I loaded up my bike with bat-sized butterflies flapping around in my stomach. I was going to ride 63 miles from Costa Mesa to Encinitas when the most I had ridden was 45 miles and never fully loaded.
But I pushed out the gate and was soon cruising down toward PCH. The Pacific Ocean spread out in undulating waves and the salty wind blew on my face. I felt free and strong.
Another few miles, I realized I couldn’t stand up on my pedals for extra power, because the back weight made the bike wobbly if I did. I really didn’t like hills by the time I got through Laguna Beach. Not one bit.
I waited at the last signal in Dana Point, pondering how best to get through San Clemente (none of the maps showed anything promising and rather banking on help from other cyclists as my Warm Shower guests often told me about). Then another cyclist called out, “There’s less cars this way,” and turned right. I, of course, was heading straight.
I followed him through a maze of back streets. Recently retired as a big wig of Sprouts Markets, Seth was an avid cyclist on this trail, and informed me I must reserve my Amtrak ticket since I had a bike and told me the easiest paths to Oceanside. I was pedaling hard to keep up when he blithely commented how nice it was to ride slower to warm up. We parted ways with a fist bump and I carried on alone.
With exquisite relief, I lay down on top of a picnic table in San Onofre State Beach until my muscles relaxed. I munched on an apple and filled up my water bottles. My knees were groaning and I was only half way.
Clouds darkened appropriately as I rode through Camp Pendleton’s desert landscape, the barracks, hearing the occasional explosives in the distance and was surprised to see kids playing in an elementary school playground.
The endorphins had truly kicked in when I reached the familiar Oceanside trails. I stopped for coffee in Carlsbad for an extra jolt for the last ten miles and a craft beer at my favorite liquor store in Leucadia.
Seven hours after starting I was drinking a beer called Witches’ Wit in my tent on the beach. It reminded me of my dad who liked to tease me by saying “It’s colder in here than a witch’s tit.” That man was such a delightful goofball. Then I had tacos and margaritas with my friend Victoria.
Next day I awoke to one of my favorite beaches in the world, where I used to take the boys when they were small. Memories flooded my senses. I had donned a two-piece bathing-suit nine months pregnant on this beach.
I breakfasted with my literary agent and told her about my new book I was working on. She’s retired now, but I’m hoping she can help me still.
After getting off the train, I had fifteen miles to ride. As I pedaled through a headwind, I felt weepy, overcome with emotions and didn’t want to ride anymore. I chastised myself. This second day was a quarter of my ride the day before. About five miles from home, construction forced me to take an alternate route up an unexpected hill. I was so tired I couldn’t remember how to shift properly and broke my chain.
Though, I had bought the necessary equipment, the master link had fallen out of my bag. I tried to troubleshoot, but nothing would work. Devastated, I called a friend. Hot tears rolled down my face. I felt like a failure.
Pilar would have none of my self-degradation. “You rocked it sister,” she said. I asked her to drive me to the bike shop and drop me off. I had to ride the rest of the way home.
My bike now has one gold link in the chain, which reminds me of a golden tooth. Help from strangers and friends got me through the ride. But perhaps the greatest gift was gentleness I granted myself for being an imperfect human and finally willingness and courage to welcome the accumulating grief that has been knocking on my door for six years.