Day 55 Friday, September 2 Gardnerville, NV to Placerville, CA 110 miles
I left Gardnerville yesterday morning after being treated royally by my Warmshower’s hosts and new friends, Gabe and Joanie. With a heavenly glider ride the day before (a whole new experience for me), great food, a luxurious bed and bedroom, and an evening of watching reruns of some of the Tour de France that I missed earlier, I was feeling fairly calm about patiently riding my way over the Sierras. The Sierras in this part of CA/NV are different that the Rocky Mountains of Colorado where it takes many days to cross the mountain range. Here, one quickly ascends to Carson Pass at 8,574 and then almost as quickly makes the rolling descent down to sea level.
There was about a 15-mile stretch of just following the base of the mountains before crossing the border into California and beginning the climb to the summit. As I entered the first canyon with the magnificent rocks jutting out from the canyon walls I felt my breathing become deeper and more relaxed. I felt a sense of relief. I was coming home. Not in the sense that I was nearing the familiar territory of the Bay Area or that I was now one step closer to Portland. I mean I was feeling at home in the mountains. There is a ruggedness and a temperamental nature to the mountains that one must respect. Yet, I find that the terrain and the landscape of the mountains reflects something deep my soul. The air is thinner at altitude yet I find that I breathe more freely and easier. I don’t think I realized how much out of my element I felt for those ten days between Utah and Nevada in the desert. I anticipated that that part would be where I would get a taste of wilderness. I got just what I asked for. It was a physical wilderness, but more me it was more of a pyschological wilderness.
I was surprised at easily I pedaled up to the summit with the exception of a couple of steeper sections that taxed me for a short time. I was glad to reach the top of the summit without feeling like I had exerted too much energy. As I began the rolling descent down toward the Central Valley of California I was, at first, celebrating that I had crossed my last major mountain pass. This was a Western states pilgrimage and the greatest percentage of it consisted of pedaling my way through mountain ranges in every state on the route. I was, at times, overwhelmed by the lack of psychological recovery time between one set of passes and another. Yet, as I was descending I was surprised that a subtle sadness came over me. I put the last major pass behind me and now I was grieving that I was beginning to leave the mountains. I was already starting to think ahead to the next time that I might be able to pedal to the base of a mountain and anticipate the miles of working my way through rugged granite canyons, looking back over the valley thousands of feet below, and breathing in the fresh, thin mountain air.
I was born in the mountains of Bozeman, Montana. I grew up at the base of the Rocky Mountains in Loveland, Colorado where I raced other cyclists who thrived as much as I did in that special rarefied atmosphere. I went to college in Idaho just an hour’s drive from Bogus Basin Ski Area. In Portland, I almost always find myself heading east toward the mountains rather than west toward the ocean. My soul is just drawn to the mountains. It is there where I feel most at home.
I have thought a lot about what it is that draws us to and connects us to a certain place. All along my journey I found the same thing to be true. I met people in the rolling farmland of Idaho who feel most at home in the seasons of growing and the gently rolling hills that they farm. I met one man who found himself out of place in a larger city due to family and work and who is now working on returning to the wheat fields, the fishing, and the small town relationships of his childhood hometown. Even in the empty wilderness of Nevada where I could not find a completely calm emotional place, I met others who either grew up there or chose to move there for the wide open spaces where it reflected something about who they are and what they yearn for. I found over and over again this pattern of people either feeling connected to the land in which they lived or yearning for a life where they could enjoy a more intimate connection to the land. I am convinced that much of our spiritual core has to do with our connection to the land, to nature, and its seasons.
I arrived in Placerville quite late (about 7:30 p.m.) after a long day on the bike. I knew it was going to be long, but a couple of missed turns added another 10 miles to my journey including a couple of surprise hills that appeared like a wall in front of me—climbs that I would not have had to do if I had read my map correctly. Oh well…it is a pilgrimage of discovery. I was surprised that I didn’t feel overly taxed after a pretty remarkable day of crossing the Sierras. I am not sure if it was the result of a luxurious day off at my host’s house in Gardnerville or the result of many miles of descent that allowed my legs to recover from the climb, or the feeling that I was in my element and at home in these mountains again. It was probably a combination of the three.
Today, I will ride into Sacramento where I will prepare to speak at Grace Presbyterian Church tomorrow morning. I am largely staying in the homes of Presbyterians during the course of the next week or so. It is another aspect of returning home. I am slipping back into my role of trying to facilitate this conversation between the Church and our larger culture, between religion as we know it and an emerging spirituality. I started this journey feeling that it would be a circle of “leaving home, coming home” and it is certainly playing its way out that way.