Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Relationship

The evolution of this trip has been a long affair, hatched first in the primordial soup of our touring-addled brains several years ago. From the beginning, this was to be a tandem sojourn, Jodi and I and the faithful hound, Django, riding across the country, having a great big old epic adventure. But the direction of evolution cannot usually be predicted, and so it was with my trans-continental dreams.

Unlike many long distance cyclists, I am married, with a home, a job, settled in some very conventional ways. I am not a student between colleges or fresh off the stage with a newly minted degree. I'm not hanging in the abyss between jobs or careers. What the hell am I doing taking off for three to four months by myself? How does such a thing happen? Have I been served with divorce papers, or is that my desire upon my return? Fortunately, none of these apply, but the path has not been without its obstacles, pot holes, flat tires and headwinds. It seems important to me to address this more personal aspect of how a long journey comes to be.

Jodi's career as a holistic nutritional consultant has been growing like a summer squash on steroids. Besides advancing her education beyond a basic master's, she has been doing a lot of writing for Bauman College and working closely with its founder and her mentor, Ed Bauman. And she loves it. She's good at what she does and wants to develop her knowledge and connections. She simply does not want to leave while everything is developing so wonderfully. Who can blame her? But what about the tour, our journey? She said that I should go alone. Hmmm.... Well, okay, I could do that, I guess.

But simple sounding resolutions are rarely so. When I began obsessing a bit more about the trip, planning, posting questions on line, starting this blog, I could really feel Jodi getting upset as the reality of our separation began to set in. Her natural resentment at my departure, envy at my impending adventure, home duties she would have to face mostly on her own while I was out having "fun"--all these came boiling to the surface on more than one occasion. She would be in tears, I in mute anxiety, wondering, in my typical, klutzy male fashion, how to deal with this overflow of emotions.

At one point, I decided that I would not do the TransAm. I'd do something shorter, plan a couple of trips, one solo, one with Jodi. That would be great, of course. I could live with that. Compromise, right? A good thing. But a splinter was lodged in my brain, festering. I'd dumped a dream. Something in me, deep inside, needed to try this, no matter the risk of failure. I walked with Django on the steep mountainside above our home and stared out over the valley. Could I let this go? Would my life be complete? Can Jodi and I work through this? After all the planning, time invested so I could take a leave of absence from work, I just couldn't let go.

Ever since becoming a mountaineer and rock climber in my mid-teens, I've been drawn to big dreams and plans, adventures that pushed me in deep, meaningful ways. El Capitan, Half Dome, peaks in the USA and Canada, I found the best moments of my life, times of such burning intensity and joy that I cannot imagine a life without them. And many of these times were with Jodi. But I never did take that really big expedition to the Himalayas or the Andes. I never felt what it was like to push over 20,000 ft. In a way, that particular kind of dream has morphed into this continental crossing, a ride of ridiculous length and scope. As Werner Herzog, author of Annapurna, said, "There are other Annapurnas in the lives of men." I will never climb an 8,000 meter peak, but this ride is my Annapurana. I can only hope that I have the good luck, physical attributes and determination to see it through--although I would like to keep my fingers and toes, which were lost to Herzog after he achieved the summit of his desires.

So I went back to Jodi and said, "I don't think I can give this up. I need to ride across the country." She understood, but the understanding comes with pain, the knowledge of a separation longer than we've ever known--and this pain and worry is mine, too. I don't shrug off her concerns easily and delight in my own "escape." Besides some physical breakdown that would nullify my dream, my greatest worry is leaving her, the woman of my life, the only one I've got or will ever need. I imagine some moments, stopped in the middle of an Iowa cornfield, really needing her by my side, wanting her input, intelligence and good sense of humor. I suspect that such moments will provide some genuine challenges, maybe the toughest. I try to rationalize my feelings and wonder if such contortions work for Jodi: It's ONLY a few months--not the rest of our lives. We can both work through this...blah, blah, blah.

But still the emotions sit there, staring back at us, creatures often deaf to the prattle of our rational selves. As Jodi has taught me, however, we have to let the feelings run their course. We will be okay, of course. We just have to let our emotional selves get used to the idea.

1 comment:

Michael Heggen said...


Like you, I am married, career, no kids and not "in between" things. We're about the same age even. And like Jodi, my wife has a career of her own (she's the breadwinner, actually).

I have wondered many of the same wonderings about long distance trips/long separations from my wife of 16+ years. I spent eight weeks away from her on a job one summer, and it was not fun. I promised I would never be gone that long again -- at least, not for work.

I have never climbed mountains, but I have always had big dreams. One of them is a trans-America ride. I had pretty much abandoned that idea until recently, as my trike has made long-distance cycling possible for me.

Now I am beginning to think vaguely about a TransAm ride. I'm still a couple of years away from any serious decision making, I think, but the idea is there.

So, as much as you are able and comfortable, I would surely be interested in knowing how the two of you manage this.

Best wishes, as ever,