Some Rain, a Wedding, Mindfulness, and Mushrooms

No. The title isn’t a Beatles lyric. Nor did this journey involve psychotropic fungi!

When I awoke on the rainy morning of Tour Day, the last thing I thought I’d do is crash a wedding party in the mountains. I also didn’t imagine I’d score some yummy, farm-fresh cremini mushrooms for a killer Sunday lunch, or engage in deep existential self-reflection 😛

As usual, prepare yourself for a tale of my flagellant sufferings that I relish and recount with debacucherous zeal.

Trip Report: Overnight Tour to Mt. Madonna County Park Campground

Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult

Time on Bike: 7.5 Hours South, 7 Hours North

A big storm front rolled across the Pacific coast in mid-January. For nearly a month prior, I scoured the weather reports on a daily basis that predicted a wet weekend. With forecasted tidal swells upwards to 16 feet, headwinds at 20 miles per hour, floods possible, and continual downpours, I opted for safety and comfort. The night prior, I canceled my multi-day Pacific Coastal Highway tour, and planned to reassess the following weekend.

However, the equally wet forecasts for the following week were not very reassuring…

Planning the Route and Camp

I had my heart stuck on the coast, yet the weather forecast seemed more amenable towards the Santa Cruz Mountains. Throwing caution to the wind, I sheepishly awoke Amanda on tour day and asked in my cute and tentative voice with the charm blasted to high: “Sweeeeeetieee… Would you mind driving me to Half Moon Bay?” She pleadingly asked if she could pass, given an old back injury flared up that week. I took pity knowing that driving for two hours would further exacerbate her situation, so I moved onto Plan B.

Plan B… I didn’t quite have a Plan B. I had already toured Coyote Lake and Uvas Canyon, and wanted to do something different. Bike to Santa Cruz and camp at New Brighton State Beach? Or head to the only unexplored county park in the South Bay? The latter was crazier so I went with it, and crossed my fingers that I could find a campsite after hours.

“What will you do if you can’t find a campsite?”, Amanda quizzically and drowsily asked.

“Either find a motel back down the hill or give you a call to bail me out”, I replied with a big shit eating grin on my face.

Tour Day

I took off late, slightly past 11 am. The rigors, pace, and disappointments of my work week had severely eroded my mind, body, and soul. I felt so worn out that I nearly canceled the trip that morning. I had no regrets for getting the extra sleep my tired and washed out being so desperately needed. With great gusto, I pushed off from home as my mind turned to setting my spiritual intention for the trip.

I meditated upon my my intent behind this sojourn as I pedaled along the first few miles of the San Tomas Aquino Trail. As I turned about an underpass on Tasman Drive across from Levi’s Stadium, I glanced across at a noisy factory. Workers went to and fro hauling boxes and building some contraptions. Obliviously, these workers carried on in their charge as dozens of teenage Asian boys incomprehensibly banged on drum sets. Marveling at the sublime divinity of the mundane meeting the unordinary, I resolved to pursue spiritual rejuvenation as my intent.

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San Tomas Aquino Creek with the trail to the right near Levi’s Stadium (image taken from Wikicommons).

Spiritual rejuvenation likely means something quite different for me than for others. In the intro to this post, I flippantly cited this tale would be about my “flagellant sufferings that I relish and recount with debacucherous zeal”. For me, I achieve spiritual rejuvenation through the intensive and mindful physical masochism that cranking long miles affords and the quiet self reflection that solitude imbues. In putting my body through intensive physical activity like a bike tour, I mindfully focus on pushing my body and mind near its limits. This helps me to find my center, as the process causes me to deconstruct myself physically and mentally. Through my destruction, I am reborn.

With my intent set, I barreled through San Jose on Monroe Street. I passed by some familiar sites that drew memories and smiles across my face. Among those was the San Jose Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum–a must see for those traveling through the area.

San Jose Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum (images taken from Wikicommons).

This is truly a wonderful Egyptian historical exhibit. There are a variety of mummies, sculptures, artwork, textiles, and artifacts. One of the more interesting things about this museum is that it is run by Rosicrucians, a masonic secret society founded in the Medieval period. According to their website, “the Rosicrucians are a community of mystics who study and practice the metaphysical laws governing the universe.” I had a chance to watch a video exhibit about the Rosicrucians when I visited there about a year ago. They sound like an interesting bunch of humanists. If you visit, be sure to check out the serene Peace Garden located in the back.

The rain poured down when I hopped onto the Coyote Creek Trail. I paused a few miles in to readjust my rain clothes and grab a sip of water from a blessed water fountain. As I leaned over to grab a swig, my bike sunk slightly into the sloshy ground, and with it my balance. The next thing I knew, my right shin and calf bore the weight of my fully loaded rig. Straddling over and trying to regain my balance while protecting my bike, I was able to pull it up without destroying any components. In excruciating pain, I walked it off for a minute or two and continued along my way, quite gingerly.

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My rig fully loaded among the Redwoods at Mt. Madonna County Park Campground.

About 47 miles into the trek, the difficulty level went from moderate to downright difficult on Highway 152. In comparison, Watsonville Road was relatively tame with wide shoulders, despite the traffic that boomed on by. As I made my ascent on Highway 152, the shoulder disappeared, the road narrowed, and the climb got treacherous, fast. While I wasn’t sure on the exact elevation gained from this point, I painstakingly began my climb around 1,500 vertical feet over the course of the next 5 miles.

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Heckler Pass, at the base of Mt. Madonna County Park. The Campground lays several miles beyond and hundreds of feet above.

As I trudged along, my mind frantically meditated upon existential thoughts. Thoughts like, “what the hell am I doing going up this mountain?!”

Bike touring on the open road can be a feat of faith, driven by the certitude that one’s own power, momentum, will, and wits will move them forward to reach a destination, intangible or otherwise. Bike touring on the open road can also be a feat of blind faith, driven by the delusion that one’s mastery of their faculties and actions will protect them from the imperfections of others, namely motorists moving at insanely fast velocities while housed in large multi-ton vehicles.

Given that I subscribed to the belief that fate was both sure and delusionary, the open road caused me great terror as there was little room for personal error among the throngs of motorists. While I balanced between the white line on the road that hugged the muddy ditch, cars blew past me in both directions. I frequently glanced back on my rear mirror in horror. Rows of impatient motorists oftentimes overtook me on blind curves, thereby putting my life, their life, and the lives of other motorists in jeopardy. As the gloom of dusk crept through the trees, my lead-laden legs pitifully propelled me forward at a snail’s pace.

Further adding to my discomfort, I felt overheated as I was draped in my nonbreathable rain layers while residual droplets steadily rained from the towering Redwood canopy. In weighing the pros and cons of stripping or bundling, I opted to be soaked under my layers rather than be exposed and wet from the drops above.

After nearly an hour of hard-fought pedaling against mind, body, road, and motorists, my nerves were tested and I felt shook to the core. I panted, heaved, and cussed as I attempted to progress. My frustrations escalated as I frequently slid into ditches when cars got too close for comfort. Dejected, I pulled off into a ditch to catch my breath and indulge in a pity party.

Nearing my mental limits that I set for the pilgrimage, my mind began to entertain doubt.  While I rested, I considered the concept of “diminishing marginal utility” in my present predicament. According to economists, this phenomenon occurs when one reaches a critical point of consumption whereby an additional unit or gain no longer adds value. A classic example is eating too many burgers; the first burger is yummy and and you want to keep eating more. So you eat a second, which is pretty good but not as tasty as the first because you are pretty full at this point. But you eat a third, and as you are bursting at the seams, it really doesn’t taste good anymore. That is diminishing marginal utility–the point of consumption where eating one more burger adds no additional value. At this point, no further unit of flagellation would sate or add additional utility to my spiritual sojourn. I had a definitive limit in my mind to the amount of suffering I was willing to endure. I crossed past that line, and as a result, I fell apart.

In hindsight, the doubt in mind closed my heart to accepting more utility in the experience. This reinforces my view that the result of my experiences are only limited by the constraints my mind creates. In this case, I came into my tour with preconceived notions of an acceptable threshold of pain I was willing to endure to feel properly sated for spiritual rejuvenation. With most things in my life that are difficult, the perspective I bring and how I choose to respond frames whether I will consider this a challenge or an opportunity. In this case, I viewed my plight as a challenge.

With my mind shot, my performance deteriorated greatly. Pushing off from my frequent stop and go’s became incredibly demanding on my heavy rig and weary stumps for legs. This must have become obvious to the drivers as a kind man in a truck pulled off in a turnaround, and waited several minutes for me to get there before offering me assistance. My head was still in a bad place and I leaned over in a feeble attempt to catch my breath and recollect my composure. My bike fell over with me on it, and he called out to me. I tried to waive him off, but he persisted to no avail. In retrospect, I was a bit rude in my dismissiveness. But I was very thankful for the kind gesture. In my pride, I wanted to get to camp on my own two feet, and didn’t want to hitch the rest of the way. Thus, my prideful heart painstakingly redrew the accepted line of suffering.

Several minutes later, darkness set as I finally arrived at the turnoff to the park. Despite that I felt slightly better, I pushed my bike up the knee crushing grades for the next 25 minutes. My mantra was something along the lines of “spiritual rejuvenation sucks”. But hey, it’s all a part of the journey 🙂

Jubilantly, I cried out when I arrived at the park’s pay station. My joy was shattered when I discovered that I had to select my campsite, come back down to pay, and then bike up another steep climb. Cold, tired, hungry, and slightly crazed, I slogged along shouting curses to the trees as I went. Again, I got off my bike and start pushing it along another mile or so.

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Stumbling through the dark, I couldn’t find camp. Suddenly, tires screeched to a halt behind me as the park ranger throttled the brakes to avoid smashing into me as I crossed an intersection. Later, I learned that my rear light had gone dead–gear fail. I searched for another 15 minutes to no avail in the maze of the park, and finally sought help.

With shame, I approached a woman in an RV, and asked for a map. With great enthusiasm, she pulled out a map and we studied it intently. Several minutes later, we scratched our heads trying to make heads or tails of it. We chatted about my journey, and I let her know that I was bummed that I had to make the trip back down to the pay station, and that I had physically gotten more than I bargained for on this trip.

Taking pity, she invited me to her camp. Her niece just got married an hour before, and her crew was on their way to the wedding reception at the park. “Go ahead and throw your tent down on any flat spot you can find”, she implored. “Be sure to join us at the campfire for some hot food and all the booze you want!”, she added with a warm grin on her face.

Incredibly touched by her kindness, and flabbergasted by my change in fortune, I made my way over to the site, set up my tent, and joined the festivities that were in full swing.

At Camp

Pop music blared as the trees came to life with with the lights, sights, sounds, and movements from the guests who danced and made merry. The bride glided along in her white flowing wedding gown that was now caked in mud from the recent rains. While still processing through some shock from my high octave voyage, the loving glow from the newly weds helped to immerse me in this very different experience than I expected for my evening.

Rather than resist and retreat, as is my propensity, I allowed this organized chaos to wash over me. I began engaging with the guests, which was quite easy as word got around that some weird wedding crasher got there by bike and was camping out in the corner of the camp. People approached me and asked many details about my adventure, and were mostly incredulous that someone would subject themselves to this type of activity. Overall, everyone was incredibly kind and generous, and I had a really great time chatting with some new friends while sipping down a Dr. Pepper and wolfing some yummy Mexican rice, beans, and veggies.

After soaking in the heat of the campfire for a few hours, I retired to my camp feeling incredibly grateful for the kindnesses I received from strangers. With cell reception, I called my sweetie and shared the splendor of my serendipitous encounter with some really great people who joyously celebrated love. With my love on the line, we shared bits of our day and the wonders of life. Soon I dozed into a blissful slumber, that was plagued with weird dreams of raccoons skulking about in camp and eating leftovers from the reception.

The Return Journey

I awoke to a dried up and beautiful blue sky. I hastily packed up camp, scarfed down some food, chit chatted with local Boy Scout troupe leaders, and tested out some physics–what goes up must come back down.

As the image below indicates, trucks use low gears. But bikers use high gears 😀 For me, I was squeezing my brakes handles for most of the way on this steep descent. So much so that I would take short breaks to rest my aching hands that toiled under the labor. As a revenge to the impatient drivers from yesterday, I greedily overtook the lane on my way to the bottom, feeling greatly vindicated.

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Southbound from the campground.

Making my way northbound to San Jose, I encountered fierce headwinds causing the going to be slow and laborious. But I made the most of it, snapping pictures and actually getting to enjoy the scenery along the way.

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Lovely views in Watsonville.

Winter is the rainy season in the San Francisco Bay Area. Lush green vegetation was all around me, a stark contrast to the golden vegetation of the hot summers. Naked grape vines dotted the landscape in an orderly manner. Being in the heart of wine country, I half considered buying some wine for some friends. The thought of adding additional pounds to my pack dissuaded me in the end.

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Fortino Winery, one of the many wineries along the way.

My first stop along the way was Chitactac Adams Heritage County Park. Open year round, this fantastic county park offers historical cultural insights into Native American culture of Santa Clara County. Various exhibits and structures give visitors a unique glimpse into Ohlone village life, Ohlone buildings, petroglyphs (rock art), Ohlone food processing, natural history of Uvas Creek, Spanish, California and Ohlone culture and petroglyphs and their preservation.

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Cultural exhibit at Chitactac County Park.

Continuing on my journey, I reflected on one of the best perks of living in California–the access to yummy fresh food. Just minutes south of San Jose takes you into the Central Valley, heartland to agriculture in the United States. To put this in context, over a third of the US’s vegetables and two-thirds of the country’s fruits and nuts come from California. Agricultural exports here in 2014 totaled to $21.59 billion in value, or 14.3 percent of all US agricultural exports (per the California Department of Agriculture). That’s a lot of yum yums.

In taking advantage of this agricultural access, I eyed up farm stands along the road. My mouth watered as I spotted a sign that said “Fresh Mushrooms Mushrooms Here –>”. For $4.50, I picked up two pounds of fresh cremini mushrooms–quite the delicious bargain.

For the next hour, I fantasized about a ‘shroomy filled lunch. With a great hunger within me, I paused for a break in Morgan Hill. I used my Jet Boil stove to prepare a gourmet feast of dehydrated veggies (carrots, corn, peppers, and soy beans), dehydrated black beans, Israeli couscous, Srichacha sauce, veggie bouillon, and of course, mushrooms. After a few mins, I gobbled down my meal while enjoying a good adventure book.

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My feast at a reststop in Morgan Hill.

The remainder of the voyage was relatively uneventful. I filled the time with reflection about my journey, internalizing my learnings of self-exploration. Through my sufferings, I found great strength in myself and a greater personal connection with the natural world and people around me. Above all else, I enjoyed the bliss of the ride–who could beat spending the day pedaling along on a warm, sunny, idyllic day?

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