Day 16, Van Damme State to Gualala Point, 50 miles
I hear my campmates up and packing their gear. I slept well beside a babbling brook, called the Little River, in a deep cove, shrouded with trees and fern. In the arid climate of California, what water there is concentrates in these narrow valleys, in the morning precipitates onto the tent fly as dew.
I pack up, bidding my companions a safe ride. I’m anticipating the day ahead to be a difficult one, Route 1 climbing over headlands, diving into deep coves, climbing again. Yesterday, when I told Frank about the terrain ahead, he said England has more of this kind of road than the long straight hills of the 101 freeway. I miss his company already, wondering if we’ll meet down the road.
This morning, I feel I’m going inward, noticing a difference already, how the agreement not to talk with my love has brought me to contemplate my condition. Again, the question: Is this a way I misuse relationship, to avoid myself? I ponder as I ride, adding to the challenge of the hills. Miles pass slowly, I’m feeling my lack of training.
Up a steep first hill after camp, followed by more climbing. At Albion there is a construction bypass, so I can’t take a picture of the stunning wooden trestle bridge. More climbing, then the long descent to the Navarro River. Most of the traffic turns away there, heading inland on 128 towards Boonville. I remember cycling that route several years ago. I reach the tiny town of Elk, stop for coffee.
Gary is stopped there for a lunch break with his pals. He invites me to join, but I stay in the store avoiding their company. I’m retreating inward, yes, something I need to do. Feeling a need to lessen the pressure I put on myself to socialize. To allow this inward focus.
I ride on, into the distances of the landscape, into the depths of my mind. Musing over all the stories I tell myself. The resentment. The regret. The joy. The ecstasy. Where is that balancing point, where is the gratitude, the compassion, the empathy? I’m feeling this inner conflict, remembering my recent teachings in nonviolent communication.
Accept all the voices within, and without, listen to what feelings and needs are there. Everyone needs a room at the table. This begins with empathy, for self and other. But what if the table is empty? What if I’m lost in myself, or rather, lost to myself, for miles, for months, for years? How will I ever find myself again?
I press on, up the ridiculously steep climb in that cove past Elk, steepest climb on the entire coast highway. Gear down, climb slowly. Let go of striving to move fast, let go of judging myself for not training for this trip, for not being able to communicate well with my beloved, for not being present throughout so much of my life.
Just let go. Is this the purpose of relationship? To destroy the ego? To die, over and over and over. This thought shatters my obsessions, I taste tears now joining the sweat on my cheeks. Ego being that attachment to the old ways, the part of me that wants to stay frozen, that doesn’t want to change. I roll through Manchester, then the miles to Point Arena.
At the market, I meet two more touring cyclists, Pablo and Gabriella. Awkward conversation at first, but they are warm and friendly. At least I won’t be camping alone at Gualala. They are also, obviously, so in love, showing outward affection. I feel the sting of my loneliness, wonder at how I have withheld my affections in my withdrawal. I’m bolstered to change when I return.
The remaining miles to Gualala are relatively level, a mercy after all the climbing. My heart feels lighter too, a mercy after all the grasping. I’m drinking in the vistas of the blue waters, the skies, the gentle breeze. I forgive the headwinds their extra challenge, forgive myself for not knowing, for still longing to arrive to myself. I stop at the Surf Market in Gualala, buy too much food, some wine to share, to celebrate this new company at camp.
I climb the hill past the Gualala River, then descend to the camp. Deep in the trees along the river, this camp is cool and mysterious. I’m joined soon in the hiker biker site by so many cyclists: Gary, Rick, Eric, Gabriella, Pablo, Natalia, and then rolling in, Claire and Alden. Claire who I’d met the second day at the coffeeshop in Pacific City.
After showering and setting up camp, we all sit around the table, talking, sharing food, wine and a blazing fire. I feel suddenly the center of attention, as these younger cyclists seem to pepper me with questions. In past tours, I’ve relished this, feeling like a guide, a wizened soul. Not today. I feel exposed, somewhat embarrassed by my condition. Yet I will follow the discipline of vulnerability: I tell some of my story.
The goal of relationship is to destroy the ego. My words take the conversation into depths, as sudden as they are stark. Gabriella notes that Plato said the purpose of relationship was to change you. Indeed. To die and so to grow. I’m beginning to sense a deep interior knitting occurring, something David White speaks of, over and over. That awareness evolving behind the scenes, coming to a fruition which cannot be forced or cajoled, no matter how obsessive my mind may be.
At last, to bed, after the conversation lulls, the fire dies, the wine is gone. My companions retiring to their tents, the camp settles into quiet, I hear the surf in the distance. I’m alone with my thoughts and feelings again, thinking of my beloved back at home. How is she resting, right now? How will it be to talk to her again, to see her again? I send my love to her, across the miles, across the universe between us.