Beta Testing Along the SF Peninsula

Photo: Elena Zhukova

Photo: Elena Zhukova

There's a lovey-dovey photo for you.

That's the closest I'm going to get to acknowledging this wacky tradition of expressing our individualistic love by way of cliched, obligatory corporatism and collective bad taste. [In other words, Happy Valentine's Day.]

Hey guys! So I finally went on my first overnight trip, as a way of dipping my toes a bit further into what the "real" trip is actually going to be like.

Day 1
San Jose, CA

As usual, Chaos/Serendipity/The Universe/The Force/what-have-you did a better job planning out my adventures than I ever could have.

Originally I was going to do a big loop up starting in the South Bay, up through the city, over to Sacramento, down through the East Bay. Largely the appeal of this particular route was to visit some good friends. 

Then there was weather, which displaced my trip by two days...which was enough to foster schedule conflicts with all of the friends I intended to visit such that they'd be unable to hang out or in many cases even offer crash space. Mwop, mwop.

But I needed to get at least one practice trip in this month.

So, without much of a plan, Alex and I rode up to Pacifica to stay with Elena Zhukova, a conceptual advertising photographer who's been photographing me since I was a modeling greenhorn and she was an art student in San Francisco [i.e., for a while], and her husband Aleksey.

Barely six miles into the ride, Alex's old tire was shredded, and so I ferociously guarded our bikes while he ran off to get a new tire and tube—a delay that bit an hour or two into our day. There was one stretch so unrelentingly steep that I wound up walking my bike for about a tenth of a mile [cheater, cheater, pumpkin eater]

When we got to the Pacifica, we decompressed for a while, poking at bugs [we found a cluster of maggots outside] and battle droids before being treated to an awesome home-cooked dinner of fish and vegetables, and liberally supplied with beer, wine, and bourbon.

Conversation that evening was punctuated by the hum of the ocean and the crackling of the outdoor heater. I leaned on a pillow stuffed with $15,000 in shredded dollar bills. Eddy the dog leaned on me. It seemed like a first taste of what my trip might turn out to be like on its best days: long mornings of cycling through beautiful country, rewarded in the evenings good food and company and a delicious feeling of satisfaction that was a paradoxical hybrid of "having discovered somewhere new" and "having made it back home"

Day 2
Pacifica, CA

Originally we'd planned to move along the next morning, but it turns out that Aleksey is an avid cyclist, so he offered to take us on a ride the following day around Pacifica and Half Moon Bay!

In one stunning loop, I rode behind Alex and Alex [there are so many Alexes] as we climbed through steep eucalyptus forests, down along Devil's Slide [stopping to explore old military bunkers en route], past surfers on the beach, past helicopters taking off and landing on an airstrip in fields of wildflowers, past the smells of fish and chips and waffles and seaweed, past upscale marinas, through a surreal mountain tunnel, and I had a harrowing first off-road excursion along the edges of sea cliffs. At first I was going kind of picture-crazy, but eventually had to give up on taking photos in favor of just enjoying the view and the present moment [the best moments in life are typically ones when no one has the time or inclination to take photos, anyway].

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That night, we modeled for Elena, resulting in the topmost and bottommost photos in this blog entry. 

...and enjoyed a warm February night and a couple bottles of cold IPA out in the yard.

Day 3
Pacifica, CA

The trek back down to the South Bay, to tend to my neglected inbox and finish planning my much larger trip that's looming ever closer [eep!], was quite educational. 

We'd decided to do a winding, hilly detour along trails in the mountains, which lent themselves both to giving me more practice off paved roads and to stunning panoramic views that I largely didn't bother photographing [was too busy looking]. 

It was in the mountains that I wound up on the phone with an old friend from high school who, it turned out, had scored $10 tickets to the opera Carmen in a small house in San Francisco, and would be heading there from Redwood City [which was more-or-less where we were headed that day]. 

So we bombed down bumpy switchbacks, past equestrians, stopped to grab some fish and chips, coasted along the 92, no problem...and then rush hour hit.

And we were on a steep two-lane highway, with no shoulder, with sheer drop-offs, with blind turns, and we'd gone too far to easily turn back. Hills are one thing, rattlesnakes are one thing, weather is one thing...but cars. Drivers. Those freak me the fuck out. Because, no matter how defensively I ride, no matter how many bright yellow or blinky or reflective things I stick onto myself or my bike, I have no ultimate say in whether the drivers coming up on me are paying attention, or of sound mind, or sober, or whatever. Aggressive, reactive, impatient drivers are all too common. So are absent-minded, text-messaging, daydreaming drivers. And drunk drivers, or sleepy drivers. And drivers zipping around tight corners at 90 MPH. You get the picture. Besides avoiding situations where I'm likely to be hit in the first place, there's really only so much I can do once I'm on the road.

Existentially jarred after almost getting booty-bumped by two semi-trucks in a row, Alex and I pulled off and sat in a patch of grass next to a kitschy old sign that said Santa's Tree Farm, the only distinguishable landmark in sight, debating whether we ought to chug on through and hope for the best, or wait for traffic to die down or, I don't know, hitchhike. After our heart rates settled down we decided to mosey on through, walking our bikes through a few particularly bad stretches.

Lesson learned: be more attentive to traffic patterns and look at my entire route before proceeding, particularly if it's going to be on a highway [before setting off, we'd scanned Google Earth very briefly, seen that a chunk of the 92 had a nice shoulder and four lanes, and called it good]. Hurp dap.

By the time we got to Redwood City, we were a bit exhausted for the opera [even at $10 a pop, it's not all that worthwhile going to a show if you sleep through the whole thing]. Fortunately our buddy Carlos was in town, and facilitated our recalibration to life with Mexican food, card games, and a gift of rum he'd infused with vanilla beans, before we headed off to visit my parents in order to spend the weekend going on bike rides with my dad [whom I'm just now beginning to keep up with].

Final tally for this trip?

104 miles ridden
6,167 feet climbed

Not too shabby for someone who got her ass kicked by a few-hundred-feet climb on a twelve-mile loop just over a month ago!

My improvements have been noticeable on a day-to-day basis, and as time goes on it becomes easier [more exciting, less daunting] for me to motivate myself to push that little bit harder. Thankfully, the beginning of my trip won't involve so much climbing [since my whole route through Florida and Georgia will be pretty much flat].

Two weeks left until my flight, and I've still got so much to figure out!

Tomorrow? Morning yoga, going on a ride [of course] with my dad [he's promised to subject me to some more hills], catching up on emails [I know, I know, I'm really behind—forgive me], studying maintenance/repair/my pack list/my route yet again while not panicking.

Fortunately, I've also got a voucher for one of those wildly underrated $10 cheap foot massage places [and, as a trained massage therapist myself, while I think there's no substitute for deep, specialized, specific body work done by a qualified and intuitive therapist...these cheap line-the-clients-up-in-rows-like-we're-in-an-airplane places can be a whole different kind of awesome to non-snobs, and really are underrated].

Photo: Elena Zhukova

Photo: Elena Zhukova

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I'm starting to get it.

Visual proof, for you non-believers! As for my tour, picture this, but with a lot more luggage piled/strapped/jerryrigged on. And probably a lot more blood, sweat, and tears.

Visual proof, for you non-believers! As for my tour, picture this, but with a lot more luggage piled/strapped/jerryrigged on. And probably a lot more blood, sweat, and tears.

The appeal of cycling, I mean.

There's the obvious stuff that doesn't take being on a bike for long to work out: great exercise, not spending money on gas, reduced carbon footprint. Blah, blah, yes. That's not what I mean.

I mean the real appeal. What makes people go kind of crazy for it, and spend lots of money for it. Granted, I know there are a lot of different reasons people are drawn to the sport and my experience is not a universal one—but I've been discovering my reasons. And that the real magic of it is far more subtle.

Since it's subtle, I'll try to illustrate what I mean, rather than tell you outright.

I tried riding to the climbing gym/yoga studio instead of driving for the first time about a week ago [I've now ridden there several times since].

In that one ride, I passed homeless shanty towns in jungles of concrete underbrush and chain link overgrowth, nestled just out of view of roads and train tracks.

I saw some true feats of resourcefulness. There were sophisticated little villas made of tarps and reclaimed mattresses, with a makeshift shower system, common hangout areas, little sculpture gardens made of found junk. One residence had a decadent entrance constructed of felled trees and planks of wood that made an imposing stair set and tunnel. I saw structures that the average white collar employee, if he hit hard enough luck, would never dream up, let alone realize. As I zipped under a bridge, a group of traveling dirtbags with bikes [what I'll be soon, in other words] whooped supportively and yelled, "Get it, girl!"

I rode along a river [rampant with signs of a recent flood], through a park, passing one guy who was swaying to the sheet music he was reading, another guy baffled by his mountain of camping and cycling gear strewn over a picnic table, and an obese squirrel wrestling with an entire loaf of bread. I rode through an international airport, and behind a decadent hotel.

Then I turned on a random road because a sign was posted in front of it with my first name and an arrow, and I'm a pretty avid follower of arbitrary circumstances and coincidences [i.e., when in doubt, flip a coin]. That road led me to a bike shop, where I had some very helpful conversations, and to a good cheap dinner spot.

I got to the gym, having logged about seventeen relatively flat miles, warmed up and ready to keep moving.

 

The alternative, in a car, is about twenty-minutes on congested suburban main roads.

[PS: I've logged 135 cycling miles, six hours of yoga, seven hours of climbing, and a wee bit of jogging in the last four days! And somehow managed to keep mostly on top of my emails, promotion, and errands. Mostly. I'm doing stuff, I swear!]

Recent ride around a lake, which was teeming with turtles and birds, but conspicuously devoid of bipeds.

Recent ride around a lake, which was teeming with turtles and birds, but conspicuously devoid of bipeds.

Channeling My Inner Chickenshit

For weeks now I've repeated, like a broken record, the same phrase to whomever's asked me how I'm doing: "About to fly to Bangkok with a one-way ticket." Each time, the words emerged automatically; meanwhile, I was catatonic, not registering the words that were fast becoming my own personal fucking catchphrase.

Really, that's not an answer to the question How are you doing? but everyone I've said it to has accepted it as such.

This is the last time I'm stating it, but this time I'm at least half-conscious of my words: I'm flying to Bangkok in a little over twelve hours...and that's basically the extent of my itinerary thus far.

As my departure's been arriving, a lot of people I've caught up with or run into--mainly acquaintances or bygone friends from a past life I no longer relate to--keep saying things to me like, "I wish I could just get up and go like you, by the seat of your pants, caution to the wind, [insert cliche after cliche here]--you're so fearless/free-spirited/bohemian." Or whatever.

They couldn't be farther from the truth.

I'd like to officially come out: By default, I'm actually pretty fucking neurotic. I overthink, overanalyze, overspeculate on worst-case scenarios. My natural tendency is to swing between being a control freak, and being opportunistically lazy. I am aeons away from being inherently free from fear and anxiety.

A very select few close friends of mine know this all too well; on the other hand, my acquaintances tend to invent a persona for me that I generally haven't bothered to disillusion them from because--I'll admit--the persona is pretty flattering. However, it's a fucking facade, and after a long-ass while of being adulated [and even iconized] on false pretenses got me feeling pretty worn-down. It's that whole it's worse to be loved for what you're not than hated for what you are platitude-majigg, incarnate. This incongruence was a large factor behind my compulsively deactivating my Facebook a while ago [which I've just now reactivated, after the persuasive barrages of a couple friends--given that I'm traveling without a phone, and with a camera].

Now, presenting the reason I'm writing all of this:

By birth, I'm chickenshit. That's not meant to be self-deprecating; rather, the thing I've just realized is that that's kind of the whole fucking point.

Listen. On my first solo road trip, I scraped together $900 and left my credit/debit cards behind. I packed my car with a sleeping bag, climbing shoes, and a couple cans of soup left over from my winter supply. That was to last me through three months of driving a vague loop from Tahoe down to San Diego, up to Vancouver, then back down to Tahoe.

It should be obvious to anyone with the faintest grasp of American gas prices, cost of living, and geography that $900 was not even remotely in the vicinity of being almost enough for such a trip. I had no jobs lined up, and no firm plans of where I'd stay along the way.

Call it poor planning, but I did that on purpose. It forced me to have a better time than I ever could have had if I'd taken the precautions of responsible planning and budgeting, if I'd been able to buffer myself in creature comforts, if I'd been able to maintain all the same habits.

Why? Because doing so was the only way to finally quell the unfounded fear, anxiety, and paranoia that had been plaguing me all winter.

To use an excerpt from an email I wrote an old friend the other night, featuring the exact moment this realization of my own behavior and motivations suddenly hit me:

My winter's similarly been a succession of catalyzing shaker-uppers. Lots of out-of-nowhere encounters [with people, but also other things--books, experiences, coincidences] that have propelled me to be introspective in a productive way, rather than "introspective" in that punishing, paralyzing, depressed way...which I don't think is true introspection to begin with. I think true introspection might lead you down dark passageways, but eventually comes full circle back out into the light--a brighter, cleaner light than whatever you'd been basking in before.

Blah, blah, figurative language. Metaphors and shit.

Anyway, you're welcome? Not really, though--I mean, not that you're not welcome, but it was a symbiotic exchange. I've been learning about myself from all my interactions this winter, too--in gauging how I react to different questions or situations, in gauging what feelings emerge or linger when I'm alone again after the interaction is over. It's interesting. I've dug up a lot of old ghosts from the past [ranging from casual acquaintances...to closet-skeletons].

This winter's been existential boot camp for me. Asking myself a lot of unhealthy questions, dealing with unwarranted anxiety and depression. [Granted, who's to say when those things are and are not warranted? Are they ever warranted? Are they ever not? What does anything mean? AHHHH!] 

Then I climbed out. The boy went away, so that I'd be left alone to make sure I was standing on two feet and empowering myself [rather than turning to the comforts of a partner to use as a crutch and distract me from myself--knowing him makes me wiser]. I pulled out my fucking IUD, which had never even occurred to me as a culprit. I started tackling one important task at a time, instead of overwhelming myself with several and being reduced to arresting procrastination. I went outside. I woke up earlier. Then I started meeting up with people I hadn't seen in a long, long time--and seeing myself reflected in ways that I denied at first, resentful ["they're just projecting some idealized archetype onto me, rather than simply seeing me"], and then later accepted as facets of truth. Just because a perspective is dissimilar--and incomplete--doesn't mean it's ALL wrong. I mean, it's limited, embellished, but so is everything--we limit things so they'll be simple, and embellish them so they'll be memorable. And even if the projection seems too lofty, the answer isn't resentment--or big-headedness--it's comparative self-evaluation to the other person's projection of me...and then converting it into a challenge, or an inspiration.

Anyway, that's what my own internal process for this winter looks like. Letting go of arbitrary fear.

In all honesty: as much practice I've had in chasing uncertainty [and I've had a lot of fucking practice in the last few years], it still scares the steaming shit out of me every time I walk up to the precipice.

However, I know from experience that--once I jump--the fear becomes obsolete, and all that's left is adrenaline and a sense of infinity. 

[This is literal, too: One of my best ways of getting myself out of a depressive funk is to go jump into a cold body of water--ideally an ocean, lake, or river, at night, in winter. And when I get out of the water, I feel so alive and not at all cold. The initial apprehension is there every single time, and never even really diminishes--but as I keep logging mileage this same pointless thing countless times, I become more and more assured of how I'm going to feel, once I get it over with, by a deeper knowledge that beats off my instincts to back down. It's my own version of practicing/cultivating something like faith.]

So, a month ago I worried about mosquito prevention, worst-case scenarios, theft, issues at the border, being targeted by the police, running out of money...I even thought about all the things I could put my money towards, or all the work I could get, or things I could do, if only I chose to cancel the trip and stay in the States.

The closer it gets--the more of an inevitability it becomes--the more relaxed I feel. I get this sort of zen-like resignation. I'm packing next to nothing, and I know once I get through airport security, I'm going to feel like I've finally returned home. That warm narcotic-orgasmic-bracing relief of tension I didn't even know I'd been carrying.

It never, ever feels like that's going to happen before the fact, but I know from experience to have faith because that's always what happens.

Incidentally, this is why I only buy non-refundable plane tickets: because I know myself well enough to know that, if I allow myself an easy way out, I'll end up taking it. I have to trick myself, all the time--not only with traveling, but with more mundane things [like studying, exercising, working, errands, hygiene--anything requiring discipline, which is something I decidedly do not have a natural-occuring supply of.

Tricks...I have to leave myself no easy way out, or make things into a game, or make it so that I'd have someone to answer to should I back out--where I'd lose face or let someone down by doing so. 

Some people seem to be easily self-motivated, or truly fearless. Lately people keep making the mistake of thinking I'm one of those people. Not even close. In truth, I am as lazy and cowardly as the next person. I just don't let my laziness and cowardice get the best of me--I corner myself until I have no choice but to act constructively.

Tonight, I sat on the roof of my old house with Alex. We were silent for a while.

"I'm nervous."

"I'm nervous."

"That's why we're going, though."

"Exactly."

It's not just about questing for adventure because it's fun [though that's obviously a big part of it]. If I was actually fearless, and living exactly the way that I do, it'd be gratuitous. I'd just be wanking my ego, over and over, resulting in weak thrills, at best. There'd be no rush, no challenge, and most importantly, no growth. 

I have no use for a stagnant life--even if that life appears on the outside to be rife with extreme sports and strange encounters. Nothing disturbs me more than meeting someone with a life that appears full and rich and surreal, only to find that they've become desensitized and adopt a too-cool-for-school attitude towards everything in the entire world--that is, towards their own existence. It disgusts me, even. They do all this cool shit, meet all these people, but have nothing to live for: philosophical zombies in glamorous packaging.

A couple days ago a girl asked me, "Why Thailand?"

"Well, not just Thailand. Not sure where else I might be going from there."

"Yeah, but why Thailand, in particular? As your first stop."

"Because it was cheaper than New Zealand, and more of a departure from what I know."

"That doesn't answer my question, though."

"...Doesn't it?"

Thailand's got nothing to do with this trip, really.

The ultimate reason I'm going is unknown to me, of course: if I already knew my reason for going on this trip, then I wouldn't need to bother going.

More generally, the reason I do what I do is because I'm not a philosophical zombie yet, and this trip is just one of succession self-vaccinations against becoming one.