Beggars Would Ride
Hierarchy Of Needs
The sound of a car horn blaring its familiar signature semaphore of intrusion woke me up at little before 4 that morning. Saturday, November 18th. I had crossed the border on Thursday, snuck a Noble Canyon solo ride in a lucky-for-the-SoCal-desert rainy conditions, and then, crusty from days of driving and a wet bike ride, had made a beeline for a fancy hotel in Del Mar to wash the grime off and treat myself to some high thread-count sheets. Four days of dirtbagging followed by a night of hot tubbing and comfortable bedding feels like a good life balance to me. An acceptable compromise to a softening dirtbag.
The intermittent blaring lasted about five seconds, then stopped. A car started, and drove out from the parking garage of the swank hotel. Must’ve been a groggy early-morning guest hitting the wrong key button before coffee, I thought, before falling back asleep.
At 7 I got up and took the dog down to the truck to feed her and head out on our usual morning walking exploration. It was cold, for the first time in months, and I looked forward to fishing my battered and patched Patagonia down puffy jacket out of one of the gear bags stashed in the back of my truck.
Empty parking spot. Broken glass. No truck. No dog food. No puffy jacket. Fuck. I didn’t even know my truck had an alarm, but apparently if you break the passenger window of a 2023 Ford Ranger when it is locked, it tries to let you know. Cue police reports, commence lengthy and byzantine insurance wrangling.
I had everything in that truck. All my riding gear, most of the clothes that I consider wearable, a carefully built and hideously expensive tool roll, all my camping gear, a long list of “this is now the vehicle you live out of” perceived necessities, and my dog food. And my Patagonia puffy. Staring at the empty parking spot and the broken glass, I was too stunned at that time to register outrage or violation. All that ran through my head was “gonna need some dog food” and “damn, I really liked that puffy.”
There was a bike as well. Locked to the bike rack that was locked to the truck that was in a parking garage of a semi-fancy hotel in fancy ass Del Mar. Yes, that was stupid of me. I will own that.
That was almost three weeks ago. And in that time, I have had ample opportunity to explore the physiological component of Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs. My nest got jacked. I was left with two pairs of long pants, my hot tub shorts, three t-shirts, and a wool pullover. Fortunately my laptop, toothbrush, passport, wallet and phone were all with me, but that was about the extent of it.
Here’s what I learned:
It gets pretty easy to wear the same t-shirt for five days in a row when you only have three of them and aren’t sure when the next laundromat may appear. Hotel sinks work okay to rinse them out, but the five day funk does not surrender easily to bar soap and hand scrubbing.
It’s even easier to wear the same pants for five days in a row. But pants are way harder to clean in a hotel sink than t-shirts. In this new reductive state of existence, the same rule applies to both pants and shirts – be way more careful eating road food. The cavalier dismissal of food stains by swapping out to a clean shirt is not an option here.
So many necessities are not. Meaning, they aren’t as necessary as I thought they were. They were, more correctly, evolved niceties. They were things that made my life easier or more comfortable, but in terms of straight up survival? Meh. Those Smith Guide sunglasses? They were awesome, definitely better than squinting into the glare of the setting sun while driving west on I-70 somewhere near Richfield, Utah, but squinting does the job. That Yeti cooler? Hard to miss it when there isn’t a truck to stash it in anymore. Good thing gas stations and convenience stores have huge refrigerators. Amazing how palatable warm soda can be when there isn’t a cooling option. Those bags of Skratch Labs electrolyte juice powder? Don’t have much need for them when you don’t have a bike anymore, or a water bottle. With each realized disappeared possession, there would be a pang of regret, then I would sigh and let it go. Keep moving, I would say to myself. No point crying over spilled milk, my mom would have said to me.
So I kept moving. Satisfied that one physical component of the hierarchy. Bought a car, and drove the fuck away from Del Mar. Up to Salinas, where a storage unit held the rest of my life that wasn’t in my truck, all the heavy objects that have accumulated over the past couple decades crammed into 600 square feet of cinder block and metal. There was also a brand new bike there, built just before having to hit the eject button to go down to Mexico back in October. I am now incredibly thankful for that storage unit, but aside from this bike, I am beginning to question the worth of the rest of what is stored there.
I grabbed the bike, found some clothes, unearthed an old sleeping bag, and kept on driving. Into the snow, into the rain. Hotel to couch to hotel to couch, banging out affidavits of theft and inventories of loss from coffee shops and spare bedrooms, and realizing with each passing day that so much of what I own(ed) also owns me. It’s disorienting, having all your shit stolen. But it can also be liberating.
Yesterday was the first time I rode a bike since that ride in Noble Canyon. It was so. Damn. Good. All the angst and white noise of confusion and loss and violation and red tape frustration dissipated into sweat and dust and lactic acid. As it always has, the simple act of riding a bike quiets the raging noises in my head, smooths the jagged irrational lumps of hurt and shame and shoulda-woulda-coulda. I can pedal a bike up a nuggety doubletrack and point it down a stairsteppy puzzle of rocks and ledges and, even though I forget this simple truism over and over and have to relearn it constantly, that is enough to bring me happiness back into my life.
I’ve never been shot or stabbed or mugged. I’m a white male, I’ve never felt the horrific violation of sexual abuse. I’ve never had my house broken into, and aside from a couple random smash and grabs, I’ve never had a car stolen until now. I had just spent a month carefully tending a 95 year old woman who is surviving her first experience with breast cancer, and the day my truck got stolen I found out a good friend was just diagnosed with synovial sarcoma. In light of all this, a stolen truck is just a thing. An object. The stuff inside that truck are just things as well, inanimate matter. Life is going to serve up far more brutal lessons than the loss of some stuff.
“All I need are some tasty waves, a cool buzz, and I’m fine.” That teenage antihero, poet laureate of 80’s stoners, Jeff Spicoli, was onto something. I am intact. I am whole. I’ve got my bike. I’ve got my dog. I’m fine.
Still kinda bummed about the puffy, though.