Day 49 Saturday, August 27 Ely to Eureka, NV 78 miles
What a wonderful adventure today. It was playful, engaging, a bit edgy and challenging. I actually started the day off a little slowly. Knowing that I had three passes to climb while my mind has moved more and more on to California and Oregon, I entered the ride with a a sort of “Here we go again” attitude. I can remember the exact moment that my mind went from counting miles to actually enjoying what was right before me. I had a pleasant climb up the first pass partly aided by a gentle tailwind and the lightness of my bike due to sending my camping gear home.
Between the first two climbs I entered a long, broad expansive valley. That is where the ride took an interesting turn. To the left of me a dark sheet of rain was descending out of a cloud about 6-8 miles off. To the right of me lightning and thunder were just starting to gear up. This was less than 2 miles away (You do know how to tell how far lightning is, right? Count how many seconds between the lightning and the thunder and multiply by 1100 feet. A 5-second count means the lightning is just beyond one mile). I rode between these two thunderstorms watching very carefully which way the wind was taking them. I was just a little nervous about being in a landscape with no trees while lightning was striking. I kept in the back of my mind that there would be no shame in throwing my bike in the back of a pickup truck if it got too scary.
I slipped between these two storms, climbed the second pass successfully and entered the next long valley before the final pass. The storms continued and what began as isolated storms multiplied to the point where I was watching the movement of these fast moving threatening storms on all four sides. At one point I was riding right at the edge of one of the storms hoping it was going to pass on by. It didn’t. Suddenly the sky opened up and driving rain was hitting me like little missiles while the pauses between lightning and thunder became almost non-existent. I quickly carried my bike just a few yards off the road into a small host of juniper trees. For the next half hour I sat in one of these overgrown bushes while the storm let loose. It was actually like sitting in a high tech theater. Once I found a spot where I had limited the amount of rain that was hitting me, I was able to peer out of the branches and watch the dancing lightning and listen to the booming percussion of the thunder. It was soulfully rich.
The rest of the ride became sort of an engaging and playful game trying to assess when to move forward, when to stall, when to seek shelter, and when to wave down a passing truck. At one point I came upon the only structure I saw all day–an old boarded up house that had three trees out front. It was the only shelter I had seen for miles and the terrain ahead of me appeared to be completely barren of anything but sagebrush. I could see one of those draping curtains of rain just to the left of the road but the rest looked reasonably clear. I decided to move forward unsure of whether I was riding into another violent cloudburst. Ten minutes later I looked back where I had come from and the house and trees were completely enveloped in a violent downpour. This is not Oregon rain that settles in and drizzles annoyingly all day. These storms may only last a few minutes, but they are like bulldozers coming through–the winds whip up, lightning and thunder surround you, and the rain is painful as it is propelled by the wind.
I had a wonderful time! I felt so alive as the elements of nature tested me, engaged me, and challenged me as if we were trying to outwit each other in a close chess match. I think there is a fine line between living right at the edge of something where all of your senses are fully active and alert and tempting fate by falling over the edge. Today, I felt like I was just this side of the line. There was a whole theater of unpredictable storms around me in an essentially barren terrain. I had fun playing and trying to weave my way through these storms as if I was a character in an arcade game. But, I was also very aware that one misjudgment could result in being caught right in the path of one of these storms and I was ready to put my thumb out if needed. Rain is one thing, but being the tallest thing in the desert when lightning is dancing across the sky is not my idea of fun.
What is it about this that is so enriching and enlivening? I remember many years ago when I lived in Wisconsin right on Lake Michigan. In the winter I would walk along the lake as the waves would come crashing into the shoreline rocks. I can remember this feeling of wanting to join the waves–not out of some morbid fascination with death, but to join the power of nature in its sublime beauty. I felt it again a few weeks ago when I was looking at the Upper Falls in Yellowstone Park from the viewing point that is pressed right to the edge of the canyon rim. I had to stand three feet back. Again, not because I was afraid of falling, but because the beauty of the deeply carved canyon with the falls crashing below almost draws one toward it. You want to be part of it, even as you know that doing so means coming face to face with God in a more permanent way!
It’s interesting that when ministers are asked what their most formative Christian spiritual experience was that led to their choice of vocation that something like half of them say, “Summer church camp!” In our comments section there has been some interest in exploring what “Earth Church” might look like. A highly successful Jewish spiritual community in Boulder, CO is centered around activities where people experience God in nature. Check out their website at www.adventurerabbi.org. There has also been a resurgence in exploring Celtic Christianity and nature-based spiritualities.
I think there is something to this cultural yearning we are having about returning to nature. I am not sure what the full message is yet. But, I do wonder if our traditions have lost touch with our connection to nature as we moved to the cities and our religious traditions became more rooted in buildings and social networks. I do know that today I felt like God and I were playfully teasing each other in a way that I often don’t get in my church experience.
I felt alive today, engaged, and as close to the divine presence as I have felt on this trip so far. I do know that I was playing awfully close to the edge. But, given the choice between the comfort of a La-Z-Boy and dodging storms I know I am in the right place!