Saturday, August 7, 2010

Day 48: Latham, NY, to Brattleboro, VT

Today's Mileage: 77
Average Speed: 15.8 mph
Max Speed: 43 mph
Moving Time: 5:02
Blog & Ride Details

I really felt incredible today. Maybe because seven years ago today, I was attending a funeral. Anything feels better than that.

Sometimes I would enter Rickey's dorm room in Leatherwood Hall at Western Carolina University, see him laying motionless on his bed, know he was pretending to be asleep. I'd walk over, flick his ear, insert the eraser of my No. 2 pencil up one of his nostrils, tickle the bottom of his feet. No response.

One time, I leaned over and whispered,  "The water softens up the dirt."

It was a line from the movie Stir of Echoes that we used to rewind over and over, giggling hysterically, sharing an affinity for arbitrary non sequitur. The corner of his lips curved and slowly melted into a smile. He reached up, laughing, and pulled me downward in a gentle, playful headlock - one of his signature moves to show affection.

His laugh. Sometimes I can't remember what it sounded like. 

When I first saw Rickey in his casket at the wake, his family allowed me a private moment. I stood over him, wishing that he was just pretending to be asleep. Silently begging him to be pretending. Demanding that this be some sort of cruel joke. 

It didn't look like him. There was something about the once familiar dips and curves of his face that seemed foreign. It was clear that he was no longer here, but I still made two last attempts out of sheer, delusional desperation. I just couldn't believe that this is how it ended.

I touched his hand. It felt like cold clay, but I still squeezed it three times. It was his private gesture - a way to spontaneously say "I love you" when he wanted to share a secret moment in public settings. He would squeeze my hand three times and I would squeeze back twice: "You, too".

I waited for him to squeeze back. The only sound in the room was my shallow, opened-mouth breaths. It felt like there was an anvil on my chest.

Ok, I thought, I get it. You win. This is stupid and you know it and if you'll just get out of this box right now, I promise I'll never again say another thing I don't mean. I'll be whatever you need. We'll work together to get your life back on track. 

I wiped away my tears, feeling defiant. This is not how this ends ... it wasn't a conscious thought in those exact words, but looking back on that moment, that's how I felt. Disorientation and nonacceptance of what was really happening. And some sort of ludicrous belief that I could make everything right again by willing him - daring him - to sit up and argue with me. I leaned over and whispered, "The water softens up the dirt."

And then I waited, bent over his casket, staring into a face that was no longer his. Silence. There was no feeble attempt to mask a smile. I closed my eyes. No arms enveloped my head in a gentle, playful headlock. No laughter.

Someone had to lead me out of the room. There was a sound coming out of me that I didn't recognize. I couldn't see through my tears.

The hill index along today's route kept me very much in the present. I began riding with The Swiss Train somewhere around mile 10 and strained to keep their pace on the mountainous countryside. On a long, steep climb, the gap between me and them began to widen, and I had to settle into my own pace. But I didn't feel defeated. Instead, I felt powerful. I continued to push the pedals up the incline.

Rounding a bend, I saw them waiting for me at the summit with huge smiles on their faces. I raised my fist and hollered.

It was a nice ride down the other side.

Vermont is a beautiful state. It definitely wins the award for the most adorable towns. Due to harsh winters, however, its roads leave much to be desired. Jim, who is from Vermont, announced at rap this evening that he will be running for governor. His platform will be paving.

"I'll pave everything!" he said, sweeping his arms wide like a politician expressing emphasis.

There was so much along today's route that was "classic New England" - that elegant, sophisticated architecture that is characteristic of the pre-war northeast. You won't find quirky construction out here ... like, say, a barn on top of a silo.


As we stood on a Vermont hillside, staring in wonder, I posed a basic question to Texas Tom: "How?"

And he bestowed on me the simplest of wisdom: "When you don't know the answer, it's FM."


"Fucking magic."

I still find laughter.

More images from Latham to Brattleboro:

Click here to view my entire photo album of Day 48 [TBA].

The Ride Leader's Official Report:
Across America North:

1 comment:

Monique D. said...

Loved the pics of course and the part about Rickey made me cry. I hadn't heard that story before... but then again, i already knew that there's so much inside you that i don't know. And i'm okay with that. Just makes time spent with you over the years all the more interesting :)