The final day in retrospect

August 3, 2008

As the regular blog readers know well by now, the ride officially ended a week ago Monday, with a final 70-mile jaunt across the eastern shore of Maryland and a bit of southern Delaware. The final day took us to a beautiful state park in Maryland, called the Assateague, famous for its lovely beaches and wild horses. While the ride was about as pancake-flat as a ride can be, for some reason my body was having a rough go of it, a strange occurrence given that right now I am, probably, in the best shape of my life. As a result, my father rode point for much of the day, which was to me a happy occurrence and a just reward for a man who, at 70 years of age, has done something that can only be described as phenomenal. As we rode mile after mile it was a real joy for me to sit on my dad’s wheel and enjoy drafting off of him, rather than the other way around. I was very proud of him as we rode the last few miles, past the fields and the trees and the increasing signs that the seashore was close by — the sandy soil, the fresh breeze, the inevitable increase in claptrap tourism. Our final stop before the beach was at the Assateague national seashore visitor station, a brief respite ostensibly to figure out where my mother had disappeared to in the van. In reality I think it was an attempt by both of us to savor the last moments of the ride and, in some poignant manner, prevent it from finishing. It’s likely that we’ll never do something like this again, not together anyway, something that at that moment needed no articulation.

Both my father and I were happy that the end had come, as the grind of the previous 45 days had taken its inevitable toll on us and on my mother. But at the same time the last day had a sad quality to it, as all of us knew that something special was coming to an end. I remarked to my parents that the three of us hadn’t spent this much time together since I was living at home in high school, whereupon my mother said that even then we didn’t have this much time because all of us were working. It was then that I realized that I probably hadn’t spent this kind of time with my parents since I was a toddler, a thought that just about brought me to my knees.

I must say that the final mile was bittersweet, the culmination of many years of planning and six weeks of doing. The distance from the visitor station to the beach took us over a bridge spanning the distance between the mainland and barrier island. Fittingly, the bridge was outfitted with a gorgeous, separated bike/ped bridge, perhaps the nicest single piece of infrastructure we encountered in the entire country. The final procession to the beach and the water was a mirror image of the same procession in Oregon, back on June 8, on the eve of the first big day over the coastal range. As we did to the Pacific, my father and I lifted our bikes onto our shoulders and trudged through the heavy sand down to the water’s edge, past a line of gawking sunbathers who, as they did at the beach in Oregon, weren’t sure exactly what it was that we were doing. Only one gent figured it out, a middle-aged man who came over and excitedly shook our hands as he confirmed his suspicion that we were completing the journey of a lifetime.

Dad and I then proceeded to perform the ritual of the American cross-country tour, the dip of our front wheels in the Atlantic, the symbolic complement to the rear-wheel-in-the-Pacific dip we had performed many weeks before. After all three of us posed for photos, my father popped a small bottle of champagne, which he had purchased not ten miles up the road at our last liquid-replenishment stop. We toasted to each other, then to Ian, and finally to all who had come along for a part of the journey. Finally, my dad and I — still clad in full cycling outfits — bodysurfed the waves of the Atlantic. This was perhaps the single most joyful experience of the entire ride. The Atlantic’s water was cool and salty and inviting, the waves large enough to push the body around but small enough to be manageable. I could have stayed in the water for the entire day, and I know my dad felt the same.

We returned to my apartment that same night. After a few days’ rest, my parents left on Friday, a bit more than 48 hours ago as of this writing. All of us had to get back to our real lives, me to my dissertation, them to their neglected house and friends and varied pursuits. As they pulled away in the van, I knew that yet another milestone had been reached in my life, one that, to be frank, was not entirely pleasant. True, we had done something that I will never forget and that will make for many good stories down through the years.  We had seen America in a way that few have a chance to do. We had spent much good time with one another. Yet such a thing will never occur again in my lifetime, the chance to do something so unusual and intense and lengthy and to do all of it with my parents, and parts of it with other family and friends. Life, as my father used to say when discussing the temporary nature of his installation art, consists of a series of impermanent experiences. These experiences are summed into an existence. They are embodied in individuals’ memories or in a few cases documented, partially, in the written word or some kind of visual recording. But the sad truth is that nothing is permanent, much as we try to make it so.

I haven’t written in quite some time, as things were somewhat chaotic during both the last week of the trip as well as upon my return to D.C. However, my plan is to rectify this problem with a bit of writing-in-hindsight reports, with this entry as the first. The last week of riding in particular yielded some very interesting experiences — the steep, unyielding hills of eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania, the danger of the coal trucks of this region, the near-miracle that was the Great Allegheny Passage Trail, the ride over the Eastern Continental Divide (which my father insists is an oxymoron), the majesty of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water, the beautiful chaos of the C&O Canal Trail, the strange and moody Paw Paw Tunnel, my mother’s increasing apprehension about a Deliverance-style encounter, lunch at Antietam Creek, and our return to the big city.

Until then!

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