The simple truth is that language is an incredibly poor representation of reality. The word orange is no more an actual orange than the description of an ocean sunset is to experience the actual event. If I describe the molten hues of the sky and the low roar of the ocean, the taste of sea spray on my lips, or the smell and coolness of the breeze that caresses my cheek this only touches the barest edges of the experience. It is, however, the best that we can do with words.
I have now been living on my bicycle for one hundred days and life has been reduced to it's most basic elements. The lilting song of a bird at sunrise. Opening my eyes to dappled light through a forest canopy. The smell of fresh pine and turned earth. The simple act of deciding which foods I'd like to pack for the next two or three days. There is no time out here. There are no calendars, meetings, or deadlines. No bills to pay. Not even the slightest obligation occupies my time and I find myself, perhaps for the first time in my life, truly happy. The days and years I have spent pushing buttons and commuting and waking up too early and going to bed too late are like a nightmare from a dark past. I have awakened and liberation is sweeter than I could have dreamed.
Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.
~ Henry David Thoreau
I am moving again. Up the central valley of Northern California on my way to Mount Shasta and beyond. I slowly roll through a small farming community. The light summer breeze is soft on my skin as the radiant sun warms my back. I pedal onward. The air is heavy with the smells of earth and freshly cut hay and evoke vivid memories of my early childhood. A time in my life when, like all children, I was unencumbered by the stress and bustle of modern life. I realize now that I am living that life again. I have come full circle and a happiness beyond words wells up within me and bursts forth. I weep as I ride.
I pump the pedals over another hill near Crater Lake. The days are running together now. It's been three since I've seen another human. Or was it four? I consider what it means that I can't remember. I'm running low on water again. The rush of the mighty Rouge River beckons in the distance. I abandon the bicycle and descend to it's rocky banks to wash my face and fill my bottles. A small bird lands just out of reach to observe me. It's curious. It hops across it's rock and regards me again. It's entirely possible it's never seen a human being before. What a strange thought. I feel like I am the only person in the world. I am like the bird. No, I am the bird. Living only for the moment. Free to chase the wind and puzzle at the world around me. I smile and return to my bicycle.
It's getting dark now. How long have I been sitting here? Two hours? I have no watch. This stretch of forest has been utterly silent save the eerie low call of a Great Horned Owl across the pines and a faint breeze rustling their high tops. I take a deep breath again. The smell of several inches of pine needles below me fills my nostrils. I look at the sky. It's going to be cold tonight but I have a warm sleeping bag. I climb into my tent and lay down with a sigh. I sleep like an innocent child through the night.
When I say that bicycle touring has changed my life I wish for the full meaning of those words to be understood. The external signs are clear; I have executed the cliche of the genre by selling all my worldly possessions and quitting my lucrative but meaningless job. I live on a bicycle and wander from place to place. I have become untethered. The internal changes are less readily apparent. Bicycle touring has changed not just how I conduct myself but who I am and what I value in a fundamental way. Long days in the saddle are conducive to self-dissection and the result of being brutally honest with myself is a deep sense of peace and a fuller understanding of my place in the universe. How I see the world and the way in which I draw meaning from experience has been forever altered.
Only by letting go of everything have I gained all I ever desired.
I am due in Calgary, AB in a few more weeks to begin the second leg of this wonderful journey. My friend David and I intend to bicycle the entirety of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route all the way to the Mexico border on what is currently the longest all dirt mountain bike route in the world.
I look forward to the adventures that lie ahead with eager abandon and cannot wait to see what further changes they will manifest within me.