Light rain as we packed up our tents and other gear. Breakfast was under the shelter at the campground. I ate and was ready to leave at a reasonable time, but then I noticed Colleen just starting to eat around 7:00am, so I decided to wait for her, and we got on the road a little after 7:30. The rain was pretty steady by now, and was for most of the morning.
The site-seeing stop we made today was at the Underground Cave, which is a river that flows through a cavern for about 300 yards, and you ride a small row boat. The cave ceiling is very low, so you have to duck your head way down. We missed the turn for this attraction at first, and so decided to backtrack for about a mile to go back to it. It’s not the kind of thing that you would make a special trip to see, but in the frame of mind we were in, it was the perfect diversion to give us a break from the ride, as well as the rain.
Later in the morning, I got a flat tire just a few miles before lunch, then Colleen got one just a couple of minutes after that. Lunch was in another small town park under a picnic shelter. The only bad part were the restrooms, which reminded me of “The Worst Toilet in Scotland” scene from the movie “Trainspotting.”
It started raining even harder as we left lunch; Matt Sheehan joined Colleen and I for the rest of the ride. There was an optional loop that added some extra miles and hills; since we were in the exploring mode from the Underground cave experience, we decided to take the option. During that section, the three of us discussed what we were going to say at our group meeting tonight.
The group meeting had been planned and announced to us a couple of days before. It was supposed to be our opportunity to express whatever thoughts and feelings we have about the trip. We jokingling referred to it as the “Kumbaya Session.” I think all of us had thoughts about what the trip meant to us; what a great experience it was, how much we valued the new friends we made, etc. But I think we were all dreading having to hear these same kinds of sentiments repeated over and over. Neither Matt nor Colleen had any specific thoughts as to what they might say, although Colleen remarked that she imagined this would be a new “marker” in the timeline of her life, i.e. every event would be categorized as either “before the bike tour” or “after the bike tour.” I had planned not to say very much; a couple of weeks ago, my mom had sent me a list of cycling-related quotes that she found on the Internet, so I thought I would just read a couple of the best ones. But Colleen’s comment suddenly got me thinking, and triggered a revelation to me, which I will elaborate on below.
Our destination was the Houghton College Star Lake Center. Houghton College is a nearby Christian school, and the Star Lake Center is a lakeside resort used for retreats and conferences. The tour staff had made it sound very bad in the days leading up to our arrival here, but its summer camp-like atmosphere was very cozy and comfortable, especially after our day of riding in the rain. The quote of the day came from Jane: “The only thing on me that stayed dry are my two muffins.” Everyone laughed, and then she pulled the two muffins that she had brought from breakfast out of her jersey pockets. The sleeping quarters were two large enclosed meeting rooms that overlooked the lake. Dinner was in the center’s cafeteria.
It was Road Relics night also. I made two entries, neither of which I expected to do well, but I entered them anyway to provide some amusement. One was a plastic letter Y which I entered as a “Wisconsin Country Road Sign, made of cheese curd.” The other was a small warning sign that had blown from somebody’s yard concerning pesticide application; I also found a small rubber bug that I placed next to it. The winner ended up being Renée from Belgium. She had found a brush with blue bristles that she labeled “Kevin’s Hair.”
Then came the time for our group meeting. I think that everyone was pleasantly surprised, as most people held back on the sort of comments that we expected, and only spoke much about any unique and original thoughts that they had. My turn came fairly early, only about four or five people from the start.
I felt the same way about Colleen’s comment during the ride; that this trip would be a new measuring stick–all events would either be marked as before or after this trip. But for me, it is something more as well. I had hoped this trip would be a part of the long, gradual process of moving on and coping with my father’s death, but until now it never occurred to me exactly how that might happen. For the past two years, his death has been that marking point in time; all other events are either before or after that one.
What’s more, during these past two years, I have felt like a character in a book, a character that might be described in the synopsis as “The guy whose father died.” I knew that I did not want to be that guy any more. I also knew that I would never be the same person I was before. But I had no idea who the person was that I was supposed to become. Now, with this event to act as a new measuring point in time, I can put a new label on myself: “The guy who bicycled across the country.” It sounds like such a simple thing, and I know that it is. Yet sometimes it is these small and simple things that allow us to move on. Although there will continue to be difficult times ahead, I am now in a new chapter of a new book.
It made me feel very good later, when Kira came to me and thanked me for expressing the thoughts that she had but had never been able to put into words following the death of her mother. Part of the bond I will feel with her and everyone else on this trip is the fact that they are the ones who ushered me into this new chapter of my life, and who will only ever know me as this new person that I became. Although I am probably no different externally (other than a slightly asymetrical clavicle), the differnce is internal, and that is significant for me.
Other people remarked on the sadness that the trip is so close to the end, and how the last couple of weeks have gone by so fast. The comment was made that there will never be another gathering exactly like this one; we can do dozens of other bike tours, but none will be like this one. That is another kind of obvious statement, but still kind of profound. Every person here has contributed to the personality of this trip in their own way, and to take any one of them away would change the character of the trip entirely. Thinking about that intensifies the feelings of sadness that it will be ending soon, but also makes us appreciate what we have done even more.
If you recall, Richard Curley was the guy that I crashed into back in Idaho. I never blamed him for the accident, but I suspect that he felt guilty about it anyway. After an incident like that, cyclists tend to get superstitious; since then I’ve tried to “de-jinx” every aspect related to the accident. I have ridden on other rail-trails since then, and I have worn the bike jersey from that day, as well as the shorts and socks, but I admit that I will probably never wear all three of them at the same time again. Although we never spoke about it, Richard has kept his distance from me ever since the crash, out of respect for these irrational habits. I spoke to him this evening, and we both said that we would like to ride together again some time. So, I hope that we will have the opportunity to do so during this upcoming final week.
Filed under: Coast to Coast 2004 |