I had ridden the same route numerous times. Having made it a somewhat routine ride, I had become used to the road, could anticipate the curves, and had memorized the steepness of the hills. I knew which areas were exposed to the hot summer sun of Lake County and where I would receive a little respite in the groves of oak trees that covered the foothills around Clear Lake.
It was common for me to choose this ride three, four or five times every summer. I usually chose the paved roads where I could use my lighter weight racing bike. But, every so often I had an itch to pull out my mountain bike, head to the hills and grind and gut my way up the Old Toll Road—a potholed, gravelly, dirt road that required a certain grittiness to successfully reach the summit.
As I said, I had become used to the experience. I would ride on the paved county roads for the first half hour or so in order to reach the base of the foothills. This gave my body time to get into a good rhythm, loosen the muscles up, and get my lungs breathing more deeply. As I reached the base of the hills the road simultaneously turned to dirt and gravel. For a couple of miles the grade remained fairly consistent and I could settle into a good rhythm despite the fact that I was climbing. But, I knew exactly where that would end.
About half way up I began to steel myself for a rather steep section knowing that I would have to stand up on my bike in order to get the leverage needed to keep the bike moving forward. As I reached the top, invariably, sweat would be dribbling down my body, my lungs would be aching for more air, and my legs would be complaining of abuse. Thankfully, the grade would become manageable again and for the next couple of miles I could finish the climb while my body was allowed to recover from the one punishing steep section.
I would reach the top and stop at the same place every time. Between the oak trees would be a small clearing where I could look down on the vineyards on the Mendocino County side of the hill. As I pulled out a banana to eat I would take a big breath and then, like a practiced ritual, I would say, “Thank you, God.”
Except for this time.
Just as the words were ready to escape my mouth, something happened. I got lost in the landscape. Suddenly there was no separation between me and the vineyards. If, in the past, I had offered a thank you to God, this time there was no need to. I was not looking at the scenery from above. Rather, I suddenly became aware and knew and felt that I was the scenery itself. There were no vineyards for me to look at as if God had placed all this beauty before me for my pleasure. No, I could not tell the difference between the vineyards and me, the trees and the dirt, the sky and the land.
There was no God to thank because, for this briefest of moments, there was no separation between God and me, between earth and heaven, between the human and the divine. It was a glorious, delicious moment. I wonder if that is what Rumi felt.
And then, as suddenly as it appeared it was gone again and my world returned to normal. I was once again standing at the top of the mountain; the vineyards were once again lying there below. I was the observer and they were the observed. I was human and it was nature. I was Brian and God was God.