Sunday, July 20, 2014

Summer coming in

Summer is a-coming in
Loudly sing cuckoo
-Medieval English round (Cuckoo Song)
Oh, I could do without summer. Sensitivity to light is a really stubborn thing.

Months of low-grade vigilance, not able to really wind down, nor sleep deeply. Often waking up during the night. Months of walking around kind of irritated and miserable, in a hard-to-pin down sort of a way. My work performance suffers, since tolerating stuff and people is part of what I'm supposed to do.

The whole cycle of misery seems to start around May 1. Not exactly sure when it eases up. Exercise doesn't help, except it's something absorbing to do during the many waking hours... I haven't found anything that makes it better. Melatonin helps me get to sleep, but at the cost of many bad side effects.

So Tuesday, we got blinds. Well, shades actually. Custom window coverings.

Thirteen years in the same house, looking every day at these horrible cheap white blinds. But aside from being ugly, they were not so good at keeping light out. We were able to do something about it because (for now anyway) I have a job. Down came the sad rental-house Mini Blinds of White Vinyl and up went the soothing elegant Roman Shades of Dark Fabric. That was Tuesday.


Every night since I have slept through the night. Time will tell but it feels like restful sleep. Sure, the long hours of sunlight and heat are bothersome. With sleep though, I should be able to deal with it so much better.

It's worth pretty much any price. What was the price, you ask? Eight thousand dollars.

That's right, $8000. How lucky are we, to have that kind of money to make life better in a significant way? And how many people aren't able to? Some day I'll write a post (or two) on the financial aspects of this journey.

For now I'm looking forward to as much reliable, restful sleep as possible. Loudly say woo hoo!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Watching and being carried

As we start gliding more and lurching less, slowly building up speed, I study the northbound lanes. A stream of anonymous cars. The fact that we're rushing toward each other makes them seem impossibly, surreally fast. It's mesmerizing. There's that concrete barrier between us, but not much space.

I'm up high, in a modern, immaculate coach with the Waterford in its own carpeted lounge down below. Even at 10am, the freeway was stop and go for a long time with a crush of people leaving San Francisco for Silicon Valley. Hard to imagine dealing with this every day.

And I'm not even dealing with it today. Twice, the brakes firmly engage as the driver is forced to react and the bodies in seats lurch forward. Probably some car cutting him off.

The view in the forward direction? A colorful sign with the WiFi password on the back of my neighbor's seat. Every seat is full; the bus is totally silent. There are laptops open, yes, but it seems like most people are busy trying to reconcile themselves back to work after the long holiday weekend. As the only passenger in bike clothes and for that matter, the only one over 30 I'm invisible, which is just fine. Plunk in the earbuds.

As it happens, these northbound cars are doing Danny's commute. Pretty soon he should be in one of those lanes. To be able to watch and think, to be carried rather than pushing, it really feels different, as if my life has suddenly morphed into a 90-minute TV show. As if all the pushing never happened. All I did was get on a bus.

The feeling is not necessarily positive, something to repeat on a regular basis, but after 173 miles Saturday, 155 miles Sunday, and this morning 14 miles across the Golden Gate Bridge, it's definitely one I can handle.

No time for breakfast, or even Peet's coffee. These things sound unspeakably good right now; it might be the only thing wrong with this picture.

The timing was going to be close and it was touch and go there for a bit at the end, threading through the Presidio. San Francisco having finally wrested it from the federal government, it's having a massive amount of work done. One turn revealed what looked to be a gigantic strip-mining operation. I opted for another way.

There's definitely a fine line between navigating and getting lost. The labyrinth eventually dumped out at Lombard Gate and this epic self-brevet finished in an inglorious vein: riding the wrong way on the sidewalk on Lombard Street (Highway 101), six blocks to the bus stop.

At 10:47am, I spot a little grey electric car in the number 2 lane and give a little involuntary fist-pump, which makes my neighbor look over for a second.

Yeah I've had more productive days at work. There was a lot of reading email, and eating potato chips. After a 350-mile commute and a self-supported (almost) 600K, my productivity drops to the level of an office troll. Luckily, it also bounces back...

In on the scheme were two people and a dog at the start point in Trinidad, Danny (who met me in Caspar), the breakfast crowd at Queenie's Roadhouse Cafe (Elk), and Adam and Molly in San Anselmo.

And now you guys. Shhh...

Sunday, July 6, 2014

A second breakfast

At 6:40 I leave the old farmhouse in Caspar in mist and fog, strong and in high spirits. The whole day stretching out ahead.

At 8:45 I reach that big downhill to the Navarro River and Highway 128. And the matching long steep climb back up to the coast, the pattern of Highway 1 that all bike tourists learn well. Lots of work for zero gain.

That feeling is a definite clue that breakfast has worn off. Granola and almond milk and strawberries, vaporized. Time to refuel. The question is, do I stop in Elk, if there's a place to eat? It's kind of too soon, only 20+ miles. Press on through hunger to Point Arena?

In Elk, Griffin House is a non-starter. Only lunch and dinner.

It's not a long town, and coming up quickly on the left is the other cafe. Decision time. Lo, other bikes are parked there! With tourist gear.

First and last, we listen to the stomach, which is saying stop, stop now.

Also, many bike tours teach you this: when an opportunity is presented, take it. The odds of it repeating itself down the road are nil. The world doesn't work like that. It's not a constant festival of goodness, with every town offering a buffet like a supported event. There's a finite amount of goodness to be had, usually not enough to go around. If it's here in Elk, odds are it's not in Point Arena.

So I lean the Waterford next to the touring bikes, strip off the armor, and go in.

The place is hopping, with mostly locals. A promising sign. I slide in at the bar and when the waitress makes time for me, I order the huevos rancheros. Gluten free. The coffee is dark and strong. Excellent.

While they make it, and whilst feeding there's more than enough time to chat with my fellow patrons. Two schoolteachers from an island near Seattle, touring down the coast on summer break. The one who just retired is quitting in San Francisco. He asks about getting to the airport. The other looks about 40, and he's going all the way to San Diego. (OK, but if you find a good breakfast place, stop!) They're camping and doing 40-60 miles a day. Often stopping for 2 hours at a time.

Brett, the physical therapist who knows everything about my crazy life in the Big City. "It's all about money" he says, rubbing his fingers together to illustrate. He's talking about the insurance companies that stand between him and his clients. "I fight it every chance I get." Looking determined, maybe the healthiest, strongest 60-year-old ever.

On my left, a woman in her 50's who asks where I've been. I figure she's never heard of these places but she knows them all. Her great-grandfather was a founder of Caspar and a good part of her family is buried in the little cemetery down the road, above the Navarro River. "And me too, someday" she says. Looking down for a split second, her facial muscles relax into sadness. Many of the people she knows and loves are gone.

The moment passes. Her car is waiting outside; she's just getting coffee to go. Every time she asks the waitress for something, like sugar or a bigger lid, she calls her "Sweetie" or "Honey".

A woman of a similar age is eating at the bar. They know each other. She wants me to tell her, how do you leave 3 feet of space when passing a bike, without crossing the double yellow line? I say, we're new at this. In Europe they know what to do. She offers a key local fact: it's July 4th weekend and there's a parade today in Point Arena. Not sure when it starts, maybe noon. I'll want to get on the road soon and hopefully miss that!

A 20-something college student sits down between us, with his simple eggs and potatoes. His mom works here and he helps out sometimes. He's studying finance and business and University of Nevada, Reno (where his dad lives). Next year after graduation he might go live with his grandpa in Martinez, to take care of him. They don't care for outsiders in Reno.

Not like Elk. I have to remind myself time is passing, pressing me to get back on the bike. Maybe someday we'll live in this town, come to this cafe every day. Get rich in stories.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Still itself

I do like the light here.

"Here" is the boundary of the Lost Coast, where Highway 1 bends inland. When I was a kid, the Lost Coast was a mystical thing and nobody went there, except when someone did and you could read about it. Now with the Internet everyone knows. Nothing more to discover.

Someone has even scrawled "Usal Rd" in spray paint on the pavement, with an arrow. Usal Road, the little opening to the real Lost Coast, the road that looks like a driveway. Don't miss it! By reputation, a little too steep and rough for most cars, motorcycles, and definitely road bikes. Don't take it, either. Here it is, all mystery laid bare.

Despite the fame, Highway 1 still feels rather remote out here and there aren't a ton of cars to deal with. Maybe not as quiet as the old days, but still rather quiet. And the light is beautiful, so I take a photo.

The afternoon has been tough. Hot and hilly, starting at Avenue of the Giants and through Garberville. Head wind along the Eel River. Slow going between miles 85 and 124, when at Leggett the turn came to go west on this rather famous stretch of highway. Another cyclist was spread-eagled there on the grass, his bike waiting against a tree. Cooling off.

Then came the 4.3 mile climb to the ridge. Which went rather quickly. And now I'm on the way out to the coast, which feels good. One more climb to go. A steep one, as I recall.

The light has a dimensional quality - all the trees seem like sentient beings, like us. The light amplifies them, brings them closer, illuminates their myriad and subtle colors, shapes, textures. They're right here with us. In fact, we're outnumbered. Catching that on film, an impossible task.

I take the photos anyway to show the moment, a fragment of the experience. Trusting that it will be possible to quilt it all back together later. With a feeling this ephemeral, this fragile, this rare, it has to work.

After the last hill (2.3 miles, steep), there's the impulse to look back with wonder, like all the other tourists, at the crumpled old hills that defeated the road builders. Giant things that haven't gone anywhere, haven't compromised.

What draws us to this place is not just the light, nor the trees, nor the challenge. It's something we haven't ruined yet. We don't belong here.

It's still not for us.

Leaving the refuge

It's tough to eat breakfast (and do it quietly) in the company of a certain canine. She gets up early and insists that I throw a really heavy Kong toy, over and over and over. There's really no saying no to her. Little progress is being made on the eating front, which seems to be part of the plan.

Despite her efforts to distract and then destroy my free will with a guilty look, at 6:20am, with the whole household asleep I manage to roll out. Down the long dirt driveway, headed for points south.

On the road home, I should feel glad. Instead my heart is heavy. We've stayed almost three days, which is almost long enough. More than adequate to take stock, to realize the personal toll of the past few months.

The new job, its daily routine. The crowds of stupid, selfish people and their cars and shopping and freeways. The lawyers, doctors, insurance companies, and in general the whole grim game of Survival in the Big City.

Spending the daylight hours in an abnormally clean, air-conditioned building where no one sees the real me. Nights and weekends become short furloughs. Too tired to write anything down.

On rides, I'm often composing letters in my head to doctors who got it wrong, family members who got it wrong. Yes I'm lucky to have a job, lucky for what it is, but I also resent being so far behind, everything being so hard. Having to struggle so much.

I've been feeling adrift and helpless, angry. At sixes and sevens, as my dad says. This place and the creatures in it have a way of making me whole again. This time like the others, they put me back together.

It feels ephemeral and rare, to be really listened to and cared for. Jokes and crossword puzzles and local outings. Chocolate. Stories of people we all know. Restful sleep, among the trees and birds. At night the stars are legion, and the sky behind them is black and mysterious.

What will I do when this is gone? Why am I leaving now?

The journey feels really hard right now. Even having a refuge is hard, because I have to leave it and go back into the world. Get broken again.

I wonder about people who don't have a place to go where there is love and acceptance. What do they do? How on earth do they make it anywhere?