Nora Tien, Kamilla Kinard, Guy Tal and Ryne Leuzinger on the first day of their bike expedition on Dec. 27, 2014, in Seaside, California.

By Guy Tal

Editor’s Note: Guy Tal, graduate in Engineering, is a guest columnist to the Daily Illini. This is the first in a series that details his experiences during a bike expedition down the coast of California with Kamilla Gray Kinard, Ryne Leuzinger and Nora Tien.

Some say the moon resembles a man, but I’ve never seen him. I see a face on a disk with eyebrows bowed, often in shadow, and a smile more accepting than joyful. The gender has never been clear.

My friend Dan sees a rabbit making potato pancakes. The moon’s right eyebrow is actually the rabbit’s ears. The rabbit is in profile looking to the left. Following down the curves of his form, you see him pounding away at his creation, his expression unreadable but his work ethic impeccable. I’ve never caught him slacking on the job.

Photographs of the moon show nothing but craters.


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Day 0: Santa Cruzin’

“You haven’t really surfed until you’ve drank a cup of sea water,” Ryne Leuzinger says to me, and the words help with the nausea. I’m a surfer now, never mind that I haven’t really managed to stand up on my board yet. I’m in Santa Cruz, California, feeling the surf ‘neath my board, the wind in my curls. I’m lovin’ this wetsuit — ice water, do your worst!

Ryne and I are here in the water for the last few hours, in preparation for a bicycle trip we committed to a week ago. The plan: bike south. Two of our members, Kamilla – my girlfriend – and Nora, her kid sister, are long-distance newbs, and I’ve needed to find cheap solutions to gearing them up and getting them here. Bikes, panniers, cold-weather gear, sleeping bags, mats — something old, something new – and my mind is racing with the logistics of the many-body problem. Hence the ocean. Water does me good.

This is my first time surfing. It’s exhilarating, tiring, frightening, and feels a bit like befriending a careless giant who likes to wrestle. I’m lying on my board recovering from being battered about, drinking in the view and some more sea water, rising and falling with the waves, reviewing the tips Ryne taught me about surfing: If someone to your left is catching the wave, it’s not yours. If you’re not catching the wave, angle towards it and lift up your board. If you’re catching the wave, remember your footwork; catching a wave is like courting a capricious dance partner. The wave will lift you, accept you, lead you into the dance hall — cowabunga! — but will soon tire of you. When you bail, know where your board is and guard your head.   

I watch the waves, discerning, musing on a surfer’s unusual survival instinct. When others seek shelter as storms approach, surfers embrace the water. I spot my dance partner. I’m a surfer. I turn around, offer my board –

I’m up! I’m surfing! I’m balanced for a thrilling, fleeting second — surfing? Heck, flying! — then my board’s nose dips, goes under, I’m thrown off, flipped, tossed like a rag in a salt water washing machine, and the force of bricks, blocks, buildings made of water drive me down.

Stop. Eternity.

When immediate threat descends, thoughts cease. Awareness is everything. I guard my head and hold my breath as 30 seconds border on forever, as I remember that waves are not loners, they come in sets.  Finally, I’m allowed to surface! This is really what it feels like. Air reacquaints itself with my lungs, my cells, my blood. I climb on my surfboard, stretch out, drink in the fading sunlight, the blue skies. A Dar Williams song floats through my mind. “…I’ve swallowed your sailors and spat out their keepsakes…” Pelicans glide above. I drift.

Time pools about me, flows and eddies. I’ve drifted away from Ryne, from the other surfers. Suddenly, a head pops up beside me, hairier than Ryne’s and a good deal cuter. A seal – a real seal! — doing the back stroke, swimming by me, and eating a spiky sea animal as a seagull floats beside him picking up scraps. I watch transfixed as they swim around me in circles, feet from my board, disregarding the current, as if in a pond. The seal finishes his snack, tosses the remains, and dives, curtly parting with the seagull who lifts off. The ocean around me is a tranquil green. Did I dream that?

Ryne swims toward me, looking equal parts battered and joyful, and points at the sunset then the shore. Time’s up. He cautions me on how to leave the ocean, keeping one eye behind me, remembering the rocks below. I look toward the beach, full of happy-go-lucky dogs doing what dogs do, tongues lolling, swimming after balls. We take in the waves crashing against the cliffs. “That’s the power of the fuckin’ moon,” he says, and we paddle toward the bay with respectful determination, ebbing and flowing with the tide and clouds, the thick ropes of kelp twining around us, minds clear, like seals in the surf.

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