A boiling ocean, an endless summer
June 15, 2010
I let myself decompose in Los Angeles, at least for a little while. I took a few long rambling walks around Culver City, drank a pot of coffee in the mornings, and slept deeply at night. I was completely aching for direction, having no plans further than where I was. I called a few friends to ease the confusion; it didn’t seem to matter what the advice was, any outside influence was soothing. I let down my guard and fell into the lull of city life. I sent out my resume across the continent and did my best to write not-too-desperate cover letters to give myself a dip back in the world-pool. I cooked up day-dreams about the future, and nurtured them: dreams of farms, bakeries and of old homes. In the morning I would spend time trying to recall the vivid and obscure dreams I had been having while asleep, a world different from the waking ones.
One dream centered around the political success of an old-and-disliked co-worker (she was elected to the Senate), a close call with a logging truck, and a blue, armless baby.
Aside from my vague morosity, Los Angeles was mostly sunny and I got to spend time with some lovely people. My friend Hannah had invited me to stay, and stay I did. Bike rides around the city, yogurtland (x5), too much injera, homemade green curry, muscle beach, tea at the bar with Skeeley, and a trip to the Hammer museum to see Jung’s Red Book and the wonderful paintings of Friedrich Kunath, an unexpected treat. Kunath’s paintings were full of a familiar vitality, and I’m glad I got to see them when I did. It was wonderful to see something so modestly accessible and yet completely captivating, a vibrant resignation of both acceptance and defeat.
After a week it was time to move on, I was restless and useless, and needed to keep moving. Hannah dropped me off at the Pacific Coast Highway, right where it comes out of Santa Monica. It was a beautifully tranquil day with the clouds hanging low on the hills, and softly filtering the California sun. For twenty miles or so I followed the winding coast, with the hills rising to my right, and an abundance of room between me and the traffic. It was an elating feeling of freedom, after those days in LA where I wasn’t exactly sure where to go or what to do, or if I could or how I would. On a bike your direction is simple easy, you keep going forward, you stop sometimes, and you go again. My confidence had been slightly bruised, and justly and wonderfully so, when staying still gave me an insight into the future. The ease of the road was counter-balanced with the responsibility of life, and it was good.
The road left the coast and meandered through endless strawberry fields, all fruiting, and the smell blanketed the valley around the city of Oxnard. I was following the Pacific Coast bike route, which sometimes runs along the famous highway 1, but other times moves through cities and was difficult to follow. I’m sure there are maps available, though. And those sections of 1 that aren’t part of the bike route probably shouldn’t be bicycled on, take my word for it. It took me a day to understand the bike route signs, but I’ve cracked the code now.
That evening I went through Ventura, a quaint coastal town and like much of the pacific coast, quite pricey. The bike route turned onto a greenway just outside of town that ran between the highway and the coastline. The shore was a collection of large, dark rocks and the fog was thick. I found a soft spot on a patch of grass and set up camp, and a school of dolphins played together just offshore, kicking their tails and cresting the surface. There was no one else for miles.
The morning ride started on the coast, where I was passed by a bike race headed south, and then turned inland, past a wealth of small farms and avocado orchards. I could smell the avocados deeply in the air. I worked my way into the hills, past gated houses and on narrow and steep roads. The mountain road took me to Montecito, and then back towards the coast.
I was in Santa Barbara at around three and stopped into a bike shop to find out more about the bike route, which no one was well-informed about, but had a vague sense of it. I would be off 1 for a while, going through golden hills and around the Air Force base at Lompoc. There were a few intense climbs and the heat was radiant, but the changes were welcome after the cool coast.
I got into Lompoc late and found a legitimate campsite, with other campers and all, and staked out near three other cyclists, two headed South and one North. I thought some company would be nice, and the amenities would give me a sense of civility, something I felt I was lacking. At 8, another group of campers set up, all in what I would guess to be their early 20’s. At 10, someone started their four-wheeler and took it for a joyride around camp. Shortly after, the new campers started to play beer pong. They got good and well lit and kept it up all night. I hadn’t even thought about it being the weekend, but I guess they needed to “cut loose.” It was obnoxious and I slept spottily. The bathrooms were filthy and weren’t stocked. So much for legal campsites.
Guadalupe was a mostly mexican town, and I could hear live music from the churches as I rode through. It was a one-road kind of town, and it had an old-west kind of feel. Quite cold too. In the afternoon I finally met up with the coast again at Oceano, and rode on through Pismo beach and Shell beach, outside of the beach towns there were a few wineries set on the hills.
By the beach the heat was almost unbearable, the wind had died and the sun was inescapable. Through San Luis Obispo, and then to Morro Bay, a resort town that used to be a fishing hub, and time to find some camping. All along this part of the coast there are explicit “no camping, $300 fine” signs every mile, and it was a beautiful and relatively undisturbed coast, so I moved on along.
The road veered away from the water again and I turned off onto a side road leading to a few ranches. A small stream ran nearby, and that was my spot, close to a large beaver dam and right next to the water. I snacked on some carrots and nori and laid down.
Beavers are active at night, and a little noisy.
It was a good, solid rest despite the incessant gnawing. I felt rejuvenated after a long ride and that awful Lompocian campsite.
In the morning I rode right into Cambria. It was kind of cute so I stopped for a cup of coffee, rode slowly past the bakeries, gourmet shops, little hotels and bead stores thinking about how nice it must be to live there, and then I rode on. Two miles outside of town, by front tube sprung a leak. I patched it. It sprung another leak a minute later. Repeat. Repeat. Uh-oh, no more patches. My front tire had absolutely had it, and my overcompensating frugality finally caught up. Oh well. There was a bike shop in Cambria, so I walked my bike back.
New bike shop summer hours: Mon. Closed. Tues. Closed
It was Monday, around lunchtime. A few bikers were right behind the shop, sitting on a little bridge. I went over to see if they had any ideas or information.
“Looks like you have the same problem we do.”
There were four of them in all, three sisters from Switzerland and their friend from Munich, and they were riding South in a familiar haphazard fashion. Two of the bikes were city bikes with wide handlebars and an upright position. The German was riding a mountain bike, and there was also a road bike with super skinny tires being used. The road bike had been popping tubes, and they were using a combination of patches and duct-tape to try to fix it. At one point they lathered soap around the tube to find the leak, only to find four more, and duct-tape really just won’t work for that.
They started cooking some ramen “quick noodles” and offered me some lemonade, the Country Time powdered kind.
“It’s good energy”
The German had a big metal bucket bungeed to the back of his bike that they had found earlier, and it was full of their pots, silverware and stove. This wasn’t their first bike tour, this is just how they do it, and they were doing it “for the adventure.”
I added some of my carrots and seaweed to the noodles, they offered some tangerines, and we feasted. Then on to the pragmatics of the situation.
“Wouldn’t it be an adventure to be stuck on this bridge for two days, ha-ha,” said Oberta, the youngest sister.
Since they were heading South, they eventually decided to auto-stop (hitch-hike) their way down to San Luis Obispo, to another bike shop. I decided to stay and see if I could find the owner of the bike shop, this being a small town and all. I had no such luck. Two women at Lily’s coffee shop tried their hardest, and exhausted their contacts, trying to find someone to open the shop. I hadn’t even asked, they just liked having something to do.
I spent the night in a hostel. I had been feeling more and more like a vagrant, and perhaps this feeling was purely internal, but I felt an outside social stigma coming down on me. This is something that I would like to move past, and thought I mostly had, but loneliness has a creeping way of affecting you. The hostel was an attempt to readjust, relax, and meet some people. It felt like any other business transaction, the owners were cordial and maintained a warm atmosphere, pumping soft jazz into the vintage-furnished living room, and conversing politely. It’s the business of community, I guess. There were few boarders there, two guys from Japan and an older woman. It was good sleep, but the whole thing just felt strange.
What is there to do in Cambria for an entire day? People vacation here often, go window shopping, eat and spend time with loved ones. I used my time to lose my mind, surrounded by people but dissolved in myself. I walked around town, into and out of book shops and secondhand shops, and bought pastries from the french bakery. This town, more than any other one, felt completely alien. Communication didn’t come as organically as it has during the rest of my trip, and the people seemed to only know how be customers or salespeople. The economy in Cambria is solely from tourism, and half of the population is retired. Everyone talked about how wonderful it was, “I just couldn’t live anywhere else,” with these sad smiles that repeated and recycled into a bare routine. I don’t know if it was me or the city, but I couldn’t stand it.
Being immobile added to my feeling of vagrancy; it added a level of helplessness. The second night I camped behind the bike shop, next to a fire pit. I had been given an ‘OK’ to camp there by a biker who was a friend of the shopowner’s. They used the fire pit for their Wednesday-evening bike ride/barbeque. As the sun set, a man named Orlando came around to drink his Tecate after he rode around the hills. He had to work two jobs to afford Cambria, but hadn’t lived anywhere else since he left Mexico with his wife twenty years earlier. We talked for a while and lit a fire, and then he went home to have dinner.
“I’ll be back later man, would you like some pizza? My wife made it. I’ll bring you some. You need calories, lots of calories.”
While he was out I bought him a nice beer, and when he came back I ate and he drank, and we talked for a couple of hours. He drank quite a bit, and told stories about drinking quite a bit, and eventually stopped making sense. I went to sleep, hypnotized by the fire and my head spinning from the day.
The shop opened promptly on Wednesday, I bought a new set of tires and that was that. I tried to put the ill feelings behind and savor the day, and I would be riding up the coast to Big Sur, a place of mythological beauty and it is said, one of the best rides in the world. Gotta look good for this one, man.
I don’t have many words for the next day:
I talked to three other touring cyclists, and down-to-earth ones at that, before finding a camping spot for the night. The day was closing, and my old self was finally coming back into the light. This place was outside of all the pettiness I weigh myself down with. Like the night with the dolphins, the controlling ego is dissolved into something more complete.
I found a spot on the side of a cliff and unrolled my sleeping bag. No tent that night. I watched the sun set over the water and then the stars breaking through the fading blue sky one by one, and slept until the morning woke me up.
I got to Carmel by lunchtime, and stopped by the Safeway for some fruit, peanut butter and jelly. On the way out Greenpeace stopped me and warned about the horrors of e-waste and whaling and overfishing and can I have some money? I asked what they were doing about overfishing, but I never got an answer.
“Just listen to me talk to these other people and maybe you’ll change your mind.”
Then he went to Starbucks for an espresso because he was losing his natural charisma, and needed to get a good number of people signed up so he could have six, while his friend only had four.
Then another guy on a loaded bike rolled up, with a guitar strapped on, who told me that he was the modern “renaissance man” and that most people don’t understand his genius and they can’t because their heads are to small and on and on and on. I tried to get away but he kept talking and ate up a good chunk of my time with absolute poppycock. I tried to get Greenpeace to talk to him but it didn’t work, so I made an escape into the CVS.
Carrying on with the Steinbeckian theme of my cross-country bike ride, I rode into Monterrey that afternoon. I watched the seals flop around for a little while, and carried on on the WONDERFUL GREENWAY that stretched for miles outside of the city, and was part of the official pacific coast bike route.
The greenway ended in Castroville, “the Artichoke Center of the World.” (Why they didn’t call it the artichoke heart of the world is beyond me, really, its right there for the picking.)
I yard-camped outside of Watsonville for the night.
Somehow I lost the route the next morning, there were no signs and it was a little confusing riding through Santa Cruz. I ended up on a road called “Graham Hill” which led me to a more prominent road, Highway 9, that went straight up into the Santa Cruz mountains. I was quite glad that I did for several reasons: no wind, shade and redwood forests.
The hours I spent climbing were well worth it, to eventually get to the “skyline to the sea,” highway 35. I stopped for lunch and pulled off into the forest a little. It was dead silent and absolutely holy.
There was road construction when I got near the top, and the workers smiled and applauded me.
one hell of a climb, man.”
“Yeah, I know. Is this the top?”
“You’ve still got a little bit.”
Coming off of the mountains, I was dropped into a valley in between San Francisco and San Jose. I was only eight miles from Millbrae, and could take the BART train into the city to visit my friend Shannon. My legs were screaming, and it’s a little hilly here near San Francisco.
I’ve been enjoying San Francisco for the last few days: City Lights books, giant redwoods, cookouts, baking cakes, amazing coffee, writing bad prose but good poetry, and applying for sustainable agriculture school for the fall. I still don’t know what exactly I’m going to do, but it is going to be something. Any ideas?