Monday, July 5, 2010

Day 59 - The Final Familiar Frontier

Donny and I had about 80 miles to travel to our front door on my 59th (and his third – go Donny!) and final day of the journey. My level of excitement and anticipation of having my house and pillows and the cat and laptop and friends and spinach anytime I wanted and Trader Joe’s and running instead of cycling and maybe wearing a different t-shirt and clean socks and not having to smear Asso chamois sludge in the nether regions and imprison my dick and balls in a locked and padded room for many hours daily had exponentially increased in the last 24 hours. I was overly ready to see the familiar coast I’d ridden so many times over the years from north of Malibu to Santa Monica and then on my usual commuter route from the beach (a few blocks from where I work at Common Ground) to La Jolla Avenue. I imagined myself pedaling up the bike lane on Santa Monica Boulevard with a big yellow “DC to LA” banner, yee-hawing to drivers at stoplights and the few pedestrians on the LA streets, beating my chest like I was a dope-free Lance Armstrong winning the freaking Tour. This fantasy, which admittedly I’d indulged in a few times before the Ultimate Day, sometimes included a modest marching band and always ended with my rolling ecstatically on our front lawn, me a dog wanting to smell like something that stinks so good it’s a piece of heaven served up on grass.

Savoring the last moments of my feat, however, would be more internally sensational, I knew, (until I verbalized them on the blog) than flag-waving and drumbeats and Olympian torch-bearing. And, according to Donny, Kelly and Nina would be there to welcome me, which would mark the occasion more than well enough. And maybe Mary Ann and David would stick around as they had been Dinah-sitting for the three nights that Donny had been away. I had also contemplated the possibility of stopping at Common Ground to say hello to my cohorts there – since it was on the way – but dismissed the idea in favor of a quicker reunion with my pillows. I really just wanted to be home.

But I still had 80 miles to go, and anything can happen with the Mancini Curse nipping at the heels of our bike cleats. The Cliff House Inn included breakfast which, to my chagrin, didn’t open until 7:30AM. Hmph. I had been hoping to leave by then so we could experience the return to LA without rush hour traffic. We weren’t the only bumrushers ready to eat that morning, hanging around the continental breakfast table before the food was ready for consumption. An ancient father with his child-bride and their fairy-child offspring were also trying to stay out of the way/getting in the way of the hotel workers. This family gave me a whiff of LA, or Brentwood more specifically, with their overly public attention-seeking parenting style (yes, your 4 year old child is brilliant for knowing the object in question is, in fact, a hard-boiled egg,). I imagined the nearing-30 progeny from the tanned and bottle-blonded dad’s first marriage plotting their young stepmother’s untimely death.

I ate twice as much as Donny for the second morning in a row and pilfered a waxy granny smith and still-too-green banana for later. The banana would be fine. Forget the paper bag in the pantry method; nothing ripens a banana faster than squashing it into my behind-the-saddle bag. I would try make Donny eat it later. I checked out of the hotel and waited for Donny to meet me outside. The morning was the usual less than 60 degrees and beach-style gloom but promised to be warm by the time we got home. Dashie says 78 in Los Angeles, but Los Angeles is vast and Dashie is a liar.

Brave Donny got right back into the saddle after his mishap of yesterday. It was still reasonably early at 8:15 and there wasn’t a ton of traffic on the highway. After 5 miles we came to Dulah. Not much of a town. Just a few houses sprinkled near the beach. From there, we rode partly on Highway 1 and partly on bike paths through several state beaches – Emma Wood, whoever she is, San Buena Ventura, and McGrath State Park. These beaches are very much like the ones I was familiar with near Malibu, Leo Carrillo and the like: plenty of seaweed and rock to go with the sand and surfers, in various stages of wetsuit dress/undress parked along the gravel at the side of the road. As we neared the cities of Oxnard and Ventura, the route brought us onto a seaside boardwalk where we had to avoid mowing down runners, walkers and the ever-irksome, anachronistic roller-bladers. Why is it that roller-bladers are always extra-extra-clueless, hands clasped behind their backs, gliding inches from your front wheel, bopping to the beat of a clue-sucking drummer? After the bike path, we move to the flat swamplands between Ventura and Oxnard which boast vistas of recession-challenged construction projects, concrete mixed with tall grasses, a mini-airport, the county sanitation department (yes, including the dump) and general deadness. We stopped to piss on it.

A few miles later we’re riding through the city of Port Hueneme and headed crosswise through the peninsula. Nothing much to report here. Like Lompoc, this place is military – maybe a little cushier (Navy vs. Air Force?). Everything is a mini-mall. The best part of this stretch is coming up with various ways to pronounce Port Huminah-huminah-huminah. We turn toward the ocean and into the wind for the last time toward Port Hugh-Enemy’s brother base, Pt. Mugu. A giant black cargo plane, loud as megafuck, practically shaves our helmets down and liquidates our eardrums, as it tears overhead and lands in the airfield along side of appropriately named Navalair Rd. Very unsettling. At the Pt. Mugu Naval Base we finally get back onto Highway 1 proper, which, I believe it is now safe to call Pacific Coast Highway. Which is how I know it, intimately.

Every moment feels like a 99.9% milestone now, and within about 42 miles, when we hit Leo Carrillo State Beach and the Los Angeles County line, nothing will be new but I will be seeing it all with the sore eyes of a traveler headed home. Leo Carrillo is where Son of Semele had our annual retreat less than a year ago during which a bunch of theater geeks gathered to do yoga on the beach and debate the future of the company. I had biked from work the 30 or so miles that long ago Friday but I had dumped my gear off at Sarah’s to carry for me. If we go to the same place this year, I will bring my own stuff. Funny that less than a year ago that seemed beyond inconvenient (and wasn’t possible based on the gear I owned).

Donny and I stopped for the requisite overly backlit pictures at the LA County line. I hug the signpost trying to avoid getting tetanus from the rust-crusted staples poking out of the splintery wood. 99.99% there. Truthfully, I feel less excited about the County line than other milestones; actually the angst of returning to work fills my throat. To me, “Los Angeles County” is not just a place; it’s also a meddlesome bureaucracy that provides a considerable amount of Common Ground’s funding. Government dollars mean red tape equivalent to the square mileage of our vast County and drones to monitor the length, quality, function, and general adhesiveness of that tape as well as to ensure that the tape is very, very red. This I have not missed. But I have days before I return to work and have to deal with that aspect of LA County. The angst dissipates as the tailwinds pick up and assist us (slightly!) up and down the hills at the beaches of north Los Angeles County. Zuma Beach comes and goes. As we go further, the beaches become more populated and the surfers seem to welcome me. My joy is tempered by the fear of being bashed by a swinging car door along PCH. We are in Malibu (one municipality away from home) making amazing time. In 30 miles I’ll be home and it will still be mid-afternoon.

I’m running on anticipation and don’t really desire lunch but Donny wants to stop. Of course I oblige. I can certainly eat something besides the bruised banana and apple, cashews, Clif bar, or whatever’s still shoved in Whitey’s orifices. There’s a Subway in a strip mall near Malibu Colony with the unappetizingly named “Coogie’s” Restaurant. It’s lunchtime and busy. I hold a table while Donny goes to get sandwiches. I eat my turkey sub in like two minutes. Donny is munching his more slowly and I’m getting impatient. Instead of hopping to, he then elects to visit Starbuck’s for caffeine and an emergency poo. Come on! I wait with the bikes for what seems like ages, and Yellow Jacket ambles back, heel, heel, clomping on his cleats, slurping on a venti frap no whip. My impatience is beaten back for a moment at the sight of his manly cuteness and his offer of a sip or two, but lurches forward again at his persistent lollygagging. Come on already!

We’re finally off again, and after one or two more steep hills, it is the smoothest of sailing, soft wind at our backs, sun finally out. It’s all beyond gravy now as long as we can avoid being struck by the endless stream of car doors being flung open by gawking tourists and local surfers alike. I’ve been Rushy Rutherford all day but the sight of the City Limits of Los Angeles fills me with emotion. Really, truly, I have arrived. If I get killed between now and the front door, there won’t be any exaggeration if someone at my memorial says I rode my bike from Washington, DC to Los Angeles, California. We take our time here at the City of LA sign. Donny is a better photographer than me. And I am a better subject now than ever; the champion poses look bona fide because it’s not just a pose. I actually believe.

While still at the sign, Donny suggests calling Jinx to announce our arrival in LA. Which I do without hesitation since she has been such an inspiration to me. And I can’t call Jinx without calling my own sister, so Natalie gets a call too. By this time, I’m ready to continue on – we do have about 15 miles yet – but Donny says we have to call Denise, another of several more Mancini sisters, so she won’t feel left out. I leave Denise a message. More? He now thinks I should call our mothers and perhaps my father. No! I’ll call them later, when I’m actually home wearing clean clothes, rather than the sweat-choked lycra outfit I’ve been suited up in for several days. And no more pictures. Let’s go! It’s 2:30 or so and the traffic heading east from the beach will worsen with every second.

As the trip-o-meter clicks 99.999% completion, we enter Santa Monica and after a few more miles where I recognize every centimeter of scenery, ever-so-carefully make our way into the left-turning lane to cycle up the steep-ish (but thankfully short) California Incline and cross Ocean Avenue and Palisades Park. “I got hit back there!” shouts Donny. “What?” I ask. “Are you ok? What do you mean ‘hit’?” Not really hit hit, it is explained to me, but he did bash his shoulder on the side view mirror of an SUV while waiting to turn left up the incline. He says he’s fine, but as we make our way south a few more blocks to Wilshire and then Santa Monica Boulevard, he needs to stop and “stretch” it. “Donny, you don’t stretch something that’s bruised,” I snappily explain looking for evidence of his wound. Secretly, I plan to involve Kelly, who is a nurse and will be seeing us in a matter of a couple hours, about this mistreatment of his hardly visible injury. I know Kelly would say stretching is a stupid idea, or at least misguided. But Donny is on the sidewalk stretching away leaning against a parking meter.

All these madcap interruptions to the final miles of unfettered glory – Subway, Starbucks and pooing, extensive photo shoots and phone calls to every family member he can think of, and now this minor injury – should be comical (and, looking back, they are) but in the moment I was IMPATIENT. Clearly the injury was not mortal, so let’s just ice it in a few minutes WHEN WE’RE HOME PLEASE.

We’re finally on the way again, still on Santa Monica Blvd. We pass the 405 and are now on the actual bike lane I use to commute to work. Less than five miles to go. After Westwood Blvd., there’s a slight incline which seems super-easy now in comparison to the last time I rode it. In Century City, some kids on bikes on the sidewalk try to race us, but they are not beating us. No way, no how. Beverly Hills now and Burton Way, slowly coasting down. Donny says: “I thought we were going down Beverly?” “No, let’s go on Third.” “Too busy,” he says. That’s true – there are a ton of restaurants and shops on Third and the valet parkers tend to make things a bit calamitous on a bike. “Ok, then, how about 1st St?” Donny pauses slightly and says, ridiculously, “I hate 1st St.”

Okay, now I get it. We need to go down Beverly, because we need to get onto La Jolla, our street, from that direction, because it’s not just Kelly and Nina that will be waiting for us. We needed to stop for lunch and get coffee and poo and take pictures and make incessant phone calls and get injured and stupidly stretch the injury and not take 3rd or 1st Streets, because something in addition to Kelly and Nina and maybe Mary Ann and David being around to welcome us will be happening at our house, something which needed to be stalled because we were making such good time. My partner's talent as an actor has been unearthed and played to the heavens.

So, without further questioning or interference, I get onto Beverly and head east for the last half-mile with Donny behind me. Both of us are quiet. The trip is ending now, as I turn right onto our street and as we spin the final two blocks I am starting to see a bunch of people hurrying to get into place in front of our house. Sweat is in my eyes and I’m tearing up at the sight of Robert and someone else (can’t remember who now – Warren?) holding a finish line across and I think “Fuck, what if I can’t break through?” The streamer/finish line stretches, thankfully breaks. My friends cheer and Gattas throws a giant fistful of biodegradable confetti in my face. I inhale a few pieces. Gattas blesses me and sticks a light blue scrap of confetti onto my forehead like a bindi which I wear until it falls off.

About 20 or so folks are there to meet me. (Thanks Nina, Kelly, Val, pregnant Mara, very pregnant Lisa, Gattas, Debbie, Kristin and Erin, David and Liz, Corey, SheilaMaryAnnRobertDavidbutnoTed, Claire and Warren, Barry, Mike and Brian and Mike, Eleanor and Tessa, Tiffany, Jeff, Michelle) I’m shocked and a little overwhelmed, almost shy. Donny has amazingly (and generously) pulled this off via emails to let people know of the early arrival, engaging Nina’s help to get here early and be in charge. People demand to see my abs. Donny admits a fiendish fantasy to beat me to the finish line and break through it first, which would have been funny and out of character. He has ordered an amazing cake from Sweet Lady Jane complete with “Danny Rocks!” and a map of the US, the Capitol Building representing my starting point and an orange the end. There's also a cyclist pictured on there; it weirdly looks like me but it turns out it's a rip-off of a Lance Armstrong image, with an added smirk. I take a shower and change before cutting into it. The first cut is a release of tension between dualities: one the omnipotent center of the universe and the other a tiny, vulnerable visitor.


July 9, 2010. It's the one-year anniversary of the end of my journey and I'm finally posting this installment, maybe not the last. Hopefully it's not too late to thank you for your support. All the facebook posts and comments were extremely motivating (except for those telling me to slow down!) and came from people from the entire landscape of my life. My sister Natalie and brother-in-law Larry (and Allison my niece) deserve huge Friendly's sundaes of gratitude - for their efforts to help me prepare in the days leading up to the start and for posting pictures along the way. And Kristin for being my training and text support, making sure i was eating and stretching, and for being interested in all the fitness-related dirt and stats. And Nina for co-piloting the trips to REI and for revitalizing my interest in human contact while we were together in Utah. And my parents and grandparents for being proud anyway, even though they thought i was crazy. And most of all, as always, to Donny for changing his perspective about this whole thing and letting go a little even though it was painful and scary for both of us. That's it for now.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Day 58 - The Bony Claw of the Mancini Curse

Donny had strict instructions to arise at 0600 hours so we could pack up, get caffeinated, do our business and eat the made-for-you complimentary Best Western Lompoc morning meal – boastfully “made to order”! The heavy light-eclipsing drapes kept us asleep until my eyes popped open with militaristic expectation at 5:55AM. We slid into our cycling costumes and puce vinyl-covered chairs in the half-buffet/half-made to order breakfast converted conference room. Donny was rather unimpressive in his consumption ordering eggs and an English muffin only, while I scarfed pancakes, a mini-sized treat of Frosted Flakes, and a couple bites of mealy melon and bruised pineapple chunks, in addition to the eggs and toast. Fox news blared. I looked around at our fellow breakfast eaters content to know that this would be the last of breaking the fast with old white conservative guys, at least for a while.

Despite my food-load, I finished before Donny, and instead of drumming my fingers on the table in anticipation, I hopped off to the bathroom to ensure emptiness of viscera. Today, my desire to get going was in part motivated by the fact that this was the “vacation” part of the trip, and we were going to be staying at a hotel on the beach just south of Carpinteria within the bounds of the Ventura County line: the Cliff House Inn, about 75 miles from our current location. The picture on the Cliff House Inn’s website, barely visible on my iPhone, smacked of a coastal Eden. And today was the penultimate day of the trip. It must also be said, in case that hasn’t been obvious from the start, I don't relax well, even when on a non-trek, tropicalized beach holiday. Donny and I have been fortunate to get to Hawaii a few times together, and I’m sure he would make no bones about saying that I superball-bounce off the walls in the hotel room in the morning scratching at the door like a bladder-challenged puppy before I am finally let out to whiz.

Goodbye, Lompoc. We were in the middle of nowhere like five seconds after leaving the Best Western heading onto Highway 1 southbound and sailing downhill for several miles which came to an end at a tunnel and merged with the 101 Freeway which brought us back toward the beach (headwinds, ugh – thought we were done with all that). We rode (in a bike lane, in case that is not obvious) on that freeway for about 20 miles, mostly along the coastline. Strange to be actually on the 101 – which if we continued on would bring us straight to Hollywood. But even with a bike-only lane, cycling on a Southern California freeway is white-knuckle-inducing for sure, with trucks, SUVs and a zillion cars blowing by at 80 compared with the 11 or 12 mph at which we were moving steadily up hill and then down again at 20ish. “I hate this!” Donny yelled about the freeway action. “This is dangerous!” Yes, I can admit that it’s not exactly an invigorating adventuresome feeling one experiences wobbling next to 18-wheelers. In real life, I commute at often as possible to work in Santa Monica which is like nine and a half miles door-to-door. Frequently a chunk of the ride is spent on Olympic Blvd, which does make me grit and bear it. I’m often asked: “Aren’t you afraid of LA drivers? Scared of getting smashed to bits? Of being totally vulnerable?” And my answer is always something to the effect of: “Yes. Yes I am.” But I still do it, and I’ve spent the last almost-two months of being vulnerable every day – not quite as exposed to trucks barreling a few feet away at 80 – but still at-risk of being vehicular manslaughter fodder. So currently I’m a little more inured to it all than Donny, which is expected. I hope I calm him by not making a big deal of it either way, acknowledging that it does suck right now. It does cross my mind several times that if something happened to him, rather than me at this point, I…NEVER MIND. Banish all thoughts like these. (Now that I’m safe at home, I am more willing to share scary freeway cycling paranoia. If I had done that more while actually on the road, some of you - e.g. Ma, Grandma - might have squirmed even more.) I guess if you ever go back within my handlebar confessionals and re-read the entry from Toronto to Larned, Kansas, it’s ok to know now that in those 30mph headwinds on the highway there, with endless semis and pickup trucks veering dangerously close, using their horns unnecessarily, seemingly to fuck with me, visions of my mangled form in a ditch splattered my mind.

But this was not that frightening – how could something bad happen along the cloud-drenched Pacific Coast? Donny managed it well diverted by the beaches of Refugio State Park and El Capitan Beach Park as we neared Santa Barbara. Just a few miles further down the road, while in the SB ‘burb of Goleta, Donny’s back wheel broke a spoke. Oh, for the love of #@*%&! By this time, we were out of the traffic danger zone, actually on a road where we were seeing other cyclists. We pulled off onto the gravel and swore at Delia Darrow’s stupid weak-ass spoke which snapped right near the middle. Of course I had Whitey Jackson’s spare spokes fashioned at I Martin back in LA, but Donny had none. Since Whitey had been such an ideal companion for 58 days with a paucity of issues, I hadn’t progressed too much as a bike mechanical genius. However, one thing I remembered from my overexposure to the cyclo-dudes at I Martin was Matt saying that if a spoke breaks, you can wrap it around its nearest neighbor which will then allow you to ride a short while with some stability, without totally fucking up the wheel alignment. In my memory bubble, whether it’s accurate or not, Matt was saying 10 miles was cool. Luckily, we were already in Goleta which, like all nice beach communities is home to a ton of cyclists and triathletes, and the handy-dandy Adventure Cycling Map boasted two bike shops just in that small town. Donny eyeballed a couple of cyclists up ahead and shot out to catch up with them on Delia’s lame-ass wheel. As my weighed-down Whitey and I approached Donny and the cycling twosome, I could tell by their body language that directions were being given. As it turns out, the spoke breaking was barely an inconvenience as the nearest bike shop was in a strip mall just off the route less than 2 miles ahead.

With most bike shops, you normally can’t just waltz in and ask for something to be fixed right away. Bike mechanics are busy dudes. This phenomenon was proved false at both of the shops I had visited along the way, in Blacksburg VA and Pueblo CO. But these shops weren’t overrun with demanding athletes, at least at the time of my arrival. And without tons of gear and his tan, lean from, Donny appeared to be one of those every-athletes, rather than a traveler in need - so we were afraid we'd have to wait. Before entering the shop, we rehearsed not taking “later” as an answer, and it worked without having to play the dude-come-on-i-just-rode-across-the-country card. The bike-nerd at the front consulted the eye-rolling, expansively-sighing mechanics, and they reluctantly gave us somewhat instantaneous service. Of course we didn’t know the exact size of the spoke, thinking they could just, you know, figure it out themselves. We withstood the barely covert head-shaking emasculation so commonly experienced in these situations (“You mean you don’t know the size of your spoke?” “Aren’t spokes different sizes within the same rim?" I offer, parroting something I thought I heard back at I Martin in April.) Whatever. We slunk next door and ate a sandwich. Gratefully. Whitey, coolly leaning against a post, did not gloat at Delia’s misfortune. Good boy. Almost sympathetic was he, if a bicycle could actually feel.

Thirty-five minutes later, we were on our way hitting 50 miles as we arrived at UC Santa Barbara’s bike path. As seems always the case with bike paths i'm not familiar with, I’m still never quite sure I’m on the correct route. UCSB is nice-ish. It looks like a made-up school where kids on a WB show might attend. The bike path runs through campus and along sandy mini-waterways and marine inlets. It's not a straight ride by any means, curving sharply, and we took care not to run down the coeds though we were vexed by how slow the campus traffic moved. We could see the main road just to the north and wished we were on it. Somewhere past the campus, the route expelled us from the bike path and onto a main road, Arroyo, which took us into Santa Barbara proper. We made a left onto Cabrillo near the marina and the gorgeous and richly named Los Baños del Mar non-chlorinated pubic pool where we swam once when visiting Santa Barbara for a wedding. The July gloom had lifted and it was sunny and warm finally. Tourists were everywhere, including some rubbernecking bicyclists gazing at the scenery. Yo! Snap out of it! We know it’s pretty but we got someplace to be! There’s a golden quality about Santa Barbara, I’ve always felt. Maybe it’s the sun warming the pink, orange and white Spanish buildings, glinting off the golf clubs and (oily) waters. Maybe because it’s wealthy and well-manicured.

Speaking of wealthy and well-manicured, have you ever been to Montecito? Extravagant. And I’m sure too dear to do anything there but quietly pass through. As E. Cabrillo ends, the route breezes over a series of passages that are all the same road, but kind of not. The directions i'm trying to follow on my handlebar map are a little complicated – in 200 ft. merge onto this road, ride straight up the hill for 250 ft, cross over the bridge onto the bike path for 0.8 miles, etc. At this point, we are riding alongside of the 101/Highway 1 (which has lovingly become one), first on the beach side, then the other. The beach town of Summerland is just the comeliest, and we again fantasize about the beach bum lifestyle. But this isn’t exactly an area where anyone can afford to be underemployed.

The wind is easing us along the lightly rolling coast and we glide through Carpinteria, which I have heard of before. It’s the place I think our hotel is located, but it’s actually about 5 miles further. Shattering the relative peace of the last several miles, we are forced once again onto a bicycle lane on the 101 Freeway. At rush hour. Now, when I say “rush hour” I’m not referring to LA’s rush hour, during which a cyclist could cruise through the gridlock, even on the freeway (if you were allowed). This rush hour is better described as a lot of people anxious to get home and able to do so at top speed. Again, I’m pretty used to this and am getting by with a modicum of just putting my head down and jaw-clenching. Donny, however, is as before, more worked up. With probably about 2 miles left before our destination, I hear Donny yell my name. Oh, what now. I’m unfairly impatient, I learn. Donny is about 100 yards back with a flat. The Mancini Curse has struck two times in one day. Perhaps you are not aware of the Mancini Curse? Well, anytime something unforeseen and inconvenient, painful or otherwise negative occurs, e.g. a twisted ankle, a fender bender, a canceled flight, and you are a Mancini – or at least Donny, Jinx, Denise or the other Mancini sisters – this is because you are cursed. I’m not sure who hexed the hapless Mancini clan – but it’s somehow interrelated with the neuroses suffered by having a relentlessly harsh Coach Dad, none other than Sonny Mancini, may he rest in peace. Donny has on some occasions when I have a stroke of bad luck indicated that I too now suffer from the Mancini curse, which of course I eschew. The Getzoff Curse is the name itself.

Well, thankfully, the Mancini Curse didn't break anyone's neck at breakneck speed; it just caused my Mancini to burst his tube and nearly veer into roaring sure-death traffic. At that instant, I don’t realize how close I came to dedicating my cross-country trip to Donny’s memory, and I go into problem-solving mode. I have a little shame peering back into my headspace: again?! , reads my thought bubble. I am robot-caveman now; tunnel-vision chip in brain no feel sympathy. Be that as it may, a bit of luck and no shortage of road skills on Donny’s part have prevented me from recounting this episode without unspeakable grief pouring onto my keyboard, now that I have be reprogrammed to understand human relationships.

Unfortunately, my problem-solving mode does not solve the problem at hand. No one, including the instructor at Bicycle Kitchen in Hollywood where we took a basic bike maintenance class a few months before, can give us a good reason why, even with tire levers, a good grip and a ton of aggravated aggression it is practically impossible to remove a tire from Donny’s rims. Despite my desire to save the day and show how super-self-reliant I am now, Donny hops the beach fence and approaches some surfers to get a ride the 5 or so miles back to the bike store we passed in Carpinteria. For the second time of the day being out of hearing range during Donny’s quest for assistance, I am reading body language which communicates that there is a solution. Of course, at that very moment, I manage to pry the tire off the rim.

But Donny isn’t taking chances with my skills and throws the repeatedly infirm Delia Darrow into the back of a surfer’s truck. The surfer is also a doctor which is just so totally California. There’s no way that my bike with all our shit is fitting in anyone’s truck, so Donny and I part ways. I make my way to the Cliff House Inn to check in and wait for him to call from the bike shop back up the road. The hotel has that mildewy beach motel smell which I like a lot. It’s basic all-around, but the rooms are terraced and face the ocean which is only a few rocky yards away. Donny calls; the bike is fixed but he’s reluctant about getting back on the freeway. I try to reassure him, but it’s hard to argue against the Mancini Curse, especially on a day like today. He survives.

That evening we eat at the Cliff House's own Shoals Restaurant outside on the patio, steps away from the beach. There is wine and good bread, fresh fish, even some vegetables. The bed in our room is small, and we like it that way.

I can’t believe I’m saying this: tomorrow I will be home.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Day 57 - Poking into Lompoc

I had to pinch Donny in the AM of Day 57 to see if he was real. He was! His skin looked extra brown against the bleached surroundings. (Naturally brown from swimming, mind you - he does not "lay out" as he is sometimes accused; that's just what they look like in Mediterranea). I tried to control my controlling nature by relaxing a bit that morning, not being so pushy-out-the-door. I had been a lone wolf for 56 days, with no one to answer to, so now i had to cater. A little.

Not that Donny wasn't flexible. We had previously compromised (or, rather, i had gotten him to agree) that i was the Boss of Us for the next few days. I'd been doing this for a while, and he was to be Beta. I packed our shit and we moved to the main house for breakfast - again, not as plentiful as i was used to but fresh. We chatted with the other guests, and i was caught up on the political moment of Sarah Palin indulgently quitting her job as Governess. I was very aware for the first time that i had left the Land of Red and was chatting with like-minded lefties. Not that San Luis County is strictly Democratic (and we were headed for Lompoc later on). But it was nice to come out of my blank-faced non-partisan shell during breakfast and not have to worry about offending or being gunned down.

The sky was warm and shining as we left but thickened with the Pacific pall as we headed south and west towards Pismo Beach, me loaded down with our belongings and Donny free to fend off predators in his Yellow Jacket superhero costume. Wikipedia says that pismo is the Chumash word for tar, in case you were wondering. Back in LA, Donny had been been cycling quite a bit but never really more than 40 miles in one day, so his 60-mile cherry was gonna get popped. He is much faster than i am, especially on hills, but because i had the map and i was Alpha Dog, i led the way. After Pismo was Grover Beach and then the over-simply named Oceano (is it Ocean-Oh, or the more hoity-toity O-See-On-Oh?). We're on Highway 1 for a big chunk of this, and will remain so, on and off, for the rest of the trip.
We stop for a brief photo shoot at the Santa Barbara County line (can you fuckin' believe how close?) and rolled through the sleepy town of Guadalupe, location of the first Cecil B. DeMille movie of The Ten Commandments. With its shuttered bars and rundown Deco buildings reminiscent of that bygone era, Guadalupe seems to regret that the Charlton Heston version was not filmed here. Farmland and increased winds greet us on the other side of Guadalupe and we stop to eat our mushy sandwich leftovers from the previous day at mile 38. Donny tells me the wind will knock my bike over the way i've left it. I scoff and roll my eyes: amateur! Ten seconds later Whitey is lying in the dirt, and bless him, Donny is not smug at least outwardly. After all, we've only been reunited for 24 hours.

Only 24 miles to Lompoc from the windy luncheon spot- breeze of a day. According to the Pacific Coast Section 4 map, Harris Grade Road looks like it's going to be a bitch of a hill, the only one between us and Lompoc (which is Lompoke, not Lompock - i found out at some point). As we begin the climb, we agree that if Donny feels the need, he can pass me up, as i am lugging the much heavier Whitey Jackson. (We have now ditched Rupert Stiltskin as Donny's bike's name and have settled upon Delia Darrow who is a way bigger bad-ass anyway). Donny on Delia is a much defter combo - speed and weight. Donny comments on the scenery, "It's so beautiful." My memory chips measure the deserted dry and crunchy California hillocks against some of the unbelievable natural glory I've recently experienced, and I stop myself from saying something to the effect of "this ain't nothin'" (not wanting to be a superior dick). But this area just reminds me of the Santa Monica Mountains and the hills near Glendale which are "beautfiul" when you live in a concrete jungle. Donny needs to get out in nature more, i decide privately.

Harris Grade is not hard for Donny. I don't know if it's hard for me because being able to chat and spend time with your Best Guy while doing this makes it go down much more of a treat. We coast down the other side entering Vandenberg Air Force Base which is what Lompoc is all about. "My dad was in the Air Force," I remind Donny in the rushing wind. "WHAT?" Oh, never mind. It's just the reason why i have such cheap car insurance.

Once in Lompoc, which welcomes us with a ton of chain restaurants and big box stores (LA, i can smell ya now!), we seek the best hotel deal and after visiting a few choices on the cleverly named "N. H St", we call Best Western on the southern end of town. It's the best deal and it turns out to be kinda nice for us two and our steeds. The Parker Poseyesque customer service rep sings the the praises of the hotel's made-to-order complimentary breakfast and slides us a sleeve of free DVDs to choose from in case we wanted to catch a film. We choose "Lakeside Terrace" (or is it "Lakeview Terrace"?) - something with Sam Jackson as a cop as bent and twisted as a paperclip but way more deadly wreaking havoc on a nice mixed race civilian couple that moves in next door. The room seems like luxury to me and Donny is satisfied especially as i indulge him with this shtick i always do when we go to a hotel- sing-song humming as i set up house a la Marge Simpson.

We peel off the superhero costumes, shower and crash on the bed for some getting reacquainted, the details of which don't make sense to share when it isn't fictional. Donny regards my extra-lean form as a "new toy" which, after 10 years of being together, is not something you hear every day. I blush from the way he's looking at me and at my own pride and self-confidence. And i leave it at that.

CUT to dinner at a vinyl-coated diner which could have been in Missouri or Nevada or Kentucky (ok, not Kentucky) for how bland and canned everything is. The trip wouldn't be worth it if Donny didn't get to experience one veggie-less night. Try to bike a mile in my shoes, mister! The hennaed waitress is nicer than our food and we go next door to Foster's Freeze for a high fructose corn syrup sundae and long-spoon it down on the short walk back to the room. "Lakeside/view Terrace" is an anxious treat and pulls us both down down down into slumber.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Day 56 - D-Day

We've all been waiting for this day. Another milestone in this trip. I'd already ridden my bike through 10 states (ok, I was in Maryland for under an hour but still...) and the District of Columbia; I'd hit the 1, 2, 3, 4,000 mile markers; 25, 50, 75, 90% of the entire trip was under my belt; the 5 or 6 discrete mountain ranges (O, the mountain ranges!); the pelting rain and hail, the wind and humidity; the days with no fresh produce. All without my partner in crime. If i could upload a graph here (and i probably could but i'm not going to) of loneliness, i would have peaked at the end of week one, with semi-crippling exhaustion and paranoia catalyzing that heightened state of solitude. But as the miles wore on, and finishing seemed probable, i plateaued. And the sadness of being without Donny shifted toward ever-growing eagerness and anticipation. The pup in me, the Antennaed One one who hears his master's car two blocks away, woke up in my cottony feather nest - nose in the air, ears erect - on Day 56, the day when the Graph of Loneliness dropped off into irrelevancy.

I was alert but tired. I had only ridden the last 6 days in a row but they had been long days overall (averaging 100 miles per day) and i was glad it worked out that I'd have a full day of rest and fun with Donny before setting off for the final 3 days journey. I wandered into the main house wanting the latter B in B&B. It wasn't quite ready so i skittered back to Towanda to filter my camping gear and rid myself of any excess to make room for Donny's gear. It was an unquestionably beautiful sunny day. The post office was walking distance - what isn't at this point? I ate the modestly-sized yet tasty breakfast cooked by Suzy with the other Sanitarium relief-seekers which included a TV writer and her friend and a half-LA/half-Richmond VA couple. The couple were especially nice, she in med school, and he works as an assistant to a self-involved, semi-abusive therapist who sees child celebrities and rich people's kids. LA felt closer than ever. Another breakfast-mate was The Innkeeper. I can't remember his name; "The Innkeeper" is clearly more memorable.

The post office was a snap. Unlike most of my experiences in Los Angeles with DMV-level-of-caring postal workers who slam down "NEXT WINDOW PLEASE" as you gingerly step up to the plate, my small-town USPS interactions were all pleasant and old-timey. I said goodbye to my tent, mat, sleeping bag, camp pillow, one my my 2 remaining t-shirts and one spare tire. Figured the chance of blowing both tires was unlikely at this point. Not the most cautious thing to do, but i'm a rebel.

Donny and i had been texting since before he got on his bike (inappropriately named Rupert Stiltskin as a movie nerd reference-partner to Whitey Jackson) to Union Station in downtown LA to catch the train to San Luis. He was due in at 12:30 and had been alerting me as he passed each stop, starting with Glendale and Van Nuys, then Oxnard, Santa Barbara, the ghostly town of Guadalupe. And finally San Luis Obispo. It was a 30 second gallop to the station as i heard the whistle. I'm already feeling aware of the possible over-sentimentality of recounting this moment but i suppose it's unavoidable. Most important to note that the high expectations were met. Mary Ann wrote in a facebook post something like: the music swells and the camera circles around them. And it did, i swear it did. But privately (it's only self-aware looking back on it). He saw me first. What a rush. Tears. And comfort. It was hard but it was worth it.

I was very excited to show Donny the Sanitarium and our big comfy bed. We took iphone pictures of each other and immediately and shamelessly posted showed them to the world on facebook. He was hungry. We went to get sandwiches (saving half of each for the ride the next day) and took a walk through downtown. Donny, who can be somewhat of a cautious overpacker, had over-heeded my pleas to pack light and had basically brought nothing but his bike, toothbrush and his contact lens deal, the clothes on his back and a pair of cycling shorts. That's all ya need, right? Well...As it turns out, he hadn't taken into account that he might need something a little warm to ride in. Looking back on it now, i don't know why - in San Luis Obispo for godsakes - we didn't think to find a cycling store. I guess we didn't want to spend any time thinking about it, so we ended up super-reluctantly - for both of us the first time in our lives - darkening the doorstep of... Abercrombie and Fitch. We were accosted by life-sized cutouts of white preppy body-geniuses. Donny and i quickly selected something we could cut the telltale tag off of immediately and he self-consciously paid the young shopwoman for the I-Bought-This-Cuz-I'm-Gay Sweatshirt. "No one will know we were here," i reassure him. The shopwoman looks at us like we're very very old.

Bagless (of course) we exit the establishment shaking off the Chinese-child-labor willies and duck into a movie theatre. The cinema! Only my second time in two months - which is still probably twice more than all my friends with young children. But this is something that Donny and I do together. What was the movie? That Johnny Depp gangster film with the French actress who won the Oscar a couple years back where Johnny plays Neither Jesse James Nor Billy the Kid and she plays an American convincingly. It's ok. I impress Donny with my choice of peanut rather than plain M&Ms. Our yellow bags kiss; it's like we're even closer now.

We eat dinner in an outdoor café next to a group of women in their forties who are Letting Loose, ordering more merlot than you can imagine, and they are spilling onto us. The waiter is practically a robot. I like my food more than Donny likes his. Some things haven't changed in 2 months. We nest as early as possible in our white-white room with the vibrant painting of grotesque children swimming above us. Tomorrow we don our lycra and get busy fighting crime down the coast!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Day 55 - The Road That Ended on a Cloud

Day 55 was the final day of traveling alone. It's fitting, I suppose, that this day's goal of 110-ish miles downdowndown (meaning southsouthsouth, not downhilldownhilldownhill) the Central California coast to San Luis Obipso was definitely in the realm of daunting. I woke up before my watch did, shuddering at the sting of the July morning air. Despite many on-again/off-again cold mountain mornings over the last few weeks, i continued to be affronted by unfamiliar 5th-of-July weather, still grasping at the idea that summer = warm. I visited the shitter/shower, sadly not as sparkling clean as one might want yet not as bad as could be the morning after Independence Day. I nibbled my overly-hard hard-boiled eggs and gnawed through the tough bagel as i rolled up my tent for the last time of the trip, as the plan was to unload the camping gear at the post office in San Luis the next day, happily to make room for Donny's stuff. Everyone else was still sleeping around me.

Pam the campsite manager had said that San Luis was 103 miles from Big Sur. My maps told a slightly longer story - 110 miles. But since i didn't have a plan for the night (figuring San Luis Obispo would have an array of choices at the bitter end of a holiday weekend), the number of miles was an estimate anyway. Couldn't plan the night either as there was no cell service. At least, it wasn't hot and likely wouldn't be since the ride would be coastal until near the end of the day.

The first 35 or so miles of the day was familiar. When Ju, Kersh and the girls and I came to Big Sur back in April, i did a training ride of about 70 miles (35 out from the campsite and 35 back, if that's not clear). That had been a difficult ride, particularly on the way back (into the wind), treacherous and hilly (though magnificent), a ride that had given me some early doubts about my ability to bike 70 miles at all, let alone riding more than that on average nearly every day for two months. It had been during that trip to Big Sur when Ju and Kersh had gently asked me if this journey was something that i was actually wanting to do, since i only spoke of how unprepared and unsure i was about it (I have referenced this conversation elsewhere in these posts). How long ago that 3 months seemed, as i strong-armed Whitey Jackson onto Highway 1 from Riverside Campground and Cabins and began the day's first climb.

Yes, it remained familiarly exhausting those first miles; i was reminded of the April trip as i slowly climbed through the town (if you can say that) of Big Sur, passing Nepenthe where the Kershaw clan and i had eaten after my ride in the spring. (I smirked as i said aloud Ne-pen-the in the tri-syllabic way that Ju and I are wont to do. How do you pronounce that anyway?) I was not quite awake for the first few hours. I think the earplugs had not been a good idea after all. Plugged the sleepiness in my head somehow, made me sluggish. In short, I'm a crab today, feeling the monotony of it all despite the wave-crashingly dramatic scenery. Though the coastal vistas in this area are unparalleled in my experience, i took them in more by osmosis than in the smell-the-flowers kind of way. The view surrounds you on this road; there's nowhere you can't ingest utter majesty - but i didn't stop much at all based on the crabapple factor.

The air was thick with shivery brine; the sun behind the generous cloak of clouds periodically shifted the light from gray to pearl to silver. It was early enough that even though it was the Sunday of a holiday weekend, there weren't many cars, and no one sweated me as i trudged past the minute hamlets of Lucia, Pacific Valley, and Gorda which didn't seem that gorda to me. Luckily the bike doesn't require gas as the price at the Gorda station was almost $4/gallon. The most significant climb of Day 55 confronted me a few miles past Gorda (on the map it looks like it's called Silver Peak), winding to an acrophobia-inducing pinhead before spiralling down to sea level at Ragged Point (i'm "spiralling" in the Queen's as a nod to Keane's 80s throwback tune which i could barely hear through the wind).

Ragged as the point might be, the clouds are lifting and so is my attitude as I hit the day's 50-mile (and nearly-halfway) mark sailing into San Luis Obispo County, which means there are ONLY THREE COUNTIES separating me and Los Angeles County. After Silver Peak, the terrain really flattens. The afternoon has begun and so has the tailwind which is keeping me moving at a satisfying 17 miles per hour. Signs for sea lions and Hearst Castle abound. I pass a few shuttered beachside motels and fantasize about Donny and I taking one over, shaking the sand off the sheets, applying a coat of paint to the shutters, and skipping peacefully at the water's edge for eternity. A minor traffic increase dents the reverie as i approach the Castle. i can barely see it way up in the distance. Who cares? I've gone almost 70 miles and I'm starving. Surprisingly, there isn't anything to eat on Highway 1 near San Simeon. Or if there is, i don't see it. By my calculations (or, rather, the map's), Cambria is only 11.5 miles from San Simeon Non-Village, and i know there's food there.

I've never been a fan of Cam-bria or Came-bria, however you pronounce it. It may be where sea lions go to breed but it's where humans go to break up. I know 3 couples, just off the top of my head, who have ventured to Cambria for a romantic getaway and returned as singletons. I don't know what it is about Cambria. The Cambria Chamber of Commerce makes the place sound like ambrosia-infested Olympus, but it's a trap, a lure for troubled twosomes. It's like couples therapy - you just need help breaking up so you go to counseling together. Never mind all that - just go to Cambria! Until the trip in April with the Kershaws, i had steered clear of Cambria, had driven past it, turned off by the main drag, on the east side of the freeway. The buildings are facades, like a street on the Fox lot. But in April with the Kershaws it had been time for lunch. Repelled by the cutesy-fake movie set on the left, we pulled to the beach side, settling on a restaurant in a very modest beach hotel. It was a gob-smackingly windy day and we sat indoors by the window watching people and plexiglass wind guards bending, almost whip-snapping in two. As i feared about Cambria, the best thing on the menu was the oleaginous grilled cheese Martha ordered and didn't eat.

But this was July, i was on a bike, and it was, again, time for lunch. Big Sur was 80-ish miles ago and the apple and Clif Bar I'd eaten since then had evaporated to salt on my skin. I rode up and down Main Street indecisively before settling on a diner-type place where i could eat on the patio keeping an eye on Whitey. I was a little worried about getting ripped off by an unhappy couple sensing that tomorrow i was to be reunited with my One True Love. I Tasmanian-Deviled through turkeysandwichfriesandasidesaladyesboththefriesandasaladthankswithranch and briefly flirted with dessert which i declined as the clock was ticking, i had no phone service, and hadn't secured a place to stay.

A few miles from Main St. my iphone sprang to life. I decided to check on the B&B that Carrie and Jeremy, San Luis natives, had recommended as the best place for me and Donny to reunite. THE SANITARIUM, it's called. (Cue sinister laughter). Because it was a sanitarium a long time ago. I spoke to Suzy who offered me a room in the rear house and gave me a lower price than Carrie had quoted for a reason i can't quite remember. Something having to do with a shared sitting room space with another guest room. Who cares? i was set for two nights and ready for comfort.

But not for 30 more miles. The rest of Day 55 took me through the coastal communities of Cayucos and Morro Bay where i continued my fantasy of the beach bum lifestyle for me and Donny, wishing away the fact that the water up here is damn cold. At this point, i figured out why the signs to San Luis (which agreed with Pam from the Big Sur campground) kept telling me i had less mileage than my map said: it was because i had to keep getting off Highway 1 proper onto service and side roads which added to the miles. Which i'm ultimately grateful for - the less time spending on the actual highway, the better. I got lost trying to stay on the bike path through Morro Bay State Park and the GPS on my iPhone helped me find the proper road to ride inland toward San Luis. It was actually warm by this point, maybe 5pm, I rolled down my arm warmers for the first time that day and welcomed a bit of sweat appropriate for nearly a hundred miles.

I took Foothill Blvd. into San Luis Obispo proper leaving behind the cows, orchards and the dry golden hillsides for cafes, college students, and California mission-style architecture, rights down to the street signs. Upon first glance, San Luis smacked of a small-town shake-up mix of other familiar joints. Luis is the skateboarding-crazed bro of the 3 beachside Santa sisters: Monica, Barbara and Cruz. What a nice family. I clocked 113 miles as i pushed Whitey to the doorstep of THE SANITARIUM. (Insert sinister laughter otra vez). Ok, there are no ghosts of vacant-eyed rocking-chair Victorianas floating around. The place is a converted private hospital that once cared for people with pneumonia and other early-20th century big killers.

Suzy welcomed me with a no-nonsense implacability that i mistook for warmth because she is the not-quite-doppelganger of Kim Gillingham, the most welcoming person on the planet. She showed me around the main house which is painted consumption-recovery white. The color is oddly soothing and highlights the kaleidoscopic (and some very good/some not) artwork that's displayed throughout. The rooms in the main house all have names containing many Greek and Latin roots, such as Hydrolucinogen, Euphoriasma and Ephipenization. I don't believe - but i can't be sure - that this is meant to be satiric, so i'll just leave it at that. I was shown my digs, a room called Towanda in the "Outpatient Ward" (Donny will love the Gothic-ness of all this), the only one without a gigantic Moroccan soaking tub. There was, however, a grand painting of large-lipped creepy children wading in a pool hovering above the headboard. Suzy committed to cleaning the other outpatient room which had just been vacated so i could use the tub in there. Which i sunk into as soon as you could say "herbithermogenerosteoporific." The bath care selection wasn't what you'd think it'd be, but since i had nothing, anything was hydrocorporeclecticorgasmicalaceous!

After drying myself with towels spun from the golden fleece, I strolled the TWO BLOCKS to the train station where i would picking Donny up the next day. Yes, TWO BLOCKS. This could not have been better planned. I dined at a fancy-schmancy place sitting where i could see the train tracks. Seventeen more hours until Donny.

Gastrosoporifically, I floated back to my cloud and nestled alone for the last time.

Help! I'm Still in Big Sur and Trying to Get Home.

I wish at this point, more than 2 months after arriving home in LA, as i make a feeble attempt to use my brain on the weekend, i had forced myself to finish back when it was all a little more fresh. And i'm taking a moment to fully disclose that the remaining entries will likely contain some re-visioning.

I'm a different version of the cross-country cyclist i was earlier this summer: i often have moments of sense memory so strong, that Uta's corpse lifts her weary head for a moment or two and bows honor in my direction, until the feeling passes. Random shocks. In preparation for a camping trip last weekend (in real time, September) - the annual Son of Semele Ensemble retreat - i huffed deeply the scent of my tent and sleeping bag, getting a little stoned from the scent of Big Sur and Bryce Canyon, and the place in Colorado where i pitched my tent in the wind and rain and said fuck it and slept indoors, and the stanky hotel rooms where i used the sleeping bag instead of the bedcovers, and all the other places, back to the Catawba Valley General Store in Virginia, if that's what it was called. ... Ok, i'm lying. Sniffing the sleeping bag didn't get me high, nor could i really smell Utah or Kentucky on there. But it does trigger the Completely Changed Me, still bubbling and rumbling underneath the Regular Me, the one who returned to Real Life and mirrors - both the rearview and the one that tells me that i'm not really that different from who i was before May 12, 2009. Or am i?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Day 54 - Happy Birthday, America! (You're Cute and All But I'm Not Ready for the L-Word)

My bed at Paula and Chris's was comfortable, and i slept very well. No pedaling legs nor anxiety dreams to speak of. Despite my weak protests of not wanting to be a bother, they woke up very early with me and whipped up a spinach frittata for breakfast. Paula, who grinds wheatberries to make her own flour, proffered her hearty homemade bread drizzled with profoundly sweet Turkish honey to accompany the egg concoction. Who was i to refuse?

It was 4th of July. Yip-yip-yippee! ... As you might guess, this particular holiday isn't really in my top 5. I'm not hot for hot dogs, fireworks, or drunk driving, particularly while riding a bike. Besides, I'd already been celebrating independence on a daily basis since the trip began. In truth, i have been feeling more free, more "American" these days, having just visited a humongous chunk of it and consumed loads of American cheese. But i'm not entirely comfortable with the whole patriotism thing, because love of country, which is what i think is meant by "patriotism", is often seen skipping hand-in-hand with nationalism, its ugly step-sibling. I've never unequivocally said "i love America" - we're just not in that stage of our relationship. I mean, we've like
known each other for a long time, and have had sort of this summer romance over the last 2 months, spending positively loads of time together. I know America better than i used to, and she is really, really good-looking, (everybody thinks so!), for sure fuckable. But sometimes when we're hanging out, i don't feel i can totally be myself, y'know? And there are a lot of things about her that i just don't like; I know it's not her fault. She's got a lot of people in her life that are pretty shady. We're just really different. But i can't keep my hands off her. I might use the L-word someday. Maybe even soon. But i'm a little embarrassed about what it could mean for us, and i don't wanna say it unless i'm sure i mean it. ...

Good thing i rode through Aptos as early as i did, because there was a huge parade a-brewin'. Very small-town America-seeming compared with Santa Cruz. It was gray and cold, and i was headed to Carmel to luncheon with Natalie (not my sis, a California via Hawaii Natalie). After the Santa Cruz beach cities, it was all farmland again for a while. I passed a company of Latino farmworkers cutting bunches of celery with big hackers and tossing them onto the back of a truck. It was kind of elegant and rhythmic, and i was mesmerized as i rode past. One guy saw me gawking and broke my stare by throwing me a convivial peace sign. I waved enthusiastically. Overly so, like a Brady kid.

I made my way to Monterey County mostly on backroads, crisscrossing Highway 1 several times. I had just dismounted from a several-mile expanse of bike-path through the seaside town of Marina when i was approached by Dave, a white guy in his 60s out for his Independence Day bicycle ride. I was about to call Natalie with an ETA when Dave offered to escort me most of the way to Carmel (still an hour away) on an alternate (and less traffic-laden, he promised) route. I hesitated but caved to the "yes" manifesto i had promised myself to abide by (and had been keeping to it, more often than not). Yes to help, yes to food, yes to hearing directions even if i don't opt to follow them, yes to making conversation with a strange white guy in his 60s, yes to it all. As we rode, he asked me the string of stock questions about my trip. And then this shoulda-been-banal conversation got interesting.
Bored of talking about myself all the time (can you believe that?), i redirected the conversation to Dave. He reminded me, both in manner and appearance, of Dave the Fireman who had cycled with me for a spell near Vacaville a couple days before. (For a split second, when today's Dave had greeted me, i thought that it was the same guy from the other day.) I knew of course that he was a different person, but wouldn't it have been an amusing coincidence if he was a fireman too? I probed: "So, Dave, what do you do? Are you a fireman?" He chuckled and said that in a sense he did put out fires for a living, emotional ones. "Ah, a therapist." Try again. "Uhh, teacher?" Nope. Dave is a minister who works for a non-profit that promotes communication and understanding among different denominations of the Christian faith. For those who are well-acquainted with me, i'm totally down for dialogic process. He told me about some of the recent minefields that he's navigated - which i can't recount now (can't, not won't - don't remember specifics). I observed that his job must be difficult, considering how common it is for people of faith to maintain a fixed belief that their way is the True Path. Dave agreed with my obvious yet potentially in-someone's-face statement; if that wasn't true, he'd be out of a job.

I told Dave that i worked for a non-profit as well, and he asked me about Common Ground. I blah-blahed about what we do, and he was very inquisitive about how i came into HIV work. I gave him the PG-13 version, not getting too deep into sex and drugs. From there, we talked about a host of issues: needle exchange (of course), gay marriage (of course), gay adoption, the right wing's collapsing of homosexuality with bestiality and pedophilia and other homophobic doozies, gay people talking smack about Christianity, Obama's recent speech on abortion, federal funding for religious organizations, the Mormon Church, teenage sexual abstinence, you name it. Dave told me about a close friend of his in the service, whom he suspected at the time was a homo; when Dave found Jesus at the age of 29, the friend rejected him, cut off all ties. Dave is particularly impacted by how it isn't ok politically for religious people to speak against homosexuality but that it's fine for gay people to be disparaging of the church. I told him that gay people in large part speak out against the church, because of the pain they feel at being rejected by their families and by those who actually share their religious convictions.

We also talked about the elephant in the "room" pedaling up that steep hill alongside of us into Carmel: the fact that we two, just about as far apart on the political spectrum as you can get, were getting down and dirty with each other's perspectives, and what a rare opportunity it was. We listened to each other, openly - me without my usual defensive frustration and eye-rolling (yet not without judgment - i'd be lying if i said my feathers didn't ruffle somewhat as he described himself as a "very, very Conservative Christian" after i likely bent him the wrong way with my "I'm as progressive and left-wing as you can get without being investigated. That i'm aware of.") We stroked the elephant as she balanced herself on her tiny unicycle, climbing in low gear, and did not pillage her ivory.

The most profound aspect of this dialogue for me (aside from experiencing my own openmindedness in the face of someone so different in ways that i normally feel oppressed by) was witnessing Dave's willingness to be influenced. I can't say specifically what it was about the experience for Dave that brought on tears (his, not mine for once), as we rested at the top of the hill, where he had already made it known that he, upon hearing my tale about Jeff in Pittsburg KS, would like to lay his hands upon me in prayer. I don't want to self-bloat, always a fear, but i think i made an impression on Dave. He told me how much he valued my directness and honesty. I know that our conversation struck both a chord and the right note with Dave, and I hope that he will use what i offered him - whatever that was - to bridge the road to tolerance somewhere down the road. For me, i like living in a world where i can co-mingle outside my comfort zone, this newly morphed land of the brave.

Dave and i parted, me with his phone number for the the next time in the area, him with the satisfaction of praying over my heathen ass! As i rode back onto Highway 1, i thought: Now would be a bad time to get killed. I'd have to go to heaven.

But i survived! Born-Again on the 4th of July. I met Natalie a few moments later at a restaurant where we were waited on by the child (now an adult) of a high school teacher of hers. Carmel is a small town. Natalie moved back there from LA early this year to reassess her goals after giving the pursuit of acting in Hollywood a swift curb-kick, preferring to allocate her vast talents elsewhere - dramaturgy, development, marketing, and just plain being gorgeous and awesome. Natalie treated me both to gobs of food, including her side salad and a brownie-sundae contraption, and ebullient conversation. Interacting with people i know and love: i could get used to this again.

My stomach overly full, I had only one more big hill between Carmel and Big Sur, according to the elevation profile, and only 25 miles of astounding California coastline. There was a lot of traffic for being in the middle of nowhere (but semi-friendly it's-a-holiday traffic) - there are no towns to speak of on that stretch, and pretty much just the one road which dips down to sea level and then back up again. The beaches are pristine, and many were unreachable by foot, so there's definitely a teasing look-but-don't-touch aspect to this section. I drank it in and for the first time of the day it was warm enough to roll down the arm warmers. This is July?
Riverside Campground and Cabins, today's destination, is only the second or third establishment as you enter Big Sur from the north. Unfortunately, that meant starting out the next morning at the very bottom of a long climb. But that was tomorrow - today was still going. Since the ride had only been 76 miles that day and i hadn't spent hours and hours with Natalie, it wasn't even 5pm when i arrived. I had been slightly dreading camping on the 4th for several weeks now, fearing that people would be drunk and crazy and setting the forests afire, thereby preventing a good night's sleep before the 100-plus mile ride the next day. And my campsite promised to be nothingsville. A couple weeks before, when i was in Cedar City, UT with Nina during our last evening together, both of us had combed the internet for a place for me to crash in Big Sur. That night I had spoken to the chatty Pam of Riverside Campground and Cabins who at first had nothing to offer but, lo and behold, after bending my ear back for ten minutes with questions about my trip, identified tent site #35 as vacant on the 4th. "We usually rent this one last," she said. So i wasn't expecting much.

As it turns out, #35 is perfectly fine, especially for one person. I mean, come on, it's Big Sur - how bad could it possibly be? Pam herself checked me in and was extremely accommodating to let me charge my iphone in the office (just steps away from #35), and she brought over a stream of my co-campers to show them my bike and crow on my behalf at what i'd accomplished. Riverside is just south of Big Sur Campground and Cabins where Ju and Kersh and the girls and i had stayed when they visited me in April and we drove to Big Sur from LA (a long-ass drive, especially on the way back when everyone's tired). Ju and i had pissed ourselves laughing trying to find the path to the little pub there without walking on the main road. It was pitch black, and Ju is prone to bouts of creeper-infused half-panic/half-hilarity, which are contagious, and stupidly we had only limited light to get us there. It was much easier to find my way a few months down the road in the broad hours of summer daylight.

After walking along the river and dipping my already numb-from-biking toes into the freezing water, I ate next door at the Big Sur River Inn, great food and service (i flirted shamelessly with the waitress, or thought i did) - and then bought some supplies for breakfast at the campsite store (including ear plugs for 79 cents - a brilliant idea!). On my walk back it was amazing to see just how crowded the campgrounds were - multi-generational families mushed into 6-person tents, couples elbow to elbow at the river's edge, beer, charcoal and mini-soccer games on dirt fields practically the size of two ping pong tables. Nice to see fewer RVs dominating the camping landscape for once.

I turned in as early as possible, praying for sleep. The earplugs worked in the sense that they blocked sound out, but not being able to hear launched me into a strange, non-restful dreamland of mythical creatures trapped inside my head. Usually, sleep lets them roam about at night, but the earplugs kept them clattering around my brain all night as the humans reveled in America's glory until quiet-time snuffed them out.