Smoke, then clarity

Day 21, Van Damme State Park to Gualala Point Regional Park, 49 miles

A chilly night, smoke seems to have lessened a bit in the gulch where I’m camped. I pack up, bid Joel a safe ride, and head up the steep hill out of the cove. The store I normally stop at is closed until 8am, so I wait 15 minutes. Cell signal is weak, the fire has destroyed the AT&T switching station near Willits. The store opens, I grab coffee and some eggs, then head down the Shoreline Highway.

The ride is fast at first, then I hit the hills. Route 1 winds in and out of coves, steep descents followed by steep climbs, over and over. Patches of shoulders, then no shoulder. Traffic is moderate as I approach the Navarro River and Route 128. I meet another cyclist who’s been wild camping. I stop at the wooden trestle bridge at Albion, see more smoke in the sky here. A short distance later, the long descent through the Navarro watershed and down to the river. Smoke is thicker here, so I decide to don my mask, thinking of the exertion and particulates in the air.

At Elk I stop at the general store, enjoy a delicious sandwich, and meet two other cyclists. The newspapers show the devastation the fires have wrought on wine country, in Napa and Sonoma Counties. One of the worst fires in California history. In Oregon, we had so many fires, but all seemed restricted to the vast forests. Here the fire went right through communities, with part of Santa Rosa burned. I feel grief for the lives lost, and the survivors whose lives are forever changed.

As I finish my lunch, I notice the skies are getting clearer. A northerly wind is shifting the smoke. I ride on towards Manchester. I’ve left a few messages for Kirk, at the Sundog Natural Building School, but he’s not replied. He’s either home, or phones are down because of the fire. So I plan to stay at Gualala Point Regional Park, a campground Joel told me about last night. The hills seem harder now. I made it up the steep switchbacks near Elk without stopping, a first? But the rest of the climbing seems slow and painful. I think I need a break. Two more days to get to San Francisco. Many hills ahead.

I put on some music and soldier on. Cloud Cult, Light Chasers. Their concept album about traveling and exploring. Set against outer space, but also delving into the inner space of the mind, of the heart. I’m there. I’m here. Helps me focus on the road, and the traffic, which seems thicker as the day bears on. And a bit more aggressive. No shoulder, they are passing too close, so I start to use the “defensive wobble” that Grant Peterson wrote about in Just Ride. See a car in the mirror, fein a wobble into the lane, they slow down and give me more berth. And a honk or two. Oh well, I don’t mind that. Just give me space!

Give me space! Ah, the challenge of the last relationship, for my lover and for myself. How lost I’d become, and not knowing the simple solution was right here, in my own hands. Or in my bicycle. Taking space, to think, to feel, to return to my center, to come home again, to my own self. I think of my counseling, how I’ve been learning to embrace my solitude, to encounter all my emotions, even the most painful, alone. Once I was crying in session, and Lara asked me to put my hands on my heart. She said, “You can endure this pain. You can be present with your self. You’re doing it right now, Ocean. I’m not even there. You are supporting your self.”

I think of this as I meet people, as I ride the long lonely miles, as I make camp and retire to my sleeping bag, my nest, my cocoon. How I am present with myself. I can encounter all my feelings. Embrace the loneliness as well as the joy and connection. The dream tonight that wakes me, another conflict with the lover, yet this time, no grief or anger. Merely explaining what isn’t working, questioning what happened, wondering why I was expecting myself to accept something unacceptable, for so long. At all. A frankness in my communication. A presence to my self. So good to have clarity, at last.

I wake talking aloud, in the night, wonder what my companions heard. I hear the surf in the distance, across the empty highway, out past Gualala Point. I breathe deeply, pass back into slumberland.


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