The agenda was escape and discovery, a loose plan to travel by bike, tow a trailer, and remove myself from the mundane that had shackled and contained me. Dedicate the precious time I’d gleaned to observing places, people, elements and to reflect on my part in it all….
Kind of loosely that was the plan.
Essentially I managed to do that and was able to let go of some of my original goals as time and the road played their part. The experience had a purifying effect and helped to defragment my frenetic and frantically grasping mind long enough to allow a minor transcendence. What does that mean? The occupation of basic living made it possible for me to forget myself for a brief moment. I could smell the proverbial roses and experience the world around me without my mental interference. (there were no actual roses, in fact the only noticeable scent was the odd rotting carcass by the side of the road, regardless the experience of taking time to notice made it all like roses to me)
On the road my interactions with other people were reduced to about two or three significant moments each day. This effectively reduced the number of times I had to engage with other people by a factor of 10 or maybe 20, while doubling and occasionally trebling the potential for a decent interaction in a day! Seriously!
When Thoreau said “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation” he penned an archetype prophecy that rose from the page and consumed fellas like me for breakfast. Countless days filled with unsatisfying human interactions are not how I thought I’d be living when I dropped out of school! In fact that was my reason for leaving… This leads me to recall another famous saying: “No matter where you go, There you are.” (Pig Killer – Mad Max 3 – And possibly Confucius but I liked the way Pig Killer said it) And so I was... There... Where I was at... flesh and mind fairly closely aligned for a change.
You don’t have to admit to it, but if you’re having a peculiarly disjointed, spiritually absent (bad) decade it’s possible your life has become a little bit like mine. Maybe in the process of making ‘ends meet’ or getting by, you conceded defeat of the spirit, you compromised a little too much and traded your dreams away. But to break out of that role, to defy sensibility and take a peek behind the moldy shower curtain where dreams were ignored and cloistered would require an act of madness. The price you pay when all that you are is invested in what you are not!
Passion you convinced yourself must be suppressed, years pass, but some part remains, maybe you see it. You catch a glimpse of the shadow man. The true man, the one you’ve been struggling against for so long steps forward from some obscure unnoticed place and declares: While there is breath, muscle on bone or blood in the veins I will be here and I will take what is mine! (OK it’s a bit much I know, it all depends on how much of yourself you’ve denied… In my case a bloody lot! OK I know I'm working on it!)
Back to the ride!
Traveling by bicycle alone pretty much removes most of the physical barriers between ourselves and… well everything. The elements, potential dangers, people, animals, earth and plants. A cyclist is exposed to everything that humans, who encase themselves in the metal shell of a motor vehicle, are insulated from. Being a solo cyclist also removes another layer of insulation from the human, the illusion of being part of a group. The lone tourer experiences everything directly, as the road delivers it.
Being a tourist can generally feel a bit surreal, and essentially pointless; bicycle touring helps keep things real. You begin to understand the worth of fuel, weight, sleep, shade. The capacity of our physical being becomes a known quantity.
To experience the landscape rolling by, intention must be transferred from the immaterial (thought) into something that will affect the material world. Kinetic energy must be released from the fibres of the rider’s leg in order to generate forward motion of the machine. The rider is not ‘on a journey’ the rider becomes in essence both materially and metaphysically ‘The Journey’. In response to Yoda’s famous quote (Star Wars) You are exactly ‘where you are at!’
On the road, who do we meet? The experience of an essentially lone journey is often accentuated or defined by the encounters we have along the way? The people are all out there doing their own thing so it’s not infeasible that we will cross paths with other entities* but what is it that draws two bodies together? How do complete strangers become temporary dance partners?
A metaphysical intersection of beings occurs as we perceive each other, the existence of one comes into view of the other. Are we destined to collide or is life just a string of random chance encounters with no purpose or meaning? I ask myself (You don’t have to answer this riddle for me… in fact you cannot.) There are so many people we could 'bump into' but we certainly don’t find ourselves standing face to face with them all…
On the first day I met Eric, Stan and Joe. Each at a different stage of my journey. The first two meetings took place by the side of the road as traffic thundered by. All three were men in their 70s. (I don't know why but most of the people I find myself talking to are in this age bracket.) I met Eric as I had previously discussed, by the side of the road picking up cans. We had a fairly long meeting of the minds and shifted from small talk and practical advice to deeper matters quickly, then parted knowing each other a little and recognizing each other as sharing several common values.
Stan was headed North, he saw me struggling with second gear as I left a roadside rest stop and crossed the road to wait for me to approach. Stan had the confident air of a man who was well practiced at roadside encounters; he spoke in a familiar and respectful way. We exchanged details of the road, potential rest stops and a little of our experiences, then parted loosely as friends of the road.
Joe I met when I arrived in Adelaide River. We were headed in opposite directions, he’d been there a little longer than I and had set up his tent and was resting. We greeted each other in a casual way and over the course of the following day swapped a few stories and shared info about the road ahead. We crossed paths several times and greeted each other in a filial way as we each did our own thing around town. When it was time to continue my journey we parted company gladly as the spirit moved us.
How do we meet? I think the meetings we welcome come from yearning. Like finds Like! Magnetic attraction. I have passed cyclists many times around town and they barely raise their head or see you there. They have no immediate need for companionship or camaraderie they are busy or self-satisfied. The attitude of a journeyman (or woman) has in some way been altered. In a chance encounter there is an opportunity to match pieces of the mystical puzzle we are all a part of. When we’re connected we follow the current which directs us to add ourselves to the broader image. We hum, sing or whistle our few bars of the song we know instinctively that we are a part of and approach fellow travelers with a sense of curios optimism or, dread.
The encounter is going to happen, it won’t necessarily be a friendly one, there are no guarantees. It might be an overtaking vehicle bearing down upon us or a butterfly landing on our shoulder. It could be a tourist bringing sweets, a drunk standing on the corner of the next town you stop in or as Clinton Pryor experienced; a wild donkey that wanders out of the scrub and follows you for miles for no apparent reason. When the course is set we do not have the power to choose, which encounters we will have we can only experience and find our place as two fields converge.
I have already described the welcome I received at Hayes Creek. That simple encounter energized me far more than I could have imagined. This was cause for some reflection. On one hand I could see how the human spirit (well my spirit anyway) could be elevated by the warmth, acceptance and encouragement of another human being (An oddly unfamiliar experience for me… I’ll have to look into that some day). On the other hand I could see just how emotionally vulnerable I am to the approval of other, how weak and malleable that makes me! I felt drawn to stay an extra day to experience more, and so knew I must leave early in the morning to avoid the trap my desire for acceptance had set for me.
Ironically after leaving Hayes Creek I ended up at Emerald Springs where I inadvertently walked across the owner’s garden bed without realizing he’d been watching me and was really pissed. My first experience after entering the roadhouse store was a big angry man threatening to ‘give me a belting’.
Let that be a lesson to ME!
(Writing about Pine Creek may recommence after I get this existential dribble off my chest.... or not)
(The foolishness of posting this self indulgent existential blathering is undeniable as a friend recently advised me, If you're not writing for the audience but just to satisfy your selfish interest in seeing your own words in print, then you should probably not publish. This is very good advise and has helped me to look more closely at what I write. Thankfully I am confident that this will not be read by anyone outside of my most intimate circle of one and therefor does not qualify as publishing )