The blog didn’t make it, but I did
Posted 10/02 by Ruthie BenDor
we must pass
through solitude and
difficulty, isolation and silence
to find that enchanted place where
we can dance our clumsy dance and sing our
sorrowful song. But in that dance, and in
that song, the most ancient rites of conscience fulfill themselves
in the awareness of
- Pablo Neruda
I started this summer with a route map, a rough itinerary, an assortment of gear, and two intended goals: ride my bicycle across the country, and learn something along the way.
This journey was worth far more than those goals.
I learned how to take apart a bicycle and put it back together again. I learned that bike grease permanently stains. I learned that streets named ‘Hill Lane’ or ‘Tower Road’ or ‘Great Heights Boulevard’ are so named for a reason. I learned that while hills are hard, headwinds are demoralizing, and hail is terrifying, humidity is my Kryptonite. I learned never to trust the accuracy of directions given by Google Maps or well-meaning motorists. I learned that truck routes often have wide shoulders, that the best drivers are in Amish country, and that when choosing between ‘Route Whatever’ and ‘Old Route Whatever’, it’s best to take the old road.
I learned that it’s incredibly difficult to type and pedal at the same time—to everyone following my blog, I apologize that Twitter, Flickr, riding, and sleep took precedence over long-form posts.
I learned that people are good, kind, and generous if given the opportunity. A partial list of my gifts: A lift over an Omaha bridge so as to avoid arrest. Bedrooms and couches and futons and floors and backyards and campgrounds and a public library’s recreation room opened to me. Tools and clothes and cars lent without question. Repairs done at no charge. Home-cooked meals shared. Wine tastings on the house. An entire bag of tamales, by an elderly gentleman who spoke no English and little Spanish as I haltingly explained that I’d come ‘muy lejos a mi bicicleta.’ Apple pie from Grandma Shirley’s roadside stand, and ice cream with new friends.
Yeah, I learned a lot about other people.
I learned a fair bit about myself, too. I learned to value my ability to make creative repairs even more than I value good gear. I learned that my stubbornness is strong enough to carry me through frustration, pain, boredom, heat, and exhaustion; I can will myself through rain, against wind, across deserts, up mountains and back down again. I learned how to be more patient with myself, how to accept uncertainty, and how to take pleasure in my own company. I learned how to sit with myself in stillness. I learned how to be alone and happy.
Of course, once I’d learned to be happy by myself, the universe found me people with whom to share my joy. I entered Chicago knowing one person, and left with a network of dozens. A merry band of strangers-turned-friends scooped me up for a few glorious days of playtime in Colorado. At Burning Man, I finally found my place in a community I love, and made on-playa connections that extend to the default world and beyond.
My final week on the road was easy, relatively speaking. I climbed four thousand feet in two days, and then it was downhill all the way to the ocean.
I return to Boston with my skin tanned, my muscles hardened, my eyes widened, and my heart opened. Thank you for tagging along.