Friday, September 11, 1981


Some bikers, upon completing a trip like this one, sit down and write a book about how the trip has changed their life, or inspired them, or revealed some great truths.  It wasn't like that for me.  I set out to see the county and to have fun, and that's what happened.  My only revelations were of mundane truths that I rather expected, anyway.  For example:

  - This is a big country.  It's also beautiful.  There’s a lot to see and do, and there's just not enough time to do it all.  We must pick and choose, and it is difficult to do wisely.

  - People are basically good and kind and honest.  There are exceptions, of course, but for every mean bastard or inconsiderate turkey we met (usually aged 16-30, male, driving a car), there were at least five people who were kind to us, gave us directions, fed us, put us up for the night, opened their stores for us - the list goes on and on.

  - It's not easy to maintain complete harmony and compatibility with a riding companion for 4300 miles.  Paces differ, conflicts arise in the division of time among activities, people get lost, or dawdle, and someone ends up waiting several hours - this list goes on and on, too.

Jack was an early riser, efficient in his actions; I tended to sleep in, and performed my chores more slowly.  Jack was more interested in setting a steady pace, with short rest stops and an afternoon nap.  I rode faster, with frequent sightseeing stops.  Jack preferred the smooth, direct routes.  I took the old roads with their hills and curves.  Jack's more talkative - after all, he's in real estate.  I'm quiet, sometimes downright uncommunicative, especially when provoked by incidents such as three flats and a broken spoke or two.  Part of the problem may be that I subconsciously equated Jack with my father, with whom I have trouble getting along.  If I did the trip again, I would either do it alone or travel with a larger group.

It's now September 11, two weeks since the trip ended.  I sat down tonight to trace our route on a map of the United States, referring to the notes I had mailed home to Dad for the names of towns we had passed through.  Looking at the map, it doesn't seem possible that I really biked all that way - after all, here I am back home, and everything here is the same as it was three months ago.  The notes read as if a stranger had written them in the distant past.  It would be very easy to convince myself that this summer never really happened.  Do I have a subconscious desire to suppress memories of the trip?

When we finally reached Yorktown, I didn't want to admit to myself that it was the end; I wanted to keep on cycling.  Now the adventure belongs to the past.  It's another sign of my mortality, and that may be an explanation for the seeming strangeness of the notes and my desire to prolong the trip.

When we crossed into Illinois, I asked myself, "Why should I continue to the east coast?  What will it prove?  Why not turn left and head home to Michigan?  After all, it will save the trouble of finding a way home."

I didn't do it, of course.  Jack was carrying the food and cooking equipment, and I had the tent.  We were depending on each other.  If that had not been the case, what would I have decided to do?  I don't know.

The journey seemed to fall into five segments, with the dividing points being the towns of Missoula, Denver, Ste. Genevieve, and Berea.  During the last leg (and more intensely when we reached Virginia), the underlying thought for both Jack and me was to get the ride over with.  After almost two months on the road, and with our self-imposed deadline of the end of August approaching, we were both mentally tired of the daily routine which formed the framework of our days.  Only when we arrived in Yorktown did that ennui evaporate.  I felt as if a load had been lifted from my shoulders, and that I was free to cast my eye in any direction - not just east.  The future was no longer certain:  it was of my own choosing, and therein lay excitement.

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