“Do you have plans tonight?” my friend asked me, as we were finishing dinner in a Seattle pizzeria. We had met up an hour earlier for the first time in a few years and for what I thought would just be dinner.
“No, not really,” I said, knowing I had planned to spend the evening writing about my travels in Vancouver.
“Well, if you’re free, I was planning to get some firewood and some beers and watch the sunset at one of my favorite spots in the city,” he told me.
How could I have said no? “What the hell,” I thought. Why the hell not.
We headed from the restaurant to his house on the city bus, picked up the necessary wares, and got ready to go. He loaned me a bike and strapped several logs of firewood into the front basket. We were off. As we biked, ninety-degree neighborhood grids turned into winding wooded drives. The roads started into downward declines, and my bike picked up speed. The rush of the wind against my face and the calm trees swaying so slightly in the sea breeze made me feel a freedom I had been longing for, a freedom hard to come by amid the packed sidewalks and schedules of Cambridge. Soon my mind began to wander.
“I’m doing life all wrong, aren’t I?” “Why do I go to school in a city I don’t like?” “Why live there when I can be—”
Boom. My front wheel thumped and inertia pitched me forward. I was jolted back to where I actually was, out of the one of wishing-that-when-I-weren’t-that-I-were-where-I-was. I gripped the bike handles and tried to regain control over. Squeezing the brake and putting my feet out in a V, the bike wobbled to a stop. An unwieldy firelog had dislodged itself from my front cargo hold, fallen out on the ground, and I’d run it over. I was lucky—it could have been far worse, but I was unscathed. My friend went to go retrieve the log. Strapping it back in a little harder this time, we moved on, moving to go at a more moderate speed.
My mind went off again, wondering why I had been cursed with living in Cambridge, where there are no beaches where people go to make fires at sunset.
Arriving at the beach, we rode our bikes up until sand prohibited the wheels from getting any more traction. We walked the rest of the way to the water, found a spot and lay them down on the sand. Several groups of friends were there, making fires, singing, and dancing and feeling free. My mind went off again, wondering why I had been cursed with living in Cambridge, where there are no beaches where people go to make fires at sunset. But I pushed those thoughts away, and we sat down and got to making our fire.
We arrived just as the sun was ducking under the Olympic Mountains, whose white translucent silhouettes were nearly indistinguishable from clouds on the horizon. Our fire got going, growing with the breadth of our conversation. As it became darker and the fires’ yellows and oranges contrasted more starkly with the deep blue sky, so too our conversation became deeper and more unfiltered. We talked about our families, our interests, our fears, our thoughts, our aspirations. It got dark, but time seemed to slow here. There was nowhere else to be. For that while, nothing else seemed to matter except the intense fulfillment of human company and our placid surroundings.
When eventually we looked at our watches, time had indeed been there, and as it does, it had passed. “It’s almost 11,” he told me. “We should get going.”
We got back on our bikes, and I was ready to feel to cool air breeze by without the burden of having to carry our fuel. This time, heading back, speed would be no concern. The downhill slalom of our there-bound ride was no more. Instead, a steep uphill incline lay before me. My legs trembled and burned, but I had no choice but to buckle down and pedal. When I got to the top, my breathing were making a whistling noise with each inhale and exhale. My throat was parched and my lungs on fire.
I got home, exhausted, with still a lot of writing to do before the next morning and with questionable cardiovascular faculties. But I was proud of myself that I had ditched the safe and wise option, focused on the present moment, and seized an opportunity to do something I’d remember for a long time. I also miraculously had not fallen off that doomed bike. I got to writing, continuing late into the night, refreshed and with a clear mind.
I was doing things right.
Graham left behind the stressed-out chaos of Cambridge for the laid back life on the West Coast. A refreshing change of pace, he assumed, until the line for coffee on his first morning took 2 mins longer than he’s used to, and the Northeast nasty jumped out. Starting in Vancouver, Graham meandered south, toning his calves being a pedestrian on San Francisco’s hills and by navigating the monstrosity that is Los Angeles using just his feet and public transit (only resorting to Uber twice!) Graham’s love for the West Coast life only increased as he sat by the Puget Sound in Seattle, sipped kombucha in the crunchy cafes of Portland, climbed into a waterfall in Yosemite and stayed in an abandoned opera house in Death Valley. By the time he hit upper 80s sun of San Diego, buff calves and sun tanned, the words “West Coast, Best Coast,” almost slipped out of his mouth. Identity crisis looming, he figured it was time to go home.