Sunday, October 19
Just words, rattling through a numb void, they dance a jig inside a shivering skull. Alone with so many thoughts, a bank sign saying twenty-eight degrees, and yet I hurtle through the pre-dawn fog as fast as these legs will allow, as if to offer the wind chill a giant fuck you. I remember now why I refuse to to bike when below freezing.
The weather slowly wearing down even my obstinate will, just before sunrise I find myself in Wyoming, Minnesota, a cozy little coffee shop, time, and these haphazard thought trains for companions. An hour and a half later, though still chilled, the time has come to continue on, and so it goes, miles piling up on miles, silence on top of silence. Miles of trials, trials of miles, and the solitary, meditative experience my only wealth worth accumulating. Letters come and go, but these sights and smells linger, still lodged in the corners of my worn memory.
Thursday, then, to sum: two-hundred-and-forty miles, sixteen hours, and bones chilled through, never once even near warm. The clouds unceasing, yet few more perfect days have I known, as alone as the Midwest has ever found me, and the solitude my dearest friend yet. The first person seen outside: well north of Hinkley, just less than forty miles from Duluth, and then not again until Carlton, another twenty-five miles. The circles I travel: St Paul to Northfield, back north to Duluth. Sleep, of course, is non-existent, Wednesday having found me not wanting sleep, productivity deemed more important before the days of travel. Poor choices I may make, but it cannot be said I avoid the consequences so reaped, if not even perversely delighting in them.
There are, of course, tales such choices spin, but so much stranger is fact than fiction that you'd find them impossible. Still, a sampling: three miles spent chasing waddling turkeys; the lonesome sight of a spectacular twelve-point buck kept in a pen; a homeless man telling of a dog who attacked at mention of "lassie;" free food stumbled upon while searching for dinner, courtesy an environmental group (and drinks, of course); yoga on top of a very large rock, looking over both Minnesota and Wisconsin. If there is indeed a limited quantity of beauty in the world, then I am surely guilty of theft, having taken far more than my allotted share. The interconnection thing is definitely for real... but it's also nothing special, and I am perfectly content with this.
Friday, the follow-up: but what kind of encore would ever be appropriate for such a day, sun shining and the air so much warmer, and the trail not nearly so deserted? In my case, sleep in, get a late start, sweat alcohol the first fifteen or twenty, then get a good rhythm just in time to battle the accumulating protests of a fading body. From right Achilles to knees and still the Achilles... finally, phone calls made. Then, waiting in an empty parking lot, a ride home, the last forty miles an after-thought – but not until after pacing a group of road bikes through a solid thirty miles, Finlayson to just outside Rush City. Still this concession is finally some semblance of wisdom: knowing not to push through, that there's nothing left to prove. For now, I've done enough. There's always next weekend...
Thoughts coming together, a realization: these journeys are the fruit of my independence, no longer cuffed by your worries and anxieties, these plans on a whim and wish for no other reason than adventure and experience. This is the fruit of your absence, love, for you did constrain such wildness; recklessness, you called it, never accepting the cost of sanity as I bought it, paid in full as only I knew how. But then, you never could have understood; safety your escape, and risk mine.
Not that I complained – nor would've I ever – and my body so much less broken for it. But that safe existence, comfortable as it was, enjoyable as it was – that was not my whole, and never could have been, protecting you as I was from this need to chase down ever-larger adventures. I kept you from those sleepless nights of anxious worries, the nights I'd seen so many waste on me. My needs cannot be corralled by reason, I know this, but for you I tried, and in doing so, misunderstood freedom, confusing responsibility and unnecessary restraint. You are gone, love, but I won't choose another, finding in solitude a better, more natural promise.
And so the weekend gathers her folds, pulls me in close. Wrapped in miles meant for a friend, not kept on account of this aching heel, the squishy and swollen redness I cannot stop playing with1; time drunk in beers both quaffed and brewed; memories and futures passed in dreams and hopes and silences shared between friends who don't always need the words.
Someday I'll get some clip pedals, perhaps, in hopes of saving myself some work. And someday I'll ride a nice bike, perhaps, in hopes of a expedited journey. Until then, I take my chances. Regardless speed or style, the journey is the expression, the adventure, the lesson; I've fallen inside so many inequalities as to have forgotten the symbols. And I don't mind in the least. Life is short, indeed; a year is a lifetime.
1. Still I cannot help myself, and log an 'easy' five, three barefoot. Ill-advised, yes. Enjoyed, just the same. A carefree existence, this one.