Wash, biking adventures prove to be fulfilling, life changing

Editor’s note: Running weekly for the next month, The Daily Illini is featuring a series of columns by Guy Tal, a graduate student who began bicycling across Alaska and Canada on Aug. 2. Guy has previously biked across other parts of the United States, Eastern Europe and Israel.

Aging

I meant to tell you about my birthday. It involved waking up in a rainforest in Olympic National Park, Washington, beside a trail that plummeted into a hundred foot gulch in a landslide. It included a tip that brought these two secular Jews to a free campground called “The Promised Land,” complete with a beautiful lake, free wood and a wood-burning stove. Amusement would be found in the moment I dried my tent fly by the oven and singed it. You can bet Mexican food was involved. But the events of last night must be told.

Dan was there sleeping serenely. Derrick was there too, but him you don’t know yet. Super Dave and his dog Jasper made a cameo, but that was much earlier. And, of course, there was the storm, a storm that brought with it the wind, a wind so mighty you might call it a gale.

Derrick is a young businessman who quit his job to cycle the coast in search of perspective. When we biked past him a second time in Bay Center, however, he showed us his strict time tables and told us he was planning on camping in a KOA campground. We decided to adopt him and mend his ways.

Following a waitress’s recommendation, we all headed to the beach instead, our usual haunt, set up our tents in the baby powder sand, fetched dried driftwood and started a fire amidst the sea stacks. There was a charming, unassuming sunset, the tide pulled back like a woman holding her skirt above her knees, the stars made a brief appearance and Nostra-Dan-us even predicted “a clear night.” We shared stories of triumphs and defeats by the warmth, and tomato, cheese and cucumber sandwiches were had by one and all.

“Undoubtedly the best night of my trip,” Derrick said, as we collapsed smiling into our separate tents. Earlier, we’d weighed them down on all four corners with our packs to ward off the wind. They awaited us firmly.

Then Super Dave showed up, not outside, but in my mind. Super Dave, who was paralyzed in a car accident, but slowly, magically willed mobility into his limbs. Super Dave, who was an old, tenacious, white-haired, white bearded bike tourist cycling down the coast for the ninth time with his canine companion in his trailer, who was homeless, but in a way you might yearn to be, who sagely remarked that homeless people’s dogs are the happiest. Super Dave, who glowed like a Bodhisattva. I’d met him again earlier that day and asked him what awaited him in San Diego.

“Sunshine,” he simply said. Then I slept.

How do you stretch an instant into a paragraph? There was a pounding — or was it a clap? — my bags lifting off the ground, a startling jolt from dream to awake, an instinctive realization that 30 pounds of weight were hurtling at my head, my hand shooting up to block it, firmly catching, slamming, a SNAP!, half my tent giving way, a SNAP!, my tent fully collapsing, exhausted. Then the rain.

I crawl out of my tent-turned-blanket into the sand in my skivvies. It’s midnight, though I don’t know that yet. It’s pitch black. I can see that much clearly.

“Do you need help?” A man, with a headlamp as bright as a sun, burns into my consciousness. It looked like Derrick’s silhouette. Derrick had a headlamp.

“Derrick?”

“It’s Dave.” Dave? I’d been calling him Derrick all night!

“Derrick?” I retort smartly.

“It’s Dave. Do you need help?”

Who was this guy? Why was he here? These were questions best answered with pants on.

“Yeah!” His name was Dave, it was his birthday too, and he was equally super for his fortuitous appearance.

He and his friend Jared were motorcycling down the coast when Jared, a former coast guard, suggested they camp at Westport and walk out to the beach to see the incoming storm. These details arrived later, as we huddled around a second fire by Dave and Jared’s camp after they helped us move our gear. In the meantime there was Derrick, the real Derrick, grateful we were leaving the storm. He hadn’t slept a wink. There was Dan, awakening from his serene slumber. And me, all adrenaline and blood and sand and water.

The next morning, Derrick treats the lot of us to breakfast, and blue skies unfurl as we eat. His smile still reads: best night of my trip. I think again about my tent, now with its ferrules and duct tape holding its poles upright, like a bandaged bomb victim on crutches, and Derrick, who would later give me a hug upon parting I won’t soon forget, and Super Dave, who simply was. Broken tents stand once more. Schedules flex. Limbs heal. I live. I breathe.

At the close of my birthday, Dan poured water on my birthday fire. I smiled, closed my eyes and blew, pretending it was a candle. But then, as now, I find it difficult to make a wish.

Guy is a graduate student.