To die and so to grow

Day 14, Standish Hickey to MacKerricher State Park, 43 miles

Time machine. I’ve oft mused that the bicycle is a vehicle which moves one back and forth in time, sometimes recalling past events, emotions, relationships. Often seems to transport me forwards into the future, especially when miles are passing below me effortlessly. Today, I will travel back to the town of my birth, 55 years ago. I look forward to exploring Fort Bragg, with new eyes and a fresh perspective.

But first the climb. Leggett Hill. I rise this morning with some trepidation, yet also the knowledge that this climb is just one of the many hundreds of climbs ahead. The other cyclists in camp are up, getting ready. Jarney and Allie are catching a bus though, leaving our crew to start a cat sitting gig. We share farewells, and see you down the road.

I stop for coffee and wifi at the Peg House, then head out on 101. The highway follows steep curves, high above the Eel River. At Leggett, I turn west onto California Route 1. For the next hundred miles, this winding narrow road will be my home.

The road descends sharply before the long climb starts. The morning air is brisk and startling, yet will soon give way to the self generated heat of the ascent.

One pedal after another, slowly I begin. I’m nursing sore muscles in my hips, too much confidence in power strokes, not enough training or stretching of the glutes. Traffic is very light, just a few cars and unloaded log trucks pass. I’m also passed by the Dutch, Ruby and Freek, then Erin. The climb continues, a thousand feet above where we camped last night.

At last, the summit. I don’t pause, just roll on through to the rapid descent. Soon I am careening downward on the mountain highway, through countless hairpin turns. This is the joy of cycling, the reward of a long climb, flying down the other side. Forest whizzes by, then the road levels out at Rockport, where the next hill begins. Another climb, not quite as long. Climbing through many curves, then cool the breezes tell me the next summit is just around the corner.

Another descent, flying, leveling, then a quick hop up the headland to see the first sight of the ocean once again. So beautiful! Turquoise waters, roaring surf, a gentle north wind, such a perfect day for cycling.

I stop for a snack and read the guardrail graffiti. I search for my contribution from last year, “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver, but not a trace remains. Faded no doubt by the sun and what rains come to Northern California in the winter. Her words echo against the shame I’ve been feeling. “You do not have to be good…”

This year, I write a stanza from “the Holy Longing” by Goethe, a poem I’ve listened David White recite, over and over, speaking directly to my experience:

“I praise what is truly alive,
what longs to be burned to death.

In the calm water of the love-nights,
where you were begotten, where you have begotten, a strange feeling comes over you, when you see the silent candle burning.

Now you are no longer caught in the obsession with darkness,
and a desire for higher love-making sweeps you upward.

Distance does not make you falter.
Now, arriving in magic, flying,
and finally, insane for the light,
you are the butterfly and you are gone.

And so long as you haven’t experienced this: to die and so to grow,
you are only a troubled guest on the dark earth.”

I continue on, carried over rolling hills by a strong tailwind, all the way to Westport, where I spend lunch time with Rick and Frank. Then, just 12 miles more, around headlands, into deep coves, climbing, falling, climbing again. At last, MacKerricher State Park. One of the first beaches my mother and father brought me to in my infancy.

I set up camp, then Kurt takes me up on the offer to go into town for pizza. We ride the haul road an easy three miles, cross the Pudding Creek Trestle, then on to Piaci’s, best thin crust Italian pizza around. The place is hopping busy, sun setting outside, brisk breezes now. After dinner, I field a call from Robert, get the inventory and ordering set for the restaurant.

Then, at last, a call from my beloved. Our words are tentative, strained, we wonder again at the relationship. I heed her concerns, realize my anxieties have caused another rift. Pauses in our conversation are long, laden with unspoken questions. What to do. Now, 600 miles apart, can I yield her the space, the room she needs, to focus, to work. And, can I accept this space, open myself to my solitude, delving even deeper into my aloneness.

Yes. And, in acceptance, we agree to allow a week before talking again. As if a breeze blowing warmth, or sunlight breaking through a cloud, it seems immediately a dark veil has been lifted. Yes, let’s take time to center, to work, and then in a week to speak again.

So simple, to let go, to let alone, each of us. To trust, to allow, to love the space between us. And as in Goethe’s Holy Longing, I see a choice: to allow a part of me to die, the anxious, the desperate, and so to grow, into the strong, trusting soul I long to be.

I ride back into camp, feeling much lighter than the many miles of recent riding. The stars are out above, the surf pounds the shore. I reach camp, tuck myself into my cozy tent, slip off to sleep with a blessing on my lips for my love, for this beautiful world, and for all of us seeking to love, seeking to be free.

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