1. The Bridge from Anxiety to Euphoria

At 11:29 a.m. on May 5, 1986 I was at mid span on the Golden Gate Bridge heading north. I pressed the trip odometer on the dash bringing up a neat row of zeros. This was to be my point of departure.

I had been planning this trip for about six months in a relatively calm state, but as the hour of departure drew near, my anxiety level rose steeply. It’s amazing the number of details that must be attended to when planning to step out of your life for a year. What had I forgotten? Whom hadn’t I said good-bye to?

As I drove across Palo Alto to pick up a block of ice for the cooler, I was aware that I was driving with extreme caution. The thought of a local traffic accident on the departure day of a trip during which I intended to drive above the Arctic Circle and back had entered my mind. Even as I threaded my way through the heavy traffic on 19th Avenue in San Francisco, headed for the Golden Gate Bridge, my mind was still “back there.” Was my assistant really capable of running my business in my absence?

Then, there I was at mid span, a psychological turning point. Not really a “point of no return,” but something akin to it. Gradually, I switched to “fast forward” and envisioned what lay ahead, a pleasant prospect indeed. An incredible feeling of freedom and well-being crept over me. I had food in my stomach, money in my wallet, gas in the tank, the Sun in the sky, and all the time in the world. (well . . . a year anyway). My less immediate circumstances also looked good. I had no debts, good health, and although I wasn’t rich, I wasn’t poor either.

The 5th of May, “Cinco de Mayo,” is Mexican Independence Day. I’m not Mexican but I sure did feel independent! I drove along at a leisurely pace feeling no urgency whatsoever. It was a beautiful day and I was at peace with the world. I passed through several small towns as I proceeded north — Stinson Beach, Bolinas, Point Reyes Station, and some others as well. Perversity causes me to dwell on only one of these.

Bolinas is located a mile or so up a side road west of Highway 1. The road turns off the highway just north of Bolinas Lagoon. The residents there have become famous precisely because they don’t want to be. They’ve gone to great lengths to obscure the fact of the town’s existence, including tearing down the highway sign that points the way to their Shangri-La. The town is quaint and a little run down. Bolinas residents apparently view their town as one of the last sixties holdouts and are determined it should remain so. This attitude has become so apparent that it has attracted the attention of local journalists who, naturally, take delight in pointing it out to the world.

Further up the coast is Bodega Bay, made famous by Alfred Hitchcock’s movie, The Birds. The bay is primarily given over to supporting the local fishing fleet. Several campgrounds are located around this bay and as I was driving through one to pick a spot for the night, I came across a strange sight. A group of seagulls was gathered up ahead. As I approached slowly, I could see that the focus of their attention was a half empty bag of potato chips which they had fished out of an adjacent lidless garbage can. One seagull in particular was fully occupied with the bag, and, at the same time, holding the others at bay. Eight or ten gulls were gathered around him, reminiscent of vultures waiting their turn.

By moving slowly I got quite close and noticed that there was something peculiar about the gull with the chips. For one thing, he was missing a leg which was truncated at about the knee. Even so, he appeared quite agile. But stranger yet was the appearance of his beak. At first I thought he had a large feather in his mouth, much as a flamenco dancer would hold a rose in her teeth. But after I watched for a while I realized it was really two feathers stuck in the nostril holes of his beak so that they passed right through the beak overlapping at that point.

He looked as if he had a very long mustache.

He looked as if he had a very long mustache.

Thus, one feather stuck straight out to port and the other to starboard. He looked as if he had a very long mustache. In flight, he looked like the Wright brothers’ airplane with a small wing in front of the large one. I doubt if this was possible without some modification to the beak. In any case, it was a sadistic thing to do.

The amazing thing was, in spite of his maimed condition, he was by far the dominant seagull. None of the others dared approach while he was in the chips. He was a large bird, but many of the other males were just as large.

As I watched I wondered, was this bird so superior to begin with that even in his present condition he was able to dominate the others? And had this superiority, expressed as boldness, led to his being caught and maimed in the first place? Or was it his strange appearance that frightened the other birds? A third possibility passed through my mind. Maybe the other birds, realizing he was handicapped, were letting him have the first turn. This alternative I rejected in short order as an anthropomorphism. Humans may act that way, but not birds. The maimed bird was having to chase the others to keep them away. He was definitely intimidating them.

After watching this scene for some time, I decided it was at least partly due to his appearance, and whoever maimed him, although they may have intended to handicap him, actually bestowed upon him a competitive advantage. That evening as I set up camp, I reflected upon the events of the day. It’s amusing and somewhat disturbing how often we human beings actually achieve a result completely the opposite of our intent.

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Sunday, September 6th, 2009 Chapters 1 — 10 No Comments


The stretch of coast between Half Moon Bay and Point Año Nuevo, California is one of my favorite settings. In total, it is perhaps only twenty miles or so and includes the villages of San Gregorio and Pescadero.

While driving south from Half Moon Bay, on the left is rolling agricultural land and on the right a view of surf, cliffs, and rocks. Highway One becomes an ecotone between pastoral and marine. Looking out to the horizon you can often see ships, fishing boats, and occasionally the spout of a gray whale as it migrates north or south along the coast. About half way between Pescadero and Año Nuevo is Pigeon Point which is graced by a lighthouse straight from a picture book.

Lighthouse at Pigeon Point

Lighthouse at Pigeon Point

Pigeon Point was my destination early in the spring of 1986, as it had been many times before. It is a truly magical spot and it’s my favorite place to watch the Sun set. As I drove south in the late afternoon light, I was once again struck by the beauty of the area. All the hills were green with spring, and fleecy clouds left over from a late season storm were blowing in from the horizon. Row upon row of artichokes flashed by to my left while cattle and sheep could be seen grazing on the hills in the distance.

Since Pigeon Point is only an hour’s drive from Palo Alto, I often went there when I needed a break in my daily routine. It has the advantage of being close while seeming far away. As the light fades, the sound of surf predominates along with the flash of the beacon at the lighthouse. One could, at that time, park right on the edge of the cliff and look down about 40 feet to the surf dashing against the rocks below. Low tide reveals a plethora of tide pools. At night the lights of the fishing boats are stippled along the horizon and, when the moon is not out, the milky way is plainly visible. You sleep to the primal rhythm of the surf. Eternal . . . eternal . . . eternal; the sound of the surf is one of only a few sounds I can think of that connect us so directly with the eternal.

Upon arriving that evening in 1986, I settled down with a glass of wine just north of the lighthouse. As I watched the Sun slip out of sight, I wondered if I would find a spot to match this during my trip north. Maybe, and what else would I find . . .

Alaska Travel Route

Alaska Travel Route

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Monday, September 29th, 2008 And A Prologue No Comments