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Day 26: Homecoming

There are various reasons why I delayed writing about this last leg of my ride. Sure, returning to “real life” meant less time to write, but it also appeared to mean more time for Netflix binges and staring at screens. Perhaps, I wanted to prolong the journey and relish in the suspense. But, really, it was a simple act of avoidance.

I realized I sort of dreaded this day. The day I had to sum it all up. Try to make it tidy. Offer up my final wisdoms from the road. Tell you something profound.

I mentally chewed on my homecoming regularly for the last three months. What comes up is neither tidy nor wise nor profound. It is none of these and all of these. It’s a mash of lumps in my throat and tears in my eyes and feels in my gut. It’s grief and joy and sadness and smiles and endings and beginnings. It’s all of this all at once while also being just a 26-day motorcycle ride over 5000 miles with little adventure at all.

Part of me feels like the action and drama along the road was merely embellishment. There was awesomeness and quirks and fun. But, the ride was generally safe and uneventful. On the other hand, part of me knows my mental shifts were siesmic and intense.

I guess this last day of 2017 is as good as any day to button this all up.

I wasn’t meeting my lunch date until noon and the cool autumn weather meant I was afforded the opportunity to relish in the luxury of a king bed until close to 9am. Coffee, bagels and cream cheese fueled me as rode away from West Hartford on the last day of my ride across America. I was headed toward Charlie’s Diner in Spencer, Massachusetts.

Exactly thirteen weeks earlier, I left Massachusetts on an airplane. Although I had no return ticket, I did have a crazy plan to return on two wheels. At that time, I did not know the circumstances of my return. For those of you following along with my journey, you know my marriage, my livelihood and whether I would stay in Massachusetts only long enough to pack up and move on were all in question. And, if you followed along, you know the cliff hanger about my marriage was on it’s way to being resolved…er reunited, as the case may be.

Somehow, in the span of 5000 miles, we found a way to heal ourselves, overcome the hurt between us and return to each other.

We parted with enough respect, love and hope between us to makes things salvageable later, but it wasn’t the 5000 miles, it was the thirteen weeks that mattered. I don’t know exactly how this happened, but I doubt it would have if we remained in the same house during those thirteen weeks. And thirteen weeks is a blink compared to the 42 years of mental plaque I needed to sort through. I can’t speak for what he did in that time, it doesn’t matter.

As I wound my way through the New England countryside, only a tiny speck of this philosophical reflection was on my mind. New England was sparkling and the air was crisp. I was taking in the moment and relishing in this last day on the open road. I meandered through Windsor, crossed the Shenipsit State Forest and skirted around Stafford before breaking northward toward the Massachusetts border.

Since the day I rode back to Massachusetts, I’ve had time to sort through some of this. On this last day of 2017, through this post, I am able to only put some of it in context and out to the world in a way I feel okay with.

Four years ago my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. The end was predictable; the journey and time to get there was not. My anger at her illness unearthed things in me I thought I had long ago shed. Twenty-four years ago, I walked away from my abusive father with little more than my wits and raw determination. The anger and self-loathing I buried beneath my hard, prickly exterior sizzled to the surface in eruptive and unpredictable ways and grief intensified it.

Thirteen weeks before I found myself closing in on the Massachusetts border, I left Massachusetts to escape my failing marriage, my failing midlife crisis, and my seemingly failing life, but mostly, I left to escape myself. Being alone with myself is a funny way to escape myself. No, it wasn’t a reprieve. It was only a way to deal with myself and nothing but myself.

So, as I pulled into Charlie’s Diner in Spencer, Massachusetts, it was an uneventful moment. The perfect riding weather, the nondescript diner, the “last day of a 26-day, 5000-mile ride” was all just another day like the last 26. Uneventful, yet profoundly different than the day I boarded a plane thirteen weeks earlier.

Happy cooking and happy New Year.

Day 24: Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel – Screaming in the Wind

There I was, coiled up like a compressed spring, crouched down over the tank trying to hide behind my windshield which was vibrating a little more wildly than I liked. I was headed directly into the wind mostly. If I were sailing, my course would be a tight close haul, heading just slightly northwest into heavy winds directly out if the north. In a sail boat, this would feel like screaming across the water.

I actually WAS screaming across the water.

No, seriously, you can hear that banshee in my helmet screaming her head off in this video.

I was 14 miles and 19 minutes into crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. I was somewhere around 75-feet above the Atlantic Ocean riding into 45 mile per hour head winds. Head winds created by air being sucked into the backside of Hurricane Maria from its north and west as she headed out to sea. I was literally screaming – out loud, vocal, trembling, fierce screams- across the water (on a bridge).

I was screaming at the frothy waves below and all around while simultaneously trying to ignore them. If I were to acknowledge them, look at them and hear them their siren song would beckon me to join them in their bone crushing and motorcycle crushing churn. In the interest of the all important video documentation for occasions like this, I did dare to look (edited so you can actually see those waves within the grey in gray on grey day).

Earlier in the morning, I contemplated heading around the Bay for a 4+ hour detour toward DC. I wanted to catch the ferry to Cape May which the detour would eliminate. I wanted to avoid DC traffic which the detour would make me face. However, I also didn’t want to get blown off a bridge and into the Atlantic.

I signed up for Twitter notifications from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel (@FollowtheGulls if you are curious). At a Level 1 winds of 40mph, they restrict campers, RVs, vehicles towing trailers and vehicles with external racks for luggage, bicycles and such. At Level 2 of 47mph, they add a few other things to that list including motorcycles. The previous afternoon they hit Level 1 and stronger winds were this morning.

When a couple at the BnB was asking if it was safe to ride a motorcycle across the bridge today, the ex-marine, tough guy stepped in to add “Yeah, I’ve ridden across the bridge in good weather and bad weather. It wasn’t this windy and I have a much bigger and more powerful bike. It sucks in bad weather.” Thanks, tough guy, that didn’t help. Had I not already been anxious, I probably would have called his comment what is was – a tough guy flexing his manliness for an audience. Perhaps he realized he unnerved me when he softened his tone and offered a “don’t worry, you’ll be fine” at me as I was loading up.

At 9:24am, one mile from the bridge toll booth, Twitter sent me an alert. “The CBBT is currently operating under Level 1 wind restrictions. Winds are in excess of 40 mph.”

I did not want to go to DC. I did not want to skip the ferry. I did not want to bail out of this amazing opportunity to cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. So, with a sigh and my stubborn determination – I sent my husband a message, “They are at Level 1, I am going anyway. Gimme 45 minutes before you panic.” And off I went. Weeee.

I can’t say I like long open crossing on bridges in the first place. I’ve caught myself leaning away from the void when traveling down the Florida Keys or over Bay Area Bridges or when on a mount pass with a shear drop. There is something about the pull of gravity and the abyss that unsettles me. I don’t really call it a phobia. Nor is it some stray morbid suicidal thought, so don’t worry. But there’s a tiny hot spot in my brain that realizes a tiny “oops”, a muscle spasm, a momentary disconnect from reality, a crazed twitch and poof, gravity and the abyss win. Is it just me? Really?

Anyway, I knew I wasn’t going to like this in good weather.

So, at 19 minutes into the crossing, I found myself coiled up like a spring, white knuckling the grips, fighting not only the wind, but also that crazed and facinating draw of gravity and the abyss off the edge of the bridge. So, drowning out the wind, I screamed. I screamed a crazy, fierce and ugly into my helmet and rode on.

The wind didn’t win. Gravity and the abyss didn’t win. This day, I won. It took me 25 minutes to cross. Yeah, I might have sounded like I nearly lost my mind 19 minutes and 14 miles into the crossing, but I didn’t.

Wow, that was a lot of drama. It really was pretty terrifying. No embellishment, I was scared. After nearly 4000 miles alone on two wheels, this was some freaky shit.

At the other end, I relished in a little parking lot celebration. As I passed cars trying to lock down loose loads and find the shuttle van that will take their bicycles and roof racks across, they watched, confused as a crazy woman rolled into the lot hooting and clapping. I am okay with the embarassment.

Amazingly, Day 24 had only just begun. I’d only covered on 25miles of the planned nearly 300mile so far. Many other things happened on Day 24, so, I think it might get two or even three posts.

How’s that for drawing out the ending?

Happy cooking and screaming at your demons.