Strawberry fields forever

Day 29, New Brighton Beach to Monterey Veterans Memorial Campground, 46 miles

I wake at dawn, fully recovered from the dehydration event of the night. Ah, how about some more water too. And a pinch of salt. Breakfast will be at the Ugly Mug. I’m the first out of the camp, after quietly packing and heading down the road. Strange large bug under my tent, what is it! I’ll have to ask Google. I ride the easy couple miles back to the Mug.

One rule in bicycle touring is “never go back”. I like to make an exception, for instance, to see my friend Steve Volk and enjoy his morning antics as he entertains his customers. He poses with his cool fixie, which has a chalkboard reading “Coffee-neuring”, a cycle coffeeshop tour. I sit in the shop for a couple hours, enjoying the warmth, out of the foggy morning. Finally, the sun is out, so I figure it’s time to hit the road again. I promise Steve I’ll be back, on my way north again.

On to Soquel, stopping at the Aptos natural food store. Nice place, like a small coop. Something is lost in the mega-coops, the personal, homey feeling. A feeling of personal scale. It’s disconcerting to shop in a food store that is the size of an airport. Compact produce section, I pick up tomatoes, lettuce, onion, bananas, carrots. The last fresh food before I head into Big Sur tomorrow. Also, my stapes of oats, almonds, dates. The perfect breakfast fuel. Don’t forget some chocolate. We must have some indulgences!

On down Soquel Ave, past a traffic jam, then parallel to the busy Route 1 freeway. I reach the Roy Rogers intersection, have a decision to make: the high road, Freedom Boulevard, through Watsonville? Or the low road, through the fields near the bay. I turn and cross over Route 1, descending San Andreas Road. Open agricultural fields, acre upon acre of strawberries. The scent of the ripe fruit is intoxicating! I’m pedaling hard, flying over the empty roads. Strawberries yield to greens, all kinds of brassicas, collards, cabbage, and there, artichokes. Beautiful plants, so much food grown here. I try to overlook the skull & cross bone signs bearing the warning: pesticides used in the irrigation water. What chemicals, what effects on these workers, or their children? And of us, the consumers, of these beautiful crops.

I stop in Moss Landing for a break, coffee, check the Monterey Weekly. A full page spread on domestic violence, reminding me of the #metoo campaign filling my Facebook feed. Story after story of women friends, who have experienced sexual harassment or abuse. My heart is heavy, and my resolve to educate myself and my fellow men, my brothers. I post more links and articles to the Pro-Feminist Men’s group on Facebook, I reflect on my own attitudes, behaviors, consider how I need to continue to grow and heal, to listen to the women in my life, to become the friend and ally I’ve struggled to be.

Back on the bike! A few more miles of fields, then the route joins Del Monte Boulevard, through Marina and Sea Side, following the vast dunes along the bay, covered with crimson-tipped ice plants. I’m approaching Monterey, and my pace quickens. I’m flying over the bike trail, feeling the power in my legs, in my heart, in my soul. The final miles disappear beneath my whirring wheels. I roll up to the Monterey pier, look at the boats, watch sea lions swimming in the bay. Then head over the the East Village Coffee Lounge. Open Mic tonight? I’m not sure. Always too much yelling and profanity. The barista assures me it’s better than ever, more spoken word. Ugh. That means more of the same.

But I order tea, some food, park myself to charge my batteries, work on my laptop. I talk with friends on the phone, think of the coming return to Corvallis. Can my tour really be so close to ending? How will I go home this time? What will I find? What will I bring with me from this journey? I stay through the Open Mic, though I’m in the other room, so I don’t really hear it, except for the yelling. Why is yelling seen as entertainment, as excitement? Too much unbridled male energy. I don’t hear women yelling. Mostly just the host. Am I a bore, just old and too sensitive? What of the thoughtful, gentle voice? The space between words, to consider, to think, to feel?

It’s dark when I pack up and cycling up the hill. Only a mile, but straight up Jefferson and then on to the Veterans Memorial Park, the campground I’ve stayed at many times before. The hiker/biker site can be a wild scene with many homeless folks. I wonder how many veterans are homeless, or homeless are veterans. Veterans of this economy, this war on the poor. The site is quiet when I arrive, filled with tents, many already sleeping. I set up, take a shower, retire to my warm sleeping bag. Sleep comes easy after the rigor of the day.

A dream: I’m dancing with men, are they Cossacks? The dance is a kind of Ukrainian style, or is it Irish, kicking feet up, whirling. We move into a room, I’m feeling tired, I want to collapse on the couch. I then see Zach, who sits down next to me. I say to him, “What are you doing here? You’re…” He interrupts me, “I know, I know…” and puts his arm around me, holding me. He knows what I’m going to say. And his embrace is strong, showing me again the love he shared with everyone he know. The precious “Zach hug” that he gave to men and women alike. “But you’re…” I repeat. “I know…” he repeats. I wake with a start, crying “…dead!” Remembering the anniversary of his passing, October 8, 2012, five years ago. How present and alive and real he seemed in this dream. And bearing the same message as the time I dreamed right after he died.

Yes, there is an endpoint. We all die. And we also live on, in the love and caring we share with all the others in our lives. The tears are bittersweet, the memories beautiful and full. I miss you Zach. And I will carry your love on into the world.

2 thoughts on “Strawberry fields forever

  1. Thanks, Ocean. For a few years you have been brightening my days at the Mug. Your energy like the tail of a comet, sprinkling my quiet time for days after with smiles and warm thoughts. As much of a part of your trip is the Mug, I believe you enlighten and enJoy those you connect with on your path. Many blessings my wondering friend.

    1. Likewise, my visits to the Mug are a high point of the transit from SF to Big Sur. Can’t wait to get back on my bike again, I’ll see you soon!!

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