My adventure became much more than that. I wanted to make a statement about being 66 and still able to push myself to accomplish something extreme. As the miles passed and I became comfortable with the mechanics of riding I had an abundance of free time. Much of the scenery was, at most, tedious or boring, so thought came unbidden and disappeared like the last piney wood. One theme recurred, and I don’t mean to belabor the point, but the significance of Vietnam in my life does not lessen. Then, as mentioned in an earlier posting, I reached Wilmington. From there forward the whole ride developed a different meaning. Yes, it was still about making the round trip and seeing friends and the Skyline Drive and taking a chance on a route of my creation across NC and SC. Still, in some inexplicable way the ride became a metaphor of that Place.
Living in Gainesville puts numerous homeless men in my daily life simply because Randall is an excellent VA Medical facility and there are so damn many. I have no reason to ask why they are homeless. For those of my generation the most common denominator is Vietnam. “So what?” you might ask. Well, as I said previously, I am able to ride while nearly 60,000 men and women cannot.
When my equipment failed I was devastated. Get a new wheel and get back on the road was the obvious response. Yet, there was this coincidence (or irony) that I felt a needed to understand. How symbolic had the ride become to me? I spent a mostly sleepless night debating the meaning.
Did my wheel fail because of a structural flaw? What would I have done if I had been anywhere else on the map? Will I break a second wheel if the reason for breakage was that I was too heavily loaded? Was I physically capable of doing more miles?
I have no doubt about my ability. The ride has done that for me. 50? 80? 100? It’s just a matter of pacing and doing it. I would not have been happy with another failure, no matter the cause and I suspect it was my lack of experience and knowledge that caused the failure. About that word “failure” . . . nothing about 950 miles marks the ride as a failure. And then there is the metaphor. Maybe I need to reflect on the reality that the chances against victory were overwhelming. Maybe the metaphor applies more than I imagine. Maybe there are no coincidences, just lessons to be learned. How many of the nearly 60,000 would not have died if we had accepted that the could be no victory?
So, I decided to cash in, have my bike shipped back home, find a bus station and follow my bike. The East Coast was not yet ready to be conquered by me. I knew too little. I need to learn more about this touring stuff, so I can make the whole trip next time. I have enormous regrets. There are things I wanted to do; stop in Richmond and see Don, visit the Wall again, renew friendships in PA, ride the Skyline Drive, visit SJN, plot my own course and meet more interesting and special people. I do not regret facing the logistic, financial and other pragmatic realities.