We'd ridden about 18 muddy miles on Saturday, which was a lot of fun, but my legs were still feeling like fettuccini when we started out on the "Left Loop" Sunday. This would ultimately take us about six miles up a mountain, a tough trail, especially considering I was following Biggy, who wasn't satisfied with my pace. After a particularly treacherous downhill--over stones the size of his head, he pulled me over for a pow-wow: "What gear are you riding in?" he asked. "I mean, are you actually pedaling?"
I'd expected congratulations, and here he was asking stupid questions. "I'm pedaling," I said, incredulous.
"Well, try to keep up with me. Challenge yourself. You like challenges, right?" he prodded. I was speechless. "Use a higher gear to get more power," he suggested, looking smugger by the second.
I know how gears work! I WAS pedaling. What's more, I was still in one piece, with my brains tucked safely inside my skull, quite an accomplishment for someone with the coordination of a box turtle riding a bike through quicksand. I'd come close to flying over the handlebars--a couple of times. I'd used more curse words in that three-minute descent than I'd heard in a full season of Deadwood. I deserved a trophy. Furthermore, I'd been having fun.
"And maybe you should just go ahead and assume I'm doing the best I can, considering I don't have your strength or experience," I suggested back. "And maybe you should also keep in mind that my bike is the K-Mart to your Lord & Taylor." With that last comment, we were now officially fighting. I turned up the music on my Shuffle to drown out any possible and ill-advised response he might have.
Another thousand miles, and we reached the overlook.
Sometimes the world seems colored differently, and in Tsali that was the case. I stood on the edge, caked in mud, dehydrated, wishing I'd eaten more than a bagel with sugar-free jelly for breakfast, thinking the same thing I did when I first read about giant sea worms: So much beauty and mystery I've never seen, never imagined. In North Carolina even.
Then Biggy shared his Cliff bar with me.
But here's the important part, what happened on the trip back to the trailhead. I went a little bit faster, was a tad less afraid. I was having fun again. I was listening to Roseanne Cash's new cd, Black Cadillac, and on one of the songs, you can hear an old tape of her and her father when she was a baby learning to talk. Johnny says, "Roseanne. Roseanne..." and she says, "Bye-bye-bye," and he repeats, "Bye-bye-bye." Heartbreaking.
As I listened to this, heading down the mountain, it occurred to me: What if this is all there is? One life. Only this one beautiful, tragic world. Shouldn't it be enough?
Shouldn't we make sure it is?