Today was challenging. It wasn't the weather, nor was it the route that was a challenge. The challenge for me came from learning how to ride as part of a team rather than as an individual. Day three of touring with my new riding partner made it clear that something would have to change.
The ride got off to a fine start. We set out at a decent hour and prepared properly for the ride. For the first two hours or so we benefited from some great tail winds. As I usually did, I would give my partner pointers, then speed off to ride at my own pace. Being the more experienced of the two, I was setting a tone of individuality. She would have her ride, I would have mine, and we would link up from time to time to converse. Our interactions were sporadic at best, premised on the desire for company rather than the need to navigate. As long as the conditions were good this approach seemed to suffice.
The flaws in our approach were revealed as we headed north into some steady cross winds. The winds bore down on us both, making the road feel smaller, especially when we were being overtaken by trucks. On a few occasions we were even passed by large vehicles hauling oversized loads. We watched in amazement as the three blades of a wind mill were shuttled past us on the backs of enormous trucks. As much as this spectacle impressed us, it also made us feel vulnerable. This was a situation which we were unfamiliar with, raising questions about how best to respond.
We continued riding, connecting and disconnecting at seemingly random intervals. The space between us would grow, sometimes leaving me perplexed about Celine's status. It was no fun to be struggling with both the wind and anxious thoughts about my partner. I pulled over to wait for her. When she arrived I knew something was wrong, it was written all over her face. Celine described some of her discomforts, particularly relating to being overtaken by trucks while riding on narrow shoulders. I saw and heard so much of me in her as she painstakingly aired her grievances. All of the ugly sentiments she described I had experienced while riding through Pennsylvania. I sympathized with the young woman. I knew how terrifying it was to feel like your safety was jeopardized. It's impossible to derive enjoyment from anything while in such a state. After conferring with her we decided it would be best to call the ride in about 14 miles before our destination in the humble town of Lacrosse.
We found a couple of beds at a truly high quality establishment I'm this Central Kansan town. The sign out front made us feel very welcome. Our minds were at ease with the knowledge that "dopers" and "miscreants" were not allowed. We also appreciated the establishment's flexibility, welcoming both turtles and dogs into their lovely rooms. The Lacrosse Motel seemed the ideal place to unwind after a challenging day of riding.
While I awaited the shower, I found myself nervously pacing back and forth. I paced partially because I was too grossed out to sit on anything in this filthy room, but also because I knew something had to change. Celine and I would need to get on the same page. My brother Ryan, a social worker, crossed my mind. One of the strategies he often suggested as a counselor was to replace negative behaviors with positive ones. I felt like Celine and I needed some positive change in our riding behaviors in order to inspire confidence.
That afternoon I had a really great talk with her. We committed to making two positive changes to our riding style that would make both of us better off. First, we decided to ride as a team rather than as individuals. She would lead, setting the speed for the group and calling out any obstructions to the route, and I would sweep, notifying her of any traffic approaching us from the rear. Second, we both needed to lighten our loads. We each took a turn emptying out all of our panniers, discussing which items were like to haves versus need to haves. We ended up identifying about six pounds of stuff to send home. In addition to lightening or load, the process of organizing our baggage was therapeutic. Once completed we arrived at the post office just in time to send the stuff back East. I kid you not that I walked into the post office with a frown and walked out with a smile. This was just the positive behavior I needed to get the ride back on track.
The rest of the day was smooth sailing. Celine and I got our heads screwed back on in this quaint Kansan town. At Paw Paw's carry-out restaurant Celine won a bag of Pringles chips by correctly answering some Harry Potter trivia question. As the shop owner gave Celine her award, she made one simple request of Celine, which was that she didn't tell the neighborhood kids the answer. No less than 30 minutes later we were in the town's park. Celine, no longer interested in the Pringles, decided to offer the chips to a group of 6 or 7 local kids. I listened in disbelief as she shared the chips, then proceeded to tell the kids the answer to the trivia question. I was in utter shock when she returned to me. "Did you really just tell the kids the answer?" I asked, "The shop owner literally asked you not to do ONE thing, then you turn around and burn her!" Celine, becoming aware of her blunder, broke out into profuse laughter. This was a good sign. It seemed that both of us had been relieved of the woes of our tumultuous ride.
Doing nothing during challenging times is consenting to continue the present course of action. Today we needed to explicitly make a decision to ever so slightly alter out trajectory. I must admit that I was pleased with how we choose to deal with the day's adversity. Perhaps today was a reminder that, no matter how daunting a task seems, there is always something within our control.