The past couple of years have been oversaturated with persistent questions. What am I doing with my life? Where do we go when we die? Am I doing the “right” things? What should I have done differently? What can or should I still do?
These questions pester and burden more than they used to do, circling me like the most annoying horsefly. You can’t quite shoo the fly away or go fast enough to escape it, and it occasionally finds a way to sneak in a bite of skin, as if buzzing around you weren’t enough.
Perhaps these are fruitless questions to wrestle through. I don’t exactly think so, but the pondering can only go so far, as we don’t know – I mean, KNOW – the answer. And if you do, please contact me immediately.
We only know of a finite beginning, and eventually become aware that there is also an end of life as we know it. How much can we wrap our minds around these thoughts and come out the other side with any kind of answer that satisfies for the long term and lays our doubts to rest?
Basically, my brain has been clinging to these themes for most of 2019. There are various reasons for that: the natural ageing process; the furlough/partial government shutdown from earlier this year; and honestly, the tangible results of climate change, too. I’ve felt helpless, anxious, and sometimes lost.
After a point, though, I realize that I must give my mind a reprieve from all of this, and unexpectedly randonneuring has become the welcome escape. After 15 years of this randonneuring monkey business, I never fathomed that I would willingly raise myself for something as long as a 400K, but once again we are back at it and I’m glad.
And with the 2019 Northern Exposure 400K, I am restored. Restored, and the big questions aren’t circling my head like before.
On Saturday, we witnessed the rise and fall of the sun, continued on into darkness, and I thought it poetic. I didn’t realize the moon was full, that it would float blood red into the sky, and that we would then have the added thrill of riding in its company during the final miles.
I forgot that we ride through Amish country on this route. Children swiveled their heads as we passed, their gazes riveted to our tandem. I forgot how sublime our sovereign blue Spectrum feels rolling up and down the rises. It is truly a bicycle made for Felkerino and me.
I was reminded of how much it means for me to ride these brevets with Felkerino as a tandem team. Between miles 138 and mile 190 of our 248-mile ride – also one of the hilliest segments of our ride – I silently pondered my imminent retirement from randonneuring. It’s gonna be great, I though to myself. Imagine all the loads of laundry I will do. The books I will read. All the running miles.
Felkerino then mentioned that – even after more than two decades of randonneuring – he still sees each of the brevets as a special endeavor. Even if you’ve done them multiple times, each one unfolds differently. And it’s not as though we undertake them with enough frequency that they ever become routine.
He was right, especially this day. Temperatures were ideal – into the low 80s – like a soft introduction to summer. The course immersed us in greenery. The winds were light, such that headwinds didn’t beat us about, unlike our Frederick 300K last month.
The number of people who showed up was small (14 or so riders), but we continued to criss cross each other throughout the route, so we never felt isolated.
We had one minor encounter with a cranky driver, but that just made the pleasant people appear even more pleasant. Overall, people seemed to think it was just fine that we were out riding our bikes. People offered smiles and waves, and drivers gave us plenty of room when passing. They recognized us and treated us well.
The world is vast and difficult for me to understand. It frustrates me. I feel overwhelmed by what the future holds.
Riding our club’s 400K this last Saturday refocused me on the present, and made future inevitabilities less scary. Less significant.
Our ride evoked the physical and mental satisfaction of muscling through a challenging course mile by mile. I integrated into the environment of late spring, one small piece of the landscape. I was awash in the good fortune I have to ride these distances on tandem with Felkerino.
As we rolled into the finish at the divey Days Inn after over 19 hours of pedaling, I could have wept with gratitude for all that led me to this moment. Restored.
Perhaps life is about seizing the present and extracting everything you can from that. Put down the newspapers, disconnect from the internet. Stop trying to answer so many complicated questions and crawl out from under their weight.
Maybe the best answer is a 400K bike ride with your true love on the most elegant tandem and a picture perfect day.