Bike ride done. A state half crossed. 10 grand raised.
Seems like peanuts now.
But thank you to all who gave.
Rob, the volunteer who managed my luggage truck, and wrangled my gear and the gear and complaints of 300 other people, and who slept in said truck. He raised 40 grand.
And the ride raised 15 million. Boom. Makes a frickin difference.
I'm gonna claim I rode 600 miles because by mistake I rode to and from and then back to the Cow Palace the day before the official ride began. That's 27 extra. I did three of the hills on the route twice, one of them was four miles long so that gets me up to 597. I think I toodled around Salinas and some of the other towns to find some coffee, see some sights and find a veteranarian ....so...600... more or less.
2300 riders. A battalion of support crew. A swarm in a field every new day.
Christ it was messy.
Aids Lifecycle 2017 - done as of Saturday as we rolled into LA under police escort and orange cone lanes thru Santa Monica, Wilshire and Melrose. More people fell, crashed or wrecked during the 7 miles stretch from the bay to Fairfax High School than I saw go down along the entire route. One woman hit the deck 1/2 mile from the finish and 50 feet in front of me. Broken elbow, broken wrist. Wouldn't be crossing the line.
Or as the young officer in Bridge on the River Kwai said ....."madness....madness.."
I'll be brief.
Burbank airport is one of my guilty pleasures. Everything there seems to work. Whoever runs the place is a management genius. All the employees smile at you. Nothing takes time. One of the great triumphs of American suburbanism. Bob Hope's monument.
Rented a car there. Got a free upgrade. Drove me and my bike 6 hours to San Fran on the 5 where really what you do is point the car North and wait to run out of gas. Repeat.
I looked out the window as the endless Central Valley spooled by and thought, I can't believe I'm gonna go the other direction. On two engineless wheels.
San Fran. As ever, magic. Like the girl you'll never get over. Always stings me right.
San Fran to Santa Cruz. 82 miles.
My old friend drove me and my our other old friend to the Palace at 5 am. That's love.
Simmering, percolating humanity. Two thousand plus little mortal engines in lycra rarring to go. You could feel the ego in the air, the urge, the nerves. An opening ceremony, and as ceremonies go these days the crowd observed and recorded it as much as participated. We slide farther from presence every year. When they asked for a moment of silence though it was silent.
And oh the Cow Palace....ghosts of Aerosmith and semi pro teams and rodeos long gone. You could dig the grout out of the floor boards and taste the soul I'm sure.
Guy got hit by a car in the first half mile. He was fine. Bike was done.
A descent out of San Fran proper that felt like a tobbogan run. Glorious speed and turns. A cop near the bottom wagged a finger at me. But he was smiling.
Half Moon bay, astounding coastal views not 30 miles from the Presidio, kids on fixed wheel bikes climbing by me like stormtroopers, and the forests of the penninsula on the ocean side. Why does anyone live anywhere else?
I remember a little farm town in a gulley with an old railroad station now a home hiding behind the trees, rails themselves long gone. That tan camp color so much of old California is painted in.
Beer with my cousins and my aunt by the sea in the blare of a college town. My cousin's kid named after my dead brother actually looking and acting a little like my dead brother. Smiling in the sunset.
Santa Cruz to King City. 109 miles.
Sleeping wont be in the bargain. Bed mat might as well be styrofoam. Tiny tent. Lousy blanket that I bought for the color ends up is a picnic blanket to put your cheese, wine, and bread on. Three snoring neighbors, oblivious in their chipper morning greetings, I stare at their wives thinking How the Hell haven't you MURDERED that guy? How can you go out in public? When will we get around to suing people who snore in public? Threatening the health of all those who can't sleep. How many deprived victims have nodded off on the road? Head on collisions. Dropped their child into the tiger pit in the zoo. I seethe. More on that later.
Fields and fields and fields of fruit. Orchards by the sea. It's harvest time for strawberries. Workers stooping and lifting among the rows. White mist highlighting the white underbellies of the early berries. Work you could have observed in the age of Augustus. Earlier. The towns going by smell like pie and and gasoline. Swallows whip around us defending their young.
Ate grilled artichokes by a highway overpass in a monster field in Watsonville and listened to a once/still beautiful 60 year old woman tell me why we should be grateful for this fine country.
Water and wheels and sweat and salt. The worst road I've ever ridden on. Like the back of a man whipped for 20 years. Cracks glowing white in the ruthless sun. Wind smack in the face. A soul anchor.
The Santa Lucia mts rising up in the Western Salinas valley. Impossible angles. How does no one know this place? Wineries that haven't been overrun. Steinbeck all about my brain. The shit he held up to light still writ large in the valley. Astonishing physical wealth: the earth, the produce, the sun. Serfdom still packing it into boxes and trucks.
Somewhere between the towns of Gonzalez and Soledad I'm trailing a woman and a guy down a steep hill when a tiny black shape dances toward their wheels. She skids to a halt and stares. I see a black silhouette and think- it's a mink. It's a skunk.
It's a kitten.
There isn't a house for miles.
No momma cat, no siblings.
A kitten determined to run back and forth along the road.
20 bikes every minute. Farm trucks, combines.
So I sit on the side of the road in 100 degree heat corralling this grey ball of fury, and wait for someone official to come by. She drinks out of my hand. She eats cliff bars. I think she learned to meow the day before. It sounds more like a squeak. An angry miniature cat bark. No one can help. Liability. Insurance. Fleas. Allergies. Assholes. No ubers in Soledad. No lyft. Yellow cab is 50 miles away.
There's a vet in Soledad. 6 miles. So after killing fleas for an hour and denuding my feline friend of some of the hair below her shoulders, I stuff her in my jersey and set off for the office. She alternately hates and loves the journey. I looked down once when she was still, and there was a tiny kitten head, fur brushed back by the breeze, upside down and, if she could be, smiling.
Adoption sure to happen the woman at the desk told me. No kill, don't worry. She smiled quizzically at this lycra clad oddball in her clinic. "What's her name?"
"I've been calling her Gonzalez"
....."Maybe we'll call her Soledad."
There have been a few times in my life I've met someone I knew I was supposed to meet. Love at first sight. Frightening kinship. Immediate depth. The kind of thing other people, when they see the two of you, stop what they're doing and shake their heads at it.
I met a kitten with blue grey fur and white boots on every paw on a country road in California. Goodbye love.
Basecamp 2. The food is good but the crowd is exhausting, disorienting. The type A, making, charging, changing the world types striding at you from every angle just to go brush their teeth. Hard to take.
I don't remember sleeping but I do remember a dream.
Day 3 -
King City to Paso Robles. 65 miles.
It's horrible what head winds do to the spirit.
It's incredible how fast this bike goes in a tail wind.
I passed a woman on a long flat and she said "Jesus I thought you were a car."
Climbed a road that felt like a wall. Legs filling to the brim with blood and pain. Lungs pressed into my back. Climbed it again just to say I did. That I wasn't afraid. A Spanish girl with no clips or cleats climbed it right next to me. Guts. Sun. Gravel.
All long the route, all the routes, volunteers cheer you on, handing out strawberries, cookies, water, or simply smiles and cow bells. whatever, staffing rest stops every ten or fifteen miles fitted out to that day's theme: drag ladies brownie kitchen, disco bathing suit ice pops, Village People oranges and bananas, they're endlessly inventive, kind and they're lifesavers.
There are people on this ride who have trouble walking from the tent to the toilet. I'd be surprised if they'd made it up the driveway on a bike. They're physical wrecks. They're amazing. How the Hell they're going to make it to LA, how they put in the hours every day astonishes me. The chicken man (he has chickens hanging off his back and his tent, plus rhinestoned spandex and an ostrich feather in his helmet) must be 65 and weigh a good 250. There's a black woman averages maybe 5 mph. One dude is 84. They make it every day.
Paso Robles gives me the creeps. Russians on vacation. Kings of inland empires and their wastrel children walking down a fake main street. Good pastrami sandwich as the sun set. Sound of trains, as I almost slept.
Paso to Santa Maria. 91 Miles
Out of the knock-off frying pan and into a luke warm fire. Paso to S Maria. Two towns I don't mind not seeing ever again.
Honestly I don't remember shit. In particular.
So let me grab some images at random.
Riding alone for 30, 40 minutes thru farmland and golden hills. 2300 riders somewhere ahead or behind me but nowhere to be seen. I crest a brief hill and 3 llamas stare over a fence at this two wheeled alien.
First time I take an on ramp onto the 101, onto a federal highway while riding a bicycle. A State Cop nodding and waving me in. Asphalt smooth as glass. Gigantic shoulder. Semis blowing by like space shuttles. I let out a few rebel yells and pedaled to beat the band.
There must be a million dollars worth of bikes on this ride. Kestrel. Pinarello. Colnago. Masi. Bianchi. And on and on plus a few custom jobs whose name's I don't know. Rich. Richness.
Makes me wanna give mine away to a kid who can actually race. There's something wrong with amateurs on pro gear. Weekend warriors riding Arabians. The local chorister who plays a Strad. Give it to those who can make it sing.
Climb another long hill. Mucky tarmac. Rough gravel. Glass. Narrow pass, not much shoulder. Two guys are pedaling side by side near the top. One with his hand at the base of his partner's back, just above the seat, not pushing him but helping him through, letting him know he's there. Should have gotten a picture of that.
The rush even when there's no race. The presentation of readiness. Of urgency. The gear culture and its disciples. Everyone with meters and phones checking wattage and pace and power. And meanwhile some of the prettiest country on earth spins by as we pretend we're still in spin class. Why not stop more often?? Out of two thousand some riders a hundred can push a pace. Maybe 20 know what they're doing on a bike. A handful used to race. It's funny- two of the true racers rarely get up early, they stay out of the fake pacelines which form behind some hard charger and only once did I see one of them cut loose. I was descending down a long drop before Lompoc when a guy in what looked like pyjamas pulled up next to me and smiled.
We were going 40 miles an hour.
Nice road huh?
You like to climb.
I do actually.
Well this is my day off but you wanna run up this next one together?
Sure I'll give it a shot.
I didn't last one meter with him. It was like watching a test pilot hit the afterburner. Him ascending a long steady curve into the sky. The speed constant and increasing, gravity be damned. A fighter plane among commuters.
He waved back to me like a woman walking into a store as he climbed into the clouds
Santa Maria to Lompoc. 43 miles
Why was their so much pain on a day that was so short?
Why was there magic in a place you'd think was a wasteland?
I guess when you take a mile for granted it becomes 10. Legs didn't have time to get numb. We'd already filed this one away before we suffered thru it. Simple lesson. Don't take the last place team for granted. On any given Sunday, a bike ride can hurt ya.
Lompoc is the home of Vandenberg Air Force base. A monster plot of land. Set on two adjacent hills with a farm in between. A farm with a salt marsh running thru its western limit and emptying into the Pacific under a train trestle of the Southern Pacific.
Funny thing about giant military bases....they tend to preserve as much land as they eat up. Huge swaths of virgin California coast still exist because so much of California was turned into an armed camp in the 20th century. Vberg and Otis and Pendleton protect thousands and thousands of acres of pasture and coastline. And we got to ride thru them. Armed guards at the gates, helos and tanks and fighter planes roaring by as two thousand bicyclists many of them flamboyant homosexuals got a free pass. No one asked. Many told.
It was fabulous.
I stood under the train track at the mouth of this salt marsh watching the soft breakers hit the shore between the stilletoed peaks of Vandenberg and felt some sort of peace. Not a protected peace, the Air force defending my freedom to wear lycra and muscle into narrow farms lanes pissing off combine drivers all day- but rather a lost peace. I had no idea where I was and had never been to this spot before and somehow I could tell whoever did come here often cherished it. It was a beach you told someone you loved them by, or by simply bringing them here they knew.
And Lompoc ( say "Lawm poke" or even "Lawm-poh" not "Lawm-pock") this made up town and campground of support peoples for the giant base is nestled between rolling hills of its own that run east west and are cut with some sort of limestone beneath so that when the marine layer rolls in they glow white where the trails curl toward the peaks.
There's a massive Native American reservation nearby that very few people ever get to enter or wander thru. I don't like entertaining how I can or cannot "feel" some presence or value in that kind of land but I did sense some difference. Some thought came to me maybe simply because of a geographical truth- that there was a big wild space nearby, a big untamed corner of the country in this overdeveloped state and it was breathing out. A piece of the coast no highway skirts. And behind all this the Padres national forest and behind that the Carrizo plain where the central gathering point for all the coastal and central valley Native Americans still sits.
It buzzed. It hummed, this little valley town and I didn't expect to hear that.
Lompoc to Ventura. 88 miles.
Christ did we go fast.
I decided I would go ride with the big boys up front (who mostly are small boys because bikes and speed and weight don't add up) the guys who got up early every day and pushed the pace in chains of riders. The guys with meters on their headsets and bikes worth more than your car. Guys who talk about "checking their numbers" later on. Sight seers and roaming spiritualists they are not.
I didnt manage to wake up early. So I came down Gaviota pass at about 45 miles an hour, right on the 101, with semis shaking my handlebars and cliffs to either side that had seen "commuters" for a couple thousand years and caught them at lunch where the CHP was forcing them to wait.
I hooked up with a gang and off we went at about 25 mph. 7 or 8 bikes in a row cranking at full volume for 20 some miles. It was as if a spin class for the clinically insane had been let loose onto the Pacific Coast highway. But for a handful of scrappy old vets none of these guys actually "rode" like cyclists, or gave any evidence that they'd learned to "ride" out on the streets and highways of the real world.
It was very strange. Men in postures one would ride a beach bike in but going insanely fast, men spinning RPMs you could barely count, guys completely ignoring the cycling system of a paceline. They were just egos and will raging forward till the dude up front collapsed and the next madman took over. It was as if we were, well, indoors, and ripping thru a triple class at Soulcycle or some such virtual sweat box of the Id.
And hit a hill, or even a small rise and they all slowed to a crawl. Like they say, "What goes down rarely goes up."
The weird thing was ....I'd gotten within sniffing distance of LA county and ....I wanted to be done. I wanted to say screw it and ride all the way to Melrose that day, 151 miles, and take a shower and then show up tomorrow at the finish line and get my gear.
Im not sure why....but like a horse sensing the barn, the charm just lifted and I was plain sick of hordes and tents and boosterism and group think and portajohns and the distant focus extremely driven people have as they walk smack thru you on the way to ....just about anything they want to do.
San Buenaventura is possibly the best white trash mini mall beach hovel town you'll ever find. Dukes bar and grill simply a pleasure.
Ventura to LA (Fairfax district). 67 miles.
And Im glad I didnt ride home the day before. A) because my ass would have become a superfund site and B) because the candlelight vigil that night was amazing. I groused all afternoon, swore I was gonna kick the snoring guys next door thru their tent, dinner sucked, my pals wanted to crash instead of hitting a bar, I was distinctly unimpressed and feeling very unsentimental.
Gays didn't need me or my money. Glad I did it, all props and fair legislation to y'all people, but never again.
And then 2000 people walked thru the dunes to Ventura beach with candles in their hands as I stood about a football field away and watched.
They didnt plan it, they didnt rush, they didnt sing, at least not anything that had been arranged, they just gave each and every one of themselves, the candle bearers, time to mourn, there, where the waves hit the shore, in their own way and at their own pace.
These same folks who couldn't bother to greet me in a lunch line or slow a bit in a pace line to admire some of the worlds most astonishing coastline, were waiting....waiting...waiting as long as it took. You wanted to kneel for 15 minutes in the water weeping over your lost husband while 1999 other people stood in line in the damp wind to do the same?
No problem. None. This is what they were here for. This was the point of the whole thing.
I was ....without words. I just watched. Kept the phone in my pocket. This compulsion now about "sharing" everything we see, we experience that we imagine is meaningful.....it might help to just see it sometimes. Just be witness, in full, fully present and let it just be that, between you and whoever else was there and the diety.
And I remembered, to them there was a plague that cut through their culture for 20 years, a time when they were abandoned and ignored by their own country, made into untouchables by a nation that down deep still saw them as freaks.
Unimaginable. To be ostracized like that. Cursed. Left to die. While I was watching Magnum PI or hitting the clubs in NYC, a community was suffering a mini holocaust.
So it makes sense- the bonding, the solidarity, the exclusion. They lived in that furnace of hate and ignorance. They get to celebrate now. On their terms.
I got into my tent feeling peaceful. And then the snoring began. I was in a righteous rage. That black mandala color the Buddhists call it. I was seconds from de-housing the enemy when I realized that a good hundred or so folks were giving themselves a gift on this last night and sleeping in the nearby hotel.
I grabbed a tent bag from the unused pile walked out into the field far as I could and slept like a baby, door open to the ocean breeze.
Rode like a laughing demon into Malibu the next morning and then on to central LA.
Fully full court advantage. Climbed the hill by Pepperdine shouting "that's the last fucking one folks!! We did it."
And it was sort of amazing that we'd covered such a space ....but then, not so amazing.....I mean...why not? Why shouldnt we ride bikes and horses and other slow things from point to point along the ways we want to go and actually see feel and know these places? This land.
The space I felt, the pang that came wasnt felt because it was over, it was there because I'd hadnt done this more often. I had never done this. Sure I've driven all over the US, across and back 5 times now, but you dont get it, you dont get how big it all is how far, how wide, how many different towns and hamlets and stories and ways of living lay between the here and theres, between the regular stops. There are myriads. Multitudes as Whitman would say.
And for most of human history we crossed the divides between us at a pace a horse could walk in a day.
I guess I could feel the space between me and them, all them, those people who'd come before and filled up most of the time we've been here on this earth. I saw what I could have had in common with them, and to them - how big, how vast and imposing the world must have been. How glorious.
Jealousy really. Longing. To slow down.
Best I can say was I did it once. Grabbed a kitten off a road and thought. "If I leave it'll die". That's the simple fact. If I carry on with my "day", this earthling ceases to exist. Odd. Simple choice. Simple truth. So I sat in the gravel and waited till the options dwindled down. Weird. Kind of pointless. Animals die every day on the roads. Kind of not. This little life saw me. Reached for me. My job.
Wish I had a job like that every day.