Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Bicycle Ride: 2 of . . . a few

I’ve spent a lot of time considering how I’m going to present this little adventure, but since it was three weeks and a day long, I’ve settled on destinations and memorable experiences.

First, unless some of your brain is scooped out of your head, it’s hard to forget how to ride a bicycle. What is hard, however is learning to ride a bike with an extra 50lbs of gear distributed over both wheels. The whole apparatus becomes as off balanced as an ironing table and what’s worse is that if your bungee cords are only pretty ribbons around your stuff, you’ll find yourself, say, at the BART Civic Center station for an hour, strangling your belongings down after they’d lobbed off like a heap of mashed potatoes while you were carrying the whole mess down an endless flight of stairs because the escalator was under repair. Next.

At the onset, learning to turn a heavy bicycle was an alarming issue. I had a basket over my handlebars (a practical accessory that inspired emasculating chuckles from an unexpected several people) and the weight from my front load initially forced harder turns that jackknifed the front wheel and was the basis of all my early howls of panic. I never crashed, however. I fully expected to and came close on many shrieking occasions, but never a wipe out.

Don’t rely on the junk hardware that bicycle gear comes with, either. Get your own. The nuts on the cargo rack over my back wheel fell off within hours of my departure. Not only could that have ended my trip on day one, but it could have made me dead. I happened to look at the little bolts after a breezy downhill and discovered the locking nuts were gone. Miraculously, they had fallen in the same spot I was standing. The next hour was spent unpacking all my stuff to get to my tools, searching for a couple of longer bolts that I had and hoped would fit, and then staring miserably down and into the rain grate where I had dropped the necessary allen wrench to fasten said bolts. What’s worse is that the possibility of losing precious tools or screws down the gutter actually crossed my mind, as I was practically standing over it, but with dim-witted resolve, I decided to be extra careful. A woman passing by offered me a fistful of Twizzlers as a gummy agent for the end of a stick. Sweet, but completely ineffective. I was lazily chewing them when a Skyline Park ranger happened by and wedged a pickaxe into the heavy guard to lever it up. Problem solved.

I slept half on the beach and half in a motel that first night. The ocean was cold, and after around five hours of shivering rest, a steady stream of teenagers began trickling to a massive bonfire that was close enough for me to hear their young fun. My fingers were numb, and every time I’d doze off, a girl would gasp at almost stumbling over my body or a boy would speak with excessive manliness while investigating my presence . . . from a safe distance. Sometime before midnight, I repacked my gear in the dark, slipping in cascading sand dunes, my fingers cold and chafed from the sea air, my body and mind so exhausted that I could have flung my bike and wept into my hands. I expected despair, principally within the first few days and while trapped in cities, but it’s tough to prepare for hopelessness, especially when it’s self-inflicted. A major motivation for me throughout my little bike ride was a coworker’s sure voice repeating in my memory. “You are not going to make it,” he said in his kind Ethiopian accent. There wasn’t any malice in the statement. He could have said “you are crazy” with the same tone and it would have meant the same thing. You are not going to make it. At least it was a self-imposed hardship. I can’t fathom a life of war or hunger or disease or constant death, or one with the scarcity of resources to breed all four horses. To spend days and nights not hungry, but famished. To fall asleep every night without a sense of physical security. To anguish with fatigue but still be pulled to your feet and forced into mobility. My troubles were minor weariness and fat kids stepping on me in a gritty cold that was uncomfortable but far from unbearable. So, I wrestled my sand-sunken wheels back onto asphalt and returned to Highway 1 in the dark.

The highway intersection held me in place as the 27th of December turned into the 28th. To the north, lights and accommodation; to the south, utter darkness. My tiny headlight illuminated nothing at night and riding in the dark was incontrovertibly dangerous as I could run into any number of obstacles from a blown out tire to Sasquatch. In the next couple of weeks, I would learn and understand humankind’s very primal fear of the dark, but right then? Motel.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Bicycle Ride: 1 of . . . a few

It’s been over a month since my last post and much has changed. For one, I have returned to Austin for reasons that are none of your goddamned business but that I will still explain in good time. I didn’t want to move back to Texas, but doing so was practical when considering the next phase of my plans so here I am.

I rode a bicycle back . . . mostly. It was a ‘70s Schwinn that I bought on Craigslist for 36 bucks. The big idea was to sand off the original coat of paint, lacquer it to a beautiful newness, and replace any moving parts that were worn or simply not working. During my ubiquitous lurking about San Francisco bicycle shops, a lot bike mechanics visibly turned queasy when I told them my intentions and even more so when my complete ignorance of bicycles shone through our conversations like idiot diamonds. It didn’t deter me. I expected discouragement and that’s essentially all I got from the few people who knew my plans. “What about this . . . ?” They’d say. “Have you thought about that . . . ?” I’d hear. “Why don’t you fly?” Squawk. “Fly.” Squawk. “Fly.” Squawksquawksquawk. Because I didn’t want to fly, you jerks. I hate flying. You step into a plane at one place and step out at another. Where’s the adventure in that? Besides, I needed a buffer between the two cities. I’d have probably burst into tears being suddenly in Austin again. A month-long crossing would be the perfect transition, an attentive mediator for the wars of my heart.

So I rode a bicycle . . . mostly. A bicycle that was wrecked when I got it but maimed further when I was finished with it. My intentions were pretty, but my love only took it so far, so three days before I left, I had it tuned up by the fellas at Mojos Café and Bicycle Shop on Divisidero (if you’re ever in the neighborhood (the coffee’s amazing, too)), and the solutions I was unable to discover on my own were quickly solved by hipsters with knowhow. I danced out of the shop, enthusiastically waving goodbye as the mechanics solemnly stopped working and watched me go. That’s the problem with technical knowledge, I think. These bike pros had an encyclopedic comprehension of their craft and one guy in particular was almost . . . theoretical when waxing velocity and weight distribution. They were so scholarly with their information that I’d wager their fear of so many potential dangers kept them from practical application. That or they didn’t think that anyone without their vast knowledge and experience was capable of doing what I was describing. It’s bike riding, people, not combat aviation. Anyway, I liked talking to them because they knew their business and because they weren’t friends, they didn’t have any rights to depress my eccentricities with overwhelming caution (though their faces and body language spoke volumes).

I didn’t train. I didn’t read about cycling. I didn’t find out what was legal or illegal. I didn’t buy Spandex or bike shoes. I didn’t wear a helmet. I didn’t even plan my route. It’s only 1,800-ish miles. My preparation was practical and uncomplicated: plan for rain and snow, heat and cold, hunger and thirst. Have money for accommodations, a hunting knife for bears and rapists. Even now, I don’t understand everyone’s disbelief and immediate certainty that it couldn’t be done. I wasn’t going to be taking a Sunday outing with my parasol and bell girdle. Of course it would be hard, but like I said, it’s riding a bicycle for God’s sake. If I ever decide to climb Mt. Everest with the same spontaneity, please, talk me out of it. Until then, keep your faceholes drooling at your televisions and not flapping negativity at my strange therapy.

As my December 27th departure date approached, I shipped a few things back to Austin and pushed the rest of my San Francisco possessions to the sidewalk where I originally found them anyway.

Then I left.

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