Crater Lake To Stanley, Day 18 : Curiosity

I’ve been in Stanley for two days – one day spent almost entirely indoors recovering, and one day spent biking casually along the roads near the town, looking at all the kitschy shops and the colorful fellow tourists. A couple of times I’ve been surrounded by small groups of curious people and answered questions about my route and my hardware. Each time I’ve tried to bend the responses around enough to encourage people to try bicycle touring themselves.

I have also encountered some fellow cyclists in town. Some of them on bikes, most of them on foot attending to other business but eager to talk to someone with a shared interest. Mostly they ask about riding the recumbent bike, and I’ve tried to be as honest as possible with my answers. I don’t want to sell someone on the idea of a recumbent bike when they probably wouldn’t enjoy it. Riding a recumbent requires that you pace yourself a certain way … and that you have a very good sense of balance. So if your butt and/or back don’t hurt on an upright bike, why compromise? Besides, it’s not like I own stock in a recumbent bike company, and I get uncomfortable if my words sound too much like a sales pitch.

It’s a strange position to be in … I know I probably come across as a seasoned veteran to the people who ask questions, but I don’t feel like one. And also, I almost certainly look like a weirdo. Some crazy West-Coast hippie; probably hates cars; probably has saddlebags full of granola and flyers and an ipod full of earnest music by Pearl Jam, Coldplay, and R.E.M. Get him talking and he’ll probably tell you he’s vegan and accepting donations for the Save The Turtles foundation. (Which usually I am, actually.) So I find myself trying to act against type, to convince people that bike touring is not that hard, and that it’s not that weird, and that any red-blooded yankee can and should try it out. Bike Touring: It’s Not Just For Hippies and Europeans Anymore™. I don’t just want people to take a passing interest, I want them to feel like they can participate.

Sitting in my tent, in a corner of a free campground at the base of the Sawtooth Range just a few miles outside of Stanley, with the evening winding down around me and the birdsong giving way to crickets, I think about my motivation. What am I trying to do? When I’m by myself it’s obvious – I’m listening to audiobooks, pedaling, and looking at cool geography. I’m on an adventure. But when I encounter other people, something else is going on. I’m motivated by some other desire.

I not sure, but I think that what I’m trying to do is set an example, by traveling and talking in-depth with people as I go. I want to present a way of living – or at least of acting – that shows people in disconnected groups that they could all benefit from reaching beyond the people they know, and that they are not in danger of losing their identity if they do so. I think that if people feel confident or interested enough to participate in an activity that they thought was the territory of outsiders, then they are doing something important: They are forming a bridge, for communication and relationships to extend.

Yeah, I know, that sounds way too cerebral, and also egotistical: How dull must I think the lives of others are, if I think that cruising up to them on a loaded bike is going to impress or inspire them? Well, I’m not saying I’m on this ride for the sake of other people. I’m doing it for myself. If my overriding purpose in life was to act as a “bridge”, I would have a bigger effect by becoming a teacher and assembling a civics course for English-as-a-second-language students. But look at it this way: What else should I do when I encounter other people, during a journey that is solitary by design? Sneer at them? Tell them to get out of my way? Vandalize their homes as I ride through town, for a quick laugh? Well … I might have been a bit of a vandal fifteen years ago … but that’s just not who I am these days. Call me a hippie if you want, but now I enjoy community building. Whether my motivation actually comes across, in my words or appearance, is of secondary importance to me, because hey, it’s just a hobby.

Darkness has enclosed by little tent in the woods. I listen to an hour or so of H.P. Lovecraft radio dramatizations, then snuggle down for my last night of camping.

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