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.