This ecstatic landscape, revisited

Day 2: Monterey to Esalen, 47 miles

“How do you deal with your panniers?” Scott asks me for some advice. He’s a young rider, bearded with curly hair, brand new to bicycle touring. This his first trip. Eyes are sparkling with the excitement and fear of the new adventure, walking along the edge of the unknown.

Another example of the quirky serendipity of the road, Scott is from Corvallis. Took the train down and just started riding from San Francisco. Back home he’d heard about this guy at FireWorks Restaurant who was really into touring. That would be me. We laugh at the coincidence. I answer him I know the panniers don’t lock to the frame, but I’m looking for a way to secure them. “Just trust that no one will take them?” Pretty much. So far so good. But I always lock the bike. Always.

This morning we’re sitting in the lounge at the Monterey Hostel. Caltrans has closed Highway 1 just past Big Sur, which would block the passage for both of us heading south. “What are you going to do, just ride?” I tell Scott the first rule of bicycle touring is to always keep your plans flexible. We laugh again. Funny how this advice also applies to life, in general, and how much harder it is to follow in the day to day. “I’m going to ride into Big Sur,” I tell him. “Maybe I’ll have to ride back out, then go around the mountains to San Luis Obispo on the 101. Either way, I’m headed south. Not turning back.”

I wish him a good ride, then go out to pack my bike. I’m riding along the bay for a few when I realize I didn’t get Scott’s email. Wish I had, for who knows how our paths will cross down the road. I pass the East Village Coffee Lounge, think maybe next time I’ll read at their open mic. I’m always through here on a Wednesday, headed to Esalen. Like this week. And, like last night, the open mic is intimidating and intriguing. Maybe in the fall. I’ll have a lot more material by then.

Up Munras Ave, then cross over Highway 1. I begin to climb Monterey Peninsula. A steep grade on the side road, but it levels out and crosses back over 1 at Highway 68. Now the fun. Full on descent, down the highway, filled with commuters, delivery trucks, tourists. And this crazy cat on a bicycle. I pedal hard, giving it all I’ve got. Faster, faster, reaching a peak at 40 MPH. I’m keeping pace with the traffic, actually. What a thrill. I don’t think what might happen if something went wrong. Not too much anyway.

The descent ends too quickly at the Carmel intersection, then I hop over to Safeway to pick up a new notebook, another chapter for my personal journal. I opt for a larger volume. So much more to write about, now that my heart is wide open again and my mind delving into new horizons. Indeed, in this process of inner exploration, I’m feeling things I haven’t for so many years, discovering insights about my needs and desires and passions. And my mission. Yes, my mission. What is the purpose of this life? Why am I here? What will I do? I know I’ve wanted to be of service, to help change the way the world is. To end violence. To bring our culture back into harmony. How will I do this? What is my vocation? I’m excited learning about the work of Marshall Rosenberg in Nonviolent Communication, thinking of learning much more.

So many thoughts. Part of my quest, to find out. Perfect to by cycling into the unknown right now. This ecstatic landscape, revisited. I’m cycling over the Carmel Highlands, and recall passing through with Jennifer in October. How exciting and new it all seemed, even though I’d ridden it so many times before. Somehow sharing this place with a new friend, seeing her responses, makes it new again. And now, today, I’m feeling the same way. As if I’m seeing it for the first time, with new eyes. Beginner’s mind. With a heart opened, with a soul seared in the cauldron of the dark night. Journeying into the shadow and back out again, finding the world afresh and beautiful and exciting.

Winds are strong at my back, I fly past Point Lobos, over the Rocky Creek bridges, and up to the iconic Bixby Creek Bridge. There, Hurricane Ridge. Always arduous before, but now I find I’m climbing so easily. Must be all excess weight I’ve lost, and the emotional baggage left behind as well. I’m flying up the hill. At the crest I capture the vistas, such a view! Clear skies, temperatures in the high 50s. My heart is brimming with gratitude, I’m so fortunate to be able to experience this. And it’s snowing back home, on the Oregon coast. I’m very lucky indeed.

The descent is breakneck, pushed along with winds, banking my bike as I cut through the hairpin curves. Across the Little Sur river, then one more climb before Point Sur. A long straightaway into the Big Sur valley, coasting at 25 MPH with tailwinds continuing to push me along. I past River House, then Pfeiffer Big Sur park, still closed. Warnings of flash floods from the unstable slopes above, stripped of vegetation by the Soberanes fire. Big Sur River is churning, muddy, at flood stage. Usually such a gentle stream.

Ah, the last long climb. My belly is growling, I’m so hungry starting this, but lunch at the Big Sur Bakery calls me. Halfway up, breaks the climb. I order lunch, and check in with Pete back at the shop. I log in remotely to help him cut the paychecks, think about the marvels of the technology. I’m fortunate that I can manage the restaurant from the road. Lunch! An amazing turkey sandwich, on some of that amazing sourdough bread we scored last time we rode through. Better be amazing, at $16. Coffee is good too.

I hold my breath a bit as I check the Caltrans website, and find the highway is open again! Esalen, here I come. My spirits and body renewed, I mount my ride and continue up the long hill. Ah, the crest, and the grand vistas to the south. Deep blue waters, an endless stretch of rocky headlands. Nestled on one of those headlands, Esalen. I descend quickly, past Nepenthe, then drop into the Henry Miller Library. I always pay homage to this early maverick in the American literary scene. Jennifer was so taken by the library, now here’s another place I’m seeing anew, my view shifted by our love. I wander about the bookstore, pick up a collection of Miller’s writings, try to imagine the heyday of the Beats, what Big Sur must have been back then.

The sun is sinking as I pedal the final miles. Past Julia Pfeiffer Burns, then along rolling hills, four more bridges. The last bridge, Hot Springs Creek. I duck into the stealth camp, setting up my tent in the gathering dusk. I’m completely out of touch now, no cell signal, no wifi, just me and the frogs and the rushing creek and the pounding surf. And the memories of my lover, my friends, my family. My beating heart. My gentle breath. My sinking eyelids. Good night, Esalen. Good night, Big Sir. Good night, Jennifer. Good night, all my beloveds.

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