We rode into neither sunrise nor sunset.
As that we began traveling only two days after the summer solstice we were rarely awake during a dark moment. Waiting for the sun to set required either extreme patience or perseverance and waking up in time to see it rise required either stupidity or a snoring tent-mate.
We began our journey in the condominium parking lot, and after having a gentleman from the second floor take our picture, we pulled ourselves onto the road. The first few strokes of the pedal, while fully loaded with gear, were positive ones. It wasn’t going to be as bad as we had imagined, we quickly realized. When I applied pressure the wheels of my bicycle rotated and everything moved forward — this was a good thing. I had secretly been afraid all the many months leading up to that moment that I would be unable to push the weight on my bike forward and would be left on the roadside to be collected with the trash on Wednesday.
After about thirty yards Ben and I both pulled over and made adjustments to our bikes. This would be the first of many adjustments. Things go wrong when you pedal so many miles and even tend to go wrong when you don’t pedal any at all. For example: Ben is forever fixing the angle of his handlebars. I have never seen him happy with them. Ever. In fact: there probably is no such position. I would imagine, however, that Ben’s dissatisfaction with his handlebars that morning came from the fact that his headset (the part of the bike that connects to the front tire and allows one to turn the wheel from side to side) pivoted about as smoothly as someone roller-skating on gravel. Later in the fall it came to his attention that the bearings inside of the headset had been inserted backwards and upside down — which, as anyone could have guessed, might have caused it to function less than optimally.
We adjusted and re-adjusted our bicycles on the side of road there in Issaquah, near the Shell station and the Blockbuster Video store, and then set off again, officially this time, down a hill — which is a great way to start any ride — and set a land speed record which would not be broken until we neared San Francisco. Even in suburbia, even in Issaquah, even in four lanes of merging traffic, the smell of the Pacific Northwest was everywhere and in everything and though the breeze carried with it the sound of downshifting trucks and diesel fumes, we could smell our future in the great outdoors.
Ban and I are numbers men. We love figures and statistics and graphs and charts and spreadsheets and all things mathematical. That was, ultimately, how our friendship started at our little Montessori school: we were paired to work our math problems together and would sit and calculate and delineate and add and multiply and, overall, have a wonderful time. During the trip, we kept a log, with each statistic carefully noted, and tracked our average speeds cross-referenced against the hills, highways, and campsites we passed. While pedaling we would run the figures, do the math, determine the number of rotations of the crank needed to bring us to our next landmark and the amount of calories and fluid required to sustain us there. We love numbers.
Not a moment after we had adjusted our bicycles on the side of the road, I hit 43.1 MPH in two lanes of traffic, headed towards the underpass of Interstate 90. Ben, certainly, traveled much faster down that first hill than I did. He always travels faster than I do. Even if we are riding inside the same vehicle and I am in the driver’s seat somehow he is still traveling faster than me. Part physical build, part mental psychosis, part gift from the Benevolent Giver of Speed, Ben is and always will be faster and I accept this as truth. So when he disappeared over the crest of this first hill, with The Bob pushing him from behind, I was not surprised and I did not try to keep up with him. He passed cars in both the left and right passing lanes while I stayed a safe distance because I didn’t want to get arrested for breaking every traffic in law in Washington three miles from #6′s condo.
There are two things about going down a hill that depress me: one, is that I know I have to go back up eventually; and two, that I have to stop going down. Just as soon as we had begun we were forced to halt, at a stoplight, and this is one of the forty-three mortal sins committed by highway designers: the creation of a beautiful 9% grade which ends abruptly at a stoplight or stop sign. We went from 43.1 MPH to 0 MPH and this hurt more than the wrong side of a carâ€™s mirror on the back of our hand. We suffered in a line of traffic inhaling diesel fumes and waiting for the light to turn and while it was painful for me no one suffers worse during inertia than Ben. Because Ben must go fast, always; and anything preventing him from doing so is evil and must be destroyed.
After an hour and twenty-five minutes of riding, at 11:50a on June 23rd, we took our first break just outside of suburbia, past an electrical power station — the air was snapping, literally, with electricity. Twenty-one miles averaging fifteen miles per hour. We ate our first snack of Sharkies, eggs, and other various food items as we sat on the side of the road with our pale chests bared toward the sunny sky of Washington, watching the cars whiz past and the pine needles wave in the trees.
While Sharkies were a guiding light on this trip, eggs were a sullen smelly uncle that sat in the corner reeking of sulfur. Ben and I ate, on average, one dozen eggs per day. After four days of ovo-overindulgence Ben developed an acute aversion to them. He begged me, at the end of the first week, to never buy eggs again. If we passed them in a supermarket aisle he would shake and shrink to half his former size — a pale shadow of the man he once was. I had to hold his hand and lead him to an aisle with Sharkies in it just to keep him from passing into an epileptic fit. And, after a few weeks, I didn’t complain when we changed our dietary habits. Ben’s digestive system is not adequately equipped to handle the firepower that eggs supply. I have never smelled anything as rancid as the flatulence Ben produce on this trip. It was unheard of. Ben’s own eyes watered; he would gasp for breath, struggling to drag my failing body out of the mushroom cloud of toxic gases, which were deemed too cruel for use in chemical warfare, and he would look up at me like a character in Aliens and ask:
“What is alive inside of me?”
But on June 23rd we knew not what would become of these, our ninth and tenth eggs of the day. They tasted terrific. Washed down with a half bag of Sharkies, some stale water, and half a twenty gram protein bar, and we were in hog heaven. This was the best trip ever — unconditionally — and we hadn’t gone more than two hours.
DAMON: It has been likewise glorious. What fun, what fun, what fun, what fun, what fun! Pictures are being taken; records are being made; women are swooning — elsewhere. There are no women here. We haven’t seen female antlers, female goats, there’s no women anymore. For either of us. For at least a day or two.
BEN: Hey don’t get me in trouble now.