Or, a series of transitions
I break at Mission San Miguel, one of the quiet, little ones. There’s a statue of Junipero and a tiled fountain with bees swarming over the lily pads. I walk down an arched breezeway hung with flags—Spanish, Mexican, Californian, American—into a tall, narrow chapel: diorama dimensions. The frescoes are original, the candles electronic. You make a donation and they’ll safely fake-flicker for two hours; I didn’t even know this was a thing. On opposite pages of the prayer request book, an adult has asked to beat addiction and a child for no clas proximo viernes.
From a canyon campground later that evening I spend an hour or so mostly pushing my bike to the top of Cerro Alto. Only poison oak prevents me from ditching my wheels in the bushes, and when I finally do putter up to the summit, it looks like this:
But there’s light behind the shroud and it’s close, flashing gold onto the coyote bush through split-second breaks in the shifting fog. It’s only a matter of time.
In the parking lot at Montana de Oro I take trail recommendations from two men in ink and Oakleys and camo. The lack of irony in their full sleeves is as refreshing as the warm blue sky over the ocean, the fast, buffed singletrack built to ride. The last time I was this far south, I concluded these were a different sort of people. Three years of Bay Area boom times later, I have an addendum, which is, I think they’re better for it.
I arrive in Santa Barbara to visit an old friend. We spent a decade in school together; since then she has acquired a husband, a PhD in economics, a professorship, a cat, a house, and a baby. To meet this last is the purpose of the trip. The newcomer and I engage in long staring contests—her eyes are blue, for now—in which I imagine I am being silently judged. But of course it’s just a reflection: I am judging myself.
These days I think a lot about how to keep my friends as the space between us grows more than geographic. The crux will be to see the difference in our lives as a curiosity and not a rebuke—to convince myself that I am doing things my way rather than slowly or badly or not at all. I suspect that’s the most useful thing to believe whether it’s true or not. But it also might be true. After all, if life’s a linear progression it leads straight to the grave.
Some peculiarity of the underlying geology means that the ride from Johnson Ranch to Irish Hills includes a shift from gold-and-oak foothills to rock gardens and chaparral in the space of one switchback. There’s a point in the trail where the views behind and ahead are so completely different that turning from one to the other feels like some kind of prank.
On the ridge, looking down at the suburbs, the howl of the wind catches on the crackle of transmission lines. Together it sounds just like blood through a stethoscope. Not to be creepy, I mean, I’m just saying.
The brochures at Fort Ord inform visitors that they may encounter “shearing operations.” I’ve been here a few times and never seen any such thing, but today I ride around a corner and there it is! Men in plaid smoking cigarettes wrestle the sheep into a chute; the clippers whine and the animals thrash about. I can’t see what happens next, just a hundred freshly shorn sheep milling and bleating in the meadow on the other side. There’s nothing tidy about it. They look like baby deer covered in buttercream frosting.