Monday, December 22, 2014

On the flip side

Behind me, on display is the gladiator alley of 101, sinister and garishly lit, officially known to be hazardous.

Trapped here are the large trailers barely able to articulate around the turns, tourists who thought they were on a highway, impatient locals (occasionally impaired), rock tumbling down the steep hillsides. The occasional cyclist. All players in a theater of combat.

In places there are klieg lights, powered by a generator humming somewhere. For us to see the rocks and maybe avoid them. They do that, but all those photons just amplify the feeling of unreality, as if this were a stage we have all wandered onto. The message: watch out for rocks; all other risks are yours to absorb. The lights, generator, and us gladiators, all non-native species, vulnerable.

This scene is what is takes to get cars and trucks in and out of Humboldt County, in all weather and seasons. It cannot be cheap. And no one wants to be here, exactly. With all that effort and a ton of money, over decades, we created a low-tech, high-maintenance risky conduit for vulnerable beings. It would be safer and more comfortable to walk from Point A to Point B, in the dark.

Fading up the exit ramp, maybe 15 seconds total, the stress chemicals in my brain do an amazing thing. Moments ago screaming wake up, all systems online, DANGER! they take a step down. Some separation, a little private space, a safe buffer, that's all it takes.

With a few more pedal strokes, a little more space, they take another big step down, no action required. The chemicals take their direction from the limbic system, designed to save us but also capable of bullying with fear. Which has been going on for hours today. A fountain of stress.

And I'm barely moving forward, scribbling around and feeling for pavement that goes...somewhere. The Edelux light is great but it turns out you do really need klieg lights to cut through the darkness out here.

I guess left, over the freeway bridge, where there's something glowing, might be a yellow sign. My headlight hits it. "Not a Through Road" it says.


Turn around, feeling stupid. What made me think it had to be left? Where ramp meets overpass I just scribble off slowly, into the wide darkness. There does seem to be a way through, maybe a road.

I just follow the pavement. After all, the thing at my back is not so great. And to the left is a dead end. To the right it leads off into the darkness. Away to the east. There are stars overhead, a crescent moon low over the ridge.

The road starts climbing. We might be heading into the hills on some back road, or we might be paralleling the highway. Hope this is right.

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