On January 25, 2012, on the 473rd day after the Jolly Swag and I motored out of Alameda for the first time, I arrived at one of those spots I’d hoped to find during my Year on the Road. In search of the ghost town of Green Pond, which I never found, I came upon the intersection of Green Pond Road and the Van Fleet Bike Trail—a crossing as shy as the class wallflower at the junior prom.
The spot is so unremarkable that it would be easy to miss, even if you knew to look for it—marked as it is only by a picnic table and a few parking spots.
Every hour or so a car stops and the driver unloads his bike and takes off down the ten-foot-wide paved path. Every hour or so he will meet another cyclist on the path.
The path is busier with wildlife than people. The day I arrived I pedaled 30 miles and counted six ‘gators, two foot-long turtles, about a dozen egrets, and scattered so many squirrels there must be an acorn farm nearby.
Although the signage said the park closes at sundown, I felt myself soaking into the earth and decided to stay until someone shooed me out.
At sundown there were bird and animal calls, and the groans and pops from the bones of the Jolly Swag as she cooled down and settled for the night. I could hear my own tinnitus, usually drowned out by the metabolism of the environment.
At night I enjoyed the solitude of the blackest abyss. By day the people and the pavement remind me that no matter how far I wander, I am connected by paths back to concrete and congestion.
But at two p.m. the following day there was a gentle tap on the door and the question whether I was planning to spend the night. Busted. I knew the right answer. I got in one more twenty-mile bike ride. I remembered to bring my camera.
One of the questions I am most often asked is, do I get lonely. For a year my answer was no. Lately, I have begun to ask myself what loneliness is and what it means to me. I think it is a question that has to do with the balance between solitude and intimacy.
I have begun to ask others as well.
I know that the topic has many sisters—isolation, abandonment, belonging, companionship, emotional security, escape, and home. A well-populated village, that place in your heart where those sister live, eh? And the intersection of Green Pond Road and the Van Fleet Bike Trail is the sort of place to contemplate the topic and all her siblings.