As I plunged into Puget Sound...
The feels. Aching back and knees. Probably because of my own mistreatment to myself, forgetfulness and misguided pedal assembly. I dunno. A continent behind me. With a set of tire tracks that ran the whole thing. A story bottled up inside of me that I probably can’t capture in just a few lines. The moment was larger than I could feel all together. Mountains and rivers and prairie and fucking hundreds of hours on a goddamn bicycle.
Now There. Right in front of me. The waves. The sound of them. On the sand. The foam. It’s salt water. This is Puget Sound. I can find it on a map. My phone is telling me I’m there. And I’m thinking: I’m here! Of course, I probably didn’t need my phone to tell me any of that. I could read the signs on the bike path and that were plastered all over the entrance to the Golden Gardens Marina.
Had to push my bike through the sand to make it to the water. When I turned off of the sidewalk and on to the beach my bike tires slipped on the new surface and I fell over. I fell over and people watched me. There was an exclamation. “Woah there!” I closed my eyes for a second. Maybe I just blinked. No time to fuck it all up now. Grabbed my bike by the seat and just started pushing. Breath in my ears. My own breath. Somewhere the wafting smell of people starting a barbeque. Another group of people speaking a different language. Japanesse? More of an audience than I imagined. To the left—back on the sidewalk—an older white couple watched me glance at them as my feet sunk into the wet silica. I took some deep breaths. Felt the muscles in my arms flex as I gripped the seat and handlebars of the bike. Pushing. Past the high-tide line over some small, loose seaweed and small sticks. A log washed up to the right. I’m getting sand in my cleats. It doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t matter. I kept on pushing until both of my feet were in the water and my socks were soaked.
In Maine Ben and I woke up a 6am, June 10th, 2016 to dunk our rear tires in the Atlantic. Not really a date of too much importance—other than the fact that I was five days before the democratic primary in Rockport. My mother was running for the dem’s seat in the State House of Representatives. I was leaving before her big day. And only really because I’d failed to communicate with Ben about the election before he bought his plane ticket out to Maine. Flying up from the warmer oceans in Florida so that we could start the ride together. That morning was kind of arbitrarily chosen. It just kind of worked.
I was thinking about that when I pushed the Zephyr into the water out by the public beach outside of Ballard. How fucking arbitrary is it. I’d planned the date of course, but the whole adventure seemed to have concluded without my really even noticing it. I’d arrived. But to what, for what, and why? Listen. Listen to the waves and breathe in some of that salty air. Sometimes the ocean just has to be a bookend. Although the adventure never really stops. Does it?
Another contemplation struck me as I watched the boats motor out of the marina-- Like a lightning bolt. You know sometimes how thoughts can do that? And send shivers down your arms and through the tips of your fingers? There is nothing exact in it. I can’t call it an exactitude. That bothers me—but also excites me now to a certain degree. You see-- to a certain degree. There is certainty in it.
It’d been raining most of the morning and some of the runoff was trickling down the beach and into the water. Flowing downhill. I felt a reverence for the water as I imagined it traveling down through the Cascades into the greater metropolitan area of Seattle, joining up with the other similar molecules to make a journey to the Meca. The Ocean. All of that energy. First the gravity that drug it out of the sky. Then the gravity that pulled it together again. In pools. In rivers. In rivulets. Over concrete. In the ground. Visible, but not quite traceable. Making this great adventure out of something that people just kind of take for granted most of the time. Walking through the puddles. Cars splashing the shit on people biking—on the cars themselves. Somehow the water makes its way. And nobody really bothers to question that or think about it too much. Unless you’re taking a class on the water cycle. Even then though, it seems a little bit too dry. (he he) But really, you can’t feel the gravity in the whole process when you’re reading it out of book. And sometimes you’re too close to engines when you’re actually on the water. The sound of motorboats leaving the marina kind of droning along. How much are we taking for granted here? Forgive me.
The coincidence of it all assembles a masterpiece for our observation. Even now, just thinking it over in a coffee shop somewhere is West Seattle, they’re playing Otis Reading. Sitting on a dock on the bay… wasting time. How fucking perfect.
The lightning bolt that hit me while I was down on the beach had some sort of origin in the vastness of energy that carries us toward the oceans. It was if I’d been gathering a storm cloud around myself as I biked down off of the mountains, holding the moisture from all the rain in my skin and athletic clothes. Or maybe it was the morning coffee… percolating in my system and making connections between the synapses of my brain. Or maybe the whole trip just brought me here to this moment. I’d hate to say that there’s a definite consequence of conscience from my trip in this realization—but I’ve been traveling in fear of lightning the whole way. Something about that requires a fatalistic and ironic consequence in my personal reflection. Kablaaam. Everybody knows that some things are impossible to avoid. That in itself is enough of a thought.
I didn’t actually spend that long down on the beach. I was hungry and I’d told my host the day before that I’d meet him at his bike shop in White Center around noon. It was already past noon. White Center is about a 2-hour bike ride (with gear) from Golden Gardens all the way through the city. So I got going pretty quickly.
On my way South I crossed Salmon Bay on the Chittenden Locks and had to fight my way through flocks of tourists. On the east side of the locks a damn held back the fresh water in Salmon Bay and Lake Union. There were several boats being flushed through the locks on their way out of the harbor. It was low tide so the difference in water height was pretty remarkable. I had to walk my bike because there were so many people watching the process. Really flocks of tourists. Like I said. I listened to a father explain to his child what was happening there. “You see the water rise?” Another fat group of people, and I mean fat as in clumsy because of their numbers, was standing at the south side of the locks watching salmon attempt to climb the fish ladder into the fresh water. The sun had come out and it was starting to get hot.
Normally in places like this I feel an absence of romance among the “flock.” It’s hard for me to focus on the beauty of a moment when I’m usually so distracted by people on their phones, taking pictures, and smiling because… well, because. An economic nastiness rubs me when I think about tourism in this way occasionally. As if the place were transformed for the sake of other people to just pass through. I’ve tried hard to make myself as “un-touristy” as possible, but I am one after all. I like to imagine many people find themselves trapped in this hypocrisy and that we’re all running from the label of “tourist” somewhat secretly-- even in places that we know extremely well and would consider ourselves locals. The imagination gives me a sense that we all share, or that many people share, a bubble of insecurity that colors a place with really interesting behavior. The contrast that is drawn up in the people in sunglasses, standing on the locks watching the water with what looks almost like a grimace on their faces. They’re astounded, somewhere underneath the shades, but distracted or intentionally unconcerned “because they’ve seen it before;” and fitting in with the tourists would belittle the grandness and intention of the life they’ve created for themselves in the Emerald City. They’re still drawn toward the water after rain though. Just like everything else.
There are houses on either side of the locks. Most of them have water access and seem to be etched in to the side of small cliff. They’re painted many different colors. One thing I’ve noticed while I’ve been here. The houses are so many different colors. When I crossed the locks I found myself envious of those houses… and the people in the shades. The shades on eyes and the ones underneath the pine trees. Perhaps they were standing there as a matter of ego. Probably overthinking this one. Too much. Does a place have ego?
The freight trains boldly pronounced themselves as I pedaled my bike along the Elliot Bay trail through Interbay and into Downtown. I thought more about the energy that brings all the water toward the ocean—and how all of the pieces of maritime infrastructure in the city were financed with the same sort of gravitational understanding that brings raindrops to the ocean. A more emotional understanding of what my Economics professor at NYU would have called “hysteresis.” The random historical events that lead to a stronger shipping industry in Seattle. Like the arrival of rail. Thought I’d probably been biking alongside some of the trains that were destined for these depots. Filled with grain or oil. To be shipped to another country across the ocean. Or just some other destination.
The adventure never stops. Kept thinking that. The sounds of the city starting to get louder in my ears. As long as you frame it that way. Take the picture with some sort of meaning intended for yourself or someone else. Or maybe not.
But I made it. That’s what matters to me now. Even if it happened on an arbitrary day. Even if it was over too quickly. There’s more. Certainly. To a certain degree. Ha! The body of the journey is and was just a thundercloud that day. Rumbling until it struck me… and reminded me that I had to keep on biking.
If it doesn’t make sense to you, that’s okay. Nobody clapped when my tires reached the salt water. I didn’t want them to. And when I walked back up the beach I was still buzzing. Following my own tire tracks up the beach, back to sidewalk, past the place where I fell, and right by the older couple that watched me from the bench in a kind of silence.
There are few times in my life when the sound of my own breath has been so loud.