Tuesday, June 30, 2009

I don't know what's wrong with me

One of my memories from close to thirty years ago still lingers, fresh in my mind. It's a warm midwestern summer night and the windows are open at my grandparent's place in town, the place they'd retired to after selling off the farm a few years before. My parents, sisters and I are visiting for the weekend and I've spent most of the day out riding, for I brought my bike with me. This was one of the summers I was racing, but a skinny-tired bike was something inexplicably foreign to the farm roads around Pelican Rapids, Minnesota and the idea that I'd train for races no one had ever heard of was something that maybe didn't even make sense to me and certainly was baffling to my family.

I remember rolling past farm fields and through small towns where the grain elevator was the tallest thing for miles around, seeing gophers squeal and run for cover. I remember sprinting against my lengthening shadow and coming back to my grandparent's place tired and tanned just as the sun was setting and the mosquitoes were starting to swarm.

The house in town was smaller than the farm house had been, so I was trying to sleep on the livingroom couch but I could hear my grandparents pillowtalk from their room. They talked loudly, the way old people who can't hear very well do to each other.

"That boy rode his bike all the way to Perham and back. I said we could take the truck but he said he needed to get out and ride. I don't know what's wrong with him..."

I still don't know what's wrong with me. Back then I'd go out and camp, by myself, in the woods. I knew then it was something not everybody did, but I read books by Bradford Angier, Jack London, Robert Service and Henry Thoreau and those words made sense to me. Robert Service wrote:
There's a race of men that don't fit in,
A race that can't stay still;
So they break the hearts of kith and kin,
And they roam the world at will.
They range the field and they rove the flood,
And they climb the mountain's crest;
Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood,
And they don't know how to rest.

I knew that there was (and still is) something inside of me that is uncomfortable with comfort, something that makes me leave, at least for awhile, people and places that I truly love.

Later, when Christine and I would meet and fall in love and eventually marry, those who knew us were amazed for we'd both been pegged as hermits both in training and temperament. And yet we are, and always shall be, a couple. Co-hermits we call ourselves.

And now I have this wonderful wife and two fine sons and I live in a wonderful place and I have a job that is both challenging and rewarding. And yet, I don't know what's wrong with me.

I'm taking off for a month next year, a month that will be hard -- hard on me and probably just as hard on my wife. I'm blessed with the best wife in the world. I can try to explain, perhaps borrowing words from Lucinda Williams,

If I stray away too far from you, don't go and try to find me.
It doesn't mean I don't love you, it doesn't mean I won't come back and
stay beside you.
It only means I need a little time
To follow that unbroken line
To a place where the wild things grow
To a place where I used to always go.

Next year, I'm racing the Tour Divide. Again. Well, not exactly again, in 2005 I rode the Great Divide Mountain Bike Race on a single speed bike. The Tour Divide route adds a few hundred Canadian kilometers on top of the GDR. This year's race has just been won by Matthew Lee by the time I finish posting this note Chris Plesko will have probably set a new single speed record. Sounds like a great excuse for me to get a new bike. I'm already talking to the folks at Redline about a Monocog Flight 29er. And Dirt Rag is on board with me filling up a few more pages of their fine magazine as well.

Next year, I'll be 51 years old. AARP is telling me to slow down and send them some dues. I've always been slow, but I've also always been persistent. I see no reason to change now. I'm sending my dues to the Adventure Cycling Association and I'm entering the 2010 Tour Divide.

I don't know what's wrong with me.
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