Monday, March 07, 2011

I pack up my belongings and I head for the coast

"I move on to another day
To a whole new town with a whole new way
Went to the porch to have a thought
Got to the door and again, I couldn't stop
You don't know where and you don't know when
But you still got your words and you got your friends
Walk along to another day
Work a little harder, work another way."


- "The World at Large" by Modest Mouse

Last June, when I was anticipating a move from Anchorage to Missoula, I went for a 140-mile bike ride in an effort to make peace with life as a drifter. Seeking and embracing change is a big part of who I am. I move, I discover, I grow, and I move on. Anchorage held an unbelievable amount of promise, but the allure of change prompted me to take a chance on Montana. I left Alaska believing maybe I would find "my place," the place that would entice me to finally settle.

There are several reasons Missoula didn't quite work out; it wasn't just that I found a boy and dismantled my whole life for him. Although the boy, of course, was the overwhelming motivator for my recent move, he wasn't the only reason. It was starting to become apparent that I didn't quite fit in in Missoula. I regret that I had to leave a few truly great friends behind, not to mention some gorgeous terrain that I barely skimmed the surface of, but I knew that sooner or later I would need to choose between the few strands of potential woven into Missoula and the incredible potential of further developing my relationship with Beat. He couldn't move to Missoula for me. Even if I were completely dedicated to my life there, there were still no options for him. The ongoing joke in Missoula is: "How many Missoulians does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Only one, but twelve will apply for the job, ten will be electricians and eight will have doctorate degrees."

I of course have no idea what the future will bring, but I sincerely believe I won't ever regret this move. I certainly don't regret moving to Alaska for Geoff, even if, in the end, neither Geoff nor Alaska became a permanent part of my life. It was still the best thing that ever happened to me. I strongly believe this is the right next step, the next best thing to happen to me.

This move probably seems to have come abruptly, but it has been a longer time coming than this, as most of my friends and family members suspected. The window opened after Susitna. There was no longer a need to stay so I packed up my stuff. It didn't take long — one of the benefits of moving around so much is you never have time to accumulate a lot of excess stuff. I can still fit most of my life in my 1996 Geo Prism, although my life is heavily weighted in a single direction these days. Inside my car this time were two people (Beat was out for the weekend anyway and gave up his return ticket to help me drive down), one annoyed but increasingly accepting cat, and five — yes five — bicycles. Also some clothing, outdoor gear, a few dishes, and miscellaneous items. All the important stuff was in there, or stacked on the roof, Beverly Hillbilly style (I even kept the bike box for Beat's Fatback. It did not survive the Biblical rains of the Sierras.)

We left Montana on Saturday afternoon, bound for Salt Lake City. (My parents took this recent move surprisingly well. I think my many years of drifting has worn down their defenses.)

I can't say I felt a whole lot of emotion about leaving Montana. I really didn't spend enough time here to get attached, although I imagine I'll be back as frequently as I can afford, to visit my friends, ride some epic logging road loops with Bill in the Bitterroot, hike some goat trails in Glacier National Park with Danni and Dave, and finally climb all three of the Lima Peaks.

The drive of course was grueling. Turns out a 15-year-old car with 191,000 miles loaded to the brim with gear — and with wheels and a box stacked like a sail on the roof — can't move faster than 70 mph, and that's only on steep downhills, with a tailwind. Geo was at the limit of his endurance, but he motored along, just like he always has, ever since he was a young buck of 38,000 miles and I loaded him to the brim with camping gear and hit the road for my inaugural drive across America, back in 2001.

We blazed through many of my old stomping grounds — Idaho Falls (2004-2005), Sandy, (1983 to 1998) Salt Lake City (1998 to 2003), and Tooele (2003-2004 ... the place where my cat Cady was born.) Then we kept on going west. I told Beat all of my stories of my experiences in the Oquirrh Mountains, the Stansbury Mountains, Skull Valley, the Bonneville Salt Flats, Wendover, Elko, and the Battle Mountain rest stop where my family was stranded for half a day after the car transmission died during a vacation to San Francisco in 1989.

The farther west we traveled, the fewer experiences I had to share, until we crested Donner Pass in a wet snowstorm, I told Beat what I knew about the history of the place, and held my breath for the newness and strangeness of California.

Today I started unpacking, but quickly got more wrapped up in an urgent need to go for a long bike ride. I put my fixie together and headed over to the Google campus to have lunch with Beat, then continued grinding into the wind along the gravel trails that line the San Francisco Bay. It was a strange sort of place, both muddy and dry, and guarded by a fortress of towering electric lines. I watched a chorus of shorebirds rip through the air, breathed the salty air with pungent hints from the Palo Alto landfill, and soaked in a lot of sunshine. The return tailwind was so strong that the fixie almost ripped my legs off. In a space that holds millions of people, I saw very few. I allowed myself to feel some sadness for the end of winter, the end of my time in Montana. And yet, I only saw positive potential on the path in front of me.

I'll write more tomorrow about my plan for California, and what Beat and I have planned for the upcoming year. For now, I will say that, yes, this is going to be quite different. I rode around all day in a cotton T-shirt and a single pair of socks, passing people on the bike path who were wearing down coats (in other words, I'm sweltering in the heat and it's not even hot.) Yes, for the foreseeable future, the snowy photos in my blog will have to come from visits away from home, and the regular photos will probably appear more, well, regular. Maybe this blog will be less interesting. And you're certainly under no obligation to keep reading. But somehow, I doubt it. I am only excited about the future and all of the adventures in front of me. California isn't the end of the road. Not by a long shot.