Day 22, Gualala Point to Bodega Dunes State Park, 47 miles
Packing up camp has become routine, meticulous. Over three weeks on the road, approaching 1000 miles, I’ve turned the daily challenges into habit. Good habits. Even when a screw comes loose on one of my Ortlieb panniers, I merely dump the contents, wrestle the screw back into the plastic nut, then repack. No problem. No stress either. Gear packed, loaded on bike, ready to go.
Same is true with the miles, the hills, the wind, the chill. I know what clothes to don, when to remove. Shifting my front and rear derailleurs are effortless, no thought needed to match gearing ratio to the terrain at hand. Watching traffic in the rear mirror, moving on and off of the shoulder, waiving the cars to stay back when visibility is too limited, waving them on when the road is clear. Thumbs up to the courteous drivers, measured restraint to the impatient or rude ones.
All this automatically happening, without conscious decision, without question or doubt. Trust in the ride, in the fellow users of the highway, in the weather, in the machine of my bicycle, in the muscle and heart and breath of my body. And trust in the consciousness of this rider. At this point in the tour, when the technique and mechanics have become effortless, my mind becomes free, like no other place or time. I’m able to see clearly the path ahead, reconcile the journey I’ve been following, the miles behind me.
Without thought, I pull into the Sea Ranch Chapel driveway, having zipped past every tour thus far. Maybe pulled up once, way back in 2000, when we toured to San Francisco on the tandem. But even then, just pictures of the outside. This time, I dismount, wander up to the door. Walk inside. Unlocked, open to the public. A testament to art and faith and trust, that whoever enters will respect the sanctity of the space. And what I find is amazing.
Sea Ranch Chapel, one of the most beautiful buildings, sculptures, works of art I’ve ever experienced. I wander through, capturing pictures and video, taking in the swooping form of the roof, is it to look like a bird? The stained glass, mosaic, shingles, carved benches, stone floor, such care and commitment to process and form. I’m not a religious person, and yet understand the need for solitude, for the sacred space, for the time to reflect, to respond, to express ones soliloquy, even as an atheist, who has no god to listen. I’m here to listen. To the earth, to the story, to my body and heart and soul. And you, my dear readers, with deep gratitude, I thank you for listening to the musings of this seeker.
Reluctantly, I leave the chapel, now a spot I know I’ll frequent on future tours. The hills await. A tailwind, strong, propels me onward, over crests, into coves, along the straightaways, vistas of golden hills and turquoise sea and sunlight now unhindered by cloud or smoke. Today is a fabulous riding day. The miles to Salt Point, then to Fort Ross, vanish. The tall hills seem not as tall, I’m up and over them so quickly, but not before I drink in the vistas, listen to the surf far below. The wind has me sailing along, following the switchbacks on descent, swooping down into Jenner, lunch stop at the Cafe Aquatica. Such delicious food and coffee.
Ten miles to camp, I fly down Route 1 as it hugs the Russia River, then across and up the other side. Winds push me along, past the Sonoma Coast beaches, along the last stretch to Bodega Dunes. So early, I set up camp. I’m the first of our group to arrive, though I was near the last to leave. I rode here almost nonstop, near 50 miles. I have indeed found my legs. Hot shower, so good! Tent is up, beneath a huge cypress. I make dinner at the shared table, cous cous with dehydrated veggies and curry, salad of lettuce with almonds, vinaigrette and dulse flakes. So simple, yet delicious.
I chat with Meg, who’s ridden down from Seattle with her friend Jenna. They are one more day from the end of their trip, San Francisco. And though I have a ways to go, I’m also anticipating the end. We talk of careers, she’s gotten an MSW, works with homeless folks, helping them find support and services. I wonder of returning to school, think of how satisfying it would be to help people, directly. Social work, or maybe I could return to massage school. Maybe I’m ready now.
I light a fire, enjoy the glow and heat with the others. Meg and Jenna share tea and some chocolate with me, then they head to bed. Another day of riding tomorrow, a long one. I linger a bit longer at the fire, staring at the warmth, thinking of Santa Rosa. Just over the hills, less than a day’s ride from here, wildfires are raging beyond control, stripping people of shelter and livelihood and in some cases, their very lives. A powerful force, this flame. Sometimes, when we cannot control it, the only thing possible is to move out of its path.