to ask. On a freaking steep, remote climb no less. Well, he and the dog are headed for the coast. Three times a week they make the 18-mile round trip. Their pace is set by the dog. In other words between 2.5 and 3 mph uphill, and as fast as possible on the downhills.

He turns the question back to me… well it's kind of like going to church, I say. Recently got the news that three people, all boys I knew from growing up, have left this world. On the early side, unexpectedly and with suffering. All three gentle souls.

This week I've been swimming in sadness. Trying to prospect for meaning. Get things back in the proper relationship to each other. Feel the loss without becoming a hostage to it. The whole experience is a lot harder and more painful than I imagined.

The other cyclist asks how old they were and if I knew them well. I did. He has no advice to offer. Instead we chat about other things on the last steep part, with the dog trotting alongside.

At Highway 236 they cross over and head west, toward a dirt road leading to the ocean. For me it's the predictable asphalt toward Waterman Gap and Saratoga Gap. A couple of miles from the summit there's a view back into Big Basin, through the smoke and haze.

This perspective doesn't begin to describe the terrain below, what it's like to be down there among the oaks, redwoods, fir and manzanita. Sometimes tracing the spine of a ridge and sometimes moving orthogonally, directly across the contour lines. You can never tell exactly where you are down there. It's about just following the road where it goes.

On Highway 9 and Redwood Gulch the descents go every bit as fast as the Seven can handle, which is very fast indeed. You have to feel alive, going that fast.

Down, down, down into Stevens Canyon, along the creek and eventually home.

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