Goodbye San Francisco. A thousand images churn in my head, from the motorcycle shop stuffed like a warehouse with parts, to the literary and bawdy mystique of North Beach. San Francisco is a beautiful city and it’s hard not to feel like we are leaving early. How fun it would be to settle in here, make friends, and get to the serious work of writing in the eaves of Vesuvious, while old men play chess below.
It’s a farce. I am not a city person. I start to feel caged, disconnected, and then a certain rebelliousness infects me. Left untreated I am cable of some serious anti – social behaviors. Small towns, empty plains, desert trailers, those are the places where I feel at home. I suspect everyone would be better off out here. To walk by a stranger collapsed or hungry or broke on the street, it’s unnatural. It’s counter to our nature and it eats at our souls.
If you want to see a human in its native habitat explore the small towns of America. Everyone knows each other and they gain genuine enjoyment from each others’ company. There are no strangers, and if your child wanders, lost and naked into the road, a neighbor will safely bring him back home. What other kind of world is there? You can’t be alienated and alone in the confines of a small town. Sure everyone knows your business, the gossip flows, there is pressure to conform but what is the alternative? We’ve been living in tribal bands for the vast majority of our history on this planet. Like most things called progress, the great cities of this world are problematic.
So we are abandoning this city to get back to the business of nature. We ride through Golden Gate Park, past Hippy Hill, past the grazing buffalo, past the ponds, forests and windmills and out onto the shore of the Pacific. The ocean is riled and rough, misty green and frothing at the mouth. It is not a beach day. As we head south the road climbs and the fog rolls in. Suddenly we are soaked. Tail lights glow in the mist like devil’s eyes. The sunny San Francisco morning seems a thousand miles away. Apparently the sea can summon it’s evil fog at any moment and this is the moment.
Finally the air clears and the road opens up. We are not far along before we see grass again, rolling hills with oaks in their creases. We ride through groves of eucalyptus and the smell warms me. Then there’s the sea, clear and blue again, as if apologizing for its sudden fit of fog. I forgive her and we are friends again. I understand it’s a tough, rambunctious world, sometimes fits are necessary just to keep our souls intact.
We are back on Highway One, twisting, winding, snake of a road. The black double track rides the headland contours like the ribbon on an odd shaped present. No matter how many analogies I jam into a sentence it doesn’t capture this road. It clings to the edge of the headlands, then twists seaward taking us directly out over the horrible, hissing ocean, five hundred feet below and then twists inland and downwards taking us deep into a cove before arcing again, tight and smooth, back out to hang over the sea. It does this over and over until it breaks out into a great meadow. The speeders pass in desperation but you cannot rush this road.
We pass a dusty parking lot on the ocean. It’s packed with cars and RV’s. Suddenly I realize the rugged beach is littered with elephant seals. Beached and snoozing, snuggled up in each others’ fat. They kind of undulate along, rolling their blubber to move before settling their heads on another’s rump. As they switch between fits of fighting and snuggling I think they are not that much different from us.
Once back on the bikes a wild haired man approaches us. A healthy wind is blowing in off the Pacific. At first I think he just wants to chat but it turns out he’s invented an adventure rack system for minimalist bikes just like ours and he wants us to try it out. We certainly could use something for our next adventure. We swap information before he speeds off in an exotic convertible full of long haired blondes.
It’s late afternoon as we pull into the campground. It’s a great spot, right off the ocean, but it’s full. We circle back around and continue southward. We search on the iPhone for other options. We suspect all the seaside campgrounds will be full. I occupy my time hunting out spots for guerilla camping. We can camp anywhere, really. We just need a flat spot with enough cover to hide us and the bikes. It’s fun to hunt out little oak groves or eucalyptus gardens and imagine tucking in for the night. It’s also a little worrisome as the sun gets lower and we have nowhere to go.
Samantha, the master navigator, uses her camp and tent app to find a state park a few miles inland. We pass the little town of Pescadero and head into the hills. As we enter Butano State Park we are surprised to suddenly be enveloped in a dark forest of giant redwoods. We circle upwards to a collection of camp spots under the huge trees. It’s so dark under the giants it takes our eyes a few minutes to adjust. We ride the loop road once to scout each site and then circle around again to our favorite. It’s a large site under two massive skyscrapers. The forest slopes steeply downward beyond our little plateau. We can peer through the trees and just glimpse the stream below. Its silent until the wind blows. Then the canopy sends down a breathy whisper that seems to come from everywhere.
This forest is home to the rare and endangered Marbeled Murrelet. The black and white seabird flies inland to nest in the canopy of old growth redwoods. Then it returns to the sea each day to fish and feed its young. It seems a respectable way to spend one’s time. A dignified bird that’s always kept to itself and deserves to be left alone. The Murrelets fate is lock stepped with ours. She is a messenger of the health of our planet. It’s one more species that can barely survive in the impoverished earth we are industriously creating everyday.
After crossing this great land I have a renewed appreciation for trees. The vast plains and deserts are naturally treeless. We went days without spotting a single tree. They are a rare thing in this precious world. I also realized that our dream of building our own home is in need of revision. After witnessing the destruction in Oregon and here in California building with the skeletons of our forests is no longer an option. Luckily there are lots of great alternatives to stick frame homes.
We set the tent up on the soft, pine needle floor. Then we build a fire and listen to the emptiness. Eventually the place overwhelms us with it’s sullen coziness and we snuggle in.