I’m writing this post from Austin, Texas. The capital of the Lone Star State. A city to which I owe many of my fondest memories but have repeatedly dismissed for one reason or another. The general sense of peace and fulfillment within me as I write this post, Avett Brothers moderately blasting at me, is difficult to convey. I have selected my own soundtrack for the first time in a month, I am uncomfortably full for the first time in the same, and I can sit around with no shirt on and not worry about manners or much of anything else. Plaintive, comforting harmonies really compliment the scene nicely.
The ride into Austin from College Station yesterday was one of the hardest and longest of the trip. I’d say it ranks second behind the Saint Augustine – Gainesville 111 day. I rode some 85-90 miles before calling my sister for a ride, the rush hour traffic thickening and my rear wheel once again so far out of true that it was smacking my frame, effectively braking every half rotation. The headwinds, the Hill Country, and the heat (95 degrees in late September!) conspired to make the day much more bitter than sweet, though after one final break, I rode the last fifteen miles faster than any other fully-loaded fifteen on the trip. Austin beckoned, family was near, and no amount of discomfort could stifle the un-place-able optimism bubbling up inside of me. I flew along the side of 290, doing my best to keep pace with the cars whirring by at 70 mph, rear wheel be damned. The thought of a real bed (the first in some two weeks), the best tacos in the world, and a Mama’s Cake donut from Gordough’s were such potent motivation that I wondered if I could win the Tour de France if it ended on South 1st Street.
College Station was quite a trip. I felt like I was committing high treason donning an Aggies frat polo to attend the Fiji tailgate with old high school friends, and in a lot of ways, I was. I sat in a chair, clairvoyant as ever, watching nonsensical drunken revelry while my brains were blasted out by entirely situation-inappropriate dubstep at a volume more suited for a nightmarish Skrillex concert than a mid-afternoon tailgate before a Texas college football game. The scene was received with the same contemplation as the best moments in New Orleans and the worst on the road in central Florida, but it was among the most overwhelming that I have experienced on this entire trip. It’s been nearly five months since I was in a college classroom, and many more since I attended any function with similar levels of debauchery. That it was all illuminated plainly by a brutally beaming sun made it more interesting still.
When I explained what I was doing there and why I was the only one with a beard and a trucker hat that was decidedly ‘un-frat’, the most common theme was “that’s going to be a really good story to tell someday huh?“. I suppose that’s one way of looking at it. I think every day of the last month could truly comprise a novel in its own right, a combination of internal dialogue and external observations, encounters, and experiences. Everyone was so hung up on the distance that my wheels had travelled and the fact that I actually trusted strangers enough to sleep in their homes that they couldn’t really delve much deeper. Then I realized that it really didn’t matter. By the third or fourth time that I recounted the states I’d seen come and go and roughly totalled the miles (just did it on Google Maps and came up with 1,233… a very rough guesstimate), I found myself fully accepting what I had told myself all along–
Nobody will ever really understand why I did this or what it means to me, but I hope that what I do share about my experiences will impact others in some sort of positive way. I still have dozens of stories profound and comical alike to compile and share, and countless musings that I may make public for transparency’s sake, but the number of views on this blog has really humbled and overwhelmed me. With all due respect, I haven’t ridden a single mile for any of ya’ll, but I really do treasure the fact that so many have shared this wild journey with me.
As I sit here in Austin, writing, jamming, and tooling around on the guitar, I am hit with the realization that I may have had my fill for the time being. I’ve developed some extremely deep cyclist’s palsy in my left hand that has robbed me of all feeling in a couple of my fingers. I have some sun spots that will undoubtedly need removing from so many days of eight-plus hours in direct sunlight. I have callouses on my hands and my mind from so many rough miles on poorly maintained rural roads. I have loved every second of it all and hated lots of them, too. The prospect of going virtually as far as I’ve gone again is exciting, tempting, and overwhelming. I know that somewhere between here and the Pacific I will grow to resent bicycles, which would be my worst nightmare. I also know that the most traumatic memory in my contemporary experiences occurred on one of the very roads that I’d be travelling to cross the vast expanses of sandy desert, and I have found that I really am not ready to re-visit that with the vulnerability that a bicycle and hammock entail. Some may view this as resignation, a failure, or a lack of the grit that I had just begun to display. This is a fair assumption, one that I still sort of feel about this decision. I think knowing when to quit has long been a weakness of mine, and I think that doing a victory lap around central Texas and finishing where it all started, at the Alamo, will be plenty for me. The recurring rear wheel problems that have slowly drained my wallet more than I could’ve ever planned for started to feel like a sign. The overwhelming friendliness of a man in line ahead of my sister and I at dinner last night really drove it home: I’d be a fool to keep ignoring this. Janet told him how exactly I ended up in Austin, we had a great conversation, and he bought our food and insisted that I order more as I was surely hungrier than that (he was right). I couldn’t even get him to join us for an appetizer or drink. I’ve been humbled nearly to tears by the gift of 45 cent cookies at rest stop bakeries, but something about the way this transpired reminded me of everything that I have tried so hard to ignore about home. I could babble endlessly, but it really was a cinematic nail in the proverbial coffin.
I’ve got much more to say about all that I am thinking, all that’s happened, and all that comes next. This has already grown far too lengthy, but I figured I shouldn’t lead anybody on. I’m a few days from finishing this leg of this particular trip. If you’re on the West Coast and bummed, don’t be. I’ll come up with some other preposterous way to come see all of you. If you’re in the middle of nowhere in the desert… nevermind.
Here’s a quick look at the map I did of my progress so far. At some point I’ll do one with a night-by-night breakdown of where I stopped. There’s a lot of writing yet to come, but as always, the factual-ish updates take precedence and the niceties of Austin beckon…