I'll apologize in advance if this post seems to ramble or go nowhere in particular. In last week's installment Gus, Mr. Lime and I made it back to Pennsylvania safely and in time for the start of fall classes. You also know Mr. Lime had proposed to me in the ever so romantic surroundings of my local farmer's market though I had neither accepted nor rejected his offer....more on that later.
Being back in school, in one location for more than one night at a time, was a strange thing after the summer. The trip had been a really significant event. I left as a college freshman who had barely ever been more than about 100 miles away from home. I returned having seen more of the USA at age 18 than a lot of people see in their entire lives and I put all the miles on the car using a driver's license that wasn't even a year old. I learned to be comfortable not knowing exactly where I was headed. I saw the beauty of my nation's landscape and experienced the warmth and generosity of her people.
I also found out how cranky people can be when living in close proximity and under less than optimal circumstances. My travelling companions found out how cranky I can be when they all made demands on me at once. Early on in the trip there was a question as to how food shopping would be handled. I said I could buy groceries and divide up the cost for folks to pay me back. That was fine until the pettiness began...You know, she ate twice as much oatmeal as I did so I shouldn't be paying as much as her. Yeah, well you ate 3 bananas to her 1 so it evens out, cough up the dough... Then the group decided to pool all their money into traveller's checks and have me sign them all. I KNEW darn well they'd all begin to hate that inside of a week. So after developing writer's cramp signing all those stupid traveller's checks less than a week later I was signing them all over again to cash them out for people who didn't like having to come to me for their own money. I rarely, if ever, say this but...I TOLD YOU SO!! Eventually we settled on folks contributing a daily amount to a food fund so I could buy groceries for the group.
Although my job was to drive the support car, cook and launder for the group and find lodgings I did spend a single day on a bicycle because I wanted to better understand what the cyclists were going through. However, by the time I decided to do this they had already covered 1000 miles. They were a wee tad more conditioned than I was by then. I did a typical 70 mile day. I went uphill and downhill. I biked in rain and in sun. The real cyclists took good care of me. When it rained they all pulled out their rain gear. I had none but I needed to keep up with them somewhat so I wound up wearing a plastic garbage bag which sort of worked. I wound up pretty wet anyway and it was during a rest stop I drank one of only 2 cups of coffee I have had in my life and only because I was so cold and wet I needed to warm up. Later on when I dried out and was pedalling up what felt like Mt. Everest and I thought my thighs were going to explode (forget feeling the burn, I was waaaaaaay past the burn) Pete came up behind me and sweetly asked how I was doing. I snarled, 'This SUCKS!!!!' He just said he was gonna drop back a bit but if I needed anything he'd be there. Thank you, Pete for not throwing a bike pump at me or directing me off the shoulder into a pile of gravel or any other nasty retort to my growling.
Pete was like that. He was the oldest in the group and I was the youngest. He became like a big brother to me and more than once I appreciated his gentle spirit and good advice to me when I became frustrated with certain individuals or the group as a whole. If you recall, he was also a gifted musician. He had brought his mandolin along on the trip and many nights he either entertained us with his playing or went off on his own to soothe his own soul. Many times I hid in some dark corner to listen to his playing so I could find my own peace. He showed me more grace than I could possibly ever deserve when it became apparent one evening that the night before I had not packed his mandolin in the car. I thought he had taken it on his bike as he sometimes did. He thought I had packed it in the car. He was crushed. I was overcome with guilt. He never once threw it up in my face.
I mentioned early on that Gus and I got on each other's nerves in a powerful way since he shared the car and my duties with me. He had a very rigid, military bearing about him and then there was me, pretty much the antithesis to that. Throw us in a car for 4000 miles and whaddya suppose happens? Early in the trip things were fine. By the time we got to South Dakota I think we not so secretly wished each other dead. Each evening when the cyclists pedalled in to meet us we'd descend on the first arrivals hoping for someone else to talk to, anyone else to talk to. However, these folks had just gotten off a bicycle after 70 or so miles. They were not looking for conversation. They were looking for food and beds.
A more relaxed week in Yellowstone helped matters because we had nowhere we had to be and Gus and I could mingle more with the others or even escape each other entirely. When he and Mr. Lime and I left the rest of the group I was afraid we'd go right back to the animosity but that break really seemed to have some lasting positive effect. When time really became a problem he and Mr. Lime alternated biking. Gus would get up at dawn to pedal 70 miles and at lunch Mr. Lime took the bike and pedalled another 70 miles so we were able to cover twice the ground in a day. The added benefit was a daily break from each other.
I'd say we buried the hatchet completely somewhere in California when I saw a huge box of cantaloupes for sale. I asked Gus if he had ever used half a cantaloupe as a bowl for ice cream. He never had so we decided he had to try this. We found a smallish melon and went looking for just a pint of ice cream since we had no way to keep a half gallon frozen and were not going to eat that much. There were no pints to be had so we found ourselves with a half gallon of Breyer's Fudge Ripple. We didn't want to waste the ice cream and it was a hot day so we decided we could manage to each eat half a melon and a quart of ice cream. We were wrong. Mr. Lime found us sprawled out on a curb by the car groaning in the discomfort of our own gluttony, surrounded by melon rinds and a carton with half melted remains. Let the reader be warned, we demonstrated how such excess could literally lead you to the gutter.
Gus and I had reconciled but Mr. Lime was still a bit of a conundrum to me. I'll remind everyone that prior to the trip we were the best of friends. Immediately prior to the trip we decided maybe we liked each other more than in just a friendly sort of way. Then we left to pedal west with the understanding among members of the group that all relationships would be completely platonic for the sake of group harmony. Then Mr. Lime stopped speaking to me. Uhhhh, hello? *knocking on the bike helmet* Can my friend come out to play? Hello? Anyone? Dear reader, do you see why last week's proposal of marriage shocked me into silence? Good, then you'll understand when I tell you it took me a month to say 'Yes.' Oh, and halfway through the month I actually said 'No.' I won't bore you with all the thoughts that swirled through my head during that month but among the considerations was that Mr. Lime had seen me at my absolute worst during the bike trip and somehow that didn't send him screaming in the direction of escape but made him decide he wanted to spend his life with me. Go figure. However, I did have to know why he barely spoke to me for 65 days. He said he couldn't stand having to remain platonic and the only way he could deal with that was to avoid me. And you men say women are inscrutable.....
Well, obviously we eventually got married. It was 20 years ago yesterday that I said yes. By the time we traded 'I dos' the other members of out peripatetic group had scattered far and wide. Kristen was in Botswana with the Peace Corps. Tricia was back in the UK training to become a midwife. Tom had gone home to Texas. Del had gone back to Iowa, presumably to collect more hilarious tales of small town life (could that boy ever get us roaring in laughter...ask me sometime about his story of slaughterhouse jobs). We lost track of Mike. Greg talked about bicycling to Alaska. Christy ambled between Pennsylvania and Michigan trying to decide what to do since she had dropped out of the nursing program right before her final semester. Pete wandered between Colorado and New England, eventually settling in Maine long enough to have an address for a while. Gus and I finished our undergrad degrees. Long before we got married Mr. Lime took a long weekend to bicycle to the Atlantic coast in New Jersey and dip his tire there so he could say his bike had truly made it coast to coast.
Twenty years ago this summer I made an amazing trip across the country with a big group of really interesting people. I learned more than I ever imagined I would. Then I accepted a proposal to make a lifelong journey with one man and you can just imagine the learning experience that has been.