Sunday, August 18, 2013

The disease and the cure

Always be yourself... unless you suck.
-Joss Whedon 
A group of about 10 riders heads out of Uddevalla. There's a nice little climb out of town. Here at the latitude of Juneau, Alaska it has no right being hot and humid. Sweating going up the hill. Too many clothes on.

No one seems to know if this is the way! Maybe we're climbing a hill for no reason and y'know, repeating the errors of yesterday. Forty bonus kilometers after breakfast. Except today is much harder. If we get lost out here we could spend the rest of our lives wandering rural, unmarked Sweden. Not hard to imagine.

I put my head down and play a mental game to see how much it is possible to bear. How messy, imperfect, uncomfortable things can be and still not fall apart.

Then Martin says "No matter what happens we are more than halfway through the ride." Intellectually I accept this as true. With today and yesterday running together it's not obvious, but objectively it's true. On the route sheet Uddevalla sits at 631km.

In about an hour the funk wears off. It actually wears off! A large component being physical, helped by turning the pedals. One of the mysteries of randonneuring: the disease and the cure are the same thing.

The air has cooled off quite a bit. We're climbing and the sky feels low, full of grey clouds. Someone finds a sign pointing toward Färgelanda, where the green group spent the night. On the right track. This group is bigger than yesterday and in theory, less vulnerable to getting lost.

At the hotel this morning there was a floor pump next to the drop bags. My tires were down 20 pounds. With new life in them maybe I'll be able to keep up! Tonight both red and green groups end in Skien, Norway. So far we've been riding in small groups and it will be good to see some of the other riders.

By the time we reach the control at Ed, the gas station and mini-mart, happiness reigns. Volunteers and riders gather in the parking lot. It's a festive atmosphere. Brigitte is handing out little candy/energy bars because today the towns are few and far between. Cold and blowing so on goes the jacket.

One of our group from yesterday proposes stopping here for coffee and cake. "An overwhelming majority of those surveyed are in favor." Maybe so... I say nothing and gravitate toward the edge of the group, for a quick getaway. Martin emerges and with Niels-Kristian we head back down the hill.

It starts to rain. At first just heavy drops and mist, no big deal. Then more and more water molecules get the idea and the road is wet. Five minutes and it's truly pouring. The kind of rain that obstructs forward motion because it hurts your face. And the pounding water has mass and momentum of its own. There's resistance when you push through it.

Somehow, maybe because everything is grey so all that visual circuitry in the brain is freed up, the morning's happiness has taken root. A good time to inventory the equipment decisions that are going well... new tires with lots of tread, front and rear. Waterproof sleeve for the iPhone. Tyvek rain jacket, lightweight, yellow for safety. Minimal shower cap (a great conversation piece). Wool, head to toe.

Similarly, things left behind that are not missed. No Camelbak, waterlogged in the rain. No fenders in a deluge. No conversation or navigation debates; our words would be drowned out.

My thoughts turn to yesterday. Why did I, the one with a route sheet and smartphone, feel like a non-voting member of Parliament? Reading out information, voicing concerns yet ignored? Partly the language barrier. Everyone in Scandinavia speaks English, yes. However when lost, tired, stressed, afraid they stand at intersections gesturing and discussing loudly in their native tongues. At such moments it's easy to feel excluded, invisible.

Discussion is the first impulse of a consensus culture. In a heroic culture, it is action. Of course the roadside conferences seem anathema.

Also the role of navigator in a car has traditionally fallen to the female passenger. Unpaid work, unrecognized, disposable. Ah.

Shouts are coming from the side of the road. Secret control in a bus shelter! OK the trick is getting cards out, signed, and back into plastic bags intact. Not so easy - rewards are definitely in order. From the hatch of Brigitte's car comes a cardboard tray of mini-pastries. The ones with cream in the middle and a drizzle of white frosting. They get passed around. Totally scrumptious. There is munching and huddling; the shelter's full.

The same rider who proposed a cake and coffee break 30 minutes ago, he rolls in. Despite best efforts. I say happily "you get your cake after all!" His look is glum. "Yeah, day-old but..."

Something in me breaks. Not gradually but all at once, with violent force. There's no accompanying sound, that's the only surprise. My facial muscles go slack and I turn away to hide the reaction. This pattern is all too familiar, entitlement. My involuntary reaction to it.

Some people ride for ego, some for self-discovery. Today I'm out here practicing what's important, a set of values that work for me. Finding the one perspective in the universe that is mine. Reinforcing it so there's something to take home. It's culturally specific; can't help that. Maybe there's room for everyone, no objective reason to react. Can't help reacting. This is who I am.

I lift the sodden Waterford from where it's resting under a tree. Set my soaked carcass upright on the seat. Head down the road before hypothermia sets in.

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