The Crossroads

I spoke to Jeremiah and confirmed the truck would be ready ahead of their 3 day weekend and the ensuing chaos of 4th of July and then gathered my thoughts and tried to determine the best course of action. With this stunning repair speed and accommodating kindness, I could still make my original plan of being in Lake Tahoe for the weekend. It would involve lots more driving than I’d prefer, and I missed out on spending time in LA, but it was a small price to pay for turning what could have been disaster into a mere expensive inconvenience and one of the most glorious fishing days I’ve ever had.

I decided the right move was to pack up everything in the cabin I’d rented so I could grab the truck and be free to head westward, even though I’d paid for an additional night in preparation for being “stuck” in Colorado through the weekend. In the heat of the moment, I went through the motions gladly, running off adrenaline and glad to be imminently reunited with my truck. Once I arrived at their shop around an hour later, three mechanics were feverishly wrenching and making adjustments to unrelated components as they saw fit. I was high on the unexpected and the outrageous kindness I’d been given over the last few days. Their shop was far from any town with a rental car return spot, yet they were actively scheming in order to find a solution that could get the car returned and have me in my truck immediately. I said I’d return the rental first thing in the morning and bike back to the shop, and I sincerely meant it, yet they took this as a personal affront. “You are not biking 26 miles to return a Nissan. What about Hank?!”

And so they went through a set of logistical gymnastics and soon told me what the plan was and enacted it before I could so much as clarify, let alone protest. Four people helped me get the rental returned and everyone back where they needed to be. I was invited to dinner with the team, and we ate Italian food in downtown Montrose, Colorado, where one of the most talented mechanics I’ve ever met asked us what risotto was without a hint of irony. It was a treasure of a meal, and it lasted until 10 PM. When I stepped out, I called my friend, Matt, who I was set to visit in LA and drive to Tahoe with before the plan turned to literal shrapnel. It was late, I was exhausted from a day full of fishing and the emotional roller coaster of uncertainty and surprise victory. I decided I’d drive back up into the mountains to my cabin I’d paid for instead of trying to make any westward progress, and in fact I resigned that I likely wouldn’t bother even trying to get to Tahoe for the weekend. It was simply too late, too much, too compromised from what we’d schemed up months ago. I got in the Land Cruiser and Hank and I drove a long, silent hour back up onto the Mesa, in the pitch darkness with no cell service and no lights beyond my own headlights.

The next morning I awoke in the same glorious mountain light as the day before. It was, objectively, a near-perfect morning, yet I felt unsettled. I had resigned to skipping the final concrete plan I had for my trip aside from reaching Alaska, yet I didn’t have a great alternative in the works. Spending time in Colorado is never a bad thing, but with a few vague invites from various friends across the state lingering in the balance, I felt both encouraged and hopelessly lost. A hike in Buena Vista, coffee in Colorado Springs, tagging along on a bar crawl in Denver, my new friends in Boulder—it was a series of blessings that weighed on me strangely. Making them all work was literally impossible, and picking which one to follow meant missing the others and putting all my eggs into a kind-yet-tenuous basket. It perturbed me, but so much kindness was falling on reluctant, pessimistic ears. I was unsettled by the cost of the transmission repair, by the abysmal job fishing I did that morning after the previous day’s nirvana, by the sense that the world is full of promise that requires decisively turning down equally great opportunities in order to experience any of it at all. A classic spiral, in the midst of a trip that the casual onlooker would assume is nothing short of “living the dream.” I knew I had to drive down the mountain to reach cell service and get anywhere at all, so after watching all of my fishing skills slip through my fingers among the beautiful surroundings of the Grand Mesa, we loaded into the newly-mobile Cruiser and headed down the back side of the giant plateau. Once we reached the first small town with cell signal (and the last town before the final thirty winding miles towards I-70, I pulled into the café for some mood-boosting coffee and a moment to sit and think.

All the caffeine in the world couldn’t interrupt my disoriented pity party. There were no affordable options left for lodging in Denver or Boulder, for it was now 4th of July weekend. Colorado Springs was too far off course, Buena Vista appealing but remote and also far the wrong direction for my trip. Even on a meandering trek of such magnitude that a few hundred miles are a mere blip, the prospect of doubling back too far can become a tough pill to swallow. With no resolution reached, I decided to head towards the Interstate, the literal crossroads between westward travel towards California or eastward lanes that could lead me anywhere in Colorado. I sat in a gravel pull-off in the middle of the high desert and cried while Hank looked on helplessly. The scenery was stark compared to the lush, cozy setting towering a mile above us on the Mesa. The prospects felt bleak. The idea of being in Tahoe among old friends was comforting but distant and already off the list, while the idea of rallying and being an unexpected guest among new or old friends felt impossibly trying. Friends reminded me that lifting weights tears your muscles in order to build them stronger, insisted on calling me in the middle of their workday to remind me that there’s no such thing as a bad option when you’ve got your dog by your side and Colorado and Utah at your disposal and nowhere you have to be.

This was a literal crossroads that felt aggressively metaphorical. I wanted to curse the very road junction itself for pointing in all directions and inviting us to follow them wherever they may lead. Where I normally see possibilities, I saw only an overwhelming emptiness and confusion. I’d come so far since being hit by a car on my bike and nearly losing everything I ever loved, since feeling stuck and complacent in Austin, since swinging wildly from settling down to being so restless that I thought the only hope was to hop on a treadmill and never stop moving. And now, a few days removed from an unnaturally calm response to a grenaded transmission in the middle of the desert, I was despondent at a junction of opportunities.

It is important to remember these moments, to grant them the weight they deserve and to remember how bad it felt and how exactly we overcome them. At our lowest, we might believe that everyone on earth is more resilient and capable than we are. And at our highest, we forget the very passage of time and lose ourselves in love or craft or some transcendent alchemy. Life has plenty of both of these moments and even more of the in-between. It’s easy to become addicted to the highs or crippled by the lows or comfortably numb in the neithers. Feeling fuels my affinity for cycling, my masochistic love of the unpredictability of the open road, my need to write words is the spectrum of human emotions, the literal peaks and metaphorical valleys and the need to keep progressing when the easiest option is to lie down.

I sat at that crossroads for a long time, then begin to resent myself for wasting so much time that could’ve been spent making progress in some direction. And yet, I was engrossed in feeling, experiencing the true depths of the soul, letting pain have its time in the limelight so that it would no longer lurk in the shadows. It was good to feel hurt for reasons that didn’t involve other people acting in ways I find inexplicable, to feel pain that didn’t come from physical injuries or brain damage or some strange aversion to all my surroundings as I’d come to feel in Austin. Instead, I was simply wounded by the exhaustion of the road, the emptying of my wallet, the overwhelmingness of time and space and good options that weren’t perfect.

I let those things hurt me until the frustration at killing time and feeling sad won out and I decisively resolved that being late to Tahoe was better than not going at all. Plus, it would be free to stay there and even cheap hotels in Denver looked pricey after that transmission replacement. I peered at the map and realized the straightest line there was westward to Salt Lake City, so I contacted a friend I hadn’t seen in a decade and asked if he wanted to get a beer that night, then I got onto the freeway and steeled myself over for a long day of driving. He responded quickly and enthusiastically, which I saw as we stopped in Grand Junction for a nice macchiato and a donut to salve my wounded soul and fuel me for the long, straight trek ahead of us. Seven hours at the wheel and thirty minutes of jogging with Hank through the Mecca of Mormonism were all that separated me from Jacob and his wife, Michelle, and a dinner and beers that would make this moment feel a lifetime away and the food and conversation taste extra sweet.

So many moments have been this way, and I was reminded just this morning that I never set out for Alaska expecting it to be easy and exclusively positive. It has been the strangest treat to rely on the kindness of strangers for everything from fireside tortellini to a new transmission to today’s mission to the suburbs of Seattle to go pull a functioning air conditioning blower motor out of someone’s Land Cruiser so that Hank and I can have air for our journey northward. Even though the hottest weather is likely behind us for a while, my recent stay with some now-lifelong friends who I met through the internet sphere of bikes and Land Cruisers and country music spurred me into finally solving this ongoing problem with the blower definitively. Yesterday in Spokane, Grafton and I took turns prying each other’s trucks apart, installing a compressor in his truck and figuring out what exactly was awry with mine.

Every time I wish I had a Tacoma or a 4Runner, something much newer and more comfortable and predictable and efficient, I am reminded of the absurd community of those who pursue their passions regardless of the measurable cost. It would be decidedly easier to not ride bikes, especially after a life-altering accident, after some aspects of the local scene discouraged me so much that I nearly gave up the sport and every friendship it led to. It would be far more convenient to find the most reliable, appliance-like vehicle possible for this trip, it would be predictable to ask the job I quit last winter if they would take me back, but I would experience far fewer crushing moments and extensions of human kindness. I would never get to test my understanding of machinery or my own mettle against trying terrain or mechanical failures on two wheels or four. It would be nice to save all my money for a rainy day, safe to heed every single warning at face value, comfortable to go home and get a nice bed and quit sleeping on too-short couches for too-few hours after too-long days. Even as I write this, I am doing mental math about how I could score a newer vehicle for the wildest stretch of my trip, the one which begins just after we leave Seattle for Vancouver and then set out from there for the two thousand miles of sparsely populated terrain and parts thoroughly unknown. I’m sitting in a gorgeous coffee + bike shop that reminds me of everything I love about both passions, before I watched the goodness of cycling robbed from me by people who seem to enjoy it differently and impart their ugly opinions or questionable character on my own joy of the sport.

As of today, I want an expensive and high-performance road bike once again. I’d love to have a beautiful, matching kit to zip up and geek out on with fellow lovers of riding bikes and the bevy of good design that accompanies the act. I feel that life-affirming lust for things I genuinely love, and feel that I can love them without apology or reservation. On the road in new places, meeting new people, traveling further from the lowest moments, I’m falling in love with bikes and the people who ride them all over again. I’ve stopped letting current actions and feelings be explained by past wounds or mistakes. That’s not to say there’s no more hurt or regret, but at the very least it says which perspective I’m taking on the half-filled contents of that cappuccino cup. I’m enjoying the simple pleasures of nice cortados and gas station coffee alike, and not letting my slight distaste for overt hipsterdom rob me of the joy of a nice single origin espresso, nor my preference for well-steamed milk prevent me from enjoying any hot coffee at all. Just two days ago, I rode mountain bikes with three guys who felt like lifelong friends despite my having never been to Spokane before, and we drank Rainier beer and took pictures and laughed and didn’t fret over fitness. I also didn’t fret over the image-consciousness that started to creep into such moments in my old surroundings, where it began to feel like I was surrounded by folks who cared more about their own image than the humans around them.