A long time ago in a place far away, I decided to ride my bike down the West Coast from Seattle to Los Angeles. I was a newbie, green to the sport. I’d never heard of bike touring until some dude I had a crush on mentioned that he was into it. Wanting to prove that I could do anything a guy (who didn’t have a crush on me) could do, I started to do some research. I had a bike. I borrowed a trailer. I bought some maps, learned how to change a tire, and found a really cute jersey. I booked a flight to Seattle. Then I rode my bike. That was it. Yes, it took planning and navigating, and a bit of organization. But I was on my own, every turn was either right or wrong, and there was no one around me to be excited or disappointed by these moves. Solo. Self supported. There was no one ahead or behind me gauging my pace, my packing skills, or if I had a milkshake at lunch every day (I did). Someone along the road asked me "do you feel human again?" and I answered, "yes."
Sometimes it takes riding a bike to feel human again.
Ten years later I finished my second tour, in the San Juan Islands of Washington, this one quite different than the first in some ways. This was a group tour, instead of camping we poshed it up in B&Bs with real beds every night. I rode with panniers instead of a trailer, and this time instead of a laminated map, I had Google maps. But the essential qualities of bike touring remained. There was always a hill to go up or down. Strange mantras and single lyrics to songs I didn't quite know popped into my head. "Despactio, this is how we do it down in Puerto Rico" on repeat. I still amassed a mini library along the way. Books are obviously counterproductive to the goal of light and fast packing, yet there they are, accumulating in my bag. And I love them, so I carry them.
Here's a little story about my first friend in Missoula. It's relevant, promise. When Spencer and I first moved to town I was unpacking, missing all of my friends in Colorado, and feeling lonely and glum. I texted my friend Dan and said "I have NO friends here!" He texted right back and said "didn't you just move there four days ago?" He told me to treat the experience of living in a new town like the experience of showing up at college. In other words, be friendly. Be social, take risks. Ugh, I thought. That sounds like a lot of work.
In the process of putting our house together there were a few things that didn't really serve a purpose, so we listed them on Craigslist. This gal showed up to buy a kitchen cart we were selling and I thought huh, she seems cool - what did Dan say again? So, I sent her a follow up email asking if she wanted to hang out. Ha! I really did. And she said yes! And that's how I met one of my bestest friends.
As a job perk of working at Adventure Cycling Association (coincidentally, the organization that made the maps I used on that first bike tour), Cassie got to sign up for a group tour and take a friend. And she chose me! When she invited me on this San Juan Islands tour, I might have been almost as excited as when Spencer proposed.
The roads were amazing, it felt like traffic watched for and anticipated us. We rolled through deep, dark forests. We rode through small fishing villages, over bridges, out on an isthmus, around islands. We ate muffins and drank espresso to start, split pizza and wine to finish. In between there were so many views, so many miles of beauty.
The most challenging day of this ride was a long climb to the top of Mount Constitution on Orcas Island. After the first hill, I thought to myself what do I have to prove? I should turn around. But just as quickly another thought popped up. It said you literally have nothing else to do today except to climb this sucker. And that was true. There was no reason to give up. And there were a lot of reasons to commit. The two biggest reasons popped into my head, the mantra said you are alive and you have legs.
Being alive. That is a gift.
Having legs. That is also a gift.
Those two statements are not lost on me. To be able to do one simple thing like this in a day is a privilege. So I rode my bike up that giant hill. I rode as slow as a human can ride a bike while staying upright. I passed people who smiled and said "you're so close," only to find out that "close" is a very relative term, especially to people driving cars. The road wound steeply up through the trees, through the moss and dirt and dense, dark woods. There were overlooks along the way, and beautiful sign near the top that announced the small, first summit. When I saw that sign, I started to cry. Because of a friend I missed, and because I knew I was close, and because many things that were too big to let go of were just gone like that.
And and the top, there was a pretty awesome reward. Yes, the view. And also, the reminder of what it means to be a human, again.
This climb was for CLM, who I think of and miss every single day.