The simple comforts


From back to front, Ryne Leuzinger, Nora Tien and Kamilla Kinard on the fourth day of their bike expedition on Dec. 30, 2014, in Big Sur, California.

By Guy Tal

Editor’s Note: Guy Tal, graduate in Engineering, is a guest columnist to the Daily Illini. This is the fifth 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. The following column contains profanity.

Day 4: A Goose Egg

Words of wisdom: after you set up a tent, even if the ground is too hard for stakes, even if you’re tucked away in the woods against the side of a hill, even if the night is as mild as a monk, serene as a song, and a warm and friendly fire beckons, first find a way to weigh down your tent.

“Where’s the tent?” asks Ryne as he momentarily turns away from our nightly fire.

I about-face to see Kamilla and Nora’s tent on its side. 15 minutes ago there was a brief but strong gust of wind, but none of us thought much of it as we secured our few belongings by the fire. I walk over to right the tent and catch on.

“Hey, where’s our tent?”

The hunt begins.

How far can a tent fly, really? It’s dark, which makes the going difficult, but there’s only one direction the tent could have gone because of said hill. We follow the hill down and arrive at the river. There, nearly submerged, poles bent but unbroken, and being pummeled by a burst of ice water, was our home.

“Get the poles out first,” I say as I take off my shoes and prepare to enter the water.

Ryne, too, finds a perch on two rocks near the middle of the river, and we quickly loose the poles and pull them to safety. Bent but unbroken!

I start in on the tent, hauling it in easily, though slowly, now that it’s more a sack full of water.

Bottomless optimist that I am, I’m hopeful we’ll be able to use it tonight after drying it by the fire, though I’m thinking through alternatives. Ryne could squeeze in with Nora and Kamilla since they’re all small. I could sleep under the stars since I have the highest cold tolerance. If the night proves too cold I could potentially bum a spot in a nearby tent.

We have options, I tell myself while pulling the tent and Ryne maneuvers out of the water.

And then it happens.

Slip. Fall. Crack!

“Fuck!” yells Ryne as his side hits the river and his head slams on a rock.

I move fast, help him out, check his head—he’s got a gash above the hairline, but not too bloody—and reassure him.

He rushes off to the campground showers before hypothermia kicks in, and I remove my pants—we only have a pair a piece—so he can wear them while his dry by the fire. Kamilla and Nora arrive on the scene and I catch them up and send them back to look for our first aid kit.

After a long soak Ryne returns to the fire, swallows some Advil, and lets me apply rubbing alcohol to his head. His side is bruised too, but no broken skin. He bears it all with an admirable calm and the occasional wince.

“If you’re not feeling good,” I say, “the trip can end now. We alert a ranger, catch a ride. Whatever you need.”

It’s vital that he know the obvious: he’s more important than a trip.

“I think I’ll be OK,” he assures us with a quiet resilience.

Miraculously, the tent dries quickly without singeing by the fire. When re-erected it looks like it’s suffering from early onset Lou Gehrig’s Disease, warped and disfigured but holding up like a champ.

And that’s that. The night continues.

As our fire ritual unfolds and we all shake off our jitters, we think about how grateful we are for our simple comforts: dry clothes, a fire, a place to sleep sheltered from the wind, friends.

“Another day in paradise” said the woman at the hidden bakery earlier today.

And she means it. All the locals do. This place is unusual in that everyone here seems to know just how lucky they are.

* * *

“I’ve never seen the man on the moon,” says Nora, and I point out that his gender is indeterminate, but teach her how to find him.

Tonight, however, he’s only half there.  

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