Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Dreams deferred

I was going to say my bike had been across the country more times than I had, but that's not true. However, it did make one transcontinental journey unaccompanied. And in its four crossings (two round trips) I was not propelling it. It traveled by airplane, bus and freight truck.

Back in 1979, my best buddy and I were planning our transcon bike tour. The idea was still fairly novel, only three years after Bikecentennial. Prior to 1976, modern bike boomers were already knocking off The Big One, but it was still considered a pretty cool thing.

By the summer of 1979 in Annapolis I was acquiring the bike, some of the parts and saving some money at a menial job that would be easy to leave. My friend, who lived in Alexandria, Virginia, was doing the same. We had found the frames for our bikes in the shop in Alexandria where we would both later work another menial job that would be easy to leave. We set our sights on the following summer.

Late in the fall my buddy developed a sudden, inconvenient interest in higher education. He had busted out of the school system in his early teens to pursue his wide-ranging curiosity in the real world. His temperament did not mesh well with institutions. But now he felt the powerful need to go back and finish up with some institutional credentials.

I had a bachelors degree and had been unimpressed with its performance as an income enhancer but I couldn't talk him out of it.

The girlfriend I stumbled into in January of 1980 was a bike tourist, but she was also still entangled in the university system. The best we could manage was a 700-mile jaunt from San Francisco to Eugene, Oregon in September that year. So my bike flew to the west coast and rode the bus back east from Eugene when we kinda sorta broke up a little. We'd had a good trip, but she needed to get through the rest of college unburdened by a serious relationship. We maintained the fiction of connection, and that led to my bike's second west coast visit in April 1981. I was going to go out for a little early season training and some lovey dovin'. I'd sent the bike by UPS and was about to purchase the ticket when I got The Call, late at night Eastern Standard Time, that our lovey dovin' was over.

"Send my bike when it arrives," I requested. Then I hopped in the tub to shave my legs. I would train on my old bike until the well-traveled Eisentraut returned.

My best buddy, meanwhile, was still battling with the demons of community college. I started planning for a solo trip. Then I developed knee trouble from misaligned cleats I'd been using on my cyclocross-configured spare bike, so there went 1981. I also wanted to save more money, so I got another menial job that would be easy to leave, and looked toward 1982.

Racing had been good training in 1980 for the west coast tour. The 1982 season started out particularly well, since I was feeling suicidally bold. Then I got seriously smashed up in July. There went 1982. And July would have been late to start anyway.

One rational, sensible decision at a time the window closed for youthful quests like a transcon bike tour. To do it right I would want to take no less than two months, preferably closer to three. Why ride it like a record attempt? Take some time, see some stuff. You can't have the fetters of responsible adulthood on you for that.

In the fall of 1980, when my buddy and I were working in that bike shop in Alexandria, a family came in. Mom, Dad and lad had ridden from Oregon all together, taking the kid out of school for the year so they could have an unbeatable family bonding experience. That's one way to take the fetters with you. I forget what they'd done with their home base in Oregon, but they'd made arrangements. However, it took commitment by all of them. And with the best of intentions not everyone can make a commitment like that. Nor should they be scorned for a decision to forgo it.

Best buddy completed his education and started on a career of non-menial jobs he did not want to leave. Or when he did it was for another non-menial job. He married. They reproduced. They divorced. He followed various dreams and adventures, none of them pedal-powered.

A time or two since the early 1980s he has mentioned the transcon. I had one window in the mid 1990s when it could have gone well. I don't recall exactly where he was at the time, but I had no super incentive to chuck everything and go a-wandering by myself. I simply could have, with the right inducement. And then the window slid shut.

So here it is, the waning days of 2013 and best buddy sends me a message saying he's looking at 2014 to do the transcon. I inferred he would welcome my participation, but he did not say it directly. He has occasionally communicated to report things he was enjoying that I was obviously in no position to share, usually because I was hundreds of miles away. But assuming for the sake of argument that he was implicitly recruiting me, it has a piquant irony.

The cellist is a bike tourist, but her job and the commute to reach it preclude a lot of serious training. Also, her release and return dates from school bracket the touring season pretty tightly. So if I went I would be going separately. Do I really want to spend a couple of months away from home during the season she has the most time available? No.

The money. I have enough saved to do the trip in a style that would have been luxurious when I was in my 20s and was going to get on my bike at my doorstep on the east coast, ride to the west coast and probably ride back. When I was in my 20s I was nearly homeless already, although I could avoid seeming like a total vagrant by listing my parents' address as my home of record. I was also not above sleeping in a culvert or a cleft in a cliff. Nowadays I would pass on the culvert, although the cliff cleft is still a viable option. But I own a home, and it needs me when it needs me. As my colleague George -- a world traveler -- pointed out, whatever might be thinking about breaking will do so when you're a thousand miles away. He took his own major journeys when he and his wife were both unencumbered enough to take a motorcycle around Europe for a couple of months and other such getaways.

When you're getting away from it all you have to calculate how much "it all" you have and how far you want to get away from it. It's a whole lot easier when the answer to the first part is "not much" and to the second part is "it doesn't matter."

Initially intrigued by my buddy's idea, when I started putting practical logistics around the mid-trip fantasy scenarios it started getting unacceptably cumbersome.

When riding across the United States was going to be the first of many epic journeys it had practical aspects for all of its blatant impracticality. If I was really going to take wild trips and share them with a reading public, a transcon was a fine launching pad. But bad strategic decisions thwarted the vaguely-visualized plan to be such a traveler, aided in large part by the fact that I'm a wussy sociophobe who would have trouble asking for a tourniquet if I'd just severed an artery. At least I was. My imaginary cojones were always greater than my actual ones, as was my imaginary wit. After receiving a few gory gashes in public places I have learned to speak up quickly when first aid was slow or incompetent. But I still prefer to avoid people for the most part.

Actually, cojonically speaking, I do take risks. I even get back on the horse, so to speak, after a risk doesn't work out. Sometimes it takes longer than others. But it takes a lot to get me to talk to strangers outside of a known context like selling outdoor equipment or explaining myself to the arresting officer. And come to think of it, selling things and getting pulled over can both be uncomfortable contexts.

By the time I was 30 I could have traveled alone, and I've only gotten more comfortable alone since then. But by then it was too late. Or so it seemed, but belief makes it so. Everything has its price. This price needs to be fully calculated, not just approximated. What could possibly go wrong? And how would you feel if it did?

I do not say I'll get to it some day. I do not say I will never get to it. But I don't think 2014 is the year.

Mind you, best buddy has dangled the transcon carrot a time or two in the years  since the early 1980s and then tossed away, so I wait to see what transpires anyway. I've been putting together the kit to gear up the Traveler's Check for loaded touring already. I have only to accelerate the process a little. Initially I was going to transfer the multi-gear parts from the Cross Check, but now I think I would only transfer the dynamo front wheel. So the TC needs a front rack, a light set and that's about it. I have a crank, derailleurs and a rear brake and fenders. I need primary brake levers and I wouldn't mind getting a full set of Ortlieb paniers for front and rear. Odds and ends, really. Without the lights I could get it into a rideable configuration now. I might even have primary brake levers kicking around the bins somewhere.

I don't plan to go nowhere. I just don't know where.

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