I was in a black mood on Friday morning, and the skies were even blacker and rainier. I was so damp and cold and I hadn't slept the night before. I had left my U-lock sitting behind my tent, and the U piece was no longer there. I guess that it had been washed down the hill the night before, but had no intention of looking for it.
I also had nothing to eat but hammer gel. Even after not eating for 12 hours, the taste was still repulsive. I'm never going to get the espresso flavor again. Nokia maps told me that there was a town, Rockport, in 20 miles. I could feel myself drooling, anticipating buying breakfast food. But when I got there the sign said "No Services." The next town, Westport, was another 10 miles away. I used every mental trick I had to get over the next hill. I imagined that my bicycle was a horse, and my legs were actually the horse's legs. I cursed at myself like a drill sergeant. In the end, I got off my bike and walked it up the last bit of hill. Then I coasted down the 7% grade for four miles.
There was the coast. And it was beautiful.
What is it about riding along the coast? I don't think it's the wind, and it's certainly not the hills that Highway 1 offers. But there's something about hearing the waves crashing into the cliffs below that makes my spirits rise and my legs move faster.
Westport didn't have any restaurants, but it had a General Store that doubled as the Post Office, deli, and hangout spot. I went in and grabbed a coffee. The lady behind the counter looked at me and said, "Aww, honey."
"Stay here as long as you want," she told me. "We have a hand-dryer in the bathroom. You can go in there and turn it on you until you're dry." I stayed there for an hour, drying out, warming up, drinking hot coffee, and chatting with the clerks. By the time the hour was up, the rain had nearly let up. By Fort Bragg, the sun was out. I stopped at the bike store to get some wet lube (a pessimistic purchase, but it served me well). Then I kept going. As long as it wasn't raining I wanted to cover as many miles as possible. I still had 200 to go before San Francisco. Around 2pm, the wind started up. But this time, it was at my back. When the wind is at your back it feels like you're flying.
In a little town called Elk I saw another cyclist sitting by herself eating a sandwich outside of a store. I bought some peanuts and joined her. She had just quit her job also, she told me, and was traveling to figure out what was next.
Another girl suddenly came over. "Excuse me, can I ask you a question?" She asked.
"Sure," I said."
"Where are you coming from? Are you Bicycling the Pacific Coast?"
Me and the other cyclist looked at each other. "I started in Astoria," said the other cyclist. "Me in Seattle," I said.
"So you're doing the Bicycling the Pacific Coast Route?" Asked the stranger.
"Yes," said the cyclist.
"What's that?" I asked.
"You're not together?" said the girl.
"No, we just met," the cyclist and I confirmed.
"Oh, you look like you're together. I mean, you're both wearing red rain jackets and you have red paniers."
"You're wearing a red rain jacket too," I said. "You should join us."
"I want to," She said. "I just woke up this morning and thought about doing a bike trip."
The other cyclist left to keep riding, and me and the stranger crossed the street and went to sit on a picnic table in a park overlooking the coast.
"I've been traveling for 9 months," said the stranger.
"Why are you traveling?" I asked.
"I just felt like I needed to. I need to figure out what I'm meant to do."
"Me for the same reason." I told her.
"Some people just seem to know what they're meant to do. Like I tell my sister about my existential crisis and all she says is 'I like my job and my boyfriend.'"
"Yeah, I have a lot of friends in Seattle who I think of as successful. They never seem to have any identity crisis. I don't know if it's a front, or if they're lying to themselves, or if they really have just found their calling. Meanwhile, I wake up in the middle of the night sometimes panicked that I won't leave my mark on the world."
"What kind of mark do you want to leave?"
"I don't know. I think I would like to do something with technology....but sometimes I want to make films, sometimes I want to paint, sometimes I think I would just like to travel. Honestly, I have no idea."
"I think sometimes we can make a mark just by being passionate about something."
"Well, I'm very passionate, but I'm passionate about too many things."
"I don't think you need to limit yourself. For instance, you could think of yourself as a person who creates things. Not just as a technologist or a filmmaker or a painter."
"Mmmm," I said, staring at the ocean.
"But how would I know? I'm just a closet philosopher," said the stranger, half-smiling.
"So, are you cycling?" I wanted to know.
"No, just sort of bouncing around from friend to friend. I've been here for the past month. One of my friends is letting me stay in his beach house."
"That sounds cool. Are you planning to go somewhere specific?"
"No, I just wanted time to work on art and projects. I'm getting tired though. The thing is, when you're traveling, you don't ever have your own space. You're always invading someone else's space."
"I know how that feels. I've been couchsurfing a bit, but mostly just camping. I was delayed and had to cancel two of my couchsurfs, and I felt like such a flake."
"Yeah, I always feel like an imposition. I think I'm almost ready to be done traveling. But I'd really like to do a bike trip."
"You should do one. This one has been really good, except for the rain." I told her about the lady in the store and the hair dryer.
"That's what I love about bike trips," said the stranger. "You appreciate the little things."
"Yes! Like a warm shower feels like the best thing ever."
"Or a meal."
"Oh my god, I know! All food tastes delicious! The trouble is, you get home and immediately return to your normal comfort level. It's the hedonic adaptation."
"Yes, well that's what, you know, buddhism is for. You stay zen. You stay in the moment. You feel things as they happen. "
I stared out at the water, thinking. Then I got up to leave.
The stranger held out her arms and I gave her a hug.
"By the way, my name is Tara," she said.
I reached a town called "Gualala" by evening. Say it. "Gua-la-la."
There was a little campsite in a state park, and I set up my tent before heading back to town to get food. The grocery store was already closed, so I went into the bar. I ordered a glass of wine and a salad. Wine hits you fast when you've just biked 120 miles. The other patrons in the bar were Mexican, and I found myself talking to them. The man next to me asked what I was drinking.
"Es un Cabernet."
He sniffed it, and told the bartender to bring me something better. I protested. It was good enough.
"Solo lo mejor para ella." The bartender brought me a local (Sonoma) merlot. And another one. By the time the bar closed at midnight, I was dancing merengue furiously and teaching the other patrons Argentine swear words. The bartender turned on the closed sign and me and the Mexicans continued to dance merengue, bachata, and salsa, slipping and sliding on the bar floor, until at least 2am.