bus ride and two nights in monterey
There were two of us on the deluxe transport bus out of Paso Robles that morning. We would arrive in Soledad by early afternoon, leaving me to ride the eleven or so miles into Monterey. I gently laid my bike onto the rack, and settled into a seat in the back. I watched the landscape and highway pass out of my generous window.
I have gotten to a point where I don't care much to finish this story. I mean, I can finish it. Find the words. Recall moment by moment. But, all I want to say, is that I started riding without a clue of what I needed, or wanted, or lacked. I needed something, and couldn't describe it. Dissatisfied, without any idea why. And yet, what I needed found me. As I sat on that gigantic yacht of a bus, on the cushioned, velvet, patterned seats, I knew this. I boarded the plane to LA with a mountain of dirty laundry, and the hundreds of miles were a spin cycle. My mind had been caked in grime. Like a shield. And, as the miles scrubbed the crud away, I was vulnerable again. I felt, and cried tears of gratitude.
I, in that moment, as I looked out the bus window, was going to be okay. I am okay. I wasn't going to be haunted by my past anymore. I needn't be ashamed, or embarrassed for my mistakes or meager accomplishments. Getting to a place of optimistic curiosity was no easy feat. It takes hundreds of plunges into the dirt to unearth a buried mind. And, when I climbed back out of the hole, I breathed, and looked down at how far I had been. I was glad the light, birds, and trees were still there when I got out. And I spent the bus ride thanking them for waiting for me.
When the bus driver asked if I wanted a ride the rest of the way to Monterey, I gladly accepted. I was his last passenger of the day, and he needed to take the bus up there for the night anyways. He told me about the French cyclist he had picked up just yesterday. The cyclist had been subverted by the washout on highway one as well. It left me smiling to know someone else had needed to make the tricky decision to bypass as well. I wondered what his bus ride was like.
Pulling off to the side of the highway, he helped me get my bike out, and told me his favorite places to go in Monterey, as I repacked. The plan was to dump my gear, and just cruise around town. My Airbnb host had left the keys under the mat, and a couple of chewy bars on the counter for me. I refilled my bottle, threw on my favorite socks, and rolled down the hill towards the water.
I thought about you. I thought about how I would write this. I had my notebook, and went to a pub to think about the past week on the road. I thought about all my expectations, about your expectations, and about how having them had supremely fucked me up. I had felt disappointment on the first day, numb the second, and panic on the third.
On this day, I felt sympathy. If only I had been a friend to myself, what I would have seen those first few days.
Many beers later, I floated to a movie theater to continue the date. Needless to say, it completely blew my mind. Shit is insane. I know it's a bit ridiculous. I ride my bike alone for a week, and suddenly every moment on earth is shattering. When you have nothing to do, nowhere to go, and no one to share it with, all you have is what is around you. So you take it in, and it's a fucking trip.
My host was a language instructor at the Air Force Academy, and she spoke Russian, Ukranian, German, and Italian. She lent me nail clippers and let me do a load of laundry. I tore off the section of map that I had passed, leaving me with a day to kill in Monterey, then Santa Cruz to meet Cody the next day. The weather report predicted rain. I laid out my "waterproof" goods, and tossed all night.
The house was empty when I got up. I microwaved a mug of water, and wasted another instant coffee down the drain. I carried a few with me, just to ritualistically pour the bitter liquid out and appreciate the real stuff all the more. I had no intention of going to the aquarium. I rode out to the nearest dispensary, and the rain began. I took 17 mile road back, and my shoes were fish bowls for my feet. I stopped at a laundromat to dry out, and an old guy gave me a hard candy. The clouds parted, and I rode to the Goodwill for a pair of sweat shorts.
Ducking behind an apartment complex, I smoked a California designer joint: dipped in oil and rolled in kief. Nothing at first. I kept walking. Then, I had to keep walking. The businesses on the street stretched about seven or so blocks, and I walked up and down that street about six times. My head began to lag behind; my eyes rolling back briefly to remind my head to catch up. Snapping upright, I would take a quick moment to regather, and continue walking. The cashier at Goodwill had recommended a pizza spot around the corner, and I walked past it about three more times before going in.
The place was empty. Not a customer or employee in sight. I had committed to entering, so now had to negotiate how long a normal person would wait. And, what to say the moment I was discovered. Mantras were unsuccessful in helping me get a grip. I may have easily been there for an hour before the pizza guy walked up to the front counter. Our conversation went something like this:
"Are you open?"
Blah, blah, blah. Look at my gingivitis and toothy grin.
"Oh okay. Wait. Are you open?"
"YES WE'RE OPEN!"
"Oh I'm sorry. Yeah okay sweet. Um, let me look at the menu." I had stupidly stood there for an hour without a glance at the menu. Idiot. "Pizza. Calzone. Calzone sounds good. I'll..um..have..um. Small cheese pizza. And a water. No wait. Is it the same price as a tea?"
"Okay...yeah. Tea. Please"
When he told me the total, I deeply regretted having walked in and imagined myself just turning around and walking out in an abrupt silence. My hand slowly reached out with my debit card as I committed to the eternity required for a pizza. As the system processed, we brought it back home with the traditional "How are you?" "Good" "How are you?" "Good" exchange, and returned to silence as the card reader failed twice, requiring him to enter the numbers in manually.
'On second thought, I'm just going to go. Yeah, no, it's fine. I really need to go, now in fact. I didn't think it was this late. Yes, I'll just take my card back please.'
The machine spit out my receipt. I sat rigidly at the nearest table. The TV was positioned at the exact height for my head to be just beyond my upright controls, eyes rolling back with it. Down was best. I glanced outside to the homeless man that I passed on the street a half dozen times, who asked me for money twice before he realized I was doing laps. The pizza guy began tossing the dough, as I counted to 75 over and over again, sipping my tea.
My last day alone on the bike tour was going to end with me comforting my fried mind with pizza and mental lullabies.
I don't recall if I finished the pizza, but on the ride back to the Airbnb, I stopped at a grocery store. Standing on the curb with my bike, I stared at the store front for a while, contemplating if I needed anything. For tonight, for tomorrow, or whenever. I couldn't think of a single thing, but just felt the need to stand there, until I was sure. I prefer my bags to be empty, without reserves, and see where I might end up when I get hungry. It's a bit of a risk, especially if you are a finicky eater, but it is just more interesting than always having something on you. On I went, continuing to be empty handed.
Back in my room, I kept the lights low and laid out all my gear. Evenings are my time to reorganize and plan for the next day. I hold each item I've been carrying, and consider how valuable it has been on the trip. Many items have been left behind after this ritual. The weather report called for another rainy morning, and if I waited until late afternoon, the sky would clear up. But, I wasn't going to wait. Getting soaked and muddy is just so miserable, that I can't help but laugh every time.