It's time for me to reluctantly begin the journey home. The first leg along the coast north of LA is probably the dullest of the journey, but still plenty scenic. I make San Luis Obispo my destination for the day, a familiar spot to stop and get a motel room where I can spend some time decompressing, catching up on my notes and emails.
After an uneventful day of riding through the still flawless SoCal weather I reach SLO and after checking in I walk downtown to Eureka!, a burger joint recommended to me by one of Abhi's friends.
It's the typical trendy, gentrified grill serving far too many fancy combinations of meat stuffed between two pieces of bread alongside a selection of craft beers I've never heard of. I look mighty out of place here, with my scruffy hair and my raccoon-eyes helmet tan. If you don't show up on your bike, helmet in hand, the grizzled biker appearance makes you end up looking like you just stepped off a construction site, or spent too long staring into an oven. I'm a bit self-conscious as I take a seat at the end of the bar and spend my evening listening to dull conversations and scribbling notes on my scratchpad.
I'm pensive about my return to reality, as I was two years ago on the return leg of my first USA Tour. I'm unhappy with my position in the world and the grind of work is wearing me thin, the endless streams of indifferent customers whittling away at my patience and gradually increasing my stress levels. The way out of my ennui is less clear this time. As I grow older I grow wearier of hitting the reset button and upsetting my life in search of some unknown solution to my problems.
I have too much debt to survive another leap into the unknown, my savings nonexistent after the last upheaval I subjected myself to. I am involuntarily grounded by my circumstances and the choices I have made over the years. My sense of freedom diminishes each year as my responsibilities increase their stranglehold on my life. I remain thankful that I don't have a family or a mortgage anchoring me to a single spot, but I'm not much better off when I live paycheque to paycheque while battling my irrational desire to wander.
That's not to say I live some shitty, unenviable life. I have a comfortable, average existence and my job is secure even if it is not glamorous. I just have a tortured mind that constantly gnaws away at any possible sense of well-being I might cultivate. An oversimplified explanation would be depression mixed with anxiety, but it's something more than that. I don't have anyone intimate I can share my thoughts and desires with either, having spent most of my adult life single and remaining tragically inept at seducing the opposite sex.
Most days I think that if I got laid a bit more often I'd probably be a lot less neurotic; of course that brings up the chicken-egg problem because being an overthinking neurotic bag of constant existential dread generally drives potential partners away. The times I have been attached to someone have brought me great calm and purpose, giving me the perspective to organize my thoughts and apply my energy in more creative ways. Those times have been few and far between, and any period spent alone allows my negative traits to resurface with a vengeance.
It's enough to allow the creeping tendrils of self-doubt to envelop my self-esteem, countered by the poisonous thinking that I'm great but everyone else is an asshole. I intensely hate the feeling that I'm becoming jaded towards humanity; all I can do is buck up and ignore my constant failures, continuing to evaluate each person and each relationship in a vacuum, disregarding the spectre of my past disappointments. Despite that I seem to gravitate towards fake friends and false sympathy, always searching for meaning in relationships with apathetic people who don't truly care about me. I end up falling into a cycle of pushing these people a little bit harder and harder until these weak relationships inevitably break, and I'm left feeling alone even though the warning signs were present along the road long before I reached that dead end.
That's not to say that good, kind, and honest people don't exist in my life: they do, but they have been the exception rather than the norm. Their good is easily overshadowed by the unrelenting toxicity that I seem to be adept at bringing out of most people. Ignoring that toxicity and focussing on the good, continuing to seek those rare individuals who do care is my challenge. It has been my challenge for many years.
That overwhelming sense that I was losing touch with my humanity was why I left Montreal, why I left the vapid bullshit of the "luxury" industry to return to something more honest. I was becoming jaded as each day a little bit more of my soul would get sucked away. I was becoming a worse person, and I hated myself for it.
Tuesday morning I head north along the 1 towards Big Sur to revisit one of my favourite stretches of road. It's a cool, foggy morning and I stop at the famous elephant seal habitat at San Simeon. I spend some time observing these strange animals, writhing and snuffling on the sandy shore, a lone male wading in the shoals and bellowing at the females and youths lounging indifferently on the beach. These are not graceful creatures. They are the two-tons-of-fun, burger-fed 'Murican cousins of the cute sea puppies I used to encounter on the Atlantic coast.
Onto the twisty bits and I spend some time chasing a Land Rover test vehicle and popping second gear (third if you hit a good bump) power wheelies along the winding coast. It's yet another magical ride, one of many on this trip, with minimal traffic and no law enforcement interfering with my shenanigans along this picturesque road.
I stop at a café for breakfast and enjoy an overpriced meal overlooking the ocean, grudgingly paying the Big Sur tax to enjoy an ordinary meal in extraordinary surroundings. Gas isn't the only thing that is marked up to an absurd degree between San Simeon and Monterey.
More miles and more overwhelming scenery. The weather clears and the salty air offers a refreshing balance to the warming sun as I approach San Francisco.
I take a break at the Pigeon Point lighthouse, a beautiful 19th century maritime relic perched atop a craggy cliff. Old lighthouses have a certain hold on me as a Maritimer. They conjure up images of heavy surf crashing over rocky shoals, of an honest but solitary keeper living a celibate life tending to the works to keep the shore safe. It's a romantic image that probably doesn't reveal the tedium and maddening loneliness these men must have experienced.
Some days I envy them. Most days I don't.
Up to San Francisco again, on through Napa Valley to Calistoga. The ride is far more pleasant in daylight, the road winding through the rolling hills lined with greenery and vineyards. I realize now how treacherous this route was on my adrenaline-fueled night time ride on the way down, a challenging road snaking up and down hills and tunnelling through rows of ancient trees. Nevermind the possibility of wildlife getting in your way.
I arrive at Matt's place at 6pm and spend some time decompressing in the backyard, watching birds hop and play in his back shed. What follows is another evening of engaging discussion about bikes, design and racing. Matt is a veteran amateur racer who knows a lot of high-profile riders and mechanics. He is well connected and knowledgeable, to the point of making me feel inadequate in engaging in conversation. I can only sit and listen, taking in the details and the stories, gleaning information and making mental notes for future inquiries. It's a humbling encounter, as Matt is a man of many talents: in addition to his racing career and his mechanical expertise, he is a skilled woodworker and still finds time to be a father. One of those rare folks who appears to juggle a series of remarkable talents into a harmonious life; meanwhile I have trouble staying lucid without the chemical content of two or three coffees and a handful of cigarettes coursing through my bloodstream at any given moment.
Speaking of which, it's time to rest before another long day of riding through the best that NorCal has to offer.