Monday, February 13, 2012

A Bicycle Ride: 4

Coastal farmland. I love it. It’s something I’ve never seen before. Rolling hills, combed neatly with endless rows of things that grow, but at the beach. That was probably the single most favorite part of my little ride: the Pacific. It was always there, just over my right shoulder. Sometimes I’d follow the road’s course a few miles inland and forget about the ocean until it would cut through what I thought were clouds and prove to have been there all along, blue and gray and continuous, the sky intemperate but the ocean calm, pacifico. Glorious.

I ate an orange that day. An electric orange that tingled my thirsty mouth and inspired praise for Mama Earth. I thought of the little seed that had been patted into the ground to produce the complex system known as Citrus sinensis, or an orange tree, so that this little round fruit could bud from its branches and accompany me through clouds for a while. I enjoyed it until it was gone, every wedge of perfectly unbelievable chemistry held to a sun that prismed through mist and fog, and then I enjoyed it even further as a celebrated memory while I pedaled away from the discarded rind. Here’s a nugget of advice if you’re ever riding your bicycle along the Highway 1: stop at the fruit stands. Holy shit, you won’t regret it. If you’re riding a long distance at all, take fruit. They’ve never made more sense to me than in my time of outstanding humanity, where thirst and hunger and fatigue return our minds to the corporeal, to a kingdom of animals, separate from the idleness of feather pillows and streaming videos and complicit misinformation. It made me feel I was a part of a system again and not in contrary to one. I liked that.

Monterey. Suddenly, I was there, rolling along a scenic bike route with scores of families pointing at sea lions that draped over boulders poking out of the turquoise bay. Stilted buildings extended colorfully into the ocean, their well-manicured rustication a picturesque backdrop against a curling fog and filtered rays of sunlight. I weaved through high-pantsed elderly who held their arms outstretched as though doing so could keep their bustling surroundings in place until they could gather their bearings; pimply teenagers awkwardly following their vacationing parents like conflicted ducklings; breaths of French and German and high-hatted English, exhaled from bodies not yet fattened by the adulterated food and drink of the New World. Blues and blondes and greens and sandy browns. Whiteness, pinked by a holiday sun. I torpedoed through their ranks, my foam bedroll brushing past bent elbows that kept expensive cameras aloft, making no apologies, slowing when left with no other option. It was, after all, a bike lane. A clean bike lane, wide and free of debris. All I had seen of Monterey, in fact, was a far cry from the realities of a dense population such as San Francisco, where even in areas of kept wives whose job it was to remain firm and beautiful and to spend money, trash still fluttered in the street and the black-toothed smiles of the forgotten were ubiquitous even if overlooked. It bothered me. This beautiful place, gilded to cover things that could never be kept from my eyes again, existed. It was a Disneyland of barkers and colored balloons, and its deception was upsetting.

I squeezed the levers on my handlebars and lowered my feet to the ground as my bicycle stopped. A brief consultation with the magic of Google Maps made my spirit sag with profundity as I realized I had been enchanted for miles off track. You’d be surprised how easily and how often I did that. There’s a lot to look at, other than the road.

The rest of the day was spent pushing my bike up hill, drenched from fog and sweat. When I finally stopped, the day old pizza I had been feeding on from my dank backpack was ejected from my stomach with a forceful hurl; the happy smiles of the Monterey Peninsula’s immaculate tourism beaded its poison out with my cold sweat and swirled with bile and undigested slices of mushrooms in a toilet that I held onto with white knuckles. But I felt much better and fell asleep remembering oranges.

The day found solutions for my battered gluteus maximus. Just in time, too, as I was having trouble sitting.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

A Bicycle Ride: 3 of . . . whatever

I rolled into Santa Cruz my second day out. It was a minimal 47 miles from the prior night’s transient rest but considering my out-of-shapiness and goddamned uphills, I call it a winner. My hands hurt. The tremendous pressure my upper body placed on them made gripping anything but the handlebars a painful experience. I still have yellow calluses on both palms and the pinky and ring fingers of my left hand are still without full sensation. I expect that kind of nerve damage to recover with time, but we’ll see. Oh, and my ass hurt. Wincing in pain hurt. A strange sensitivity that I’m sure only all-day athletes know (or people about to be dead) is one of complete muscle exhaustion. In the early days of my ride, I’d leap onto my bike, muscles coiled like springs, and zip up hills alternately whistling and singing songs that no one else could hear. By the end of each day, however, my entire body moved with my pedaling feet in the same way one kicks his legs when trying to achieve just one last pull-up, and my strength, most notably around the ass region, no longer kept me upright in my saddle so much as it sagged around it and weakly held on. I guess it’s appropriate to say that I had a weak ass, which is strange, wouldn’t you say? How many times have you ever literally stressed your ass out? It refuses to labor after a certain point and then you're just sitting on meat with nerves in it. My back and neck hurt, too. It’s a lot of work, balancing a computer at the end of your spine, especially when you’re riding 20-40 miles per hour and having to constantly watch the road ahead for obstacles, the road behind for cars, and the world to each side, not to mention registering and adjusting for the pain in your hands and unresponsive nether regions.

Cities. They’ve never been a very positive thing for me when traveling on foot or in this case on two wheels. There’s more gravity in them, I think, with all downtowns holding their greatest mass. Before you know it, you’re too near and the redneck fauna of each strange place is staring at you with gaping mouthholes as you count the distances between Denny’s as markers of your progress out of their stinking orbits. Cities and towns along the

Pacific Coast Highway
are different. Their density houses transcendental degenerates that are all around but who will only engage in conversation if they suspect you’re one and the same because there’s a sleeping bag over your handlebars and a foam bedroll behind your seat. I willingly entered Santa Cruz, eager to strut about the boardwalk where much of the 20th century’s most influential movie, The Lost Boys was filmed, but after being accosted by a muscular man with blue tattoos covering his shirtless body and completely hairless face, I lost a little mojo.

He came dancing out (literally) of a motel as I was walking my bike past and called out for me to wait. I waited. He was drunk and probably on something else, but I still shook his feeble hand and accepted his immediate hug afterward. What? There was a bicycle between us and I had an easily whip-outable hunting knife poking out of my pocket. Besides, you can’t reject a hug. It’s sad. What if he had overdosed in his motel room or was killed crossing the street and I was the last person in his life to have denied him human contact. People hugged me on my way out of San Francisco, but before that? Jesus it had been a while. It’s easy to forget the coldness of isolation when you have people to love you, but I promise there are beating hearts in your life right now that could really use a good happy-to-see-you embrace. Anyway, this man, Stabby, as I’ll call him for I never got his name, gave me an honest and accurate caution about sketchy places with a sad and apologetic wag of his head when I asked him if he knew any cheap motels in town to stay the night. “Now,” he said with surprising clarity, “you can find a room, or you find accommodations. There’s a big difference.” Luckily, he had an extra bed in his room that he was willing to let me have for free. “I just want to make sure you’re safe,” he insisted as his eyes blinked out of synchronization. I’ve done that before during my hitchhiking days, staying with strangers, I mean. Spare motel beds, spare bedrooms, living room floors. People are trusting, but I’ve also turned down a few offers and as I had no intention of being ass raped by this self-proclaimed “prison type,” this was a gracious refusal situation. I told him I was going to keep riding but I’d come back if there were no options. Cities.

I checked into a motel* near the boardwalk and spent the evening reorganizing my gear the way experience commanded. Somewhere through the walls of the inn, a man raged at another human being, the Coke machine outside my window occasionally clanked out a can for whoever trickled in their change, and a TV mumbled in the next room. A studio audience applauded. I ordered a pizza and sat cross-legged on my bed eating it, clean and exhausted and totally naked, my head tilted beneath each cheesy slice, until I tipped back into greasy dreams.
*There would be many motels in my future, but I’ll take a moment now and justify that luxury. . . . On second thought, blow me. I don’t have to. When you ride your bicycle across a country in winter, you can do it your way.
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