Battle of Wounded Knee

Wed. 25 May 2016. 16:13
Niลก, Serbia

8 days on the road, 580km. Took the scenic route. Searched the wild path. Forked into the unknown. Chose the mountain forest over the river highway, just to keep things interesting. Camped 7 of 8 nights, rained out the odd one, nice to have a room. No rules, no record to break, nobody to brag to, no rush, no destination โ€“ just a vague direction. Riding to ride, to be present, not to get anywhere. Stopping often to take it all in, snap a picture, ingest calories like an animal without formality; more often letting the beauty pass by; you need to draw a line somewhere, and stay in the saddle, skip the photographic memory. Leg and core muscle memory came back surprisingly quick. Attitude fell right into line, about hills and rain and traffic and bothersome thoughts. Positive thinking, or the neutral, empty, meditative, fully-present void. I did all right.

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Early into Day 7, my old friend the Wounded knee, returned. Stay calm, give it love, massage the tender tendons which burn during stationary moments, sensitive to the touch, stretched too tightly across my kneecap. You’re doing great. And together we managed 96k that day. Ow.

Day 8, maintaining a high milage to stay one step ahead of pending rain, today we’re tackling the incline of all inclines: straight up to 800m for the first 12k; and upon hitting the asphalt we learn today’s 2nd crucial fact: there’s a full-on head wind, like 50km/hr head wind. Up we go, so slowly, in my first gear, wind pushing me and my 115 pound bike back down, but my will makes sure we’re making a net positive.

All this alone time has, for once, been its own challenge. See, my mind’s currently still a muck of unresolved feelings regarding a troublesome epoch of my recent past. This undistracted vipassana leaves plenty of opportunity for me to deal with these thoughts; it’s all an exercise of moving on towards lighter and happier things, and it takes a tremendous discipline to dwell in the light.

This hill presented me a with an interesting proposition: Get to the top without stopping, and I’ll give you the power to say No (to temptation) and Yes (to discipline) regarding a certain nagging loose-end. So I basically challenged myself to a task of strength, will and endurance, in order that I may arrive at a place of greater discipline at the top, another greater ongoing and permanent challenge, the implicit agreement that accomplishing the former will give me the strength to tackle the latter.

Slowly, surely, with absolute resolution that it was a fact that I was going to the top, I pedaled into the sky. After an hour or so, enticed by a lovely lookout and picnic area over the city far below, my empty stomach growled loudly at me, and from the looks of it we might actually be there, so I checked my odometer for the first time that I dared to: 8km. The sky really opened up here, I watched my eagle brethren hovering in the updrafts, and the wind increased, blasting from the sides in addition to the relentless head wind. Up up and away, swerving and shaking resolute to my destiny.

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Finally, at 14th km, the upward tilt was over, but the wind grew only stronger. My gut and I were anxious for nourishment, but in this simultaneously hot and sunny, freezing windy highland there was no shelter, so we ate at the road’s edge, all my things flying away including my patience. Where I anticipated the usual reward of a big hill: some down-hill, there was none, just gently rolling unprotected gusty highlands… for the next 20km. I recalled an audio snippet I made a couple days back, while moving at a good clip up a considerable incline. I screamed: “It’s my life.! It’s my challenge! It’s my glory!” But I wasn’t feeling the glory any more.

Alas came a descent, and 1km-down I stopped at a petrol station cafe to enjoy an orange Fanta โ€“ not at all too sweet in Eastern Europe โ€“ and the temporary lack of wind. I wanted to regain my composure so I could enjoy the descent. Topping out at 64km/hr on the steepest grades, my greatest highs seem to come with getting low these days. I’ll spend my next 3 days happily grounded at a friend’s place and resting Wounded knee for the next battle.

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