There are few trips I’ve not wanted to see come to an end. Especially long ones.
But there was something about these nine days on the road that made this one in particular much different.
The players involved? The modus operandi? The scenery? The mutual, unusual experiences shared by the lot that tightened bonds of camaraderie?
I know this is the stuff life is made of, especially in the bmx scene, but for some reason, this trip amplified that basic concept leaving an odd afterglow of motivation and inspiration.
Here are five vignettes, based on five quotes overheard on the trip.
Its the simple things, the simple concepts that shed light on our being.
‘A mix between a wild animal and an alien…’
…is what we all are when riding bikes. Working completely against human evolution, throwing survival of the fittest to the wayside.
Each morning we’d wake and tend to our ailments.
Wrap that water on the knee. Ibuprofen for sore joints. Band aids down the shin in the shape of train tracks: we’ve lost all nerve endings here; this ritual is just a prevention against infection.
But what about mental health? Riding bikes as therapy, as habit to create some sort of consistency in a world of flux, as something we can actually have control over.
Why do we do the things we do? It falls into a much deeper idea of what it means to be human.
And whatever it is, we NEED it, which is always difficult to explain to those who don’t have it.
For our own sanity, we’ll continue to pain ourselves.
Maybe Sado-masochism is the bridge between being a wild animal and an alien.
Both combined makes us human.
‘Yinz gunna’ go up the Squirrel Hill Tubes?’
I can’t remember the last time I slept outside? Or maybe, I’ve been devoid of that experience all together, simply making up a fictitious memory based on vicarious storytelling?
My shitty yoga mat was laid down under a tree. The tree sat on a slight hill, where, all night, gravity pulled me downwards and I had to constantly re-adjust.
Little did I realize that my mat lay perpendicular on a wide root, arching my back upwards, pressing my guts towards the constellations.
Below me somewhere was ‘The Squirrel Hill Tubes,’ one of many routes to get to here, where I slept. That’s ‘yinzer’ for a specific tunnel, and when pronounced, the Pittsburghese add odd accentuation to ‘hill.’
‘Yinz gunna’ go up the Squirrel HILL tubes?
Sweating in the humidity, half naked under the beyond, uncomfortable in too many ways to count, I felt solace in the simple view overlooking the city.
Yinzers abound below, their alien dialect charming our humor: ‘Squirrel HILL tubes.’
With minimal sleep, the sun beat down on my head well before 6am, cooking me inside my sleeping bag. I was forced to wake up.
In a sweaty pool, I peeled myself off my mat, and lifted my torso off that hardened tree root.
The view was still incredible. Day as in night. And oddly enough, the bizarre position the root forced me to lay in offered reprieve from years of back pain.
‘This is the way the World Ends, not with a bang but a whimper.’
How many mill towns did we see? Three maybe.
Three was enough.
Being raised in privileged sprawl, you take what you have for granted.
I’m not the ninth grader with the bright green, ceramic weed leaf belt buckle.
I’m not the landlocked surfer with a shell necklace, hitting on business women in their 40’s, looking 16, but existing at 22.
I was embarrassed by my content in stepping back, in fear of what I am not.
And it seems they were too, in this backdrop of adversity, not wanting to be the cogs who made this great valley town what it was.
That night we talked for a couple hours in the bus. I remembered a line from the poem ‘The Hollow Men’ by TS Eliot. It reminded me of that town we visited.
Its last line: ‘This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper.’
We’re letting it go, I thought.
Complacent with mediocrity.
Content with dying.
There are nine of us in a bus. Filthy. The stench of sweat permeates the re-circulated air that swirls inside our living compartments. There are food crumbs everywhere and our wet pads dry in what little light passes through the opaque, spray painted windows.
The bus itself sounds like an angry prop plane from the beginning of the 20th century. Not one prop, but six.
‘A dragon’ a cop had called it once, before he cited Steve a ticket for pummeling the sound ordinance.
When we cut through tunnels, the reverberations of that diesel engine firing pistons wreak havoc on your eardrums. It hurts, but it feels good. Oddly.
We can only drive 55 miles an hour, making each trip twice a long.
And in those long intervals between destinations, I looked around the bus.
All nine of us were smiling in utter contentment.
What’s so normal about that?
But I believe the pebble comes first.
In having an effect on small groups of people. Even more so, on individuals. That personal connection, taking a break from the superficial small talk and diving into the universe that is someone’s biography.
There’s the macro, and then there is the reality of our microcosm, which is a much better, more content place to inhabit.
I’ve been fortunate enough to travel with a bmx company for promotional efforts. And I view it like the punk scene, when I was fortunate enough, many years ago, to tour several summers in a punk band.
We’d get to venues where only ten kids would show up. But by the end of the set, those ten kids were infected so much by an energy, a passion for what you love, that an instant connection was made. Those connections, quite a few, still exist today (15 years later, I still keep in touch with several of those friends).
Although I’m far removed from the punk scene, and now, all encompassed by the bmx scene, the same ethics apply: empathy, a passion for what we have in common, love for our bizarre subculture.
These shared emotions will make friends for life.
It starts with one person, one connection: a pebble.
That pebble connects to other pebbles, morphing into something much bigger over time.
Throwing in the chair will come to pass on its own accord.
A little effort will go a long way.