He was riding his bicycle. That was about the only good thing about the scene right now. The slick, coast road wound up and around the promontories, so that the wind and rain was as often in his face as across the beam.
As the cold rain ran off his Arcteryx rain jacket, soaking his crotch and running down his legs, he pedaled on, one stroke after the other. At the top of the hill, he pulled alongside the other rider, and matched her pedal cadence. Her face was set in a stony expression. The rain was dripping off her nose, and he knew that she was soaked everywhere that he was.
“Are we having fun yet?” He quipped. All it got him was a scowl.
“You call this fun?”
“Fun isn’t always about laughing,” he said. “I would still rather be here slugging along this coast with you than sitting still in a car, waiting for some crash up ahead to be cleared away.”
Her expression thawed. She looked at him quickly, and smiled. They sped down into the village where they expected to spend the night. While they checked in, cleaned up and changed, the storm blew over. The sun was low in the sky over the Tyrrhenian Sea as they walked to a nearby trattoria for supper. The air was fresh and warm, as it always was after a heavy summer rain. Sparrows and swallows emerged from the eaves of the village buildings, eager to feast on the insects that always came out near sundown.
The next day was sunny. It was still windy, but the air was warm and dry. By midmorning, he was in a pleasant rhythm, enjoying the moment, which included taking in the scenery, listening to the wind and the birds, smelling the trees and the beach, and matching his pace to hers. They stopped for lunch in a park by the side of the road, then continued up the coast.
He had been living on the road for two years – more if you count the tours in 2012 and 2013. He thought about what he had written more than a year ago, “The most significant emotional drawback of all the CON’s [of living and working on the road] is the fact that one cannot build a personal relationship that was not already there, if one must keep moving on. Of course, if I go back to places that I have been, I can sustain and even grow relationships by correspondence. However, I have not gone back to any place – yet. Nor have any of my new friends jumped on their bicycles to ride with me, although that is not as unlikely as it may sound.”(*)
He was not always alone any more. At least in the summer, she would join him for a few months. They had both ridden alone, but last year, they had discovered that riding was much more enjoyable with a friend. Now he looked forward to the summer rides more for the company than the better weather and the longer days.
As he rode, he considered the question that she and so many others had asked him “How long do you expect this to go on?” He never had an answer.
The coast road was still winding. The crosswind became a headwind. He geared down one step and increased speed, until he was drafting her a safe two meters behind. When he settled into her slipstream, he changed gears back up and matched her cadence again.
He knew that he could not ride like this forever. But if his riding were not cut short by a collision or a sudden illness, how would he know when it is time to stop wandering? Would he ever? Would it be gradual or sudden?
They came to the top of a promontory, and she slowed to stop. The beach below traced a white-pink line between the dark woods and the dark sea, as the low sun stretched across the water and the sand.
“Photo op?” he asked, as they dismounted. She smiled and nodded. “I’ll hold the bikes,” he said, and grabbed the top tube of her bicycle. She gathered her SLR camera from the pannier and walked out to the edge of the cliff. He watched her from the opposite side of the road. She walked back and forth, considered different angles, and decided what she would shoot. He continued his thought.
He had two places that he used as bases, one in Italy and one in Virginia. Right now, each served mainly to store what he did not need on the road. Taking advantage of off-season rates and early booking, he could fly from one to the other for less than it cost to travel the same distance in North America by car, plane or train. Maybe he would simply find himself spending more time in each place, and less time riding. Already, he had plans to hole up in one or the other to work on his writing.
But before he slowed down, he had routes that he wanted to ride: Route 66 and the Katy Trail, Eurovelo Routes 5 and 7 (at least), and US Highway 395. He wanted to ride all the way around Sicily and Sardinia.
She came back to the bikes, and stowed her camera kit.
“Ready?” she asked.
“Yes. At this rate, we should be at Stefania’s house in just another hour.” Meeting friends and colleagues along the way was one of the special features of the route that they had designed this summer.
He blew down the hill in his highest gear, reveling in the speed, the wind, and the clear, empty road below. She was more cautious, but they were both riding the flat beach road in no time. She overtook him about a kilometer along, and he settled in behind her again. That’s it, he thought.
“I figured it out,” he shouted, and sped up to come alongside her.
“What we were talking about last night at supper. When I will know it’s time to quit and settle down in one place.”
She kept looking ahead. “Well?”
“I remembered what Admiral Gerry Miller used to tell all his ships’ captains when they checked into the Sixth Fleet. ‘If you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it right.’”
“I don’t see you not enjoying the bicycle – ever.”
“You’re right, but maybe my riding will change. I may find myself staying longer and longer in one place, along the way. One day, I will realize that I have settled down. As long as I am still having fun, I will know that I am doing it right.”
“But you still don’t know when that will be.”
“Nope. No idea.” He grinned. “But it will be fun.”
(*) See the post on this blog for 8 February 2014.
Trip update: I have been off my bicycle as my left wrist healed. The follow-up x-rays at the two-week point confirmed that the crack has knitted nicely, so today I am back on the bike for limited errands around town, and doing exercises to strengthen the wrist. Next week, I should begin training again. Meanwhile, I have accommodations and plane reservations for the beginning and ending point of Europe 2015 (Rome, Italy).
Next week, another sea story, until then
Smooth roads and tailwinds,