Breathing - This Time Tomorrow - CycleBlaze


Back in the saddle again

Dear little friends,

When I was eleven or so my friends and I took a bike ride on our Schwinns on a back road along the Kootenai River. We pushed our one-speeds up a steep hill, explored an abandoned school house full of broken glass and packrat droppings, and stopped to roll down somebody’s alfalfa meadow. At the bottom after the dizziness subsided we looked at the clouds and the mountains and a profound thought occurred to me, “You know what?”


“All this time we’ve been breathing and we never even notice.”

“Whoa, that’s right, that’s so weird.”

“Yeah, wow...”

“Snort. So what?”

The last little zinger was from the friend who supposedly was my best friend in this group, but when you are eleven, people in friendships are starting to jockey for domination and so shutting down profundity is not an unusual response. The fact that at least two of the other people had been similarly wonderstruck was enough for me.

The website for the Center for Asbestos Related Diseases (CARD) Clinic in Libby, Montana has a built-in cursor of an animated pair of lungs. You move your mouse across the page onto a link and the lungs replace the arrow and hover inhaling and exhaling. They are tiny red lungs, breathing in, breathing out, hyperlinking but not hyperventilating, just puffing away. They creep me out a little, to be honest.

The fibers industriously building scar tissue in my pleural lining came from a location just across the river from where I had this memorable insight about breathing but that was a worry for the future, not then. Our immediate worry was the farmer who appeared with a shotgun and chased us off of his alfalfa, sending us scurrying over the barbed wire fence and down the road screaming with fear and then, relieved laughter. I felt saved by my friends, saved by the fat squishy tires of my green 1969 Hollywood, saved by the downhill back toward town. Legs pumping, hearts pumping, lungs pumping over the memory hyperlink that would put me back into the here and now.

At my last visit to the CARD clinic I was still svelte and buff from our Both Sides of Paradise tour of Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. The clinician took a lot of measurements of my breathing capacity and strength and explained some very interesting facets of cardiovascular fitness which boiled down to, “Keep doing what you’re doing.” Sadly the svelte and buff thing has not been successfully carried over into my sedentary daily life back at home in Portland. Damn you, Killer Dave bread and Trader Joe chocolate chips.

At the CARD clinic in Libby, Montana are plastic take-apart models of lung anatomy.
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I have so many reasons for wanting to take another bike trip, I’m crazy about travel, I’m crazy about my little folding bike, I’m crazy about my travel partner and writing and photographing and filming with him about what we see and feel as we go. But I also am crazy about how I feel physically as I get stronger and fitter after riding hours a day for months. Strengthening the short muscles between my ribs with frequent strenuous exercise makes it easier for me to breathe, which means I have a means to stave off the slow tightening that has been coming since I first played in the pile of free vermiculite my dad got for our garden.

Bruce takes approximately 50 photos to my one photo. He's just plain better at it. Traveling with a photographer really makes you stop and look more closely, plus gives me time to drink more water and sneak a few peanuts.
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I will be pushing myself and my bike up a lot of hills pretty soon and it’s gonna be horrible at first and I’ll wish I had never gotten myself into this mess. But, ah, the downhill, where we get to stop our quarrel with gravity, and the angry farmer waving his weapon around and the stupid insecure friend waving hers. Around each curve in the road ahead is gratitude for automatic breath, the grace and gift my primitive workaday brain does for me in order to free my attention up for other random joys.

This trip starts out in a country that is new to us. Vietnam has been on the bucket list for a long time. Our excuses for not going before this have been lame so I won’t get into them. Our expensive (will they arrive in the mail today? Worried.) visas allow us a year of multiple entries into Vietnam so no need to scamper toward a border after 30 days, we can meander south from Hanoi, go in and out of Laos if we want, or hug the southern coast into Cambodia and onwards. I love a trip that has beginning and ending dates and places but none in between.

This journal is named after a song from the Kinks that was written in 1970 at the height of the American war in Vietnam. Songwriter Ray Davies said about this song, “I felt that I'd lost contact with my family. Because I'd been in a pop music bubble for five years, and I didn't know the people around me anymore. 'This Time Tomorrow' was about transience, and an ephemeral world. Clouds, and where do we play tomorrow, and what am I doing as a person tomorrow? It's a floating song, and I was floating into a different era. Going with the flow for a while, until I work out where I want to be.”

Except for the pop music bubble part, that pretty much described my eleven-year-old self in 1970. And truth be told, much of it is still true today. Traveling by bicycle means that for the most part, you literally do not HAVE to know where you will be this time tomorrow. Therein lies the sweet addiction of pure freedom and curiosity about what crazy/beautiful/funny/annoying/terrifying/dangerous/uplifting thing is next. Every clean guesthouse room is a victory over the odds, every steamy bowl of noodles a victory over hunger and possible food poisoning. Success in the face of unknown risks beckons from the ephemeral world we ride through.

We like little guesthouses like this. This one is on the banks of the Mekong in Thailand, and had a little platform deck out over the river to hang out on.
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So, our itinerary is as airy as our heads. We land in Hanoi. We have a hotel room for two nights to sleep off the jet lag. We will eat, negotiate the traffic, learn a few words in a new language, and go look around. We hear there will be karst. More on that later.

Bruce wandering sandy paths in Bagan, Myanmar.
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