Silence without, silence within. The mind not dying to make itself up. The house quiet as an hourglass. The soft tap tapping of the rain. The mind not dying to make itself up A story of what is happening here. The soft tap tapping of the rain, The sound of the wind in the trees. A story of what is happening here Is not what is happening here. The sound of the wind in the trees Asking for nothing. Is not what is happening here A man sitting at his desk Asking for nothing? The rain stops, the wind dies down. A man sitting at his desk. The house quiet as an hourglass. The rain stops, the wind dies down. Silence without, silence within.
Darkness and stillness
stake humble claims
in the ark of my heart.
We float together, three-in-one,
in a sea of trinitarian silence,
aware of the various elements,
at ease in the calm waters.
My soul receives the bread of dawn
and comes down to its own wisdom
of when to rise from the depths again
the next time my boat,
overwhelmed all of a sudden
by violent winds and vicious waves,
flips, spins, or floods.
A dog yips and yaps from next door. Why? A human types and taps the keys. Why? Why are the leaves turning color before I am ready? Why don’t they follow my own timetable? I am not ready for the summer to end. I was not ready for it to begin.
One night soon, my small world of woods will go silent. The crickets will suddenly stop their songs, and so will the birds. Even the wind will absent itself for the night. A real chill will fill the air for the first time in months. I will want to go outside and run for ten or more miles, or crawl under the covers in my bed and stay there for ten or more hours. Anything I can do to escape the chill, to fight against the continual recognition of my lonely mortality.
To every feeling and every action there is a season, and I know I am stuck because in every season I hurt in the same ways and do the same things to try and alleviate my pain: this same chill that keeps me frozen in time, burning for eternity; this same tightness in my heart that starts the moment I wake each morning, and my futile attempts to distract myself from the raw awareness of my diminished capacity to love; this same gaping wound that keeps me scraping open again and again these ancient scabs. If only there were some clearly visible marker to show to the world, some irrefutable cause of my hurt, so no one would need to ask why I was in pain, because everyone could see it. It would be impossible to hide. Here is my wound, I’d say, untying the layered bandage so they could see, and look how deep it goes. Look, I’d say again after many years, look how my wound has refused to heal.
See how deep it still goes and understand why I can’t move on, for the wound has infected my whole body, the body that houses the soul. If the house is on fire, how can the one trapped inside ignore his burns? The whole body is sick, and no physician has yet been found who can heal it.
Physician, someone once said, heal thyself. There is a long line to enter the gates of the true physician, gates that swing inward rather than outward, and I do not have the patience to wait in line, so I turn away and head out. I will heal myself, I say. Why should I need to enter the gates that swing inward to see the true physician? Who is the true physician? What is Truth? I am innocent; I wash my hands of his blood. But something unclean has entered me, and I am like a blind and deaf tracker with no sense of smell, unable to follow its trail to catch it and make it clean. O Lord, create in me a clean heart…What God hath cleansed, let no man call unclean. Let no man lean over the abyss without a man behind him to catch him if he leans too far. Let no man hear the soft hush of the wind and run for his life in the opposite direction. To run for your life is to run away from Life, to deafen your ears to its clear, unwavering call. The call that says, ‘stop running, come back to me, return to yourself. There is nothing between us but your fear that there will always be something between us.’
There is nothing between my skin and the wind. Shirtless, I feel the late summer breeze moving through the light hairs on my arms, and the darker hairs on my stomach. It is still September as I write this. The wind is colder than it was yesterday; it will be colder tomorrow than it is today. There is nothing between my skin and the wind and the world except for my mind that tells me I am separate, out of contact; my mind that reminds me I am completely alone and should feel very bad about being so. But everyone is permitted to have a different experience every now and then, and this afternoon I do not pay too much attention to these thoughts. They are so familiar; the feelings they produce—hopelessness, emptiness, loneliness, sadness—feel so much like myself. But I am more than my predictable reactions to the thoughts that impress upon me how disconnected I have always been, how unimpressive I am now, and how unfulfilled I will continue to be until the day I die.
Sometimes I wouldn’t mind being somebody else. Somebody with an easy-going confidence, a carefree vitality, and a naturally expansive disposition, who goes out to meet his fellows and the world with warmth and goodwill.
There is no such thing as a pure introvert, Jung said. Such a person would be in the insane asylum. No argument here. I am a kind of architect of dysfunction, working overtime to construct my own insane asylum. A refuge for my fugue-like states, a sanctuary for my fill-in-the-blank neuroses. Please let me be here, at least until I understand why I can’t just let myself be, why I am always interfering with my soul’s natural course. Let me travel the perilous seas of my longing until I reach that golden shore where my solitude meets yours, and my feeling of being stranded at sea all my life is first understood and then transforms into an experience of landing, dropping the anchor, and resolving to stay awhile on the unfamiliar terrain of shored belonging.
My soul needs this asylum in order to be restored to sanity, but my ego, the pirate captain of this aimless ship, gets in its way. The latter wants protection, too. But what to the soul is a precious dwelling-place where it can regain contact with itself, to the ego is a brick wall behind which it can hide, keeping itself safe from contact with anyone or anything else that might call into question whether there is anything of substance here. Is there anything of substance here? Is there anything but a certain stance, and a need to express that stance, so as to defend its legitimacy?
It’s a legitimate question. I don’t know the answer. I don’t know why I have abandoned the blank page for so long. I am uncertain of how to come back to it, so I’m writing with my uncertainty, keeping it company with my pen. I don’t want to hold my fluid unknowing or my intuitive knowing or anything else within me, known or unknown, at a distance. I want to hold everything inside myself like I would hold the pen, if I were writing in a notebook and not typing on a computer. How would I hold it? I would hold the pen as if it were both sides of a railing on a narrow rickety bridge that spans across a canyon rim, my only support to keep from falling to my death in the river far below. I would hold the pen as if it were a wedge, to keep some secret door from closing completely, allow just enough space for my foot to open the door another crack when I am ready.
I want these words to dance with light feet, to juke quickly when I try to tackle them to the ground, to run away from me, teasing me as I try to catch them. Though I may be on the road to serious illusion, I want these words to keep their sense of humor. I don’t want to fill them with my own heaviness; they deserve a lighter touch. They have the right to live on their own merit, free of my confused interference. No referee is needed here. These letters play by their own rules. While I sink in stagnant waters, struggling to get my own way, to be my own sun, I want these words to swim in living waters, to float on their backs as the only sun on this planet smiles down on them.
I broke into my own home
and found it empty.
I abandoned my home
and never found the way back.
I am a captive of my own need
to capture the moment.
I am a slave of my own desire
to be free.
Truth cannot be commanded.
Love cannot be won.
Peace cannot be earned.
Goodness cannot be achieved.
My lack of aliveness
would terrify me
if I were alive enough
to feel terrified.
I’d rather not be here
with what else is here
but what else is there
but what is right here?
It’s hard to love
and it’s hard to live
and it’s hard to write
without loving or living.
I want to own a Russian cat
and read Dostoyevsky
by a fire in the winter
in the woods of Arizona.
I want to speak
I am most real
when I confess
that I don’t know
what it means to be real.
It is evening now.
The dogs have stopped barking.
The rain has stopped falling.
There is no wind.
It is time to open, my reluctant one.
When you close the door to be alone with your sorrow,
you close the door also on your joy.
Leave that door open, my despairing one,
let the plaintive cries of the others reach you,
touch you, bring you to your knees,
and let them bring you up again,
to the surface where a child smiles
at you in line at the supermarket,
as you take the change from the cashier
with her eyes so sorrowful, so beautiful,
so full of a hidden mystery
she yearns to express.
Express her yearning, my searching one,
as she tells you, in a voice so melancholy
and weary, so soft and precious,
to have a good day. If only you could
somehow make her day great, somehow point
to the greatness she has in herself,
then you could say truly
today was good.
Feel the wind on your skin, my inward one,
let this power touch you continually,
feel it even in the protected stillness of your room.
You are never so estranged from the world
that the wind cannot embrace you.
Open to it, and its’ touch
will not end at your skin.
Tears in the desert, streaming down
To fall onto the dry ground,
They will not be dried.
I could lie and say they are a fluke,
Because they come from nowhere
I can perceive. How can I see
What exists within me, invisibly?
When I smile, I seem to smile, or so it seems.
When I weep, my tears are real, or so I believe.
The cold day threatening rain feels more real
Than the cloudless day of sunshine in springtime.
I could try to align my tears
With the gnarled juniper bark I lean my back against.
I could try to make sense of what I sense,
What I know, is true, but knowing its truth is enough.
Not understanding, but knowing, is all I know.
The wind comes and makes me shiver,
It moves the leaves on the tree above me.
I sit below and look to the cloud to know
Myself, and in knowing myself I bestow
This knowledge, this tragic knowledge,
Onto the dry ground.
I close my eyes and feel the wind.
How to feel the reality of each day, in each moment?
How to be in touch with what is real,
And in that touch, in that moment of connection,
To feel oneself to be no less real
Than what one touches?
How to touch what cannot be touched?
To feel what cannot be seen?
I look up at night to the stars,
I cannot touch their cold magnificence,
I lie firmly on the sandy desert ground
And wonder about the limits of sound and vision.
I wonder about limits as I wander
Through a land without them.
I wonder about fragility as I ride
Through a land both fragile and hostile.
I wonder and I wander and I ride,
Searching for what is and what has always been,
What has never been limited by its mystery.
This morning the sun shines again in the desert,
The tears of the sky fell last night,
And the dry desert ground received the gift:
The gift of rain like the difficult gift of pain,
Difficult to receive, difficult to perceive
As a gift, creating a rift
Between who we are and who we wish to be.
Do we wish to be beyond
What forces us to go within?
Above what we need to see
The confusing forces that lie below?
Some days I walk the streets of nameless towns,
Not remembering how I got there,
And all I see is unacknowledged suffering,
Clouds of pain that hover just beyond awareness.
The clouds can neither recede to admit
The light of the sun nor open to relinquish their gift,
Until they are seen, acknowledged, even praised.
In my mind’s eye, I raise my hands to the sky
To give praise to the clouds that give me pain,
To the storm in my soul that unsettles me,
Forces me to seek shelter.
Can I find that shelter or must it find me?
Even when I find it, or find what I think it could be,
Temporarily, I find myself unsatisfied still, still
Aching without just cause, bereft
Of any physical, visible wound.
As the day warms up, the stillness intensifies.
The clouds remain motionless,
The storm has passed, for now.
Warmth again overtakes the world.
There is no wind to force me to shiver,
No dark clouds I am forced to struggle with of against.
There is only my bare chest facing the sun,
And the force of this pen pressing into this page, a force
Necessary and indispensable or irrelevant and excessive?
Is it a force to be reckoned with and recognized for,
Or is like the force of an axe that only divides further?
The divided wood, split into thin pieces,
Helps to start the fire, but once the fire begins to blaze
The split wood gives off less warmth than wood undivided.
Voices drift up from below to the hill I sit and write on.
Divided souls seeking unity, the voices
Beckon me to come off the hill, come closer.
Why is it that the closer I come to the drifting voices,
The more divided I feel? What is it in me
That divides me when I am with others?
What in me stays in one piece as the axe
Continues without sympathy to split me
Into uneven pieces?
Is it clear now why I cannot rest?
The sky is mainly clear now, the clouds have drifted
To the outskirts of my vision. We made a decision,
They tell me, after we came to believe.
‘Yes, I believe,’ someone once said,
‘Help my unbelief.’ Yes, I grieve, I told her,
And as I look to the clarity of the sky
I can find no reason as to why.
Someone has died, and someone still lives,
And I grieve for all the gifts I will never give.
Yes, I grieve. Help me grieve more deeply.
As I again wandered through the town
That had lost its name in some long-ago season
Of forgetting, I felt like I was exploring a deep well.
I did not know where the bottom was,
Or what spring the water came from.
I asked one woman whose steely blue eyes
I mistook for the source of the water
I was searching for, to help me be honest.
She looked at me and her eyes turned raven black,
And she turned her back on me
And disappeared without a word.
I did not know if she meant for me to follow her,
Or if she meant anything at all.
I made a decision to follow her,
Believing I might come through her to the spring,
By following the eyes that had turned on me.
After a long and fruitless day,
I returned to the now-empty town square,
And a raven in a cottonwood tree
Did not fly away upon my arrival.
There were no clouds or stars in the sky,
And the moon had not yet risen.
I did not understand why the town had no streetlights,
And the one car I saw went through the broken stoplight
Without headlights. I wondered how the driver could see.
Distraught with my failure to find the source
Of the water, weak with thirst, angry at myself
For losing the track of the woman whose eyes
Had turned to black, I lay on my back
And stared at the blackness of night. I looked up,
Hoping to find there what the day had kept from me.
A well this deep could not be empty.
Was my search preemptive? Did I begin too early?
Darkness enveloped me, and I lost my faith
That the moon would rise and shine
Its light on this strange and nameless town.
As I left, I wondered about the raven
In the cottonwood tree, and why the tree
Was so far from water.
I left to walk with my thirst,
At times finding small pools filled with rain water,
But never finding flowing water, never water
I could follow to discover its source.
I returned to the desert, to a land
Where what I was searching for was scarce.
I hoped to find gratitude amidst scarcity,
Fulfillment within the emptiness.
I ceased my endless struggle, for a moment,
And sat, and waited, and listened,
The wind seemed to be battling the stillness,
Or else its intensity was an integral part of that stillness.
All the human power in the world
Could never stop the spring wind,
And all the human knowledge and technology
Could never penetrate the mystery
At the heart of the stillness.
I heard a plane soaring overhead,
Heard a car on some nearby road,
Heard a human whistling to a dog,
And decided it was time to move on. I packed
What I had left of what I no longer called my own
Into a rucksack, and set off south,
Towards what I hoped was a deeper emptiness,
A more real and alive nothingness,
A richer poverty.
I walked with my thirst, and often it seemed
To walk ahead of me. Led by my thirst,
I walked south, the sun beating on my back
Like a silent drum. I walked south, and felt my feet
On the ground beneath me; I walked south,
Seeking the source that would give meaning to my thirst.
When I grew weary with walking, I sat
For a day or a week, and waited,
Immobile like a rock in the sand.
When I grew weary with sitting I began again
To walk, awaiting the day when neither
Walking not sitting would exhaust me,
The day when what I sought would find me.
This day I sit, and wait, and listen
For the silence that no one can speak of.
What can I speak that can point
To what cannot be spoken?
This day I sit, and wait, and listen
For the sound that will still my speechless cries.
How long must I wait before
What I cry for finds me at peace?
This day I sit, and wait, and listen
In the space between silence and sound,
Between tears and laughter,
Between hatred and love.
If I listen for long enough in that space,
Will I find what I am searching for?
If I listen in the space between self and other,
And hear what I am searching for in that space,
Will I have come to the end of my journey
Or the beginning of my true pilgrimage.
This day I sit, and wait, and listen.
I close my eyes and feel the wind.
Christmas Eve in the early morn:
An open window and a strong wind.
She was strong and opened herself
To me in the brisk morning
As I braced myself for her parting
Gift of unutterable loneliness.
It was her gift I needed
To be alone and to weep
That she was not with me.
Why should I not keep
This window open, and listen
To the falling rain, and let
This pain fall to meet me
In the desert of my longing?
Do you need to speak
Like the wind, like the rain?
I will listen.
Do you need to weep
For lost nights and lost days?
I will weep with you.
I want nothing more
Than to weep with you,
And on that long awaited night
When there is nothing more that I want,
I still will live
To weep with you.
I woke up before the sun rose at the campground in Lincoln City. I had gotten to the site late the night before. There had been no one at the window, so I didn’t pay for the site. I left before anyone could hassle me over that. It was before six in the morning, but when I got to the road it was still maddeningly busy.
This trip was a microcosm of the longer trip I had done from Montana to Arizona almost four years before. I experienced all the feelings I had on that trip, but in a shorter period of time. There was the same need to go, the same confused and unclear longings, the same restlessness, the same moments of doubt, the same feelings of loneliness, the same experiences of accomplishment and jubilation. The feelings were condensed on this trip; they did not have the time to fade that they would on a longer journey. They came in shorter but more intense bursts. For me, the more intense the feelings are, the more rewarding. When the road loses its intensity, it’s time to go home, if you’ve got one. If the road is home it’s time to leave home for a time, settle down for a week or two.
There was a streak of insanity to the journey up the Oregon Coast. Each day I rode for over ten hours. Ten the first day, almost fourteen the second, twelve on the third, and thirteen hours on the last day. Why? I had a week to do it, but I did it in four days, and when I was done I felt like I wouldn’t be able to bike for at least four more. I could have averaged more like eight hours on the road per day instead of twelve. But maybe I wanted to test my endurance, as I pedaled by the eternally enduring sea.
So the trip was a microcosm.
I experienced moments of doubt. What am I doing? Why am I doing this? These feelings are probably normal for any trip, but this one somehow seemed more purposeless to me than any. To go out while resolving not to return is one thing. I can understand that. But to go for a four-day out and back tour, even along a beautiful stretch like the Oregon Coast—that is more difficult to understand. Yet I was doing it. I felt like I needed to do it. I certainly wasn’t doing it for fun. There were moments of exhilaration, feelings of strength. But more often it was painful. The wind on the way north was relentless, that cannot be stressed enough. The going was slow. It was work more than fun, work without the weekly check. It is easy to forget how to have fun, and often times I forget. I was not taking an easy ride up the coast. I was booking it, a man on a mission, but what my mission was exactly, I couldn’t say. When I started going and the wind was relentless, I just grimaced. Very well then, into the wind. I welcomed the wind with wild grins contorted by pain.
There was something holding me in Oregon, something I felt was concurrent with my purpose as an individual, but its hold was getting looser. Still, I couldn’t go out if I wouldn’t come back. But as long as I returned I could still go. I wanted to push through all feelings without pushing any of them under. I felt as unsettled and restless as I ever have. I knew the best way for me to deal with those feelings was to keep moving, keep cranking up the revolutions and intensity until I could crank no more. On the trip, that worked; after the trip ended I felt exhausted and could barely move for a few days and then the restlessness returned with a vengeance, what had been holding me loosened its grip still more, and I ended up returning to the coast to do Oregon’s southern route.
I experienced moments of loneliness. On a solo trip, there will be loneliness. I would rather be alone and experience occasional bouts of loneliness than be with another and desire to be alone. The desire to be alone is usually stronger in me than the desire for a companion. When it is not, then I feel lonely.
I remember passing a party on the outskirts of Tillamook on Saturday night, heading back from the Washington border. I saw a woman and man kissing out on the deck, the woman in a bikini. The sun was setting. I felt the loneliness; there was nothing to do but ride on, bringing the loneliness along for the ride.
As I rode, I thought about why that particular scene brought loneliness. It seemed so much like the essence of something, some ideal I had always imagined but never realized. The vast sweep of sand stretching out below, empty of people, the magnificent and rock-islanded Oregon coast, the sun sinking slowly, and a young couple having found their place feeling a part of it all, seeing each aspect of the scene—the vastness of the beach, the power of the sea, the brightness of the sun—reflected in the other’s eyes.
A small, for some reason nearly forbidden part of me felt lonely for that life. I knew I would never experience that much contentment, that much peace and easy happiness, for longer than a few hours or minutes. I cannot understand actively pursuing that life. I take those feelings as they come, but I do not pursue them. I have never been able to let myself experience them for too long. There has to be some conflict, some war with the self, some divine discontent, in order to live a creative life. So I tell myself, at least. My creative output would have to be my romantic sunset night. I too was a part of this scene, a part of it all, not least because there was no one else there with me. My aloneness made me an integral part of what a companion might take away from. So my rationalizations went. As I continued moving, the thoughts slipped away like the sinking of the sun. I kept moving as it started to get dark.
But that was the following day. This day was still Friday, one of the most physically difficult days of the trip. I don’t know how to write about the actual biking. I just kept pedaling until I got to where I ended up, which was the brilliantly named town of Seaside. It was painful; I was in despair most of the time; I cursed the cars and wind; I belted out Dylan and Zevon again; and I talked to a long-bearded man who was walking from San Francisco to Seattle. I thought it was strange when he said he was walking. We were in the town of Tillamook, renowned for cows and what comes from cows, and we were both walking . I could see that he was walking. That was evident. I was also walking. Later when riding it hit me that he actually meant he was walking the coast, up to Seattle. That was a more impressive feat.
The long-bearded man was from Flagstaff and wearing a NAU shirt; apparently, he had spent some at the Wednesday community lunch offered at Prescott College. That was quite a coincidence. When I said I went to Prescott College, he said, “One of them, huh?” I wasn’t quite sure what that meant, but I answered, “yes and no.” I didn’t explain further but if I did I would’ve said,
“I go to the school but I do not feel like ‘one of them’, or one of anything, save the human race occasionally. And though I like being outdoors, and most people at Prescott College like being outdoors, that alone does not make me one of them. In fact, that is one of the reasons I find it hard to be there. How do I distinguish myself when there are so many others with the same interests, the same passions. The need to stand out has always been much stronger in me than the need to fit in. However, my natural inwardness does not usually allow me to stand out, except when writing takes my place, and the words are authentic and passionate. And how does it take my place? What place is there to take? Who is authentic? What is passion if invisible? And where do I go if writing takes my place? Who goes? Who writes? Who knows? Go home! You long-bearded expatriate from Flagstaff! Go moan for man! Go eat the famous Tillamook cows! And how authentic is it when it takes my place? You ask. As authentic as a place holder? Have I placed my trust in images and distorted facts? Even you, yesterday you had to ask me where it was at? I couldn’t believe after all these years, you didn’t know me any better than that?”
http://videosift.com/video/Bob-Dylan-Idiot-Wind-1976 (very cool version)
And then the long-bearded expatriate of Flagstaff would probably be mightily confused because indeed I had just met him less than two minutes ago and had not known him for all these years, unless he knew the Dylan song and then perhaps we would have joined in a duet, and after finishing and radically butchering most of the song I would’ve said, ‘Let’s go, I’ll walk my bike to Seattle with you’ and we would have taken off for the road north and I would never have gotten back to school because I’d be walking up the coast with this man who would call me Alias while I would call him Augustine.
But none of that happened because I just answered, ‘yes an no.’ We talked for a few minutes, I wished him luck, then I took off again for the Washington state line.
The wind was howlin’ and outrageous but I just put my head down and pedaled slowly and steadily until I made it to Seaside close to sundown. All the tent sites were equally as outrageous in price as the wind was in power, so I camped by the side school which I hoped was closed for the summer. Anyways it was Friday night. I ate a burger in a fish joint and then went and saw a movie by myself: Spy. It was very funny but I nearly fell asleep during it for exhaustion.
I slept without issue that night by the school, woke up late, and went to a continental breakfast at the Quality Inn. Illegal! You rotten vagrant! You might roar with scorn and derision in your eyes, to which I probably shrug my shoulders and give no response. Though I was itching to get back to the road, now being only about twenty miles from the state line and the turn around point and the wind at my back, food was necessary, and also free, if illicit. No issue at the Quality Inn either, and some quality eggs, sausages, granola, blueberry muffins, and I forget what else. On previous trips I had once done this often without shame, feeling I deserved it from the riding I was doing, but I was starting to feel slightly uneasy. I was older now, nearing the age when other people were making money, maybe even sleeping at hotels and getting the continental breakfasts with good consciences and emptier wallets. Well, regardless, I was starving and felt I had the right to the food that would probably been thrown out anyways. I wasn’t causing anyone any pain. Entitlement! Rationalization! You might roar with scorn and derision in your eyes, to which I would probably shrug my shoulders and give no response, though perhaps I would secretly agree.
So I ate and went back on the road, where I would ride up to Astoria and get pummeled by wind from what felt like every direction as I rode over the bridge to Washington in order to promptly turn around and head back over the bridge to Oregon. Insanity! You might roar, enjoying yourself now with glee, to which I would openly and wholeheartedly agree, with a shrug and perhaps a wild yodel, now with the wind at my back.
I had planned on starting from Eugene but there wasn’t a place to sleep. Even the Wal-Mart was not an option. No overnight parking, a sign said. I kept driving west towards the coast. The first town off the 101 was Florence. I parked by the beach and slept in the car, the windows down so I could hear the wind and sea outside.
I woke up as the fog was clearing, changed into a swimsuit and ran up the dunes that separated me from the sea. I jumped into the ocean and got out right away. It was low 50’s in the water and not much warmer outside. I got back into the car. I wasn’t sure if I was going to start biking that day, so I had spent a couple hours trying unsuccessfully to do some writing in the library. When I finally decided to get going, it was almost noon, and the wind had picked up in earnest. It usually started about 10 in the morning. I wanted to bike down to the California state line or up to the Washington state line. Washington was further, and I had a few days, so I headed north.
I parked the car and got my panniers ready in a Fred Myers. I saw signs here that also said No Overnight Parking, but I thought I’d risk it. There wasn’t any better place to park. I was feeling somewhat paranoid. I didn’t know anyone, and I just wanted to get on the road. I didn’t want anyone to pull up and ask me what I was doing or tell me that there was no overnight parking here. Usually, I enjoy the feeling of being a stranger, unknown and passing through, but only when I’m actually passing through. Be in the same place for too long and you might start to get recognized! Better to go unrecognized. Invisibility has always been the most desirable superpower to me. As a traveler, invisibility comes naturally. You blend in on the outside while still remaining unblended on the inside. Actually, often times you don’t blend in on the outside. The weight on the back of my bike would clearly distinguish me as an outsider. Very well, an outsider is usually what I prefer to be.
I quickly threw in some food and clothes in the panniers, not thinking all that much about just what I was throwing in, loaded on the tarp and sleeping pad, checked for a second to see if I had everything, and started pedaling. It was about noon, and I moved slowly for the first few miles, the same way I moved for most of the journey north. I hadn’t reckoned with the wind, which was strong and blowing directly into my face. I would also have to get used to the weight, which was 60 pounds at the least and probably more. Hunter Thompson writes in The Rum Diary, “I had a flash of something I hadn’t felt since my first months in Europe—a mixture of ignorance and a loose, ‘what the hell’ kind of confidence that comes on a man when the wind picks up and he begins to move in a hard straight line toward an unknown horizon.”
This is how I felt. Instead of despairing over the wind, I felt reckless, adventurous. I was pedaling against a powerful force; the wind was brutal, punishing, unforgiving, and indifferent to all comers. So be it. I would rather make my way against the indifferent wind along the rocky splendor of the Oregon Coast than try to make some legal tender by going up the actively cruel ladder of human production and consumption.
The miles were hard-earned from the get-go. Highway 101 climbs out of Florence before it drops down to Yachats. So I climbed. It took me a long time to get to Yachats, maybe three hours to go the 24 miles, maybe more. I realized in my paranoid rushing in the Fred Myers parking lot, I had forgotten a phone charger. I wanted to keep my phone charged in case I decided to go a different route or to look up things to do in the towns I passed through.
John owned the ramshackle electronic shop in Yachats, cords and wires all over the place. He only took cash. ‘The grocery store gives cash back,’ he told me. ‘You can pick up a snickers.’ I realized that was exactly what I craved, so I went to the grocery store next door, picked up two snickers and an espresso drink. It was a habit I would continue through the four-day trip, during which I ate horribly. Then I went back and talked with John about the wind. That was really the only thing on my mind. The wind has that way about it, clearing the mind of anything else but itself, the force you’re biking into. John told me that the difference in temperature between the coast and the inland was as much as forty degrees this day. It stayed that way into the weekend. 60-65 on the coast, close to 100 inland. Apparently, this difference was the cause of the ferocious wind, my brutal enemy on the way north and my good dear friend on the way south. He said some other things but my mind deemed them too scientific to understand.
I wished him good health (he was just getting over a flu) and then again it was to the road. I had gotten over one mighty hilly section and for a while the terrain was relatively flat. I had passed one woman a few miles before Yachats who looked like she was in utter despair, her head in her hands on the side of the road. I felt like if I stopped it would be a while before I continued, so I didn’t stop and give her the support I couldn’t have given her anyways. Now there were bikers going the other way, with the wind, looking exuberant and light. The opposite of me. They would wave happily at me and I would grimly put up a hand. There were many of them going the other way, but in my days on the road, that one woman in despair was the only one I saw going north against the wind.
I had driven this route the previous December, when I was heading from Alaska, where I had spent the fall with my cousins, to Arizona, where I was going to start college. I remembered staying the night at the Dublin House in Yachats and then getting off the 101 the next morning, driving to Eugene and getting on the I-5. Back then, somewhere north of Florence and south of Lincoln City, somewhere around where I was biking now, I had jumped into the ocean, though both the water and the outside temperature were in the 40’s. I had written this a few weeks afterwards,
“There was a definite feeling, on this December day on the Oregon shore, that I was not an important part of this scene in any way. Whether I or anyone else was here, the sea would remain, sometimes calm and sometimes violent, the waves would crash, the islands of rock and trees would stand. It was a reassuring reminder, the patient indifference of the lively inhuman elements.
In the summer, I’m sure the beach would have swarmed with men and women and children. But today it was empty of people and full of life. I wasn’t distracted by bathers and surfers, and I was able, when I paused for a few moments before I got to the car, to appreciate the beauty that surrounded me—the massive rock islands that stood to the south, the light Irish drizzle that fell from the low grey sky, the seagulls that soared north with the coastal winds. The realization that I was irrelevant to the scene was a simple one, but it freed me from the narrowing self-absorption that comes from driving alone, one of many poor souls detained in cars on the endless road, with only billboards for company, brought me back to the larger open world around me, the sands and trees and sea, including me but not requiring my presence.”
The self-absorption that driving brings does not come as much when biking. Because cycling is a physical struggle, the mind has no time to sink into self-pity or self-absorption. It must be in tune with the body, focused on pushing forward. When the body is not moving, the mind is free to do what it pleases, to be absorbed with itself and unresponsive to the outside world. Biking allows for another type of absorption, an absorption in movement and activity. On the coast, I was able to be present and responsive to the world of rock and sea and sky and trees. I was forced to be present; I could not help but be where I was. If my mind drifted at all, the biking would quickly become more difficult. The body needed the mind in order to persevere. The coastal winds added another element that required even greater presence. To ride north on the Oregon coast in the summer is a long and arduous lesson in patience and acceptance. I had to let go of any idea of myself as strong, as physically powerful. I was no match for the wind. To work with the wind at all I had to go slowly. There was no other way. I had to put my head down and endure the pain without expending unnecessary energy.
I continued on into the night. Each time I wanted to stop for the night, I told myself to keep on for just a few more miles. Who knows why? I simply wanted to keep going.
I was also in a stretch without many places to camp for the night. Newport was fifty miles from Florence and Lincoln City was eighty. Between the two, I don’t remember seeing any places to camp other than RV campgrounds, where tent sites are exorbitant, up to $40 a night. One of my rules of the road is never paying to sleep if I can help it. If I do have to pay, the maximum price I am willing to spend is $6, the price of a tent site in the national forest and state park campgrounds. I was also riding through a busy stretch. This first day on the road was a Thursday but it might just as well have been a weekend day. The highway stayed like this all the way up from Florence to the Washington State line and back again. The noise was at times unbearable for me, and so I put in headphones, diluting my ability to be present. But most of the time, even when I was riding right next to the ocean, I could not hear it or smell it because of the noise and exhaust from the cars. So I listened to Bob Dylan, belting out his Blood on the Tracks album.
“But me I’m still on the road,
Heading for another joint.
We always did feel the same
We just saw it from another point of view
Tangled up in blue”
Or Warren Zevon:
“Gridlock, up ahead
There’s a line of cars as far as I can see
Gridlock, goin’ nowhere
Roll down the window, let me scream”
Finally, past 11, I pulled into a state park in Lincoln City, about eighty miles from where I had started in Florence.
Can you let deadly calm possess you?
Can you let stillness confess its wordless secrets
On this windless morning?
You want to give everything,
But you have nothing to give.
You want to be yourself,
But do you know who that is?
You do not want to speak,
But you expect to be heard.
You do not want to be swayed,
But you demand to be stirred.
Can you let the river of unknowing stir you?
Can you let mystery endure amidst the empty uproar
On this wind-strewn afternoon?
You want to get out of here,
But you don’t know which way.
You want to say it all so clearly,
But you don’t know what to say.
You do not want to weep,
But you’d love to be honest.
You do not want to be surprised,
But you demand to be astonished.
Do your unending demands astonish you?
Do your own offending hands admonish you?
Feel the wind die down in the early evening.
Even it does not pretend to acknowledge you.
You want to change everyone else
So long as you can remain the exact same.
You want the world to be different
So long as you don’t have to feel any pain.
You don’t need to be with anyone
So long as they all want to be with you.
You are just fine with being all alone
Just so long as you are being pursued.
Can you let happiness pursue you?
Can you get out of your way long enough
To let the wind that picks up at dusk
Cut you back down and pull you through?
You want to remember how it was
So long as it was better back then.
You want to imagine how it will be
So long as it gets better again.
You don’t want to stay stuck here
So long as there’s someplace better to go.
You don’t mind stickin’ around
So long as someone here still enjoys your show.
Can you feel the agony of all your divisions?
Can you kneel over every one of your tragic decisions?
You open the window, no wind blows inside.
In the darkest part of the motionless night,
The silence pierces you with deadly precision.