Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Final Days

(I pick up here where I left off in September, on the final days of my last motorcycle trip. Thanks to cousin Dan for the nudge.)

I slept in the following morning, warm and cozy in my tall bed.  I ventured out to the dining room, where I’d eaten dinner the night before.  With a breakfast of French toast and fresh squeezed orange juice, I reviewed brochures about the city of Lewisburg. 

I’m a product of the North, more thoroughly that I’d known up until that meal there.  The two men that worked in the restaurant during my stay where black men, both with a charming southern drawl.  They were dressed in back pants and white short-sleeved shirts topped with black vests.  I was greeted with a “hello Miss, where’d ya’ like to sit this morn’n?”  My first feeling upon seeing them?  Shame.  They were waiting on me in a colonial home in the South, filled with antiques.  For a moment, I felt lost in time, as though they were servants.  I felt uncomfortable, out of sorts.  I had to talk myself into the present day: they were employees.  They were being paid.  And I would tip them. 

Much of my trip was filled with this juxtapositioning of time, people and situations.  I found myself yearning for some time off the bike and for connecting with the people of the town.  I decided to explore the town.  I walked down a gentle sloping hill into a cluster of shops.  I decided against trinkets for myself and picked up a birthday gift for a friend instead.  Lunch was a light salad and glass of chardonnay in a restaurant serving mostly local fare- it reminded me of Mia and Grace back in Michigan.  While out strolling, I found a movie theatre and checked show times.  I enjoyed an afternoon nap and snack before returning for the movie.  I ended the evening in one of my favorite ways- in bed, writing.

The following morning, I was unsure of whether to head to Michigan or continue West into Kentucky for another day or two of riding. I’d already ridden my “must-do routes” and felt unsure.    I decided to ride north and see how I felt after my day of rest.  It was cold and drizzling and I knew it wouldn’t be long before I’d be wet again.  About 40 minutes into my drive, I decided to head home.  I was done battling the rain. 

My final day of riding was infused with tension.  I was eager to get back to familiar landscape, to my bed.  At the same time, I was still on the bike, surrounded by beautiful land.  Just like in the dining room of the Inn, I felt myself held in two different times- on the bike and in my own home.  This is a familiar pattern for me- stuck between where I am and where I want to be.  In this case, I was happy to be on the bike but also terribly frustrated that so much of the trip had been punctuated by rain.  I was proud of myself for planning and making the trip, and simultaneously aware of the trips I could have had.  This last day was filled with these dichotomies- the road I could have taken and didn’t.  There was no regret or sorrow- enough of the new direction was behind me that it had begun to feel like the only choice to take after all.

I was so deep into West Virginia that I was far from the expressways and mentally shifted gears to enjoy that leisurely leg of the ride while the straight and fast highways waited ahead.  Animals dotted the landscape and 2 lane roads narrowed into river forging bridges. The roads I found myself on mimicked my inner experience- I was nestled against the mountains while at the same time, entertained valley views.  I felt supported while I sought new experiences. 

At a gas stop, I reviewed maps and found my quickest route home. I’d get myself into Ohio and catch 77.  There was a time when my mind left me on the bike and I thought only of home and warmth and my animals waiting for me.  I wanted familiar smells and sounds.  I wanted straight roads that showed me where they ended, instead of tricking me with turns.  Something would jar me out of my reverie – gears grinding when a semi-downshifted on a steep slope – and I’d be back on the bike again, wading between hills like waves one after another. 

I wanted to find a route that would take me past wind turbines, though I wasn’t coming out the same way I’d gone in.  Sure enough, cresting over hill, I saw several in the distance.  I hoped to capture a picture of them.  Sure enough, I found myself along a perfect path between mountains that lead me through a field of turbines.  I was between two realities again- I was saddened by the killing of trees needed to make room for them, yet mesmerized by their presence.  Each turbine I passed was nearer and nearer and thus larger than the one before.  Even a single blade was incomprehensibly large: I was awed by their stature: a trio of turbines, peaking out between two mountains with limbs that reached toward me.  A single turbine perched on a hill, peering down at me.  A series of towering points along a distant ridge with arms that swirled around and around.   I never got that perfect photo - yet still they sit, still etched in my mind.

Once in Ohio, I realized there was no hiding from the roads between me and home.  While in a car, I seek out things that distract me from the journey- something to make the trip feel shorter.  When I get that feeling on a bike, I recognize it as a warning flag; my mind is wandering, my body is worn out.

It wasn’t until I stopped for gas that I realized I was stuck in the think-loop of “I’m almost home.”  I was at least 4 hours from home, but since I’d already ridden 10, it felt like I was nearly there.  In reality, I’d been riding in darkness and rain with only the taillights of the vehicles ahead to guide me when I finally  stopped.  This is the danger in riding long distances- the mind can trick you but the body knows when it has had enough.  So I found a motel.  I hadn’t eaten in hours and was so hungry and tired by then, I couldn’t decide what to order from which restaurant.  I finally pulled quarters from my duffel and selected orange juice and a tube of nuts from the vending machine.  I soon settled into sleep.  In the morning, I packed up the bike for the final time and readied myself for the leg home. I reveled in familiar names on roadsides: Ann Arbor, Lansing, Ionia, Lowell.  When I entered my driveway, I noticed a sense of relief I hadn’t felt since I’d first started riding- I was glad to have made it home.  My bike did not break down, nor did I.  In fact, while tired from the week-long journey, I also felt invigorated. 

Planning this trip was simple- getting out of my head about the logistics was the biggest challenge- and easy enough with the help of a few friends to guide my route.  Taking the trip was even easier.  I needed to leave my work life behind and tap into other parts of myself.  Parts that are easier to access while on a bike, engaged in the ride.   I also recognized this trip as an important part of assessing my readiness for a trip to South America.  I’d been entertaining a 2 week journey without being on a bike for more than a few days at a time.  With this ride behind me, I knew I could do it.  I’d have to make more preparations, but I’d banished all doubts.