Monday, March 21, 2005

Day 3: Big Sur to Shell Beach

I woke up this morning after scant sleep, rarin' to go. I knew today would be a long ride, over 100 miles. I was anxious to get an early start. Around 7, I checked out of the Ventana Inn, mounted my steed, and began pedaling down Highway 1. 5 minutes into the ride, I was hungry. I decided it must be one of those superficial carb-induced hungers and decided to wait it out.

20 minutes later, I was famished. I stopped and ate a green apple I'd swiped from the hotel room. Alright, body, I thought, that'll do ya. It was not to be. 10 minutes later, I was again famished. I fished out some Gu (tm) and squeezed it into my throat. My stomach was satiated for about half a mile. My hunger returned with newfound determination.

I gritted my teeth, turned up my iPod, and told my body that it would be fed every hour, like it or not. The body did not like it. After another 45 minutes, I decided that this was not fake hunger after all. I reached into my pack and ate about 6 jumbo oatmeal cookies. This sucked. That was half my food for the day, I was still about 60 miles from San Simeon (home of the venerated Hearst Castle and hopefully food), and I still wanted to eat more.

Before I ate, I'd pulled over underneath a big road sign (San Luis Obispo, 86 miles) and had begun to take smug pleasure in glaring at oncoming traffic. I felt vastly superior to all those lazy gluttons gassing around in their heated vessels, oblivious to the wind and suffering cyclists around them. How noble it was, I thought, that I could don layers of colorful spandex, sit on a 2-inch wide piece of foam, and _pedal_ my way to my next destination. Feeling vindicated, I re-mounted my bike and continued down the road.

The next three or so hours passed rapidly. I entered a Zone where I was vaguely aware that my body was pedaling a bike while my mind ran wild, jumping from roadside clusters of purple lupen to the belly of a redtail hawk to the white line separating out my portion of the road. I was nowhere, but I was going somewhere, and I knew that eventually I would arrive, dismount, and rest. For now, however, I only wanted to ride. There was nowhere I'd rather be but here, alone, the offshore wind blowing at my cheek, pedalling straight and long.

For hours, I allowed my mind to escape the contstraints of logic and law. I felt the grit of the road as my tires passed over it. I saw more flowers on the side of the road. I had a sudden urge to pick them and line my helmet with them. Those yellow ones further away looked nice, too. Ew. Roadkill. I wondered how that would taste if you stewed it with some ham and peas.

I looked up. I'd just passed Cambria. Or was it Carlsbad? Holy shit, where the hell was I? I could be anywhere. Without warning, I felt myself crashing through the glass floor of the fantasy Zone I'd housed my mind in for the last 3 hours. It hit me that I was all alone, on a bike, in traffic, in some town that could be anywhere, with limited food and no cell reception. What if a sudden gust of wind blew me into the road or, worse yet, into another county?

I panicked. I looked at the road. I glanced at the sky. My legs seemed to be pedaling of their own volition. My body felt alien to me. It was as though someone had yanked me from a leisurely breakfast and slammed me into the body of this tired, hungry woman who was pedaling maniacally down a busy highway. How was I to convince her to turn around and share some scrambled eggs with me?

With some trepidation, I realized that I actually _was_ the banshee pedaling down the highway. I could take the reigns of my body and calm it down. In a moment of quasi-Zen, I realized that this was objectively kind of scary, but that was precisely the reason I wanted to do it. I wanted to be in a situation where I had limited control. There was something comforting in that, in the idea of holding your own in an uncertain situation, of taking care of yourself amidst perceived chaos. By putting myself in a potentially hazardous situation, I was able to reacquaint myself with an inner strength I was convinced had left me. I'd been drawing upon outside factors for strength and confidence - a potentially self-destructive behavior. Here, on the road, I found what I thought I'd lost.

Miles later, I hit Morro Bay. My epiphany had officially expired. After my spurt of inspiration, I'd grown increasingly more pissed off. Morro Bay neither ended nor contained any good road signage.

I fumbled my way around Highway 1 until I found my road out - Oso Cyn Rd, the map said. I followed it. The sky turned to steel and wind. Soon, I was being hit by sizeable drops of cold rain. This fueled my anger. I began to detest every single car that passed by. They were ugly, or loud, or smelly, or driving poorly.

It began to rain harder. I began to seriously consider laying down in a ditch and falling into a combative sleep. Instead, I pedaled harder, determined to outpace my own fury. I eventually hit San Luis Obispo, then turned coastward towards Shell Beach, where my hotel was.

I was thoroughly convinced by this point that the day would never end. I was sentenced to Cycling Hell and would spend eternity riding through endless wet roads. Just as my mood changed from pissy to pouty, there it was. The Cliffs resort, Shell Beach, California. It came out of nowhere. I was so astounded that it was finally there that I couldn't stop in time to enter the driveway. Instead, I biked a quarter mile to the nearest park, stared at the ocean, and ate a Clif bar in celebration. I'd finally, inoxerably made it. Unbelievable.

At the resort, I treated myself to a massage (masseuse: honey, you're going to need one of these every day if you keep riding like this) and a room service dinner. I mapped out the next leg of my trip (SLO - Solvang), turned the fireplace on auto so that it came on every time the temperature went below 80, and fell asleep.


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