The seed I planted in my mind before leaving LA was to experience the open road to rediscover my edge. I felt I had lost it during the past few years in trying to survive living in a big city. I’m no longer surprised, but happily accept, when events endorse my faith that the universe will give you what you ask for though I may not know when or how it will manifest.
Homeward bound along the I395 we spent our last night of our vacation in Lone Pine, CA. The magnificent Mount Whitney, at 14,505 feet, is a beautiful backdrop to a “small town with lots of charm”. This town has grown to become a mecca for travelers, hikers and tourists since the Mt. Whitney trail was completed in 1904. I discover that I came here as a pilgrim. There was time when I looked at a mountain and I would imagine the traverse up, studying the contours and ridges to determine a way up to the top. When we passed through Lone Pine two weeks ago, I described to Bruno my feeling of loss – why wasn’t I surveying a trail to climb up? What a strange feeling to be aware of the loss, and then accepting the loss.
I haven’t hiked very much since I moved out here. My excuse was the heat and dryness of the mountain ranges in SoCal which I was not accustomed to, compared to British Columbia, where the forest and meadows are lush and the flowing creeks spray cool mountain waters. I had allowed this joy for the wilderness wither away as I embedded myself into the living of a desert city, yet a mosaic of cultures. The tiles of faces, languages and smells from the streets are both an invitation and assault on the senses. Which one to choose?
Riding, alone with my own thoughts, and only the wind to brush my jacket and pants, and whistling in my ears, I focused on the terrain. There’s always something to be prepared for: debris, crossing deer or elk, open cattle, falling rock, weather pattern changes, looking to see if Bruno is still behind me, the curve coming up, state patrol, the unwrapping scenery of mountains, valleys, basins and rock formations. This is a beautiful country. Every turn is breathtaking. As one local in Snohomish Valley described, ‘God couldn’t have painted a better picture’. Certainly, people are more apt to look at the bikes with its zig-zag of bungee chords to tie down whatever we deemed as ‘necessary’ for the journey. That too changed on a daily basis. We made trips to the post offices every few days to send back home the simple little treasures , souvenirs and dirty clothes we had accumulated.
The daily grind of the road didn’t wear me out, except for a fresh fatigue from the intake of conversations, scenery and preparing for the next day. I tried to meditate on ‘the edge’. How did ‘Stella Got Her Groove Back’? (I never saw the movie, but the title was apt for my situation.) How will I relearn to look at a mountain and have that joyful curiousity to climb it to the peak? It took miles and miles of riding alone and just letting things happen. Without expectations we chewed up the miles between LA and Hayden, and back down to LA again, doing a loop that closed again at Lone Pine. I don’t know how it happened, but it happened – not by design – but simply accepting what was present at the moment, and making choices and adjustments as needed.
The choice between forging ahead into unknown territory or staying one extra day to fix the bike; the choice to decline the offer of a shelter overnight from a stranger because of the rain and lateness of the day; the choice to accept a round of beer at the saloon from a traveler who cared to ask, ‘Where are you guys from?’. Regardless of the choices made, I see now that there is not a right or wrong. It’s a matter of accepting the results of the choices made. I’ve always pondered the quote from Miles Davis:
If you hit a wrong note, it’s the next note that you play that determines if its’s good or bad.
– Miles Davis (1926 – 1991)
We rounded back to Lone Pine because we had determined we didn’t want to take the I5. I’ve traveled along this path many times before, and I had never seen the Sierra Nevada, so it seemed to be the natural choice to make. The first night into California we stopped at Susanville. The motel owner welcomed us with the ‘biker special’ at $50 for a simple and clean room stocked with a fridge and a microwave. By this time, we had learned to make nutritious and delicious meals using simple ingredients and cooking in the microwave. I was still masturbating my brain to figure out how to get my groove back, but I was fully absorbed in fullness of traveling and the ripening of the end of a trip. I had seen a lot of faces of the desert with its terrains and living and non-living habitats, such as the family living in Middlegate, Nevada running on a diesel generator and the beginnings of a solar energy. Certainly these inhabitants of the desert are pushing to maintain a type of life on the edge.
Black Rock Solar is solarizing one of our country’s historic roadhouses. It’s Middlegate Station, on the loneliest road in America – Highway 50 in Nevada.
If you’ve stopped in whilst bumping around in the desert, you were probably glad for the cold drink or ice cream sandwich to wash the dust from your lips. But cold in the Nevada desert doesn’t come cheap. Off the municipal electric grid and powered 24/7 by a diesel generator, Middlegate’s future is in doubt after years of rising fuel costs.
Middlegate’s owners – Fredda and Russ Stevenson – and Black Rock Solar have secured a State Office of Energy loan and are working to secure more funding for a larger array to keep Middlegate Station viable with the power of the sun.
The story above is the beginning of yet another blog I’d like to write about, as it is a story in itself. But it watered the seed of my initial inquiry about getting the edge back. One of the crew members, a bold and wise young woman, told me that you never really lose the edge because you always have the edge. It didn’t dawn upon me till today that it’s like the knife that loses its sharpness. A knife will always have an edge, but how it is used and maintained defines the kind of edge it has. Using its metal against ceramic or breaking open a coconut shell with the wrong type of knife will chip or dull the edge.
A journey is the process of letting the inner wisdom spring forth, and giving that joyful creation the environment it needs to self-acutalize. A journey into the desert just as prophets and gurus have practiced emptying oneself to transform was what I had been doing. I had an intention but I didn’t have the ‘know-how’, and was left without a choice but to accept – accept what I had become, and then re-orient myself to move towards where I want to be. There will be a re-learning to develop better habits to replace others which I have decided I need to out-grow. Like a river that meanders around the bends and creating oxbows as it matures, there is a wholeness in both edges of a knife. I’ve pierced sharply up a terrain and I’ve also shredded down loose scree from the top, and tumbled on my hands and knees; and bounded back up with a richer perspective.
My pilgrimage to Mount Whitney has just begun. I left Lone Pine yesterday with a map and couple of books about ascending Mt. Whitney, along with tips from a local guide in the adventure store. I feel the butterflies dancing in my belly and the perspiration on my palms thinking about the possibilities. I could try to hike in the winter geared in cramp ons and ice picks. That would be my first time, but it is a possibility that the guide described to me. Staying on the edge has many possibilities.
3 thoughts on “A Pilgrim On the Edge”
“On the edge with many possibilities.” Oh, yeah…
Wow! So vivid, so inspiring…
Once again, a beautiful post. And if you really do decide to hike Whitney, feel free to ask me questions — I’ve done it!
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