Often when I write these posts I seek to focus on an exceptional trail run or cycling adventure. This post is very different; it’s about what I first assumed to be a normal day in Monterey. Sometimes in the midst of things you don’t realize how special a day is until time and space catch up with you.
Thursday, July 18, 2019, wasn’t much different in my mind than many I spent along the central coast. Jotted down in my daily log, an old green Army notebook, my tasks for the 18th included: Lunch with a friend, passport photo, and swim/bike. The summer weather in Monterey started off like so many: heavy cool fog in the morning burning away to afternoon’s sunshine.
I completed my usual morning tasks of walking Kit, dropping the girls at daycare, and paperwork for my Army Reserves. Around noon I met with a newly arrived colleague for delicious street tacos at Taqueria Zarape, a Cal-Mex restaurant and local favorite. Later in the day, I would lead a ride for my triathlon club, the Triathlon Club of Monterey (TTC), as part of our weekly training “Twilight Ride” held Thursday evenings during daylight savings time. Somewhere during the day’s course, I had the bright idea that since the ride would be meeting near Monterey’s Customs Plaza, by Del Monte Beach and Fisherman’s Wharf and the weather was gorgeous, why not make it a swim-bike brick? Get a quick swim in the ocean, practice getting out of my wetsuit, and jump on my bike and head out? And if that wasn’t good enough motivation, between the beach and the bike meet up spot was the newly opened Dust Bowl Brewing Company at the Monterey Train Depot. The stars seemed aligned.
As is usually the case with me, I reached the beach later than intended. By the time I hit the water, it was nearly 5:30pm. My hopes of getting a 1500m swim in quickly hit the cold realities of time available. Ok, so no 1500m. It’s getting something in that counts, right? I swam just over 600 yards, came on shore, and trotted to my car to peel off my wetsuit, get my bike off the roof rack, and get to the meeting point by 6pm. I made it with a minute to spare. I made sure to wear my TTC kit to be recognizable. I looked around…nobody else. I waited.
Probably 2-3 minutes after 6 a lone cyclist rode up to me with a smile all over her face.
“Hi! I’m Sue! Are you here for the Twilight Ride?” she asked.
“I sure am! I’m Dave, and I’m leading it, but I have to confess, I’ve never actually been on a Twilight Ride before, so take it easy on me,” I admitted.
Sue laughed a soft laugh, we shook hands, and made small talk for another 5 minutes waiting for other riders to appear. None did. At 6:08pm we headed out along the Monterey Recreational Trail towards Pebble Beach. The pace was conversational and realistically slow because the bike path between Monterey Plaza to Lovers Point in Pacific Grove is always full of tourists, walkers, joggers, and other cyclists all enjoying the beauty of the coast. We stayed close and just talked about life: what we did, where we lived, our families, the area, and the beauty of the coast.
Of all the trails and cycling routes I have done around Monterey, nothing compares to this 18 mile journey from the Customs House Plaza to Bird Rock Vista Point in Pebble Beach and back. This ride takes you through the heart of the peninsula: past the iconic Monterey Bay Aquarium, through Lovers Point in Pacific Grove, along Ocean View Boulevard to Sunset Drive and Asilomar Beach, before finally linking up with the famous 17 Mile Drive for three gorgeous miles along Pebble Beach. Throughout most of the ride the ocean dances and crashes alongside. On the good days, the visibility is impeccable. On the bad, the fog bank sits out at sea waiting to devour the sun and rob one of a glorious sunset.
Sue Benjaram talked of being in her early 60s and illuminated a brightness towards life. She told me about being a nurse at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula (CHOMP), the same hospital my youngest daughter was born eight months prior. She talked about her fondness for cycling and mountain biking throughout Fort Ord National Monument. She spoke of her work with the Monterey Off-Road Cycling Association (MORCA). She described going with her significant other to wineries and breweries and relaxing, and how pleasant it was. I told her about my my wife & girls, my work for the Army and of course our experiences at wineries with kids. No politics, no religion, no divisiveness, just good conversation. The miles passed, the sun dipped behind the fog bank, and we made it back to the Customs House Plaza. It was time for the reward: a beer at the newly opened Dust Bowl Brewing Company’s Monterey Tap Depot.
I locked up the bike, threw on a sweatshirt and met Sue back at the Depot. To my surprise she showed up with a bag of freshly picked plums and apricots from her house and gave them to me. They were simply divine. We shared a beer—staying on my recent Big Trouble in Little China kick I couldn’t resist Dust Bowl’s ode to Kurt Russell- their Jack Burton Juicy IPA. It was the perfect post-workout beer: full of flavor, not overly hoppy with citrus overtones to finish and sat at 37 IBUs and 6.5% abv. After the beer Sue left and I stayed for one more with Jack Burton by the brewery’s fire pits to wrap up this typical California day. I didn’t think it would make much of a story, so I put my pictures of the day in a quick collage and typed up something for Instagram:
Beautiful end of the day brick here in Monterey: a dip in the ocean, followed by a Triathlon Club of Monterey Twilight ride out to Pebble Beach. And my brick wouldn’t be complete without a stop into @dustbowlbrewingco for a glass of their Jack Burton Juicy IPA to restore lost nutrients and minerals.
Nothing extraordinary, just a day on the central coast.
In the months that followed I saw Sue Benjaram at a few more Thursday Twilight rides before we moved. She always arrived full of energy and joy not to mention usually with fresh fruits and veggies from her garden. Unlike other triathlon clubs I’ve been in over the years, one of the beautiful things about TTC for was that we tended to be much more of a social club with a triathlon problem.
It made every event feel much more like a family. This cordial atmosphere is the main reason that despite being on the other side of the country, I stay connected via social media with my Monterey Tri Club family. I even intended to go back out for a couple of races this year before COVID-19 stepped in. Thus when the email came into my inbox Thursday night informing me of Sue’s untimely death last weekend from a heart attack, my heart sank, and my mind flickered back to our ride which now seems eons ago. I wanted to honor her memory and writing down this story seemed most appropriate. And in one of life’s great ironies, today marks one year since we rode out to Pebble Beach and back.
It’s funny to think that what was a typical California ride one year later would be anything but that. Everything was so normal that day, and yet, in light of recent events, it couldn’t have been any better. I miss days like that, and people like that too. Sue Benjaram was a good person, with a beautiful heart, and I am blessed to have had that time with her.
As we all know and especially now with so much turmoil in the world, life is precious, and we should enjoy every moment we can with those around us. I know I am, whether they be with my family, or with a path and a pilsner. Until next time, stay safe and enjoy the beauty around you.