Soledad is a Spanish word meaning “solitude.” I always thought the town of Soledad was so named because it was in the middle of nowhere. I have discovered that it bears this name because it is named after its Mission Nuestra Señora de La Soledad, or Mission of our Lady of Solitude. This title for the mother of Jesus commemorates her solitude on Holy Saturday, the day after Jesus was crucified and the day before he was resurrected.
The volunteer docent told me that the Friar in charge of this mission was an alcoholic who was a poor manager of the community of natives who worked and lived there. When he would sometimes pass out from an over consumption of wine the natives would take the opportunity to walk to Mission San Antonio by way of Reliz Canyon Road, a short twenty mile walk. Here there was abundant food and they could eat their fill before being sent back to Soledad by Mission San Antonio’s Friar. Or so the story goes.
Just before leaving Gonzales last Sunday, I happened upon a parade of macho looking Mexican men on their horses. They were making the horses prance, side step and generally show off. It was in honor of Cinco de Mayo, the day in 1862 that Mexican forces were victorious over the French in the Battle of Puebla. I felt that I had suddenly been transported to old México.
Cycling south from Gonzales to Soledad along River Road took me through wine country, specifically the Santa Lucia Highlands. I saw several wineries and was amazed by these vast vineyards.
Monterey County now produces as many wine grapes as Napa County, and just slightly less than Sonoma. The state of California produces 90 percent of the wine grapes grown in the United States.
I crossed the Salinas River a few times that day.
It looked dark and muddy, while the Arroyo Seco River was clear. That there is water in them at all is a blessing beyond compare! After four or five years of serious drought the rains of this past winter were a godsend. Nevertheless, according to the Soledad Bee, fire danger is high again this season as there is ample fuel from growth due to the high rainfall coupled with dead plant matter resulting from the long years of drought.
The town of Soledad is no longer in the middle of nowhere; the Salinas Valley is growing in population at a rapid pace. Construction of houses is booming
and traffic on highway 101 is significant even this far south of the Bay Area. The two prisons Soledad State Prison and Salinas Valley State Prison employ many people, including “officers,” nurses, doctors and more. I hear that it is not unusual for the inmates to sue the doctors for malpractice and to deal in drugs inside the prison walls. The officers are sometimes their suppliers. The Serenity Prayer comes to mind. I also know that many good people regularly volunteer their time to bring wonderful programs into these prisons, including Alternatives to Violence, Al-anon Family Groups, Alcoholics Anonymous, and The Work of Byron Katie, to name only a few. The balance between the dark and the light continues.
I’m moving on today to a campground in King City, and from there to Mission San Antonio de Padua the following day. I looked into cycling over Reliz Canyon Road which is a shorter route, but it runs through private property that is closed to the public. (Have these property owners not heard of the “right to roam”?) As long as the wind stays at my back I’ll have no trouble reaching my destinations.