November 28, 2013 § 4 Comments
I’m a little impatient about waiting for the cold weather to arrive. Below freezing temperatures appear to be stalking the rain that follows this cool dry and sunny patch. I’ll be thankful for just seeing another day dawn but ask me to choose and I’d say that nothing beats being out for a little exploration on a chill autumn day. The cooler and crisper the better.
Rather than wait for the cool to arrive, I go to it: up to the mountains, where the adiabatic rate guarantees lower temperatures. Indeed, when the sun shines through the bare alder onto the spring-fed Tyee, you may almost be fooled into believing you can unzip your coat. But, just a few feet from the bank, the marshy ground is frozen. Rime heaves out of the boggy soil as if in a spasms. Frost gilds the leaves of the few perennials still holding onto their greenery as if hoping for a halt to winter. Fallen maple leaves are plastered to the trail, parchment thin and waiting to scribe the tales of the passing elk. By spring they’ll be invisible, their script known only by the detrivores that finish them off.
The elk browse here but today only their icy foot prints and scat lay witness to their preference for this place. My footprints mix with theirs in the one or two thawed pockets of loamy soil. I worry not about soaking my feet, as I would have last summer. Instead, there are no worries, just the rustle of leaves and ice underfoot and the whistling of the wind in the bare branches above. This is the feel and sound of gratitude. As I bushwhack back to the car my earlobes are icicles, but my heart and soul have been warmed by the woods in its readiness for winter. For me, this is Thanksgiving.
November 20, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Years of wildlife spotting have trained my eyes to dart skyward at the slightest motion and to study each dark form perched in any tree. Which means this leaf-fall time of year becomes a tad daunting for my senses. Falling leaves are not initially distinguished from birds and other flighty animals. I reflexively avert my gaze at the mildest flutter, expecting a chickadee, a nuthatch, even a sparrow, only to see yet another leave dropping to the ground.
And that dark speck sitting in the tree, it’s not a robin, it’s a golden pear. It and a few raindrops are all that remains in the hold of this tree. But, it drew and held my attention as I sorted out just what kind of bird it was, or was not.
On calmer days the eye-darting is occasional. A few leaves fall from the giant poplar by my window. One at a time they descend. One at a time they fool my reflexive gaze. On stormy days the deluge of leaves keeps me looking out the window constantly. My eyes skip from one leaf to another, and another as the foliage drops like snowflakes.
Then, there’s the bonus. In the midst of that leaf watching my eyes are drawn to the next leaf. It’s moving upwards…wait, that’s not a leaf. The motion on the bark of the tree IS actually a bird and an unusual urban bird at that. I know the Brown Creeper the instant I know it not to be a leaf. Slender and brown and creeping up the bark .(Aptly named.) It climbs then turns showing its white throat and breast and drops to the base of the tree only to resume climbing. Up it goes. Pausing. Climbing. Then to the base again.
It’s been over 15 years looking out these windows and today is the first time a Brown Creeper has graced our home. They’re not unusual birds in the woods. In fact, I think they’re fairly common, yet always delightful to watch. They’re especially charming when they’re in a group of two or three and peeping messages at each other. And it’s always delightful to be in Brown Creeper habitat; a place of mature trees and wild things. But it stopped by today, in the middle of the city, while my eyes were darting wildly around and surprised me by not being yet another leaf.
November 13, 2013 § 4 Comments
Once upon a time I stood tall and straight, feet firmly planted in a future of hope and usefulness. I was purpose-built but saw my potential beyond that destiny. While the steady westerly winds sculpted those around me, my identity was of one unflappable, indestructible, iron-clad child. Oh, I was a sight, so handsome and admired.
But time passed and with it my utility. Decommissioned and left to decay, left to the devices of aging and weather, I still stood with my identity, grasping my dignity, unwilling to surrender by value.
Looking in the mirror tells me I’m old. I know my feet are no longer on solid footing. I see the results of days, and months, and years of abrasive breezes and rains. But, I hold fast to the hope I will still be seen by others as I still see myself: unique, gritty, and strong.
November 6, 2013 § 2 Comments
Time carries on with the transformation,
Telling me change is a dimming light, constant by minutes a day.
Last week’s green is today gold, what was gold is brown.
Those brown things on the ground just wither away.
The air cools, the wind blows.
Step outside where a slapping chill remains as the cold front passes.
Or there’s the rainbow to the west and then to the north:
Eastward marching showers use fleeting paints on the cumulus sky.
The sun, crouching in the south works past the eaves to warm the room.
No matter how I orient, it’s autumn in my gaze.
November 2, 2013 § 3 Comments
A few years ago a started knitting. I'd learned as a child but never developed the skill. This time around when I started I was just looking for something to do when I was watching (too much) TV. I've thankfully weaned myself off of the tele and am into knitting now in a big way.
Not long after I started I set the goal of learning to knit socks.
October 28, 2013 § 4 Comments
Day 6 – From Bad to Serene
I’ve said it before, when you wake up to winds, you know you have trouble. And I said it this morning. The winds remained strong all night and into the morning. At first light I broke camp and high-tailed it to the first restaurant down the road. After my toss-and-turn night I was ecstatic to see the cafe was open! Food and water would be available to consume out of the blasting wind. I picked a table, pulled out a chair…and a cat hoped into it. I gently nudged the tabby to claim a bit of the chair but it was clear – we were either sharing the chair or I must find another. I chose share for a bit. A little bit of cat therapy was just what I needed – more than food and water. That cat made me feel as if I was the most wonderful human ever. It seemed to adore me, and at that moment the feeling was mutual. All my troubles melted away.
However, eventually I had to face the wind AND the two biggest hills of Big Sur. I’ll just say, it wasn’t easy. On the stretches of the road that turned remotely east, I had to fight to keep momentum…and that was downhill. The good news was, that any slight westward turn provided a respite. After summitting the first climb I had no doubt I’d make it to my destination. I was right. The second climb was tough and hot but it was also, like the day before, followed by a rest stop on the way down. This time it was Ragged Point Inn and Snack Bar for the win. Ice cold Starbucks Frappuccino and ice tea never went down so good.
Also pleasant, a couple of miles earlier was the sight of the San Simeon plains, a relatively flat and easy stretch of road ahead. I wondered what the wind had in store up there. Usually, this stretch flies by with the help of a tailwind. But, it appeared the Santa Anas had other ideas. I lolled in the shade at Ragged Point, took advantage of the first cell coverage in 4 days and made Mr. Mudlips aware that I was still alive.
My spirits lifted by conquering the climb, cool beverages, and a chat on the cell, I was ready for the road. As if on cue, the winds declined. I didn’t have the customary tailwind of this leg, nor did I have the cool ocean breeze but the crosswinds and headwinds were barely noticeable. I enjoyed the wide undulating road shoulders of the plains and enjoyed being a few feet above the surf rather than a few hundred feet above. Along with the many Saturday tourists I also enjoyed the belching and sparring of the elephant seals that line several of the beaches.
Finally, San Simeon. Views of Hearst Castle in the distance and a herd of zebras (yes zebras) told me I was almost done for the day. I turned into the charming old town and stopped at the store/wine-tasting venue. I grabbed more ice tea, treats, and a sandwich to go and then knocked off the final 3 miles to San Simeon State Park Campground. This one was open. But a sign on the highway indicated that it was full. Ha! The joys of being a bike tourist – California State Parks offer hiker/biker sites which are open to all comers. If you’re willing to share, you are welcome. I paid the big $5 hiker/biker fee and rolled into the campground. The most RV-park emulating campground ever but hey, it is open.
The hiker/biker site had all the charm of, of, of… well of a campsite on a flat gopher-ridden patch of sod next to a highway embankment. Its saving grace is its proximity to the beach. A nice barefoot stroll on the sandy beach full of frolicking weekend campers soothes my hill-weary legs. The setting sun and the dolphins surfing the breakers soothes my wind weary soul. And for company, one sweet woman from the hiker/biker site joins me to share in the ocean view. A most peaceful ending to a day that started with a miserable windy twist.
Day 7 – The Easiest Day Ever
When I was weighing my options at the closed campgrounds back on Day 5 one thing I considered was hitching a ride to Cayucos. Cayucos is a charming little beach town with cheap hotels and great food. As I arose this morning, I still had that town on my mind and told myself that when I got to Cayucos (only 19 miles away) I might just stop if I got the right signals from the bike touring gods.
The first signal came just a few miles down the road, and they weren’t happy signals. In fact, I considered naming this “Road Kill Day”. While the rolling hills and easy terrain between San Simeon and Cayucos made pedaling easy, witnessing the death of a crow made it unpleasant. I am one of the world who appreciates all things corvid so seeing this crow destroyed by a speeding car broke my heart.
It all happened in slow motion and the ruckus that arose from the other crows in the roadside trees was astonishing and really pushed my emotional buttons. Then there was the Cooper’s Hawk who exchanged glances with me as I passed by the fallen crow. It was hidden in the lower branches of a tree below the outraged crows. Someone would have an easy lunch (the hawk) but someone else would have this moment weighing on them for some time (me). After recovering (slightly) from that scene I passed several other birds, including and owl, a bat, a deer, and several dozen monarch butterflies: all traffic fatalities. Cars are lethal. Animals are vulnerable. When they meet, there’s generally one outcome. Did this bother me because it emphasized my own vulnerability as a cyclist? You bet. But, it also emphasized the yin and yang of the world: death was a sad moment for the crows and I, but it also would provide life to another being. Thinking on that, I carried on.
Rolling into Cayucos, it was time for second breakfast. The usual coffee shop of choice was no longer open, so I found a new place (with the most amazing lemon bars) and in finding that place found a beautiful hidden garden associated with Hoppe’s Bistro that needed further exploration. I took that as my signal that I needed to stay here for the night. I espied potential lodging and inquired within. Yes, they had a beach-side room (at a rate I could consider) with a view. As I handed over my credit card to pay, the manager told the clerk to switch the sign outside to say “No Vacancy.” Another sign – that room was indeed just for ME!
And the signs were spot on! I was a beach bum for the day. Munching Smokehouse tacos, sipping lemonade as I watched other tourist learn to surf, build sand castles, toss Frisbee for their dogs, I idled the afternoon . The day was capped off by an amazing supper and colorful sunset. Ah, this was not roughing it AT ALL, and not my usual bike touring M. O. but it was certainly an enjoyable stop.
Day 8 – Home Stretch
I took advantage of the free coffee and continental breakfast at the hotel – they had eggs! – and got another early start. The morning was calm and clear and quiet. Just the way I like a morning ride.
Stopping for second breakfast in Morro Bay I sat for a spell in a charming little café, sipped my coffee, ate my eggy sandwich, and pried into the business of the couple sitting next to me. When I heard her referring to her blog, I knew I had a conversation-starter. Turns out, they were traveling simply too, although by sail boat and not bicycle. They too had struggles with the wind, encounters with wild life, and amazing views throughout their trip (from Bellingham, WA). However, there trip would continue for some time and mine was coming to an end.
My final destination, San Luis Obispo (SLO), was only a short ride away. As I emerged from the café it was evident that the weather had changed. A dense fog had settled in. While that meant parting views of the sea would be a challenge, it also meant a shift to the wind – it was now blowing to the east: the direction I was headed.
I followed the bay, turned up a small river valley and pedaled inland out of the fog. Numerous birds sang in the riparian vegetation lining the small river, others sang out from the grassland. I climbed the small pass out of the river’s cut to the music of the Western Meadowlark, and the dancing of the Western Bluebirds. As I reconnected to the main highway I also reconnected with a big tailwind. As I cruised to town, I flew. The wind adding speed to my travels for the first time since day two.
Miles flew by and I soon took my last turn and was welcomed by the bike-friendliness of the SLO area. Then into town to visit a local shop where I had meeting planned, to the train station to pack my bike and wait for the train. I boarded the train in the late afternoon and 24 hours later it delivered me to my home town.
It’s difficult to relay all of the experiences, images, and people that made this a trip to remember. Some of those experiences are pieces of a larger puzzle that requires more contemplation. That’s why I travel. That’s why I love solo travel. The unexpected moments blend together to teach you about the world and yourself. It confirms things you know, but it also surprises you with new lessons and steps towards understanding the way of the world.