Within 6 minutes of attempting to clip into my fully loaded steel bike for the first time, on the fateful morning that our trans-continental bicycle ride was due to begin...
I suddenly realized the gravity of my error, in NOT taking the bike on a SINGLE ride before this moment.
Sure, it was on my list – but I’d had other things to do, like prepare my business for takeoff and cook a nice stew in a proper kitchen and walk up Bernal Hill to admire the city one last time.
Which is to say, I had ZERO experience with drop handlebars, gearshifts that you have to reach way down to access, AND clip-in pedals...
Which, if you’re not familiar, feel like a death sentence when the bike starts to tip and BOTH of your feet are securely trapped in place.
Add to this an extra 50 pounds of gear and the hills of Dolores and 24th street -- and I was fairly certain, tears welling up in my eyes on a perfectly beautiful spring morning...
... that I had made a HUGE mistake.
Once I'd managed to mount the damn bike (a feat in itself), fear followed me like a faithful dog for the first 20 miles out of SF, whispering dreadful ideas into my extremely susceptible imagination.
The bike felt like a foreign and unpredictable beast; heavy horns skewing left or right, without warning.
Crawling at times, we made it to Half Moon Bay -- where I purged maybe 25 lbs of stuff from my panniers that just the day before had seemed “necessary."
Miraculously, when we pedaled off the second time – I didn’t fall, thanks to gripping the handlebars so fiercely that my hands went numb.
After sleeping the blissful sleep of the dead in a friendly field with a view of the ocean,
The second day was luxurious by comparison.
Late morning coffee in Pescadero; a glorious downhill spin through Butano State park; and an easy slide into Santa Cruz for a hot shower and a cold Pepsi and a reasonably clean bed at Surf City Inn & Suites.
But the third day was brutal.
Think: 54 miles to make.
Add: Cold, pelting rain (with no pants).
First thing in the morning, in pursuit of an elusive post office where I could mail in my tax return (one of the things on my to-do-list that trumped bicycle riding),
I dropped my bike and bashed my knee in the middle of a screaming intersection.
This is when I cried the second time.
When I had calmed down (with the help of a timely ham and cheese croissant), we set off again…
… And made it all of 2 miles, before Bruce got a flat tire.
It seemed like EVERYTHING was conspiring to keep us in Santa Cruz – even the nice strangers who kept asking where we were headed and offering to help and mentioning that they’d done a bike tour once and loved it.
So much so that, by 2:30 in the afternoon...
We still had 49 MILES to make.
After battling cruel and relentless headwinds for most of that mileage, dropping my bike two more times, and frantically wandering around a deserted shopping plaza in search of a closing China Delight, we made it to our friend’s sister's house in Carmel at 10pm, teeth chattering from the cold.
Never have I been SO glad to hear the words: HOT TUB.
When I woke up on the 4th morning, my knees ached in a new way -- and my lips were mysteriously swollen.
In preparation for Big Sur, we stuffed panniers full of cheese and apples and pasta and chili mix and dried mangoes and Clif bars, and set off for the rolling cliffside hills of Big Sur.
What came next was -- for lack of a better word -- an education.
Never mind the breathtaking views at every turn -- I had never climbed for so long on a bicycle, nor bombed down a hill so fast, as I would for the next three days.
Arriving that first night at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park (before we'd even had the chance to take off our helmets), an elderly man shuffled over from his adjacent site to introduce himself as Patrick, and tell us tales about the oriental rugs and musical instruments made of solid gold that the Queen of Bali had given him as a gift, back before he'd become homeless.
At first, my alarm bells were ringing.
I kept surreptitiously glancing over as he sat at our table, eyeing our stuff and mumbling stories.
Soon, though, it became clear that he was not a threat at all; just old, weathered, disoriented.
Each of the half dozen times he visited, we came up with something to give him: leftover broccoli and mushu we'd carried from Carmel; a pair of half-used AAA batteries for his headlamp; a packet of hot cocoa; a pair of shower tokens.
That night, we built a fire in the same ring where Bruce and I first met, four years ago...
We marveled at the passage of time, and the remarkable inability of humans to know, with any degree of certainty, where life might be taking them.
Thanks to the road closure at Gorda (which we booked a shuttle around, only to learn through the cyclist grapevine that it is possible to sneak across after the guard has packed up and gone home around 10pm), there were fewer cars on the road the further south we got...
Which meant that we could ride in the middle of the lane...
Heads low against the wind, legs pumping in top gear, cutting corners like we were in the Tour de France.
One strong gust of wind, however, and my heart would LEAP into my throat.
And while the white-knuckle fear I’d felt leaving SF was still there (how could it not be, when you’re perpetually three feet from soaring off a cliff into the twinkling Pacific?)...
... It was at least a different KIND of fear – mixed with thrill and incredulity and no small amount of satisfaction, thinking back just a few days to when I literallycould not even mount my bike...
... When all this had seemed completely outside the realm of possibility.
Of course, my body is *certainly* paying for it – having sustained at least half a dozen bike-inflicted injuries, several multi-colored bruises, an impressive sunburn on the back of my knees, and an INFURIATING case of poison oak that defies the imagination, given how paranoid I am about avoiding it.
However, I have been pleasantly surprised at how GENEROUS my knees and quads and glutes have been, in faithfully doing whatever I ask them to do, with minimal complaints.
And now, with Big Sur 80+ miles behind us, when I look at my bike?
I no longer see a foreign, unpredictable beast.
Although still a tentative one -- at the very least, we’ve got a working relationship now.