I had all the best intentions on this trip of undertaking a sort of climate storytelling project I’d been dreaming of since college. What I didn’t realize as I set out that grand aspiration was how much time it would take me each day just to manage my planned mileage and find food and water and such. I wish I’d thought to slow down earlier on, to pitch my itinerary and wing it a little more on this campground-rich coast. I didn’t.
In spite of my shrugging off this dream for now, in favor of servicing a few other ones I hadn’t anticipated, climate and weather stories have marked my trip from start to present: an unprecedented heat wave and smoky skies from the British Columbia wildfires, which started my trip around Washington’s Olympic Peninsula; watching residents of brown-skied, smoke-choked Brookings, Oregon, go about their grocery shopping, pausing to review evacuation maps just posted by local officials; huffing and puffing my climb out of smoky Crescent City on the day of the eclipse, where I stopped briefly on a long descent to catch my breath and watch the event overhead; being so out of touch with the news that I learned of the devastating Houston hurricane just a few days ago, images of its epic wreckage coloring half of the local paper’s front page, headlines of a record Northern California heat wave filling the rest; and blistering temperatures throughout Northern California, even on the coast, drought-parched grasslands reaching to scrubby hills, signs everywhere telling people to conserve water, myself almost not having carried enough on one of my rides, little shade to be found between blasts of heat off the pavement of the 101.
This is our new normal, and maybe we don’t want to talk about it after all. Remark on the heat, sure, feel the burn of the sun in a cruelly cloudless sky, feel your throat dry again instantly though you just took a long drink of water. But don’t name the thing we’ve all done to ourselves, continue to do, some more than others, some to suffer more than others. Just keep grocery shopping, face mask over your mouth and a smaller one over your baby’s, as you decide whether to drive to your mother’s tonight, away from the approaching fires. Just keep biking, uphill and down, breathing in the equivalent of several packs of cigarettes, worse maybe, hoping for a break in it all even just to see this coast you’ve dreamed of for months now, heard everyone talk of. Like the frog in the slowly boiling water, yes? Warmer, warmer, hot.