One of the reasons that I love riding so much is that it fulfills a life-long fantasy of running away. For any kid who grows up in a household where aliveness is met with violence, the only safe place for spirit to reside is within the fantasy of escape. It is only recently that I’ve come to recognize the many ways that I attempt daily to run away from things that have already happened. Whether it’s riding, over working, watching tv, drinking, or general busyness, I seem to be a master of outrunning the past.
In solitude is where my heart feels safest, where my lungs can let in a little more air and my eyes can open a little wider. In solitude I can come a little more into myself and take in my surroundings with more ease.
Connecting with human beings comes with less ease to me. Although I love spending time with friends and family, dropping into a heartfelt connection with someone brings a terror and panic that I usually try to wipe out with a sarcastic joke. Although it is something that a part of me longs for deeply, there is a discomfort that comes with approaching closeness that feels like tip-toeing toward a black hole.
Although I feel safest when I am alone, there is another side to solitude that tugs at me from time to time, like a shirt that is tucked in wrong on one side. I first noticed this tug one afternoon as I was riding through a wide open plain on what’s called The Loneliest Road in America. (Huh, I didn’t notice the connection until just now). This road expands across massive stretches of rock and open fields for hundreds of miles with few services in between.
I could see for miles on all sides of me, the enormous snaking road reaching toward the horizon. To my left, way in the distance, I caught sight of a train traveling parallel to me. Our paths appeared to intersect ahead as we approached the distant mountains. I pulled the throttle slightly, feeling the desire to outrun the train on its tracks. I flipped down my visor, gripped the handlebars, and decided to race the wind and the train to the horizon.
For hours we rode side by side, each glance marking my slow but steady gain. I passed birds in mid flight, grazing deer, and distant clouds. “I can easily outrun that train,” I thought. And by the end of the 3 hour ride, I had left it far behind me. A part of me felt victorious, the other part that felt defeated I tried to ignore.
The tug pulled at me when traveling through national parks, where I’d see families and couples enjoying the scenery and sharing triumphant, winded smiles at summits together. I met groups of people on the trails who would ask me to take photos for them, often offering to return the favor. Usually I would decline, or if they insisted I would just delete the photos of me later. After months alone on the road, a part of me curiously longed for someone to share these experiences with. But no, says my little kid, it’s safer to stay alone.
There are times when I wonder how we know when it is the right time to approach the things that terrify us, to give up the pain of holding our experiences at arm’s length for the pain of walking through them. When it’s right to run away and when it’s safe to come back home. These kind of questions patiently persist in my mind and heart as I move through life in between the safety of numbness, and the terror, yet longing for, of aliveness and connection.
Most of the time I try to ignore that tug, that tug that says maybe there’s something on that train worth looking at. The tug that says maybe it’s ok to stop running away from things that have already happened. These possibilities sit just above my consciousness as I experiment with dismounting the bike to say hello to the world once in awhile, then quickly put my helmet back on and zoom off into the distant mountains again.