Sunday, February 15, 2015

Thoughts on the End of a Ride: September 2007

Final Thoughts                                                                  (September 14, 2007)


I have been home for a month now, and have kept my weight off (twenty-five pounds lost), and gained nothing but a bit of perspective.

I originally thought I’d never want to take another long ride. Now I wonder.

[Author’s note: I took a second ride, at age 62, in 2011; my goal is to do a third ride in 2019, the year I turn 70.)

First, let me say I absolutely loved the whole experience. I saw a lot: the great scenery, the wonderful people I met at almost every stop. I saw a pair of mother-daughter anorexics and an elk skeleton in a roadside ditch, road kill you don’t see very often in a place like Ohio. I saw enough stars out west to remind me why they call it the “Milky Way.” I also went to a barbershop in Tillamook, Oregon and saw last year’s hair scattered in huge tufts all across the floor.

The barber himself looked rather the worse for wear, but the haircut was $7 and I was anxious to get cleaned up before I boarded a plane the next day and flew home. There was one solitary customer waiting: an eccentric old fellow with thick goo in his hair and red paint down his nose and across his chin. Trapped in my chair, and trapped by a habit of being polite, I listened with limited interest to his rambling discourse. He explained that his “friends,” a group of teenage girls he had visited, had “done” his hair and painted his face.
He added that he had also run afoul of the police recently when neighbors complained he was talking to their cow.

I suppose I could have mooed to show I was listening.

On this trip I smelled the oceans and the fresh cut alfalfa and the lumber trucks booming past with enough cedar logs to scatter moths across a continent. I smelled bacon and eggs in the mornings and ate like a cholesterol addict, and still I lost weight!

I saw radial tire debris everywhere and dodged it constantly but not always with success. Pieces of exploded truck and automobile tires speared my own at least five times and left me pumping up new tubes and cursing my fates. I cursed a lot less on my trip, though. I learned to relax a little and focus on elemental matters. Getting from point A to point B. When to stop and eat? How much water did I have left? How many miles to go? When should I take my next sip? 

I learned not to look up hill too far and just keep pedaling. It was a metaphor for aging, I think.

I could wax poetic praising my new tire pump. I could describe nesting eagles in Oregon and forests in Colorado dying from beetle infestation. Often I felt like God was protecting me. But I would immediately have doubts. One day I heard that a major bridge on I-35 in Minnesota collapsed; and God for some did not choose to protect the people there, who deserved protection as much as I, if not more.

I met a hippie biker who liked to get high whenever he rode. “There’s nothing better,” he explained, “than coming downhill when you’re baked.”

I worried about bad drivers, who might be “baked,” or drunk, or hate bicyclers and who might want to drill me. Sometimes, when I stopped to rest, or eat, or pee, I wondered: could I cheat fate in this simple manner?

Could I, by stopping one moment and not another, avoid my fate and let some sleepy driver pass who might have swerved and hit me? Could I alter my destiny? Perhaps, while I looked for a spot to “go” a drunk passed on, possibly to kill someone else less lucky. I read that one of the victims of the bridge collapse was a nurse. She had been born in Somalia and fled that war torn land to begin anew in America. She was riding with her two-year-old daughter when the structure collapsed suddenly around her.

What were the chances? Escaping war and dying amid the wreckage of a falling bridge on the far side of the world.

Then again, I know even at conception there are tens of thousands of sperm racing for a single egg. If the wrong one gets there faster and penetrates the egg before “our” sperm arrives then none of us are “us” and we are someone different, due for different fates, headed for different bridges and different stops along the road of life. But in every case the last exit is the same and the sign we see reads: DEATH. 1 MILE.

So I recommend we all enjoy the trip. Whether the smells we pick out are a whiff of a campground porta-potty or the perfume of a red-headed waitress, or burning rubber on pavement, or mountain flowers, take them all in.

I saw a girl of six in a purple cowboy hat in Yellowstone. It was something I had never seen and I meant to take her picture. But she and her family headed down a different walk and I missed the chance.

I hope the girl in the purple hat travels to a happy end.

I had fun on my trip and recommend a similar ride to anyone so inclined. Several people have called me a “hero” and many seem impressed. I think all of them could do what I did, too, they just don’t know they can. I hope they make the trip, or some trip like it, before they’re done.

One day, while I was gone, I called all four of my children on my cellphone. All said they were happy in life and I am pleased with how each has turned out. I like them all. Abby, 28, wants a copy of Herodotus for Christmas and I plan to oblige. Seth, 27, shares an enthusiasm for the Bengals and since I’ve returned home we have both lost our voices at the season-opener against the Ravens. Sarah, 20, is starting her junior year at Ohio State, and I rely on her to steer a mature course. Emily took her first job while I was away and got up early to train for cross-country.

Whatever fate awaits me, I have been lucky along the way. If I died right now, I would say my luck has held. The trip is the thing and I have been able to steer my own path. 

One day, I took a side road and happened to meet my future wife. I could have turned the other way in that Hyde Park bar. I could have spent too long in the bathroom and not chanced to talk to Anne. I could have stayed home entirely and graded papers instead of going out for the evening. 

Fate could have frowned and I might not have met her in ten million years. That would have been the worst fate of all.

My wife with Sarah, left, Emily, right, in 1993.

Emily Again                                                     (Thursday, September 20, 2007)

This is Emily when she was about three. She was "lucky" and didn't develop diabetes for another twelve years. Go back to the first posts and you can see she turned out to be beautiful.


Anyone who finds this blog and still wants to donate to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund may send checks to:

John J. Viall
750 Woodbine Avenue
Glendale, Ohio 45246

Make checks payable to JDRF and I’ll be sure the local JDRF office gets them.

Emily, left, party at Ohio State.

About Me

I have been teaching in the Loveland City Schools since October 17, 1975, starting as a substitute. I decided to delay retirement so I could ride across the U. S. A. on my bicycle. Sad to say, I’m a geezer: at age 58.

My time in the United States Marines (1968-1970) helped shape my belief that almost everyone can do far more than they think.

As a teacher, I tried to convince thousands of students that this was true.

I believe anyone with two legs and proper determination can do what I did.
Pedal across the United States!
Think about it: I did it at age 58, and again at age 62.


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