RIDING WITHOUT NECESSITY FOR SPEED.
My skin was radiating heat as the morning light streamed into the trailer. Outside, I heard ATVs ripping by and chickens clucking as the farm got going for the day. My goal was to start riding by 10am, and not a minute before. Just a single morning of silence, making coffee, made me feel like a monk. Peaceful, gentle, slow. The sun warmed the trailer, and I sat in my shorts, stirring my oatmeal. I was getting what I came for - warmth. Just the week before, I was in the rainy Portland winter, nearly driven mad from cabin fever. This was the first time I had been comfortable and dry in months.
The night before had opened the flood gates, and out poured a torrent of pent up emotion. I had talked to the camera for hours, venting about my hatred and regrets, about my desires to be perfect, about my motivations and fears of the trip. And in the morning, nothing remained but calm contemplation. How can I be kind to myself today? I had come to learn, and the solitude of the ride was my teacher.
THE CAMERA WOULD CONTINUE WITH ME, IN IT CONTAINING THE WEIGHT AND TENSION FROM THE PAST DAYS. BUT, AS I PICKED IT UP TO MOUNT TO MY BIKE, IT HADN'T CHANGED. WEIGHTLESSLY, IT CARRIED THE BURDEN I HAD NEEDED TO LET GO.
Suddenly, time got away from me. I still had a 50 mile day to my next spot, but was moving as though I hadn't a care in the world. I threw on my crusty chamois and my cleanest shirt - today would be a good laundry day. Packed up, I was rattling down the dirt road moments later. Gray skies would give my skin a reprieve, as blisters slowly formed on my shoulders and back. I've never been one for moderation.
Without anything for food, I had twenty miles to my next town. Roughly two hours. And I was already a bit peak-ed. A middle school approached on my right, and I imagined ice cold vending machines. The school appeared to be uninhabited, so my goal was to try for any unlocked door. Pulling into the parking lot, a women was leaning over a kid, in a reprimand stance. When she saw me approach, she seemed to have forgotten what the kid had done, focusing all her attention my direction. As a woman who is accustomed to monitoring her tone, she asked, "can I help you with something?"
"I'm really hungry. Is there a vending machine nearby?" Her expression melted from mild annoyance to maternal. Calling out to another passing woman, she shouted "this cyclist needs something to eat! Can you lead her to the library?" Turning, the woman heard the distress call, and promptly trotted over. If she had been starving all day, and had been finally heading to get a bite to eat, she would have dropped it in order to lead me to a candy bar. These women were nurturers, and I was their reason to be. Following the order of the school, she relayed the information to the librarian, explaining my presence in the hand off. The librarian nodded, understanding what needed to be done.
She explained the rules of the snack cooler. Each item was .75 cents, cash only. Before me were snickers, kit kats, fruit snacks, 3 musketeers, trail mix, pop tarts, and butterfingers. She sat patiently as my brain began this delicate negotiation. If I took too long, I would get the fruit snacks. Which is always a mistake. This required impulse, immediacy, like bungee jumping. Snickers! And trail mix! No questions! I handed her my two dollars, and she went to the little gray box on her desk to retrieve my .50 cents. As she did, I stared at the items, second guessing my lack of butterfinger.
Eating the snickers on my way out, I chuckled about the formality of the exchange. The woman who had lead me over to the library was back at my bike, scoping out my gear. She had always wanted to do what I was doing, and wished me luck on my journey. Thanking her, I hopped on and cruised back onto the windy highway. Maybe trolling elementary schools would be my new thing - beats gas station pricing. Refueled, I headed to Orcutt. A windy, overcast highway is a land without time. There are no distance measures, or landmarks. The scattered road debris tell the stories of past travelers as semi trucks remind you to be alert. An undisturbed skeleton of a deer laid gently, half buried in dirt. It was perfectly preserved, without any evidence of having had flesh.
IT WOULD REMAIN THERE, SLOWLY SINKING BACK INTO THE EARTH, WITHOUT NECESSITY FOR SPEED OR DEADLINE. AN EMBLEM OF HARMONY.
There wasn't a laundromat in Orcutt, and the macaroni salad I purchased from a convenience store left a chemical residue. Lunch would have to wait till Guadalupe, where there were sure to be coin-op machines. The biggest mistake you can make with the generic "ride the highway one, coast route" concept is to stick to highway one. The road to Guadelupe is why. Wind blasting, I gripped my handlebars, trying to ride within a six inch margin, with no shoulder, as car after car careened by. I could only hope not to be hit, as I heard engines rumble up behind me, nearly sending me into the brush with their force as they passed. All I could do was yell as they passed - not out of fear or anger, but because it made me brave. I had no control, and no where to go, but forward. And, as I survived each truck, I let out my war cry.
Before laundry, I stopped at the neighboring market for a loaf of bread and peanut butter. Everything was tossed in to be washed, and I leaned my bike up against the indoor benches. It took 5 minutes for me to feel uneasy. One of the other patrons began paying me a little too much attention. Not speaking - just lingering, and staring. War cry still in me, I sat to eat, waiting for his move. He kept his distance, but as I was moving my clothes into the dryer, a young couple came in, sitting on the bench next to my bike.
They had no laundry, no bags, and just began speaking Spanish, so it was lost on me. I leaned against the counter, casual as the scene unfolded. Then, they sat silent. I continued to spread peanut butter on my bread. The girl suddenly got up and waited outside, as her man held his territory near my bike. We were sizing each other up. He sat with his elbows on his knees, looking down, contemplating. So I made my move. I walked over, and locked my bike to the bench, so as to tell him, "I know what you're fucking doing here, and I'm not having it." The girl kept pacing outside, as a couple more guys came by to talk. But, my guy didn't move. He sat with his eyes closed, as his buddies waited outside. The girl kept looking at me, said one last thing, and left. Finishing up my bread, he got up to follow her, accomplishing nothing.
I donned my fresh clothes, tied my loaf of bread to my handlebars and began my final haul to Arroyo Grande. Pulling into the town as the sun was setting, I looked up the final hill towards the couch I was going to surf. My host was backing out of her driveway as I approached. "Candice?! I thought that was you! We're headed to Trader Joe's to grab some things for dinner. Do you want anything?" Grateful, I let her know that I had everything I needed. She parked the car to let me in, and showed me to the shower to freshen up as they went out. Her home was immaculate, and her welcoming generosity was logged away in the states-of-being-I-strive-to-be part of my memory. As I pealed my shirt off, I got a look of the sun damage done to my back. Aloe would do nothing for the blisters.
They returned, offering me a beer. We shared stories, as she made dinner; her son setting the table. I refused to let my guarded tendencies take over. She had welcomed me in, and the kindest thing I could give in return was my openness. I enjoyed just being around them, relaxing out of my head, listening about her past relationships, and all the kids she has inherited from them. She had made me a bed in the living room, and made sure I was okay. Tomorrow I would ride into San Luis Obispo, get a coffee, and look at a map. Continuing north on HWY 1 after SLO wasn't possible, as my host had told me. A mud slide had damaged the road, leaving me to negotiate a new plan through central California.