Almost as soon as we arrived in New Orleans, people started asking us if we would be doing a trip like this again. In the first few days, my answer was quick and certain – NO. Then it became more conditional – “well, not self supported” or “well, not that far.” Then it became even more open – “Sure, we might go out for a week or so…” We even started a list of places we want to ride, and now are hoping to get out for an overnight trip before the summer is over.
How did that happen – evolving from NO to maybe to YES? We’ve been home for a month and in that time, we’ve talked about the trip a lot, and we’ve realized that, in the last week or so, as we finally approached New Orleans, we were figuring this bike touring thing out. Of course we could have ridden back home (if we had the time, that is) and of course we want to do it again. Because we really miss touring, that is, actually going somewhere, making progress out on the open road. Our minds wander during meetings and we recall riding down the Natchez Trace in the sun, the blue sky overhead, the sounds of the forest loud beside us, calculating how many miles lay ahead and what we wanted to eat when we achieved our goal. We miss the simplicity of travelling from one place to another, encountering hills and crossing rivers, even those aspects of the trip which caused us (me) stress. We miss the physicality of the trip, burning thousands of calories every day, the great feeling of relaxation when the day was done, the soundness of sleep when you are so physically tired.
I really, really miss the time with Lisa – days and nights spent together, with time to talk, solve problems, recount the day and chat about tomorrow. Too often now, we rush out of the house in the morning and don’t connect until 7:00 or 8:00 at night after the day at work. We are tired in a different way, and it is not our muscles which are weary as much as it is our brains. Our problems are complicated, involve many other people and are more difficult to resolve.
Lisa was out of town this weekend, and I woke Saturday morning just wanting to get on my bike and ride. I made some coffee, looked at the paper, then filled my water bottles and took off. I rode south on Mississippi River Boulevard to downtown St. Paul. I rode fast, positioned between the river on one side and the railroad on the other, as we had been so often on our trip. I rode by the busy St. Paul Farmers Market, and by the St. Paul Saints baseball stadium, then north on the Bruce Vento Trail through St. Paul’s east side. I rode by the abandoned buildings where Hamm’s beer was once brewed – the brew that grew with the great Northwest. I rode around Lake Phalen and saw sailboats and kayaks. The day was perfect.
The Vento Trail intersects with the Gateway Trail, which heads east out of St. Paul, by the snow man of North St. Paul, as cool in late July as he is in midwinter. I rode into Washington County, between fields and wetlands, and eventually down the lovely Brown’s Creek Trail into Stillwater. The town was busy on a beautiful Saturday morning, crowded, and out on the St. Croix River, an incongruous gondola giving a couple a ride as big speedboats slowly motored nearby. I had a quick cup of coffee, a Clif Bar and a banana, refilled my water bottles and turned around to ride up the hill away from the river and back home on the same route.
In the end, it was 64 miles. At our touring pace, on fully loaded bikes, Lisa and I would have spent seven hours doing that. On my lightweight carbon fiber bike, I finished in exactly four. So, faster, but way less satisfying. Because I didn’t really go anywhere! I didn’t have the feeling of actually travelling. I ended up back where I started, in my garage. Worse, I parked my bike by the lawn mower, which just reminded me that there were mundane chores to be done in the afternoon. One of my favorite poems of all time is Mark Strand’s “The Continuous Life” –
What of the neighborhood homes awash
In a silver light, of children hunched in the bushes,
Watching the grown-ups for signs of surrender,
Signs that the irregular pleasures of moving
From day to day, of being adrift on the swell of duty,
Have run their course? O parents, confess
To your little ones the night is a long way off
And your taste for the mundane grows; tell them
Your worship of household chores has barely begun;
Describe the beauty of shovels and rakes, brooms and mops;
Say there will always be cooking and cleaning to do,
That one thing leads to another, which leads to another;
Explain that you live between two great darks, the first
With an ending, the second without one, that the luckiest
Thing is having been born, that you live in a blur
Of hours and days, months and years, and believe
It has meaning, despite the occasional fear
You are slipping away with nothing completed, nothing
To prove you existed. Tell the children to come inside,
That your search goes on for something you lost—a name,
A family album that fell from its own small matter
Into another, a piece of the dark that might have been yours,
You don’t really know. Say that each of you tries
To keep busy, learning to lean down close and hear
The careless breathing of earth and feel its available
Languor come over you, wave after wave, sending
Small tremors of love through your brief,
Undeniable selves, into your days, and beyond.
Our sense of adventure is still present, but it is currently somewhat suppressed by the routines of daily life. We miss that experience of leaning down close enough to hear the careless breath of the earth. We have to work, of course, and want to work, and we like our work…and we want to care for kids and the dog, and mow the lawn and weed the garden and clean the house. But the romance and appeal and excitement of adventure is kind of missing at the moment. We trust it will come back.