Day 0 – A Chapter

The posts following this one are my raw journals, written while on the trip. The journals didn’t cover my journey to the starting point, though, which was definitely part of the adventure. Later I started writing material for a book that included this, but I ran out of steam. Here’s an excerpt from that effort.

It’s creeping up on midnight in Arcata, California. The air is soft and cool when I step off the bus. “Thanks,” I tell the driver as he opens up the belly. “Can’t believe my ass is still awake,” he says. I put the seat and the bags on the ground, and pull on the box. I grunt and it thuds onto the street. “Well that shit sure looks heavy,” says the driver. He shakes his head a few times before leaving me. The girl who got off drives away. The little parking lot is empty. I grunt some more as I drag the box onto the sidewalk.

Arcata looks like a decent place for dragging a box through the night. The moonlight falls on quiet houses and gives me just enough light to see the map. Two blocks west is downtown. I look around, check the map again. Two blocks west or my map, and the forty others like it, are worthless. I swing the black bag with the seat over my shoulder, and grab the big red bag by the handle. That leaves one hand for dragging the box. It’s hard to keep the skinny thing upright. More grunting. I resort a few times to ferrying the red bag and the box one at a time.

There are some kids shooting a hill in the dark lying down on a longboard. When they glide to a stop not too far away I look closely at their oversized skateboard. Clearly it belongs underneath my box. But they move away. I recognize the defensive grasp they have on the board. Back in Chicago, sometimes I’d pick up a big stuffed spinach pizza from Nancy’s on Broadway and carry it home. There was one panhandler I remember especially because he always wore a clean straw fedora. I’d cross the street if I saw him in time, try to hold the pizza slightly out of view, but without drawing too much attention to it. I wanted to avoid any interaction at all, maybe because I thought I really ought to offer him a piece. I never did. I wonder how I’d look in a straw fedora?

They are long blocks, but there is indeed a little town square at the end of them. And the hoped-for lodgings. There is even a wheelchair ramp over the old painted steps of the Arcata hotel, so I can act nonchalant as I drag the box onto the checkered floor of the deserted lobby. I approach the window, which looks like an old west bank teller station. There is a girl in black and white. She matches the floor tiles and trim.

“I need a room.”

She looks at me. I am clad head to toe in zippers, velcro, and synthetic fiber. She bends over the counter to get a better look at my luggage. “We’re full,” she says definitively. A moment of silence. An image forms. A roadside, tugging my box past a sign that would say “city limits” if I could read it in the black night. Until now my situation hasn’t really seemed real, but it’s starting to sink in. Adapt to the situation. Be flexible. Meanwhile, the girl seems to have decided that I am not some sort of night-prowling sociopath, despite the evidence. “Can I help you find something else?” she asks.

“I guess I need a place with some light where I can put that thing together,” I say, indicating the box. “Is there a lamp in the square out there?” I cast a forlorn look out the door.

Another pause. “Hold on,” she says, and disappears.

In a minute she comes out from behind the window. “Follow me.” We go around a corner where she unlocks a door and flips on the lights. It’s a conference room, with flowered carpet and a chandelier. “Will this work?” I grin. It’s fabulous. Plenty of floor space. Light fixtures that predate the cheap furniture by decades. And she is actually going to let me sit in here as the clock strikes midnight and assemble the contents of a very large, heavy, unmarked box. I’m starting to like Arcata.

“It may take me a while,” I warn. “Take your time,” she smiles. I quickly haul in my pile of luggage, close the door, and get to work.

It takes an hour and a half, and leaves my hands and face streaked with grease. I struggle a bit with the headlight. I’ve worked halway through a degree in electrical engineering and wires still give me trouble. But compared with the tangled masses of wire, chips, and breadboard I used to produce in the lab at school, the headlight setup looks pretty elegant. The trick is to use more tape than wire.

I split the red bag into two panniers and mount them on the rack. The sleeping pad goes in between, and the shoulder bag on the back of the seat. The fiberglass flagpole mounts on the seat like a fishing pole on a troller, and she’s ready for her maiden voyage.

Arcata Hotel

The portrait is as much ceremony as I care for at the moment. I mount my steed, the Self-Propelled Lazyboy, and lurch into the street. There’s a lot of wobbling. After about two blocks the headlight cuts out. She seems roadworthy.

I ride on by moonlight. The light going out seems to turn the smells on. The air is full of strange plants, moist soil, a hint of ocean, a hint of industry. I think I can smell the moon, and freedom. A surge of energy overtakes me. My legs become pistons. I stop wobbling and soar into the night.

I could go all night, but when a motel 6 appears I decide to rest and ride by day. I sleep for two or three hours, then wake up excited again. All I want is to start riding.

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