The air was still. The pine tree reached out above us, blocking the pale blue sky. I awoke tense, ready to snap, and felt it in my shoulders and chest. I got out of the tent immediately, knowing that if Cody said anything, I would likely rear back. I got out and sat on the nearby picnic table, looking out on the small, empty lake.
Having just a few moments to myself, I was able to tame my anger or my frustration or whatever it was. I attributed it to fatigue from the day before, but I hadn’t been pushing too hard, and I certainly hadn’t been starving. I squelched the thoughts as Cody got up, and slowed myself so as to appear in good spirits. “What do you want to do for breakfast?” I broached, having mastered a lighthearted, even-keeled tone.
He suggested a breakfast sandwich stop he had seen the night before while riding to the campsite. I said that would be perfect, so as to deliberately avoid voicing any internal monologue of negativity. I disappoint myself sometimes. Just when I should be having an excellent time, my stupid brain sabotages my cool. But, no brain, sit in a fucking corner and sulk. I’m cool.
We ate and talked about the easy 80 miles ahead of us. I saw no need to mention how wasted I felt, and how slow I may be, I was sure that I’d keep a decent pace. I ate everything I could, including the round tortilla chips she served as a side, and a couple of danishes.
If my mood was hunger, I was going to bury it in sugar and fat.
It was a cold morning. I gave Cody my remaining long sleeve, and laughed at the feminine cut on his frame. Then we set off. Boston was our destination, and the route was straight. The scenery quickly faded from homes with green lawns, and white wash front porches to decaying, graffiti covered apartments complexes with adjacent gas stations. Cody kept pumping, as I slowly cracked.
I fell apart in a church parking lot, as many alcoholics before me had. I cried my eyes out, as we both sat on the curb. I had put so much weight on this trip, on my self, and bonking meant failure. I wanted to be a decent cyclist, and in my eyes, that meant I would have ridden so much longer and harder than we had on this trip. And, I thought my super strength would have shown up by now, but instead I was slack legged, and sobbing after a 30 mile cruise. This had been my big chance, and I had come in second.
Cody fed me more, and listened. I sloppily chewed, talking between gasps. He said I should be having a good time. “I would if I was as strong as you!” I naively retorted. But, as much as I resisted his advice, the notion of having a good time riding did seep in. I choked down the CLIF shot bloks, as well as my ego. I told him I would need to ride at my own pace. No more just chasing him to keep up. I blew a couple of discreet snot rockets, we hugged, and got back on the road.
I had a renewed spirit, clear of the tension from the morning. Relaxed, I looked at the weather worn homes we were passing, the neighborhood convenience stores, the laundromats, and narrow streets. I changed my focus from myself to the surroundings we may never see again. We had done it. We were 40 miles out when I began celebrating the distance we had accomplished. We may have been on the shoulder of a highway, exhaust blasting us, but it became a joy just to be riding.
Our arrival would go unnoticed. There was no finish line, or streamer to break, no confetti tossed.
The moment we got to Boston, it felt like a new day. My legs forgot the hours we had been pedaling, and pumped up the hills, dodging traffic, playfully cruising through town looking for a pub to celebrate. Soon, the difficulty and fatigue would also be forgotten – replaced with the joy of having completed what I had set out to do years ago.
Whiskey shot with a beer back was the end punctuation to the story we had written together as strangers. In the morning we would be boxing up our bikes, and heading our separate ways. As I felt the warmth stream down my throat, and reached for my cool beer, I realized I wasn’t sad it was over, or that we would soon be parting. I knew this was a beginning. There would be more hills to climb, more endless fries, more six packs, raccoons, groggy mornings, narrow shoulders, flat tires, and close calls. We toasted to to our friendship and as I finished my beer, everything had changed.