You find yourself sitting in a sun-baked, school parking lot in rural New Hampshire. Spent. Dead. Finished. Someone offers you a grilled cheese and a seltzer. You find a slice of shade up against the brick wall of the school’s gym. And you sit there and eat and drink and try to regain some level of your own humanity.
There is a cooler full of cold towels, specially designed for you to clean up with after you’ve beaten yourself within an inch of your life. They feel nice. It’s good to get that top layer of sweat and grime off. In the heat though, the moisture evaporates quickly, and then you’re sweating again.
You drink a seltzer and then another seltzer and then a root beer.
Your back hurts so bad that you try to lay down in the sandy grass, using the brick wall as a pillow. That doesn’t work. In fact, there are no comfortable positions for your body. You try to stretch, hoping that something that is seized might let go. It doesn’t.
Eventually, you give up on this phase of recovery. There is only so much you can do in a parking lot 90 minutes from home on a hot day, and you’ve done it already. Loading the bikes back into the car is a chore. You’re sweating again.
You remember that the car has air conditioning, and suddenly you feel an urgent need to get in the car and rolling toward home. You press the more button until the A/C is at something like a leaf blower setting. You slide the seat forward to take even the smallest strain off your back.
Your driving is an approximation of cruise control. Pulling finally into the driveway you don’t properly recall having driven there. All’s the better.
The shower helps but there is no real salve other than time now. You won’t sleep well, your body still sore, still churning a bit, but those hours will still move you closer to yourself again.
I signed up for this with eyes wide open. I knew all the things I needed to know. And it panned out as I expected it would, maybe even a little bit worse. There are reasons, but the reasons don’t matter.
The thing is I regret nothing. It would be cute and easy to say that the route was beautiful, that it was good to be with friends, that I like to challenge myself, that the adventure was worth it, and that’s all true. But also, the suffering has value in and of itself, the suffering and ability to accept the suffering.
They’re like burnt offerings to a way of life that tries not to say no, even when no is a reasonable answer. I can simplify the equation. On one side is staying home, doing not much, passing the time, on the other is stepping into life, accepting what it’s going to do to me, and coming out the other side having lived the day real hard. And when you reduce the fractions on either side, it’s easy to see what you were supposed to do, and to feel glad you did it.