Bike Tour Birthday Contrasts

March 2018. It’s my birthday and Felkerino and I are bike touring through California desert. Sand spreads out on all sides, the road undulates ahead. Cars and trucks zip by periodically, reminding us that we are not alone. Even so it feels like we are the only exposed creatures out here.

Birthday ride 2018

Nonstop sun pours down, and I suck on a Lifesaver to moisten my dry mouth. We’ve pedaled halfway through the day’s ride and begin to look for a spot to eat the sub sandwich we picked up that morning.

We had hoped to dine under shade, but after a couple of miles realize that desire was overly optimistic. No worries. We welcome the break anyway and pull the bike off the road.

As I munch my half-sandwich, I cast a look around and try to get a feel for this new year of mine. Disbelief and satisfaction intertwine. I feel a sense of wonder that I’ve lived this long, grateful that my body is healthy and that I have the resources to burn my free time tooling around the desert with Felkerino.

I remember being little and thinking that people my age were so old. How could a person be that old? And I am now that person, that old.

I’m lucky, I think. I made bad choices along the way, but somehow the good ones have outweighed the bad so far. I stand strong, here with my partner, and feel like I’m in bonus years already.

One year later, March 2019. A different road, another part of California. Felkerino, our friend Foon, and I have been touring the old Route 66, which is technically closed to traffic in some parts, and have spent much of the day chatting side by side. The day is overcast, cool, pleasant.

Birthday ride 2019

It was sprinkling, but the rain appears to have passed so we pause to delayer. I snack on a homemade blondie that Foon made and take in another birthday.

It’s different this year. The satisfaction of last year has moved aside as complacency has elbowed its way in. I’m dissatisfied somehow and it disquiets me.

This complacency is in such contrast to other years. I experienced so many exciting firsts during and after college. Then built up my professional life and paid off school loans. Achieved independence. Left my home state and moved to a big city. Became a more active cyclist and runner and met Felkerino. Settled down in D.C.

And here I am now – too comfortable. No real complaints to make about my life, yet these awkward sentiments nag at me now and I find myself paying attention to them.

Please don’t misunderstand, I appreciate comfort. Not everyone has it and I am and have been lucky to experience its luxury.

But I don’t want to stand in that space too long. Complacency will wriggle in and gradually diminish the sharp beauty of existence.

Our group mounts up on the bikes again, and we pedal forward together into an extended descent. I don’t know it yet, but a bitter 28-mile segment of unrelenting crosswinds with a steady uphill grade awaits us.

The tailwind will disappear, the road will slope, and the winds will turn against us. I’m ready. It’s a fight to the overnight of this 130-mile day. I’m ready.

Categories: Bike Touring, Reflections

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4 replies

  1. First and foremost, happy belated birthday! I hope you were able to celebrate and enjoy your time away.

    We’ve had many discussions in our household that feel very much on par with your sentiments expressed here or are connected in some manner to these thoughts. We meet people who are a decade (or more) younger or older than us who have settled into their routine, perfectly accepting of whatever comes with that. Although I do like to have a home base and some amount of steadiness/predictability, I have never been particularly happy with the idea of slowing down as I age, nor with the idea of everything being the same day after day… nor with giving up.

    Right now, I struggle with my body rebelling against what my mind wants to do. I am fighting the voices in my head that tell me I am getting older and will slow down or that I have no hope of ever overcoming the cursed genetics that have haunted me all of my life and kept me slow and chunky. Those thoughts are all true, but I’ll be damned if I’m not going to fight it all the way to the end. Sometimes I think that is what keeps me going – that I am a fighter deep down, stubborn (quietly) to the end.

    I was also thinking back on junior high school and remembering the weekly mile run we’d do each Friday. I was HIGHLY allergic to the trees that ran along the back side of the track we ran and I had so much difficulty breathing (not to mention the fact that I am not built to be a runner). Anyway, 99% of the girls in my class would walk the mile in small groups, chatting as we tended to do at that age. I was so determined though to run the whole mile every week, but it was so hard for me because I just couldn’t breathe. As I’d lap around, the boys PE coach would tell me what my time was, and I was always mortified that it took me so long to run 1/4 of a mile. As exhausted as I felt after each lap, I wanted to run the whole thing and I was determined to make that happen. I think about it and it seems like such a ridiculous goal to have, especially for people who can/do run, as they would easily complete their mile in about the time I would do a little over half the distance. I still remember the week I ran my fastest mile that year. I ran the entire thing, wheezing, coughing, and choking the whole way… but I did it! I think about that moment at times and remember that person never went away. I was 12-13 years old then, and today 40-something me feels the same way. Even if I have to wheeze my way through something (figuratively or literally), I don’t want a feeling of “good enough” to take over or thoughts of “well, other people aren’t doing this, so why should I?” Though I am well aware that I am capable of doing just that when I allow it.

    I’m not sure where I’m going with this comment. I had a point somewhere in my rambling thought process, but I feel like I’ve lost it as I’ve had many things come to mind while writing. I suppose I just felt a connection to your words – that any of us can swing from one side of the pendulum to the other, and I guess for me I just hope that I find balance somewhere in all that swinging back and forth.

    I will say that I am never at a loss for amazement with the rides you two accomplish and you both inspire me to push a little more, so for that, a very big thank you!

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    • Thanks G.E., we had a great trip! And thanks for your thoughtful comment, too. As I reflect on it I think that this is the search for the balance of effort and ease – which is something I hear regularly in yoga – recognizing that this is something that is very individual. Like you, I want to keep growing.

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