Part VIII: We See What We Want to See

I climb pass after pass and only have time to think. Here are some stream of consciousness snippets.

  • The sweat pouring down my butt crack, into my cleavage between my one and a half breasts

  • I get high fives and thumbs ups and smiles and stares bewilderment

  • I cry from exhaustion and laugh when I triumph 

  • I battle headwinds that stop me in my tracks and push me backwards and I lean into sidewinds so strong, they knock me off the bike

  • I am fed by strangers who become my friends by the fire

  • I get hugs from their little kids who have snotty, dirty faces, and hands sticky with marshmallows and I melt with their hugs

  • I freeze my ass off in a damp tent when temperatures drop to 32 degrees in my sleeping quilt which is rated for 45 on a deflated Neo-light Thermarest 

  • I miss my husband terribly. I miss his large arms wrapped around me that make me feel safe, secure, and loved. I miss sticking my frozen feet between his legs to warm them up

  • I sleep on the side of the road where it’s too quiet and in campgrounds next to young, loud punks who play beer pong ‘til midnight 

  • I burn hundreds and hundreds of calories a day and I struggle to resupply with enough food to feed my starving body

  • I breathe the fresh air of the spectacular and literally breathtaking Sierra Nevada range which will take me all the way to the bottom of Baja peninsula. Eventually. 

  • There is joy and freedom in it, but it comes at a cost

My skin tingles with the anticipation of crossing the border to Mexico. I look forward to riding in the desert but yes, I have my concerns. It is always the fear of the unknown that causes discomfort. Because of this fear of the unknown, we often don’t venture out there and consequently we are robbed of new and wonderful experiences that give our life meaning. I don’t let that affect me too much but I know I’ll also have to be on my toes- alert and smart. 

I hope my Garmin cooperates and the maps show the way as they are supposed to. The Sierra Divide part that I’ve been riding for the past three weeks is good practice and Garmin tech support got me through the hurdles. My friend Kari was also very helpful with my InReach Mini set up and connections. I think I am ready.

I leave Calimesa and sing to myself, ”On the road again, going places that I’ve never been la la la.... I am on the road again.”

I am so bad at remembering the words but now the melody is stuck in my head as it will be in yours. You’ll be singing it the whole day and in the middle of the night you’ll wake up and curse me as it will still be playing on loop.

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Ok, Mr.  Willy Nelson — let’s get on the road again…

I navigate my way out of Calimesa and follow Cherry Lane to Beaumont. I know I’ll be heading into the mountains, so I stop for lunch and have a big, tasty, juicy burger. I leave the town as the wind starts to pick up. I am preoccupied looking at the maps on my iPhone and my Garmin to make sure I stay on track. I look up and before me, the mountain is looming and the road zig-zags back and forth into infinity and beyond. I put on my brave hat and start climbing. The wind whips me and slaps me around like a wet towel. Several times it throws me off The Beast and forces me to walk. 

When I was coaching skiing, I would always tell the kids to relax. Don’t grip your poles so tight! Relax your shoulders. Close your eyes, breath, and let the mountain guide you. Be light on your feet, feel the skis under you connected to your body. Relaxing and softening the tight grip of my handlebars kind of works, but The Beast and I are like a bull in the ring attacking the wind with ferocious determination. There is no shoulder and some cars and trucks don’t really give me much space. The drivers are different down here in Southern California. Forgive me if you are from here, but I really feel the difference. I also get less honks and waves and thumbs-ups that usually give me extra motivation. It just seems like people are driving faster and are in a hurry to go wherever they are going. 

I am sitting by the side of the road, resting and eating trail mix and drinking Power gel to replenish some energy when a truck goes by. A big photo of a grinning George Clooney wheezes by me. It’s a delivery truck for his Tequila company.

“Come back George! Come baaaaaaack!” I yell after the truck. 

Later on a Tesla whizzes by and as I round the corner, it’s pulled over at the turnoff and it looks like it’s waiting for me. Creepy! I get an uneasy feeling as I approach it. The tinted window slowly goes down. And guess who was in the car grinning at me- George Clooney himself! Can you believe it!? Well no, you shouldn’t! It was just my delirious mind trying to distract me with fantasies. And by the way,  my husband is a lot better looking then George. 

My legs and my back are starting to cramp really badly. I pull over and wash down the electrolyte pill I remember I have in my pocket. It is quite amazing how adaptable the human body is. We don’t know just how much we are capable of enduring until we are faced with difficulties. I chose this trip though. And I have the choice to quit and turn around at any time and I know that my husband or my kids or any of my good friends would come down and pick me up. When one has to go through chemo or endure an illness or some other tragedy in life, one has no choice. One has to just put their head down and place one foot in front of the other and breathe and pray until things get better. And things do get better eventually. And then, when we get better, it’s difficult to find our way and our new path to walk on. Essentially, that is what I am doing now. I am trying to find that path, find my new voice, find my new identity. I am trying to rediscover who I am, who I can be, and what is still inside of me. That fire that was always burning so hot inside of me has been smothered. I am trying to rekindle it. 

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When I was I young child, we often climbed Mt. Roblek behind our house in the Karawanks, the Alps that border Austria. I was whining and crying that I couldn’t go on. My grandma Mira, who came with us on that one, very rare, if not only, occasion, taught me;

”Stop and turn downhill and look how far you’ve come, not how far you still have to go. See how much you’ve accomplished already and be proud of yourself!”

Together we stopped a lot on that climb, stood quietly and looked back into the valley. I think she was stopping as much for herself as for me, but slowly we reached the hut at the top with hot alpine flower tea waiting for us. So, that’s what I am doing right now. I am sitting down and looking back into the valley and feel proud of how far I’ve come. I feel good and my grandmother’s spirit is with me now and will guide me over the hump.

I know you are tired of me telling you I climbed, yet another, 34 miles, 4819.6 feet into ferocious winds and spent eight hours, 14 minutes, and 13 seconds in the saddle, but you are probably not as tired of it as I am.

I reach Stone Creek campground in San Jacinto State Park just in time at dusk and hosts Larry and Rita were so very helpful. They came down to the campsite and set up the fire for me and while they had lights on the golf cart, I was able to quickly set up my tent. Even Top Ramen tastes delicious when you are tired and cold. I sit by the fire for a while, watching the stars and a moon which is swollen one day past its half cycle. The winds are forecasted to pick up even more during the night. I make sure the fire is completely out before I crawl into my tent and hope I stay reasonably warm and get some sleep. The temperature drops down to 33 degrees. Again. It looks like I celebrated being warm and done with big climbs a bit prematurely. Put away those champagne bottles. 

In the morning I start a fire with pine needles and branches I pick up around the campsite, make hot cocoa and oatmeal, and two prosciutto quesadillas. I am still hungry. I sit by the fire wrapped in my down sleeping quilt and I rest and write. I need to sit these winds out. I am tired.

I am surrounded by tall cedar trees and beautiful manzanita bushes which are much straighter and taller than the ones at home. I love their twisting red branches adorned by contrasting bright green leaves hanging off them like emerald jewels. I close my eyes and listen to the winds above in the crowns of the trees. The birds are singing their morning prayers and blue jays are squawking. I am in no hurry. I am going to pack up slowly and head towards Idyllwild and see what’s there. Before I depart, I stop by to say goodbye to Rita. We chat for a while about our kids who are the same ages and then she gives me her phone number.

”Now if you need anything, anything at all, you just call me and I’ll come and get you or whatever!”

I thank her and ride off.

Indeed, Idyllwild is a very nice mountain town. I stop at the Village Market to resupply and a chat with Jim for a while since I have a signal. I decide I will finally really have a rest day and only ride eight and a half more miles to Lake Hevila. There is a campground there. It’s still really windy, so I am happy about the choice I make. The road goes down and down and down and I am so excited to not have to work much. I see the lake is not so far in the distance. I pull over at a roadside farm stand. My kind of place. Back at the market I bought a pack of ravioli and I think a couple of tomatoes and perhaps some basil would go so great with the ravioli. I look forward to just sitting by the lake in the warm sun. I can picture myself with a beer and a yummy pasta dinner.

I start chatting with a guy and ask him if there is a store at Lake Hevila.

”You mean you are heading up that way?”

“What do you mean up that way? I just came from up there!”

“Well, you missed Lake Hevila!”

“How the hell could I have missed it?”

The lake I was looking at was no Lake Hevila. As I backtrack in my mind, I stopped at the gas station at Mountain Center to get $0.17 of fuel for my stove fuel bottle. Indeed, I recalled the road went to the left and up the hill. I guess we see what we want to see. I took the road that continued straight and down the hill. I saw the lake down there anyway. It must’ve been Lake Hevila! I also did check my iPhone map and if you don’t zoom in really close, it definitely looks like you are going the right direction the way the dot moves. I stopped checking the map as I had to pay attention to riding.

The guy at the road stand tells me if I keep going a few miles, there will be the road I have to take to my left and after several miles, maybe three hours or so, I should hit my road again to where I am supposed to go. I thank him and take off, fighting back my tears. I ride for a bit but I stop. I am so mad at myself! Also, I cannot take a chance. It’s getting late enough that riding three more hours and not really knowing what’s ahead isn’t smart. I cannot get caught in the dark. I turn around and start hitchhiking. It’s Friday. Lots of people are heading up to the mountains. Someone with a pickup will surely have mercy. Several people wave and I know that wave. I do it in our town when I can’t give someone a ride because I am only going to the store or to the Post Office a few hundred yards away. I decide to ride back to the road stand. I might have a better chance there with people stopping to get fruit and veggies. I stand by the road and campers and pickup trucks keep speeding by. I remember then what Rita said and I am so tempted to call her. She would come too, I know she would. She’s just that kind of a person. But I can’t have someone drive all the way down and all the way back up the mountain because I made a dumb mistake. Just then, a blue pickup truck pulls in from the Idyllwild direction and stops. Wait, I saw that truck go by me just a bit earlier. It turns out that Carlos turned around and came back.

Carlos is a disabled vet with tattoos, a leather vest with emblems, and an American flag bandanna- the whole, proper outfit of a biker dude. The guy from the road stand helps us load my heavy bike into the back of his Tundra pickup. They seem to know each other which makes me feel better. Carlos lives in Idyllwild and yes, of course he can give me a ride back up the hill after I explain to him that I went the wrong way. It turns out, he is just the nicest guy. He does most of the talking all the way up the hill. Back in 2004 he walked the Appalachian trail to raise money for his aunt who had breast cancer. He recently crashed his Harley. He just had an accident with his new truck. He’s recently divorced. I just listen and am so bloody grateful I am getting a ride back to where I am supposed to go. Just before he drops me off, he tells me he also volunteers at the children’s hospital for kids with cancer. I finally can’t take it anymore and I tear up. 

I tell him that the reason I am doing the ride is because I just went through cancer treatments myself. All I can say is this: we can have different backgrounds, views about life and politics or whatever, but the world is still full of very good and kind people. 

Alenka Vrecek