Day 25 – 9/21, 8:00pm, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park CA
After a day and a half of biking through the Silicon Valley suburbs, I was ready to escape back to some more outdoorsy environs. By the last half of the day today I got my wish, climbing up Highway 1’s zigzagging path through Big Sur. It is a different vibe here between SF and LA than the more remote northern coasts; you can feel the population density even this far out. More tourist traffic but more bicyclists too – even the hiker-biker campground here is packed, there must be two dozen other touring riders holed up here tonight.
Almost exactly twenty years ago, to the day, I took some time off from school and made the ride from Vancouver to San Francisco with my college girlfriend. (It was particularly brave of her – she was a city girl, that was her first time biking anything close to that distance.) Even with my cloudy memory, several junctures on this trip rang a distant bell, a sense of deja vu at particular stretches or locations. But it is crazy to think how much has changed in a mere two decades. I don’t think I had a cell phone (maybe a pager or a voicemail box, I don’t remember), I know I didn’t have an email address, let alone satellite GPS and tablets and such. What we take for granted now was science fiction then. But the miles feel the same on the butt and the legs, and the coastline endures. At the end of that trip, I biked down to Stanford to visit a friend; now that I’m well south of Palo Alto this is officially the longest trip I’ve ever ridden.
In Palo Alto I had a fantastic time duetting in the plaza with the clarinetist Ben Goldberg, wild abstractions with echoes of Rex Stewart and Barney Bigard, harkening back to busking days long past. Our first time playing together but hopefully not our last, I felt an immediate aesthetic connection. The night before, another wonderful first time duo, with pianist Myra Melford. (I’ve played in her quartet in the past, but this was the first one-on-one.) She is a player of such strength and sensitivity, it was a real pleasure. I’ve been so lucky with the music across the board; every concert has been both inspiring and unique, each collaborator has given me something special, I am truly grateful.
I just finished up my third book of the trip, Look at Me by Jennifer Egan. The sci-fi book I picked up in Vancouver, Equations of Life, never really rose above the level of pleasantly diverting genre fare – it was nice to be distracted by militaristic nuns and post-apocalyptic virtual realities, but I didn’t feel it was great literature. But Egan is a bad-ass. I loved her more recent (and Pulitzer Prize-winning) A Visit from the Goon Squad, and I hugely enjoyed this one as well. If you think I have complicated, conflicting feelings about modernity, technology, and consumerist culture, I’ve got nothing on her. But now I’ve hit a dry spell in finding a used book store (the one in Palo Alto was mysteriously closed), so I hope to find some new reading soon. I’ve got a couple New Yorker magazines on my iPad to bridge the gap, but there is something about being lost in the fictive world of a good novel that is particularly helpful to me on this trip.
While on the subject of books, I have to give a shout out to Vicky Spring and Tom Kirkendall’s Bicycling the Pacific Coast. I haven’t always been on their route, many of my gigs took me inland, but when I’ve been on the coast it’s been my bible. Meticulously detailed, with every campground and waystation laid out, and preparing you for every extra tough climb or extra beautiful view. Highly recommended for anyone interested in any part of this.
As a traveling musician, tour paths cross with surprising frequency, when you run into colleagues at airports or hotels or European festivals. I swear, I see some musician friends more in that context than I ever see them back home. I didn’t expect that on this journey, besides the musicians I had pre-planned concerts with, but I had the delightful surprise of seeing my buddies Tomeka Reid, Mazz Swift, and Sylvia Bolognesi amongst the redwoods tonight. Their awesome string trio is touring north from LA to the Bay, and Tomeka figured out that we’d intersect and made it happen. If only we’d had enough notice to do some playing, that would have been a field recording! But I’m getting greedy, spoiled by encounters both musical and natural – like the scores of seals piled like sardines on the pier in Moss Landing, or the peregrine falcon perched on a tree jutting off the cliff at Castle Rock – I almost forgot to mention them! The rides are ever a challenge, but the rewards continue unabated. I just have to remember to stay in the moment and relish it.