Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Bicycle Ride: 6

Rust. On my bicycle, that is. Before leaving San Francisco, I had laboriously scrubbed and sanded the original coat of paint off the forty-year-old apparatus known as Rocinante the Third with the grand vision of repainting it yellow, red, and black, the colors of Detective Comics’ evil “The Reverse Flash.” My glorious procrastination resulted in my riding off on a bicycle that looked like disease, but since I’d grinded off the protective coating of lacquer, oxidization finally answered a question I’d long had: is Rocinante the Third composed of steel or aluminum? Steel. Anyway, it must have been the hard sea air. It gave my ride a little character. Still does.


The Santa Lucia mountain range was beautiful and awful all at once. On one hand, riding along the ocean from the superior vantage of a mountain range was almost . . . Olympian, and at 40 miles-per-hour, I was Hermes, swift-footed messenger of divinity, skirting Mount Olympus on an errand for the king of gods. Once my control over the awkward load I was riding between became more manageable, obstacles on the road ahead withered to secondary importance over the expansive sea a thousand feet below my course; the sparkling water became a sight I constantly kept watch over for I knew then as I know now that although it’s quite possible I’ll find myself back on the PCH someday, the burning sun on my shoulders, the wind in my hair, the song on my tongue, and all the time in the world was a symphony that I’ll never be audience to again. A traveler may drive the countryside with windows up and air conditioner cooling and never know what it’s like to fly with clothes flapping against one’s back and the ground tossing stray shoe laces only a fatal step away. That spot of Earth alone made the trip worthwhile, and I wanted to remember. That’s what these posts are about. I will remember. Always.

On the other hand, however, when I wasn’t coasting downhill with delusions of grandeur, I was pushing my heavy bicycle uphill. If I were a god, I was only a demi and my one weakness was the cruel irony of ascension. My arms ached; my legs burned; I dripped with sweat; my skin was red; my stomach grumbled; my lips cracked and bled. It wasn’t uncommon for passing cars to see me sagging over Rocinante the Third as I dragged my heavy feet beside him. “Almost there. Almost . . . there,” I’d say to myself, only to discover that my almost there was only the footprint of Mount Olympus. Hell. Many hours were spent not actually riding but pushing uphill. It was truly a test of will and athleticism, for I came across one, two . . . many abandoned Rocinantes along that little upheaved shred of land, where tide and altitude no longer inspired but damned a heat-frazzled rider on an existential sally. I am relieved to say that after thirty-two winters of wondering why, I’m tired but I am undefeated. My body and mind are strong, and in that corporeal microcosm of the human condition, I did what’s been done since the world’s first atheist pointed to the sun and declared, We are alone: I pushed on. I pushed on past bicycles and dead riders whose personal quests ended not by surrender, but by the imposition of speeding automobiles who knocked men and women off their saddles, out of their helmets, and into roadside shrines for the quiet of grieving pilgrims. I pushed on past the misty plumes of little gray whales breaching the ocean surface as they snorted seawater from their enormous bulk and gasped for the same air that swelled my chest, and when my bodily limitations sang in concert with the demoralization of my mind, I pushed on until my “almost there” arrived and the warm California air rippled through my clothes and I was moonwalking in the winged shoes of fantasy again.

Low altitude

Also from a low altitude. Unfortunately, I didn't take photos from a godly vantage. I'll just have to remember, and  you'll just have to imagine or google.

Whenever the road was empty, I allowed myself a joyous weave through the curve of north and southbound lanes until forced back to the margins. An occasional car would patiently cruise by and honk out a jingle while young people waved from within or folded themselves out windows to reveal toothy smiles through their windswept hair. A BMW with windows down and sunroof agape drove erratically past until I met the mirrored eyes of its driver and his upwards thumb poked out of the roof of his expensive car. “You’re awesome!” he cried, not speeding off until I acknowledged his ruling with a precarious wave. I mention such . . . applause not out of self-admiration but because they were frequent and tremendously encouraging when not startling and extremely dangerous. If you ever see a gear-laden rider on a winding and rolling path with mountains to one side and a calamitous drop-off to the other, don’t honk at him, folks. The heart-stopping wind gusts are terrifying enough, and quite frankly, I already know I’m awesome.
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