On July 14, 2011, Mike and I rolled across the golden gate bridge. We’d traveled just under 3600 miles from when we’d started our trip in northern Virginia, 59 days prior. When we were halfway across the bridge, my front left pannier gave out and tumbled off my bike. I’d joked throughout the trip that I expected my entire bike to crumble similarly, right when we crossed the city limits, like at the end of The Blues Brothers.
The afternoon air was thick with fog. The damp air settled on us as we dismounted from our bikes on the other side of the bridge. It was surreal, finally being in San Francisco. It didn’t seem like a big deal. It was just another day of getting up and riding somewhere. No showy fanfare. No psychological breakdowns. No sudden rush of sage enlightenment. Just a big, rust-colored bridge and a pretty skyline veiled in the mist.
We biked through the city to the Haight, where we stayed with our kind hosts, Nancy and Mike, on Broderick and Divisidero. I spent the next few days trying to collect myself, mostly in isolation and trying to avoid action. Mike, characteristically, spent those days exploring the city determinedly on his bike.
When I would lay down to go to sleep at night in Mike and Nancy’s living room, memories from the past 59 days would whirl under my eyelids and overwhelm me. From the biking through a Tulsa park at night, sluggish on beer, to the terror and beauty of going up the Blue Ridge mountains, to the desolate towns of Arkansas, to the quiet desolation of Nevada, all in rapid succession. It resulted in something like vertigo.
By the time we got to San Francisco, we’d crossed the wind-tunneled valleys of Utah; we’d fared highway 50, the loneliest highway in America, through the mountain-passes and deserts of Nevada. We’d entered California (by way of Lake Tahoe) and I’d gaped at her immutable coolness. Along the way, we’d stayed with incredible people who deserve to be written about.
We’d done these things without me chronicling them along the way. The terrain was massive and demanding (had been since the Rockies) and I was out of steam. It was all I could do to bike through a day and find a place to sleep at the end of it.
Now, in February, I kick myself for not taking the effort to record the minutiae, the good stuff. But I’m still not sure if I could have done it. In any case, the matter was closed when my laptop kicked the bucket in a hotel outside of Sacramento.
I do feel raw about leaving this blog unfinished. I have tried a few times to sit down and complete the entries, but the detail has vanished from my mind. I know in plain terms what we did each day, and I have the rich, overwhelming memories, but they’re scattered and unindexed.
I don’t have the mental faculty to call to mind what I was thinking about on each of these days, what I was experiencing. Without that information, this blog would be nothing but a map and an impersonal itinerary. I can’t continue the writing in the same fashion as when the days were fresh in my mind and for that reason I do not have plans to complete the blog.
I apologize to the people who tracked with us through the journey. Your support and writings were so appreciated.
It’s rare that a day goes by when I don’t think about this trip. Sometimes the nostalgia pulls hard, and I close my eyes, pretending I’m back in the Rockies with Mike and my bike; or in Payson, Utah at the Caldwell’s house; or in Bumscrew, Arkansas, collapsed in the Hillbilly Motel; or waving bye to my family, early on a June morning.
Some of the recurring things I thought about during the trip follow.
The pain, the physical intensity of this trip, is what made the experience. Without that, I would’ve just been watching TV; sitting behind glass with the country drifting by. It was the hardships of not having a hotel, a motor, a shower, a constant source of food that made this trip so unimaginably foreign and remarkable. It was because we we were acting vagrants that we met the wonderful people we did.
There is no free lunch. The lows set the context for the highs. Holding back tears in the Kansas wind made the passes of the Rockies all the more enjoyable.
I’m happy I took the risk. I now realize that discomfort is a necessary prerequisite to any life-changing experience.
Real adventures take months. I realized I have to plan on a grand scale; it takes more than a week or two to get into a trip, to adapt to whatever odd lifestyle I’ve adopted. It took me until we were in the middle of Colorado to get up in the morning and jump on the bike, fully primed to face whatever was next.
It takes my mind a while to break out of the patterns that it creates for itself from day to day. I’m not saying these patterns are bad, but giving myself a chance to break out of them every few years probably isn’t a bad idea.
Less is more
Having everything I needed to live strapped to my bike was a luxury. Being completely mobile is a luxury. On the scale of years, I’d find being nomadic unproductive and maddening, but for a few months it’s refreshing.
Bills, career, friends, traffic, housing: these things (or their results) enrich my life for the most part, but a break from them was wonderful. Physical exertion, an unbounded diet, and the occasional bout of writing was just what the doctor ordered for the quarter-life crisis I was having.
I haven’t reached the kind of closure with the trip that would be put me fully at ease. Even had I finished the blog completely, I don’t think that would’ve granted me the kind of ending I expected. Six months afterwards, I’m still stewing on the events of this trip, and I expect that contemplation to continue for a long time.
I can say with certainty that this trip is one of the best things I’ve ever done with my life. As we were rounding a particular bend on the Flume trail, precariously situated a few hundred feet above Lake Tahoe on mountain bikes, our guide told Mike and me that the first experience only comes once and you can never recreate it. I’m grateful that my first cross-country tour was alongside Mike; he’s a stand-up guy.
Every day since, part of me wishes I were back on the road, continuing the adventure. I haven’t asked, but I can only assume Mike feels similarly.
Thanks so much to the wonderful people we met on this adventure; I can’t express my gratitude in full over a web page. I think of each of you often. You’ve given my life new depth and dimension, and here I’ll also venture that Mike feels similarly.
I encourage anyone inspired by this blog to make something of that inspiration. Make big plans. Save money1. Find a partner to keep you honest and on schedule. Whatever you do, just make sure you’re aiming to experience the world and the people in it. It’s wonderful out there.
February 1, 2012
it doesn’t take as much as you think↩