Coming home has different meaning for everyone. For me it starts with the sensations of familiarity I begin to receive as I step off the plane into the bright California sunshine and start the end of my journey home to Santa Cruz from racing in Canada.
The bright white light crashing off the concrete runways as we deplane the old fashioned way, down the steps onto the tarmac, mingles in my sensory centers with the scent of eucalyptus trees and fog from San Francisco Bay, barely discernable over the reek of jet fuel and exhaust.
Freeing my car from its internment in long-term parking, I time the lights perfectly and join the crush of cars heading south, straining to break free from the city.
As I blast past Los Gatos, scenery begins to change, cityscape giving way to hills, trees and nature. The air is discernibly changing, becoming fresher, wilder and putting a beat of excitement into my body as I careen past the summit of the Santa Cruz Mountains.
The road dips and drops under my scrambling tires as I make my reckless descent to the coast. The smell of ocean waves crashing onto the rocks, decaying kelp on the beach and sea lion poop tickles my nostrils as I get closer to my destination. Finally, I round the last corner and the Monterey Bay spreads out in front of me, sparkling and misty, an oasis to this weary traveler.
I wake early the next morning to a cool cover of fog and hit the espresso machine, my long-lost friend welcoming me home with its sweet nectar from the gods. I am eager to get out on my bike; my favorite secret ride is calling to me. I load up the water bottles, snacks and spare tubes and hit the road. As I climb through dense, dark redwood stands and emerge from the fog, hidden dry pine forests, manzanita plantations and eucalyptus groves appear around every bend.
Dropping into Big Basin State Park for my first water stop, the smooth, fresh blacktop gives way to hard packed earth, sand and gravel as I turn off the beaten path, headed for the less explored parts of the woods.
The next 15 miles test my bike handling skills as my slick tires struggle for grip on the deteriorating road. The road that was full of raging creek crossings in February is nothing but dry, rocky mine fields and scrabble dust that must be negotiated with care as I make my final long sketchy descent towards civilization.
My secret road deposits me back out on to the coast 25 miles north of Santa Cruz. As I fill up on water one last time at a run-down gas station I try to absorb the last moments of escape before hitting the big ring and blasting home.
Coming home. It’s a sensation we all seek, but it is elusive. For me it’s the special feeling I get when I roll into town after a long trip, when I am ripping the final flowing trails at the end of an epic day, or effortlessly clicking off miles at the end of a big road ride. It is that innate sense of wholeness and elation I receive when I find that of all the awesome places my bike can take me, the best one seems to always be home.
Barry Wicks is a pro mountain bike and cyclocross racer with Kona.