Team Hawthorne - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

August 18, 2014

Team Hawthorne

When you go on grand adventures like riding across continents on a bicycle, you come to accept the fact that just about everyone you meet won't understand how or why you'd ever want to do such a thing. Isn't it dangerous? What if something breaks? Doesn't it get really hot in the summer? Don't you have to sleep outside? What happens if it rains? What do you mean you don't take a shower every day? Don't you have to carry a gun to protect yourself? And what if you have to poop? Most people would rob a bank or sell a child or give up beer before throwing themselves into moderate daily discomfort by choice, or welcoming the chance that things might get weird sometimes. It's not quite a vow of celibacy, but the point is that when you travel like this, you come to accept and then embrace the idea that you're going to do and see and hear and feel all kinds of wonderful things — and that you're going to experience almost all of them by yourself.

Yet even though it's hard to find one person — someone, anyone, even one of those off-putting guys with bad hygiene and crazy eyes that both talks and farts too much — who might think it's a good idea to come with you, you still hold out hope that a fit, attractive, interesting, tough, capable riding partner will by some force of magic downshift their way into your life. You imagine some implausible scenario where you will be swept off your cleated cycling shoes and pedal into the sunset until it gets too dark, and then together you will fall asleep in a grove of pine trees in a remote forest, or in a park along a river, or maybe in a small-town motel room that isn't too expensive and comes with a bed not covered in a fine layer of STDs.

For much of the winter I wondered about that kind of outcome for myself. But the more I thought about it, the more I became certain I was looking for someone that didn't exist. It's one thing to find an adventurous person when you're 20; it's something much different to find them when you've reached the age where most of your peers are focused on mortgages and babies and debating the merits of leasing an SUV versus buying one. It seemed like the only way to avoid traveling alone was to take my dog Walter with me.

Potential adventuring companion.
Heart 0 Comment 0

And then I moved to Portland.

I'd been in town less than 48 hours when Kristen asked me out on a date. That never happens to me. As if that wasn't unlikely enough, it happened on a Monday, in the morning, in the middle of a rare Portland snowstorm that kept most people home from work and had shut down the city for the better part of a week. If any of a hundred factors had been different, we never would have met. And then we never would have spent that same Monday afternoon and evening together. We never would have eaten unusual but delicious raw vegan food at a table placed too close to the eavesdropping neighbors on either side of us. We never would have ridden around downtown on a street car, making the kind of eager but awkward conversation that happens when you really like someone but know almost nothing about them. We never would have crunched along salted sidewalks beneath trees wrapped in blankets of white in a city turned quiet by the storm. We never would have taken Walter for a walk. We never would have attempted to go ice skating, failed to go ice skating, or spent hours talking about things like hiking, primitive camping, quitting jobs at regular intervals, and the theory of manufactured consent while watching a bunch of little kids go ice skating.

That first date lasted six and a half hours. The third went for almost eight. Within just a couple of weeks we were spending more of our free time with each other instead of alone. That led to weekday evenings filled with walks, hikes, dog park visits, short bike rides, rock shows, some successful cooking experiments, a lot of failed cooking experiments, and stops at so many food carts that we soon lost count. The weekends also became longer as we let go of time and the sprawl of the city while camping and exploring in state forests and national forests and out on the coast. Yes to everything became kind of a mantra, because it turns out to be one of the best ways to ensure an interesting life full of novel experiences. It was that willingness to try that led us to clean out a chicken coop together, camp in the middle of one of America's largest cities together, go on a city-wide scavenger hunt together, eat deep-fried peanut butter and jelly sandwiches together, and dream together about the kind of unconventional life choices that slowly began to seem more possible. All of this was helped by the fact that somehow, in a place that's home to 583,000 people and covers 145 square miles, we both ended up living in the Hawthorne neighborhood, just six blocks away from each other.

Heart 1 Comment 0

If you find all of this too precious and feel the need to puke, now would be a great time to go do that, because there's more.

In Kristen I found a person who is at the same time intelligent, curious about the world, well spoken and well read, kindhearted, and empathetic. She is tougher than me, values experience and adventure far above money and possessions, and cares more about the well-being of the environment and animals than any person I've yet to meet. (I've made her promise not to blow up any dams while we're on this trip.) She once spent two months volunteering at an elephant sanctuary in Thailand, which she followed by working on an organic farm east of Portland, where she slept in a tent every night for four months. She's a professional librarian who is such an effective and supportive manager that more than one person cried when they found out she was leaving her job. She is beautiful, looks good in bike shorts and yoga pants, and has increased the attractiveness of our traveling party by a factor of seven.

Kristen is the sort of person who invites herself on a world bicycle tour. She's also the sort of person who invites herself on a world bicycle tour without having ridden anything but a cruiser bicycle, without having ridden that bicycle any farther than about 15 miles in a single day, and without having known you for even three months. But if you think about it, that's just the kind of try-it-and-see attitude you want for anyone you'd end up taking along on a world bicycle tour. Since we decided to pursue this dream, she has in fact gone bicycle touring — although just once, for only three days and two nights, and for all of about 130 miles. But unless you skipped over everything I just wrote, it will come as no great shock to learn that she is heading out on this trip — this big, long, difficult, uncertain, sometimes dangerous trip — with even more confidence and anticipation and excitement than me.

Someone recently talked of her path through life like that of a comet; I can think of no greater comparison.

Heart 0 Comment 0

On top of all of this, Kristen loves me more profoundly than anyone ever has — so much that sometimes it's hard to believe that my life has turned in this direction.

But it has.

This is real.

She exists.

And to think, we've only just started.

Rate this entry's writing Heart 2
Comment on this entry Comment 0