Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Riding home at 2 A.M. on a cold and very moist Northern California night. The show, which wasn't very good, was still happening when I walked outside the cheesy bar (currently a gay bar, but in six short years was also a dude bar, a euro-trash bar, and a plain old trash bar), slightly drunk from two or three tallboys of PBRs. Eureka is, as usual, deserted. Silent, except the thumping base from inside. Locked to a parking sign directly in front of the door is my bike, Mama Bee (later renamed Good Times when it carried my body to a different city 1000 miles away). It is alone on the street, the only bike at a show of more than one hundred. That's Eureka. Perhaps at this point yahoos speed past, drunk and stupid, in their muddy truck. That is also Eureka.
It is colder than I thought. Despite this, the air is thick with moisture: a heavy salt breeze from the ocean is blowing up the mountains to become clouds and rain. If the sun were out I would have seen misty clouds drifting through the third-growth hillsides outside of town.
I get on the bike and start riding. The same street I'd ridden more than a thousand times in two years. The same liquor stores, the same seedy hotels and apartments, the same deserted hamburger restaurants. The same stink on the edge of perception. After a couple miles Eureka peters out. The cowboy store is the last outpost on the northern end of town. Now it is very dark: in the mist ahead, I can maybe see the glow of Arcata, home, on the horizon. The lights of the college football field always calling me back to its little oasis. To my left is Humboldt Bay, a dark lagoon of filthy smelling mud at this hour. On the right I can see the lonely lights of homesteads scattered on the sodden farmland and perched on hillside clearings.
The route is tediously simple. Seven miles of US Highway 101, perfectly straight except for one big left turn around the bay. Built on an earthen rampart raised above the often swampy grassland on both sides. Two lanes in each direction and a twelve foot shoulder that I use as a bike lane. It is cleaned rarely and is often fatal to fifty dollar "puncture proof" tires. On windy days the southbound lanes are a minefield of felled eucalyptus branches. On these days ride slowly and slalom your way towards work hoping one will not crack your helmet or head open.
Tonight, however, it is almost perfectly still, like every night on the coast. The thick fog comes in from the west on an imperceptible, drenching breeze. The kind of night that soaks you without rain. Wet wool Pendletons.
I pedal slowly, feeling a little stupid. Riding a bike on the highway at 2 A.M. in Humboldt County is risky. Every driver could, and very likely is, be drunk at this hour. I myself imbibed before trying my fate on the highway.
As a result, I have to pee. I have to pee very bad and I am still five or six miles from home and I am not going to make it. Without really thinking about it, I stop riding and lay Mama Bee down on the grass embankment. I pull the light off the handlebars to use as a flashlight and scramble down the earthen wall built the highway on. The headlights of the few cars make the fog glow and for a couple seconds, a few tall trees are visible surrounded by a white hallow. I turn the light off and stumble over the rough, wet ground towards them. Finding a spot, I prepare to relieve myself. For no particular reason, I click the light on and see, directly before me, the completely decomposed skeleton of a full grown male deer.
Bleached bones. Paper skin, dusted with brown hair, stretched across a ribcage. A bare skull with antlers rests in the green grass, teeth grinning. I stumble away from the apparition mute with terror. Get back on the bike and ride another few miles and pee later, in some other less haunted spot.
I stop by the carcass the next day to pay my respects. I visit it on several other sunny days and find a dead cow twenty feet away. One day, the skull had disappeared, leaving the carcass to slowly return to the grass, headless. I stop visiting the spot under the tree.