When we got to Stevenson we ate at a wonderful little upscale restaurant. We were seated in the corner after a fifteen minute wait, sweaty and wet from the rain, steaming from our exertion and, as miserable as Moses at the bottom of the ocean, surrounded by yuppies who drove to Stevenson in their Volvos to escape the oppressiveness of Portland, Oregon. We ordered more food than we could afford and ate it all because we couldn’t afford not to. It was good. We were not.
We stood outside, after, in the rain. I wanted to go home. I was homesick. I couldn’t call #6 because she wasn’t available. But I did call the only person I knew who lived nearby. Her name was Jody and she was a friend of my family’s and I left her a message which I wished she had recorded and maintained for posterity and as a measuring rod for just how pathetic and desperate I had become. It probably sounded like this:
“Hi Jody, haven’t seen you in a while, hope you are doing well. Anyway: I’m riding my bike from Seattle down to San Francisco with my buddy Ben — we’re in Stevenson, WA now, actually, and I, um, well, let’s see: where to start: I hurt my ankle a bit and might need a place to rest up for a while. Not sure yet, really, depends how it all pans out. I’m having trouble walking just now though — let alone pedaling — anyhow: I was wondering if you could give us a call back? In case I needed to come to Portland to rest up. [pause] For heaven’s sake Jody you have to save me! Please! Save me! Don’t make me do it! Take me away and make it all better please! Please Jody please!”
I handed the phone back to Ben and he called his girlfriend and then I called my parents. We hadn’t really spoken of it yet but it felt as if we were admitting defeat. We were beaten. The hills had beaten us, the weather was taunting us, and my ankle was mooning us. I couldn’t walk without sharp pains running all around my Achilles but that wasn’t the worst of it: the worst of it was that I wanted to be in Issaquah. Plain and simple. That’s all there was really to my dilemma. I wanted to go back to #6 and I couldn’t figure a way out without hurting Ben.
It was scary standing outside in the rain next to a pair of bikes covered in a blue tarp as darkness crept around us in a town we had never seen or planned on seeing or wanted to see. We didn’t know where we were going to sleep, or how we would be able to continue the next morning and there was an eerie silence between us because neither of us really wanted to say what was on our minds.
Here is what we wanted to say but didn’t:
Me: “Ben, I know you have wanted to do this trip for as long as you can remember and I know you want to do it with me and I know you want to have fun and you want to laugh and ride up big hills and frolic naked in icy streams but I can’t do it with you anymore. My ankle hurts too much and my ass hurts too much and my heart hurts too much and I don’t think any of it is ever going to get any better. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for it to happen but it has. I’ve fallen in love — at the most inopportune moment, I know, but I can’t take it back now. I can’t climb out of the love pit. It’s happened. I can’t change that. Forgive me: I am leaving tonight. My ship, the Lady Issaquah, sails as soon as I board Her.”
What Ben wanted to say was: “Damon, I know you want to go back to Issaquah and have sex from morning unto night (and all the times in-between) with your ankle properly elevated and iced and packed with herbal salves and homeopathic vegetarian remedies but I’m still over thirty days away from catching my return ticket home and while I am a pretty good sport about most anything (I did sleep in the car at Iron Creek, remember?) I really don’t want to do this alone. I want my buddy there with me, even if he is a pain in the ass whining sissy-la-la-tutu-wearing-pansy who can’t deal with a slightly irritated Achilles tendon. It will be fine; it will be fun. Trust me. Now get back on your bike and I don’t want to hear the words ‘#6′, ‘Issaquah’ or ‘herbal salve’ ever again — okay?”
But instead of saying anything we were silent about these matters and so was our audiolog. On the matter of our dive into the fiery grasps of hell there exists no recorded commentary and it is just as well. No one wants to hear grown men sobbing and yelling at one another and calling each other names and bringing out the very worst of their own existence. Ben and I will never mention this part of our trip to each other and, instead, both of us pretend the other has forgotten or, at the very least, it was a slight pimple on the otherwise pristine visage of our glorious summer. The silence we share now started in those moments outside of the restaurant at Stevenson, as we walked around each other a little like strangers or gunslingers at a showdown — me with my limp and Ben with his suspicious squint.
And for us, that was how our trip through Washington ended. Standing there in the rain without a campsite or a place to sleep or a plan of any sort. After four days we had traveled from Issaquah to the Hood River; after three nights of camping (two of them with #6 beside me) we had gone from happier than happy to desolately miserable to somewhere in-between; after much debating and speculating, much agonizing and whining, we still hadn’t a clue how we would extricate ourselves from the mess we were in.
And then: just three minutes before I threw in the towel the karmic wheel of life caught up with us finally and, with a lithe paddle on the buttocks, pushed us in a better direction: a direction of serendipity and beauty; a direction of right-action and right-thought; a direction upward and outward from our pit of isolation and misery; a direction towards the rolling mountains of Oregon; a direction that promised a decided lack of eggs.