“It is better to travel well than to arrive” – Gautama Buddha
I sat in my chair as the conference call droned on like a transoceanic flight, the kind of flight where 5 hours in you’ve had just about enough of the blubber and bad breath from the 300 lb guy seated next to you invading your personal space and you start to consider whether free-falling 35000 ft of air between you and the surface of a watery grave is a better option. Sheesh, only 15 minutes into the call and I was off on a mental tangent like a Malaysian airliner headed toward the pole of inaccessibility. Trapped in the shadowless lighting of a fluorescent hell of an office with no foreseeable chance of escape, I searched for something to get my mind off the task at hand.
My eyes darted around the cage of the room much like the wandering topic of the conference call itself – neither one of us had much focus. Not finding anything interesting to look at other than the bored faces of my co-workers (hmm, Bob ought to get that mole on his cheek looked at, it looks weird), all control over my destiny now lay squarely in the hands of whatever jackass was babbling endlessly on the other end of the line in a vain attempt at making himself sound impressive for his boss. Exhaling a sigh of relief I seized upon the reflection of a palm tree I could just barely make out through the gunslit of a distant window as it swayed in the breeze of the parking lot. Imagining myself swaying in the breeze while leaning up against its trunk I made my escape, if only for a minute.
Anyone that’s ever worked in an office and been stuck in a conference room with a few other doomed souls knows exactly what I’m talking about. No one likes these sorts of situations (except for the few twisted souls that seize upon opportunities like the captive audience of a conference call to pump up their low self-esteem by picking on every little detail I suppose), but it pays the bills. Or maybe some people are just so dulled by the routine of life that they really don’t care as they march onward through endless days like the one I was having. The weary foot soldiers shuffle toward their deaths hastened by heart disease and stress spurred onward only by the rantings of their psychopathic leaders. Or maybe if I think like this I’m just not cut out for this corporate world?
Whatever the root cause, 15 minutes into the conference call I had determined it to be total bullshit and had checked out almost completely. I followed the reflection of the palm gently swaying in the afternoon breeze. For all I knew it could’ve been the reflection of a screensaver on someone’s computer, but at least it transported me away from the drone of the middle manager on the other end back to a day 3 weeks earlier. It had been my last week of unemployment. My freedom (and impending poverty) was lifting like a soothing morning fog being burned from the valley by the scorching light of dawn on the hottest day of summer, the double-edged sword of having to rely on the sun for our existence. Not to mention having to work for a living.
Although I had clearly begun to multi-task at work (daydreaming is a valuable career skill), that morning 3 weeks ago I was single-minded in my pursuit of a dream. Though the weather was looking a bit iffy (a late winter storm was blowing in off the Pacific) I was headed out on my trusty Salsa Fargo for a loop around San Diego county that would roughly trace the Stagecoach 400 bikepacking route. Not being a fast biker and wanting to travel in tourist mode instead of a race mode, I had hoped to bag at least the high points of the course as it wound through coastal suburban San Diego, up into the mountains, across the desert then back to downtown San Diego over the mountains again. From there I planned on catching a train back to North County, weather permitting of course as snow was forecasted for some of the higher elevations of the route.
Transfixed upon the swaying reflection of the palm outside my gloomy conference call, I recalled how there were palm trees swaying in the breeze the day I took off on my ride too. I’d wanted to do this ride for what seems like forever and this was my last chance to get it done, so I started at the water’s edge for a ceremonial tire dip into the Pacific at the Oceanside pier then headed south.
Soon I was cruising on pavement through Carlsbad accompanied by formations of pelicans flying parallel to the cliff’s edge like pterodactyls in a child’s dream. The espresso bars sprinkled liberally alongside the road sweetened the morning air with the aroma of coffee like the sweet salt spray being driven on the wind before the oncoming storm, the clink of glasses and cups from the cafes echoing off the never-ending line of commuters in their cars headed off to work, yoga class or the closest surfing spot. Some commutes are better than others I guess.
Once I reached Penasquitos Canyon, I turned inland and headed East following the faint trails that have not been obliterated by the “progress” of humankind. I’ve read how mountain lions still use these corridors to disperse and travel long distances in their never ending search for new territory in a world of shrinking habitat brought on by human encroachment, but the only tracks I saw were human. Their footsteps dotted the trails beneath their transportation corridors like tracks on the veins of junkies shuffling forward toward their next fix.
Reaching the San Pasqual Valley the world began to open up as strawberry fields forevered into the clear afternoon. Meanwhile poppies popped and daisies danced along the trail in a wild bacchanal of Springtime color. The little bit of rain we’d had a few weeks ago had done its job and the valley had flowered despite one of the driest summers on record. The march of seasons rolled on into the valley.
The wind had picked up considerably as I left the valley and began to climb toward the mountains which guard the desert. Since it provided the invisible hand of a tailwind I welcomed it as I climbed until I remembered that tomorrow I would need to turn back into that gale. The forecast had called for winds of 70mph plus over the ridges and my enthusiasm began to wane as I thought of crossing the desert floor into the teeth of it as I headed West toward San Diego.
I hadn’t thought much of it while riding the last 100 miles or so through suburbia and the heat of the valley, but as the climbing began in earnest I thought of the snow that was expected to accumulate. I’d had a great day on the bike so far, did I really want to subject myself to a death march the next two days? I thought of my options as I pedaled slowly. This was the moment of truth, the prickly fingers of thorns embedded in the sea of truth.
Meanwhile back in the office, the conference call had begun to wind down. I shifted in my chair and counted down the minutes, much as I had back in Escondido while waiting for my wife to come pick me up. I had chosen to cut the ride short instead of fighting all that wind and snow (which did come, just as forecasted). Too bad I can’t choose to avoid all of the hot air of meetings in the office whenever I choose.
So instead of shivering in the snow and wind while sleeping that night in my bivy sack beneath a stormy sky, I laid in bed staring at a placid ceiling wondering if I had made the right choice. Would I ever get the chance to ride this loop again? When are conditions ever truly perfect? I trailed off into sleep to the meditative sound of our cat softly purring Ommm while contentedly curled up in the crook of my legs. The wisdom of a sleeping cat knows no bounds.
The conference call ended and I immediately bolted down the hallway for the door like a Red Bull sponsored lemming in search of the nearest cliff upon which to leap off and make an “extreme sports” name for himself. No offense to my co-workers, but I needed to get away from them and feel the warmth of sun on my face. Pushing the door open so forcefully that it banged against the wall as it flew open, the blinding flash of the light of day slapped me across the face.