Another day in paradise

Day 21: Monterey to Big Sur

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Two days before my departure on this tour, I watched “Bicycle Dreams”, an award winning documentary on the Race Across American (RAAM) which follows several of the leading cyclists in the ultra-endurance event. The goal of RAAM is to cross America, from San Diego to Atlantic City, in less than 11 days. The leaders will ride 48 hours for the first stretch, nearing 500 miles, sleep 20 minutes and then get back on the bike. The winner of the particular race the movie followed finished in 9 days and slept under 3 hours total.

Insane.

Yet as I watched and got to know the cyclists, I felt camaraderie, empathy, understanding. Interviews revealed that these endurance athletes were on the road to find themselves, to push themselves to their limit and beyond, to discover their demons and hopefully overcome them. Much of what I experience on the road.

One of the contenders, Bob Breedlove (great name!) started every morning saying, “Another day in paradise.” An orthopedic surgeon, Bob had completed the RAAM several times before, as well as touring cross country. Generous, supportive of the other riders, he was an outstanding leader. Sadly, Bob met a tragic end during the race that the movie documented, dying in a head on collision with a truck.

We only have today.

I’m not an ultra-endurance athlete. But I do take inspiration and humility from the extreme examples of human performance and mental challenge of the RAAM riders. On my hardest day out here on this tour, I am aware that my experience pales by comparison to theirs. And on the long, lonely stretches, I think of the RAAM riders passing 200, 300, 400 miles.

We are capable of going much further than we imagine ourselves able.

Today, cruising through Carmel to mail back some stuff I no longer needed, I stopped for the best espresso on the trip so far. Then I climbed up and over the headlands and capes of the rocky Big Sur coast. Soaring vistas, long climbs, deep redwood forests, and strong tailwinds pushed me along.

I arrived at Big Sur State Park with ample time to explore the Big Sur River gorge, and to remember the last time I was here: During my first summer of grad school, 1986, touring from Mendocino to Los Angeles. I remember hearing about a deep crystal pool further up the gorge, up over the boulders. I remember swimming in the chill water, blue skies overhead, sun warming me on the rocks.

I also remember deep emotional challenges on that tour, strangely similar to my current quest. But I don’t feel as anxious now as I did then. I have experienced time and again the process of moving through these emotions. I know what it is like to see grief to the other side. The results: relief, healing, insight, more potential to feel happiness, bliss, euphoria.

Another day in paradise.

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