Chasing the sun

Day 6: Monterey to Salinas Station, Amtrak to Santa Barbara, 22 miles

Leaving the hostel early, conflicted. I’m shell shocked from the ride yesterday, wondering if I should really take the train south, or just call it a day and head back north. Give up on the fantasy of escaping winter in Southern California. Looks like rain down there too.

And yesterday, what a crazy ride. The worst ever. I’m lucky to be alive, I know this viscerally. And still, there’s that sense of invulnerability, the touring cyclist’s special kind of denial. Won’t happen to me. Hasn’t yet. Sheesh, Ocean. And, on we go! I decide to take the train south.

I stop at East Village Coffee Lounge, love the ambiance of this place, that they are playing Foreigner on the stereo. Takes me back. Bittersweet memories, that album, that time in my life. Second year away from home, second year away from college. First love. First heartbreak. Ah, the mono. Good times. I down my coffee, head off on the Monterey Bay Trail, rewinding the ride from just a couple days ago, through Seaside, along the dunes, into Marina, then crossing the highlands towards Salinas.

Passing fields, plowed, fresh from the rains, ready for planting. Strawberries, likely. Or artichokes. How much land it takes to feed a nation. Alerts from Amtrak, train delayed 3 hours! What to do? I find the public library, named after John Steinbeck. I pen a letter to Jennifer, aka email, send it off. I enjoy writing letters, the ability to slow down, compose my thoughts and feelings, share my inner life.

Recalling the workshop, I’m contemplating the Zen approach. Observing the body, the breath, the thoughts, the feelings. Riding my bicycle is a similar process, if I allow it. Let go enough to arrive, in the moment. Ride on without distraction, rumination, emotion. Some call it getting in the flow. I’m noticing it now, the state of equanimity, in contrast to the other state, that of anxiety and worry. And the choice to be in one or the other. True freedom, knowing I have a choice.

Breakfast at an overblown diner, huevos rancheros. Sunnyside used to do them better back home. Sad that shop closed. I ride the last stretch to the station, another delay, train is now 4 hours behind schedule. I put on the earbuds, enjoy the distraction of my favorite music.

I check in my bicycle, and the station master says there are two other bikes on the train. I step outside and meet Nick and Caroline, touring cyclinsts who were also riding out of Big Sur in the storm yesterday, after staying a night at Lucia Lodge for $240. I show them the picture of the giant boulder, they had ridden past before it fell. Shuddering to think of how that might have played out, as fate would have it. Winds blew Caroline off her bike at one point. We are laughing, incredulous that we made it out uninjured, and agreeing that was the scariest ride of our lives.

The train finally arrives and we hustle to get our bikes to the baggage car, then run back to the coach section, the very end of the train. I tell Nick about the Bicycle Writers group on Facebook, and he signs up. Then I settle in for the 6 hour ride to Santa Barbara. I’m enjoying the slow pace of the train again, the gentle swaying of the cars. Almost a lulling, meditative effect.

Chatting with my love again, my heart a mix of longing and warmth, pondering and bliss. The signal drops in and out, chat is interrupted, just like the weather, just like the awareness I’m developing. The long view is good, that of love and friendship, that of peace and evolving consciousness. Meanwhile, the world goes on, as it will, as in the poem by Mary Oliver.

I’m so grateful for this opportunity, to live my life at this time, in this place, a member of the family of all things.

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