Day 41, Yachats to the Watershed, 62 miles
Yesterday wasn’t the last ride of the tour. Longest, yes. Penultimate. Today, I ride from Yachats into my home on the Watershed, near Philomath. I’m groggy when I wake, not enough sleep. I want to stay in bed, but I know the ride today is a long one as well, with a high summit near the end. So I rise, reload my bicycle and step out into a cool fall day on the Central Oregon Coast.
I take a spin down to the state park at the point, overlooking Yachats River, with a view of Cape Perpetua. A favorite vista, how many times have I come here, parked my van and watched stormy waters, spectacular sunsets, grieved and celebrated and pondered this existence. How many more times will I? As often as I can, I will come here. I will empty my mind here, empty my heart here, make room for my soul to speak to me.
Soul, what is that, for an atheist. I explore this with Lara, she is good at walking the line between the mystical and practical, drawing from the works of Jung. Soul is the place from which we find meaning, context, story and symbol. The work of the soul is to uncover what is unconscious, bring forth these unknown forces in the psyche, integrate into a whole. In this context, my bicycle sojourn can definitely be seen as a journey of the soul.
My return to home is a bittersweet ride. I’m feeling the cold of the morning, as I pedal north of Yachats. I’m following the long stretch that passes Beachside State Park, the campground I’ve been visiting most of my life, as adult and child. The miles go quickly and I’m in Waldport. Time to turn east. I resist, taking in the view of Alsea Bay and the new bridge once more. I don’t want to leave the coast, not yet. Even though I’ve spent the last 41 days riding the Pacific Coast Highway, I’m just not ready to go inland. But turn I must.
I ride through Waldport, then follow Highway 34 along the Alsea Bay until the bay narrows to become river. It’s a beautiful crisp day, and there’s a chill, especially with the wind from cycling. I can’t shake it off, feel my head stuffy and bones aching. This will be a long ride, 50 miles to go. Grace, the highway isn’t steep, ascending gradually up the Alsea River valley. Many views of the rushing river, pastures, forest, blue skies.
I’m thinking of my return, what awaits. Work at the restaurant, a “Mom-n-Pop” shop desperately in need of Pop. I’m resigned to work nearly every day in November and December, to catch up on low sales from October. My thoughts also return to the empty house I’m headed towards, remembering how I left: lost, confused, grieving. I’m wary, wondering how I’ll feel once back. I think I know. That’s why I notice I’m pedaling slower than before. Almost like I don’t want to. Not a good feeling, considering the miles and terrain ahead.
I soldier on, putting foot into pedal, stroke after stroke, muscle becomes motion, rubber grips pavement, onward, onward. But I’m so tired. I stop often, to stand and look at the views, rest my legs, breathe in the fall air. Distract my mind off the worries and reluctance. Two climbs, one past Tidewater, just before the border of Benton County, then at Missouri Bend. Descent, follow the river. Follow the water. Upstream, inland. Time to return. Time to go home.
It’s late in the afternoon before I reach the tiny town of Alsea. I stop at the market for a convenience store dinner, nothing to brag about. Calories, heat, protein, to make it over the 15 remaining miles, and two significant climbs. A few more miles, onward, the sun has sunk low, dusk is approaching. I mount the headlamp, stop on the side of the highway. I see pale pink amidst a patch of dying blackberry brambles. What is it, a wild rose, fresh buds. I pick carefully, still pricking my finger. Something tells me I need to bring home this fragile beauty, a gift to my self and the home I’m returning to.
Darkness descends as I begin the major ascent, up to the Alsea Mountain summit, 1200 feet. I’m crossing the coast range, and one of the highest passes. The moon is peering through the trees, the highway is mostly empty, quiet at this time of the day. The climb isn’t steep, but nearly 3 miles long. I’m stopping frequently, breathing, stretching my legs. I’ve conquered far more challenging hills on this tour, now over 1500 miles in. But the burden of reaching this hill, at this point of my condition, aching, feeling, thinking. Onward. Just a pedal stroke at a time.
At last, the top. A brief selfie with the summit sign, then full lights beaming I take the blazing descent at full speed. Into the curves, a bit slower, still I yield the hard won altitude in a fraction of the time it took to climb. The highway levels out past the final curve, then I’m at the base of my driveway, Homestead Road, climbing in the dark, up the steep gravel, past clearcut and barking dogs, through deep trees, then the crest and last short descent. I roll down to the cob house, the Kiva, a retreat space I build 17 years ago. A place for healing, I never envisioned the first major healing done would be my own.
I’m not elated, but relieved. I push my bike inside, toss off the bags, shower and stumble right into bed. No calls to friends, checking in. I’m feeling defeated, not returning as the victorious adventurer of past tours. But I’m also thinking of what Danusha said at Esalen, in the session about writing on the sacred and the broken body. “If in your writing you find that you are the hero of the story, look again.” Look again. I’m feeling utterly spent, broken, exhausted in a way I don’t recall from recent tours.
I sleep like a stone, waking late into the morning. I need to work at the restaurant, having scheduled myself the very next day. I’m ready to pick up the reigns, get back to profitability, if only by spending the next several weeks acting like a workaholic. In reality, working the slow season is mostly babysitting an empty dining room, interspersed with busy pulses of customers.
What I’m not ready for, over the next few days, is the grief, being drawn back into the pain and drama of the year past. I guess I should have seen this coming. There are messages received, which I should have let go. Responses I shouldn’t have sent. But I did. And brought on an ensuing cascade of emotion and regret and confusion. Foretold in a dream:
I’m in an office tower, and am terriffied as I see a tornado coming in the distances, a dark twisting funnel cloud, full and ominous. People are milling about, ignoring my entreaties to watch out, look what’s coming! Then things start flying through the windows, pens and typewriters, crashing into desks. Suddenly everyone is very aware, I gesture for us all to huddle in the center as the tornado arrives. Glass windows shatter, sending shards everywhere. Somehow it ends as suddenly as it began. Miraculously we are unscathed.
In session with Lara, I can see the obvious metaphors in this dream, the archetypes. Nevertheless, when even heavier pain arrives a few days later, I’m caught by it, overwhelmed, not ready to enter the storm, again. Yet I do. Head down, I push right into the whirling mass of thoughts and feelings. Triggered as I write my final farewell to a relationship I wanted so much to resolve, realizing the most loving choice is to let go. Almost immediately upon sending the message, the floodgates open, a heavier grief returns, and with it shame, and anger, and confusion.
Why do I do this, a dear friend wonders. Why put myself into such a place, to feel such pain and then later, the deep regrets. What am I trying to learn, to teach myself. What is the shadow, the deep unconscious calling me to see, through these shards of flying glass, as somehow windows become weapons under the onslaught of crashing whirling emotion.
I don’t know, yet. But I will find out. I push onward, into the storm, on this journey of the soul.
(If you’re curious about my work with Lara, or feel interested in pursue such an exploration for yourself, her website is www.wholeheartedpath.com I cannot recommend her highly enough, as a wise, compassionate witness and guide.)