Part 1 of today's historic Founders' Cup!
(Ed. Note: Of all the various medias sending witnesses to Surf Ranch I can authoritatively say we have the best. Jen See will be our eyes and our ears today and we are blessed.)
It’s 4 a.m. We’re in a bus. I try to pretend it’s a boat trip, but it’s not really working. There’s no splishy splashy water sounds, no scent of salt in the air. We’re pointed away from the coast. Landlocked, and destined to be more so.
It’s dark. The lighted signs of Southern California strip malls slide by on repeat. McDonalds. Starbucks. Chevron. Another McDonalds. Maybe the bus is just taking us to the boat. But no, not this time. There’s no boats involved. Just a bus.
In prehistoric time, California’s Central Valley was a sea floor, but not lately. A bunch of geology happened and it became a flat expanse of grasslands. More recently, industrial agriculture, which is neither especially aesthetic nor easy on the nose, took it over. John Muir wrote ecstatically — I think the dude used more exclamation marks than Chas — about the valley’s wildflowers and boundless life. On the slopes of the hills above Gorman, where poppies tint the terrain orange, you can still see a hint of what got Muir so excited.
A week ago I was doing 80 on the 99. I’d been on my way to do an interview at Surf Ranch when the whole thing got monkey wrenched. The Monkey Wrench is such a constant presence in media work that I’m always amazed when anything goes the way it’s planned. The 99 is one of two straight highway ribbons that unwind the length of the valley, which is tilted just slightly. The northern end is a few inches higher than the south. Drive up the map, drive up the terrain.
I’d pulled off the freeway in Tipton, a small town somewhere south of Visalia. An old man sat in the gas station, waiting. If you have a banjo handy, you might give it a little strum about now. Meat sizzled on an expanse of barbecue grills out front. There was another gas station across the street and a Denny’s after that. A loudspeaker called a school girl to the office somewhere nearby. The persistent wind riffled the trees’ leaves. Except for the highway, Tipton’s small grid of streets sat silent.
My phone lit up to tell me to turn around. I wasn’t going to the Surf Ranch this week. I didn’t need to be told twice. I pinned it south. Somewhere past Bakersfield I stopped at a gas station. I bought a bag of peanut M&M’s and poured it into my mouth. I chased it with the remains of a coffee of unspecified vintage. It wasn’t good.
By then, I was delirious from the truck fumes. I began to think this was all some kind of cruel joke that Kelly has decided to play on us all. Wha’d I ever do to you, man? You came to my town, you surfed our waves, I never dropped in on you. I didn’t snake you at the grocery store check-out line or eat out of your salad bowl. Maybe it was something I said. But really, I’m sure I never did anything to deserve this turn. I’m stuck in the Central Valley, miles from any ocean. Something has gone terribly wrong.
Back over the Grapevine where the dumbasses swerve in and out of the truck lane. I curse them vigorously. Then, the hard right turn across the Santa Clara river valley to Ventura. Back to the coast, I breathe more deeply. I made it home in time to surf with dolphins. No regrets.
Now I’m trying again with the whole Surf Ranch thing. That’s the point of this whole 4 a.m. bus trip. It’s Founders Cup weekend. I still don’t quite understand how this thing is supposed to work, but I figure I’ve got three hours in a bus to figure it out. There’s something with teams and rounds. Points, maybe. Someone will win, that seems certain.
And there’s a train that pulls a sled through the water to make a wave every four minutes. The Promethean analogy feels so obvious that it’s all but impossible to ignore. It’s like that footstool in the middle of the room that you keep tripping over, but can’t be bothered to move. It’s just right there.
The sun rises over Gorman. We drink truck stop coffee. I forgot to bring a banjo.