I took the Trees to Sea highway over to the coast for a writing retreat recently, criss-crossing streams until I arrived in Oceanside, Oregon, my mountain bike on the back of my car, my trusty tent inside. Rooms on the coast are expensive, but camping is a boon. I pitched my REI tent in the trees just beyond the sand dunes of Cape Lookout and listened to the ocean purr all night long, cozy and content like a kid on an adventure, sunny and glorious for three whole days.
In between writing spurts, I rode my mountain bike down the Netarts Spit, the only bike in the sand. My tires are wide but not super fat, so sometimes they bog down, and I turn to where the sand is wetter or drier and pedal harder.
Riding and writing have a lot in common. Or nothing. Sometimes I fight for words, like I fight for traction, sinking or spinning out. Along the coast where the tide is always changing there’s a perfect middle you can’t see, but you can feel it beneath the tires, like the story beneath the words. When it shifts, you follow it, like a blind one feeling for the ground by tapping. You make the effort, stay with it.
When I ride a lot, or take Bike Blast classes, or run a few miles a week, it’s easier to climb the hills, or get my bike through the sandy slogs.
When I write a lot, or even some writing on most days, the words are there, the pump primed. It was like that at the retreat. I’ve been working up to it, taking workshops (with PDX Writers, the retreat hosts), so when the prompts are thrown out there, the words just come. Still, while I’m writing there’s this voice over my shoulder saying, You’ve got nothing. Or It’s all crap, and I want to give up, and I don’t want to read what I’ve written out loud, but the voice lies. When our words are given a voice, they sink into some truths. And I hear the other writers making the same kinds of discoveries. We get excited then, talking about what we hear in each other’s writing.
Twelve of us just wrote and wrote, eleven women and one man. I was the only one camping. The second night someone mentioned a room was available.
No thanks, I said.
I am most alive out camping. And on my bike. And writing.
On the last day we took a walk on the beach, except I rode my bike, one last time, a mom responsible for no one awhile longer, except those I create on the page, like I’m 12 again, a girl in a book, on a bike, at the beach.
One man in a group, beer bottle in hand,
cries, Good work, as I flow by.
Good, good work, when I pass back by again.
A man with a wife calls out, Get an electric.
Defeats the purpose, I say, sweat effervescing.
It’s better, he says, persisting.
His wife smiles out to sea.
Human power, I pant.
Highly overrated, he yells.
Until you can’t, I throw back,
finalizing the call and response.
A woman, feet wide, waddles with glee,
chasing a gull into the sea,
laughing bubbles when our eyes meet.
Is it easy? she asks, the only bike on the beach.
I circle around, pointing at fat tires,
For balance, I say,
riding ever wider circles fanning out until
we are sea girls,
in a book, on a bike, at the beach.
An outline of shadow on sand,
pressing tracks in cool skin,
oyster shell feet pressing pedals,
up and down,
a turret crown of seaweed spikes,
forward and back,
handle bar arms follow
a foamy necklace line,
a dolphin dance
for a girl
in a book,
on a bike,
at the beach.