Last night I shouldn't have watched the weather forecast for today. I forgot rule number seventeen: if you don't want to hear bad news just don't ask the question. Winds blowing from the south. Great!
I am awake and I bolt right up, eyes wide open and with my hand I am looking for the cell phone thinking it must be 10 or 11 am. It is barely 2 am. Ok, let's go back to sleep. And you are an idiot. I drift in and out of a disturbed sleep, the night passes quickly and finally it is time to get up. This motel, as run-down and cheap as it is, offers breakfast and it is pretty good too. At 7am I am alone in the tiny, badly lit breakfast room and without prying eyes of other customers I have license to kill and I can just stuff my face on waffles, oatmeal and muffins. The Indian guy that runs this place is tall and has a a bright bindi on his forehead. He enters the room and tries to make chit chat with me but I am busy devouring one muffin after another. I steer the conversation toward the weather. Is it always so foggy around here? The sky is dark and low and the whole day is just gloomy, is this a November day in London? The few cars in the parking lot are wet and the pavement is slippery. I say goodbye to the tall man whom I might never see again in my life and with the rain cover nicely zipped up I set out on the busy Santa Cruz roads.
My joy for cycling which so predominant yesterday has dwindled. Today I feel tired, sleepy, lazy, uninterested. I wish I was in LA already. I am in the mood for a short day today and I could stop in Monterey, only 40 miles or so. But I would not trust it. Whatever resolution I set for myself in the morning by midday it is forgotten and by mid afternoon I have a completely new goal. "And I am million different people from one day to the next I can change...I can change". Singing The Verve does not improve things. I am not in the best mood today, singing does not help, thinking does not help, nothing helps, I keep twitching on the seat, I can't stay still, I am restless and ticked by the traffic. Exiting Santa Cruz is a total nightmare, the roads are in bad condition, the traffic is so heavy that overflows the streets, the amount of cars is too large for this 50 thou people town, the bike lanes are forgotten tiny lanes with all the white paint of the signs peeled off, I slept like crap, the weather is depressing, it is dark and wet and to make things worse a light drizzle breaks out as soon as I leave the hotel. I pass auto services, auto repairs and whatever big building with the word 'auto' in it you can think of. The only distraction to the series of auto places are depressing-looking Mexican restaurants whose signs assure that the place is the best in town. Where is the California sun? Where is the coast? I avoid the heavily used highway 1 and I just follow the Pacific Route sign with the little bicycle under it. It takes me out of Santa Cruz and into another urban area which is just as ugly and uninviting. The traffic is solid and at one point I ride through a line of cars hoping that nobody will spit out of the window or throw a cigarette or some heavy object. It is that kind of place and makes me miss the solitude of the mountains terribly. I finally exit the urban area and the route takes me through muddy fields where hundreds of hooded Latin Americans wearing big thick gloves are kneeled over blossoms and fruits. They are little dots on the large green fields with their colorful hoods and clothes and are picking up strawberries. A depressing sight. It is raining by now; the mud is up to my knees and it is spitting up all over my gear, the day is less than an hour old and I am a total mess already. Not to belabor this point but my clothes are filthy, I was supposed to wash them last night but the motel had no laundry facilities and I was too tired to do it myself. I ride a very stressful ten miles on highway 1 which is a freeway at this point and it will be all the way to Monterey. I must have counted 200 trucks, okay, I did not count 200 but it is one truck after another, non stop. With the rain spitting up from the pavement, the gray skies and the fog all over me I might as well be in Ukraine and I wouldn't know it. I should have stopped in San Francisco. Are you sure? No, I am not but this is shit. Yes it is but let's ride a little more, give me another day. Can you do that for me? One mile at a time, remember? I finally see a bike path right next to the highway and at the first opportunity I hang a right and I am on it. The bike path spits me right into Monterey. To my surprise, the town is very charming and calm, the downtown that is. I ride the path all the way to the harbor which is small and quaint with small shops and a few tourists that mill around eating ice creams and taking pictures. I notice several Mexican-style buildings and neatly groomed green gardens which after almost 50 miles of urban decay and muddy roads are a treat to my eyes. I pass Colton Hall where in 1849 the Constitutional Convention was held which led to California becoming the 31st State.The weather is also improving fast, the clouds stay to my left and as I ride the Carmel hill it is a whole new world. It is sunny and clear skies welcome me with open arms but as soon as I crest the hill the wind is raging and it is all against me. Just like the forecast predicted, it blows strong from the south. Today is going to be tough. Should I stop in Carmel? At Carmel I ride to the tourist information where an old lady buried in so much perfume that I can smell from the street offers me almost no information. How many miles to Lucia? And to Cambria? She goes "Well I know how long it takes to drive there but I have no idea how many miles it is from here". Unbelievable! And it is not the first time that this has happened to me; when I asked for information locals have no clues. The answer is often 3 hours, or one hour, instead of 50 miles or 65 miles. Why is that?
At Monterey it is like there is a check point and the bad weather is not to be allowed into this stratoshepre. Past Carmel only the wind is allowed to enter the new world. Carmel seems posh and fake, well, this criticism is based on a 5-minute ride through downtown but the Gucci stores and the art galleries don't appeal to me at this moment. I don't really blend with the ladies caryying Luis Vutton bags and fresh nail polish. I am a savage, I smell and the mud is my most defining feature at this very moment. No way I am stopping here. How do I feel? I don;t know but I want to push on. I stop at the gas station for my daily sugar fill and I prepare myself to take on the headwind. The Coast appears right after the first steep hill.
It is sunny and windy and I am riding south on the Pacific Highway. I can't keep track of the number of sheer cliffs, rocky gorges, sweeping views, secluded beaches on one side and the steep hills and thick impenetrable forests on the other. I hear seals from down below but I don't see them and I see cliffs covered with cormorants and seagulls. The whole of the Pacific lies just to my right and with a little swerving action I could be in the water. This is perfect, yes the wind makes things a little edgy but this is what I wanted to see, this is where I wanted to be. After the first 50 miles of misery this is a fitting reward for standing up to all the traffic, the rain and the mud. And the pain. The discipline. The sleepless nights, the expectation and the apprehension. Big dreams come with a little of that, there's no getting around. I am riding and thinking that perfection is this; perfection is what you set out to do and then you do it and you see yourself in action and things work out. I am grateful that the bicycle has given me a chance to do that.
The sun shines brightly on the water and the beam of light cuts a blinding streak of white on the rippled surface. I am busy looking at the white line because there is no shoulder on the highway but my senses give in to the beautiful features of nature; I quickly throw a glance at the water or I just smell the sea salt and hear the waves below me. Riding this road has me extremely focused, it is certainly not built for cyclists but to miss it would be insane. I throw a glance to my right and I am safe because I know where I am. I should just have a camera mounted on my helmet as I am doing this, what didn’t I think of that I wonder? Too late now. The place is awesome. The cliffs tower over the rocky shore and being on a bicycle makes me feel part of the landscape, not as a spectator but an integral element of the geology, of the weather even. My skin must smell like California by now, encrusted with the mud and wrinkled by the sea salt which the strong wind carries with it. I feel a weird sensation of symbiosis with the scenery. I am not a tourist; I am not even a traveler anymore. I am a conqueror, an explorer, a malleable creation of the scenery, the outcome not the output, the input not the intruder. I ride the descent and I tense up because the wind shakes me madly; I descend the hill and with the corner of my eye I see the road twisting around the cliffs and I am looking at the upcoming climb. No worries, you have done hundreds of them, you have climbed Beartooth, this is nothing. What good is the past if it doesn't give us confidence? What good is the past if it doesn't make me a better cyclist, a better person? My mind travels so fast when I am on the bike and I feel so freaking great because I can go on and on and I feel strong. The beauty of the scenery feeds my muscles and injects tons of adrenaline into them. When you move fast something good will come out of it. Sooner or later you will get a good deal and that's when you have just started playing your hand, the rest is up to you. And the road. I spend hours riding and being amazed by the scenery. Cars and motorbikes pass me close to my left and it is very tense at times, but I can do nothing about that. The road is narrow and it is a miracle they managed to build one on these rocky cliffs.
I hit Lucia but at 5pm there is still enough sunlight for me to go on. Lucia has nothing to offer but an overpriced B&B where the guys running the place look at me like I am about to give them tetanus or yellow fever. On I go. The next collection of houses is Rugged Point but the Lodge there is full so now I have a little problem as the next town is Cambria, more than 25 miles. Almost 6 pm with dying sunlight. Can I do it? I shoot down the highway while the sun quickly drops behind the earth line. With no tail light on my bike this is stupid, it is darkening fast. Gold is the color around me. The road hangs left and goes slightly inland where for the first time since Monterey I can ride on flat terrain. Fast now, go! Golden land and green bushes and blue water, and me and the bike. It all belongs to me, it comes back to me and then leaves me like a train leaving a platform. A day on the road contains many lives, many emotions, many departures. So much beauty seems too much to bear. I don't really need anything else, aside from my imagination to want to ride across the country. Innocent, uncaged, unprejudiced, unchained, fast and light. I am glad I left DC, I am glad I did not quit in Ohio or Illinois or in San Francisco even. I guess all I did was to give myself another chance. It does not take a hero to do that, it just takes an idea.
I push on the bike with all my might and I arrive at Cambria at 8.05 pm in total darkness with 151 miles which with the amount of climbs and the headwind count like 200. Another stunning day, another long day, another battle, another idea, another sight I wanted to see my way. I check in at the Motel 6 and when I look at myself in the mirror I can't believe what I see. I am a mask of pain, mud and joy all meshed together. I shower and run downstairs to the local diner to eat dinner. I am clean again. And ready for the next departure.
LA is 250 miles south.