WHY? OH WHY?
ARE WE DOING THIS INSANE
Oh, if I had the wings of an angel,
Over these prison walls I would fly…
The “Prisoners’ Song”
Guy and Robert Massey 1924
Goodness, I wish these songs and poems would not rattle around in my head in ceaseless fashion the way they do; never ending songs that demand repetition and pop up in endless parades like thundering buffaloes circling a mountain. Today the poem was another from James Russell Lowell. What part of my life it came from I do not know. Perhaps I am a bit schizoid and reminisences emerge from another personality. The words and cadence helped the growing numbness of the eternal circular pumping, pumping, pumping of my monotonous and separated legs but after one hundred and twenty repetitions the possibility of switching channels in my head became hopeless. The endless words continued…and continued:
Once to every man and nation,
Comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with false-hood,
For the good or evil side;
Some great cause, some great decision,
Offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever,
‘Twixt that darkness and that light.
And then came the zipper, Why? oh Why? are we doing this insane bicycle trip? Most old people like us had already retired some years before and were perfecting a golf swing or bending a fishing rod. My left knee clicked in soldierly unison with the bike but now there was a new click…the right knee…and it hurt.
We had evaded the Minnie Minor with the stoved in roof and perhaps it would be days before she even noticed the ten centimetre (five inch) dent on the roof of her car. Satisfyingly, I thought her husband (poor man) would have discovered the damage and given her hell. Served her right! But the gods of karma would avenge.
As the day started with conflict the problems of a very long bike trip began to emerge. We were approaching the second turnover on our spedometers. Two thousand kilometres down and only two thousand more to go. Oh gawd! Our legs were strong. Our lungs had become efficient and sometimes we even enjoyed hurting. Long bike trips do make one a bit of a sado-masochist. However, not only were our old bodies beginning to feel a bit of advancing decrepitude, our bikes began to show weariness as well. Like the zombies we had become, there was now few gay shouts to each other like, “Look at that flight of cockatoos…are they not beautiful?” Or, “What say we take a rest and go body surfing?” It was now that internal mechanisms grimaced and demanded, “Shut up and peddle!” And my thumbs hurt from gear shifting. I was reminded of a long canoe trip on Lake Vermillion in Minnesota which, after five days, became the longest lake in the world…and it snowed! From my vast store of Useless Information I remembered that Vermillion was about 50 thousand acres and had a thousand or more miles of shore line. How comforting. At least when canoeing with Joan on power up front I could squib a bit and let her do more paddling while I sneaked a rest. On a bike you are on your own and the wind is always in your face. The only squibbing you can perform on a bike is going down a fair sized hill but then each hill, like high school physics, has its opposite and equal side.
Always more clever and showing more caution when needed, Joan would pause for a moment at the top of a long hill. She gauged the cut of the decent, examined the map, usually checked her tires and brakes and moved on. Me, being the sex with testicles which demand action more than thought, I invariably would charge down the slope knowing that nothing bad would happen to me and I would experience the euphoria of eating bugs, sand flies and mosquitoes. By now my teeth had developed a slight green patina from the new diet.
Some place in everyone’s biking experiences, if you go far enough, you learn that bicycle brakes do not work if: one, you go too fast, two, your brakes are wet, three if your brakes wear crookedly or four, your brakes get too hot. Number one and number four are close personal friends of each other and will give only disaster. I should have remembered a trip back in Tasmania when I shot down the Huon Highway going too fast to brake, too fast to slow up and too fast to not get killed. Fortunately, on that trip, the hill ran out just before I was catapulted down an embankment and the uphill finally stopped me. Never again, I wisely told myself. Lesson learned.
Joan’s words of warning failed to beat the wind now rushing through my helmet. If I had heard her the words would have been, “Buck, there is a very long and sharp turn about a kilometre down…be careful…” But, of course, the testicles of daring-do won the moment. As I sped past her I shouted, “See you at the stop lights of the town…at the bottom of the mountain!”
I was now abandoned by all of the gods. I had shaken my hand at the universe and not unlike Adam when God asked where he was when he was hiding in the garden, knowingly I shouted, “It is not my fault, it is the bicycle Joan bought me.” I was a perfect victim of boredom and testicles.
Fifty came quickly…then sixty. The brakes would not hold. I had two options falling now or falling later. Being a coward I chose ‘later’. I remember saying to myself, “Don’t look at the speedo!” The bike began to shake and the sharp turn approached which I somehow managed to navigate. There were at least two kilometres of the mountain left to shoot. I remembered shooting the white waters of the Cloquet River in flood on on trip with Joan. She yelled in terror and my testicles shouted in glee!
I did not fall. I did not die. Show off that I was, not one person saw my heroic descent. There was only the reward that I had not died…which is pretty significant I guess. Then IT HAPPENED! As I waited for the lights to change, there in the middle of the village, the goose neck on my bike snapped and I fell forward, hitting my face on the curbside, breaking my nose.
From my long-gone mother Mabel came the oft-repeated euphemism, “God takes care of drunks and fools.”
Joan arrived after I had wiped up the blood, pulled myself and my two piece bike over to a park bench. “Buck! she screeched. I was sure you were dead. You fool. I love you…you…you fool!” I could only respond with a guilt-ridden question,
WHY? OH WHY?
ARE WE DOING THIS INSANE