Friday, November 22, 2013 (didn’t finish till April 20, 2014—life happens!)
How do I even describe this pivotal week? Do I need to write two versions--one for public consumption and one much more private? Well, let’s just get started.
Oh God. How do I even start? I guess the Romance started in California, after leaving family and friends behind in the central coast area. I was now alone. And realizing that I had no one with whom I could talk at night. During the day, I cycled for hours, taking breaks to get a drink or use the bathroom or just walk out the tension in the thighs and glutes. During these breaks, I chatted for mere moments with people I met. Often, these conversations were started by people who were curious after seeing Henry David. I mean, he is not the typical bicycle. He’s not even a bicycle, for that matter, but a recumbent tricycle. There are hundreds of cyclists along the coast, seen every day, and all with their unique stories. By HD is a conversation starter. Still, I considered it important that, after answering their questions about the trike and the trek, I would ask them questions as well.
These were not relationships, but chance meetings. Some of them quite wonderful, to be truthful, but generally quick and gone. So, one night, while sitting alone in my tent with a good internet connection, I joined PlentyOfFish, an online dating service through which you could make friends, acquaintances, and even date—if that’s what you wanted. I figured that “dating” was really out of the question, considering I was on the road on a slow trek. But I could sure spend time sharing emails and meeting people. Someone had advised me to try out PlentyOfFish—POF for short. I had to answer a lot of questions and take a relationship personality test. OK, now we’re getting somewhere, I thought. I also could put in zip codes of areas through which I would be traveling and the search engine would include those areas. Fantastic—now I could possibly meet people on the way. This would help me learn about the areas I was traveling.
And I did meet a few people in Oregon and Washington that way. It was fun to talk to locals on the internet and then go to a locally recommended coffee shop or campground or park area. It was basically choosing some of the people I would meet and listening to their stories of the local areas.
The computer program would also recall my home locale and send “matches” from my area. I wrote to a few people living in New Mexico and Texas and got correspondence going, but, while they were very nice, I did not meet any from my home area that really tripped my trigger.
Until I saw Peter’s profile. Here was an attractive man, just the right age, within a 3 hour drive from my home. He was educated and loved his job teaching at the university. He was passionate about composing music; described himself as an honest person; and wrote that he would be willing to answer any question. The way he wrote his simple profile paragraph led me to believe that he was exactly what the doctor ordered. So, I wrote him a quick note saying I liked his profile.
And thus it started. He responded and we began email correspondence. Every single thing he wrote was perfect to me. His profile was very accurate. He really was the “real deal.” He was enthusiastic and boyish and yet wise and intelligent. We clicked on every level—religion, politics, world views, humor, and communication. It was hard to believe that within a few emails he asked for my phone number to talk to me. I generally avoid doing this until several weeks of correspondence has taken place. But I gave it to him immediately, surprising myself. Of course, I told him we would have to set up a time as I avoid talking on the cell phone on this trip unless I have a good cell signal and an electrical supply.
Events took a life of their own. All through Oregon, it rained. Hard. When I arrived in Tillamook, wet and tired, I checked into the Western Motel and unpacked my gear in the room to dry out. It was late by the time I was unpacked and ready to eat. There was a Chinese restaurant next door that responded to my phone call that, yes, they did have vegetarian fare, but they would be closing up within the next 15-20 minutes. So, I ran next door, placed an order, and had my food within 5 minutes. I took dinner back to the motel and ate in the room. It left me feeling a little queasy, but I chalked it up to fatigue. Still, the next morning, I was still a bit shaky, but finished off the leftovers for breakfast and headed out on a very rainy morning. It rained hard—all day. I had plans to make it to Astoria, but, by the time I got to Seaside, I was exhausted. I stopped at a Safeway that had a Starbucks inside and grabbed a cuppa joe and looked up local lodging on my cell. It was Memorial Day weekend and I expected the rates to be astronomical. In fact, I had looked up rooms earlier in the day, which was the reason I had been pushing so hard to get to Astoria. Seaside would perhaps be a bit pricey.
But I was in luck. Prices had dropped during the day, dramatically. I found a room at the Shilo Inn, a very nice hotel resort right next to the beach. $55 per night. Hot dang! I clicked “reserve” and was on my way to the events that have changed my life forever.
I cycled in the rain to the Shilo and walked into the beautiful lobby of this skyscraping hotel, dripping water all over the polished marble floors. There were two attractive young ladies at the desk; one was training the newer employee. The lady in charge took a look at my bedraggled appearance and, rather than turning up her nose, gave me a 500 watt smile. I checked in, after she reassured me that the pricetag listed on the website for the next two nights was actually correct. I explained that my trike was outside and asked if there was a place I could park Henry David. She went to the door, saw my loaded trike, and, after asking numerous questions about this journey, she told me to bring him in and park him in the conference room. Now, this conference room was smack dab in front of the door, right in the lobby, with floor to ceiling glass walls! I pulled him in and parked my sweet boy, then the lovely manager gave me an incredible room with a kitchenette, king bed, room to sprawl, and a seaside view on the fourth floor. She topped it all off by explaining they had a sauna, jacuzzi, pool, fitness center, and bar. She gave me a certificate for a free glass of wine and sent me on my way to my blessed room, in which I would stay for two nights. I needed a day to recover from this “thing” that had given me a fever, the shakes, and an upset tummy. I assumed it was the not-so-fresh food I had eaten the night before as well as this morning. I hadn’t really eaten all day after the spoiled leftovers. Tummy was still a bit roiling and my body was hot and cold simultaneously, and I was shaking.
While I checked into my room, I received a text from Peter, asking if he could call me the next day. Wow. What a coincidence. I was staying an extra day in a wonderful hotel and I would certainly be available for a call. So I responded “Yes!”
I took a welcome hot shower, went downstairs and sat in the sauna, then the jacuzzi, and then went to the bar for a glass of red wine. I sat next to the fireplace, warmth permeating my worn body, while the rain fell outside. I was in heaven.
The next morning, I awakened to gray skies and intermittent rain. I was nervous—I would “meet” Peter on the phone that night. I walked next door to the downtown coffee shop—owned by one of the people I had met online while searching for “locals.” I wrote for a few hours, drank their wonderful coffee, and took a long walk through Seaside, and ended up at a bike shop where I purchased wet weather chain oil. Henry David needed a drink too, after all.
Then, I prepared for my first telephone conversation with Peter. One would think I was getting ready for a date. I dressed up as well as I could with my best cycling gear, brushed out my hair, and even applied makeup! My imagination wasn’t dead, after all. Even though we wouldn’t actually see each other, I wanted to feel confident and pretty. As pretty as one can on the road, anyway. Maybe I wouldn’t stutter all over the place and make a fool out of myself. I practiced “hello” to the mirror but all practice technique went out the window when the phone rang in the late afternoon.
And thus it began.
A pleasant tenor voice greeted me enthusiastically on the line. He was so sincere and genuine that he put me at ease while my energy level zoomed out of bounds. We talked and talked and found we looked at life so similarly it was as if we had written the scripts ourselves. It was a fantastic beginning.
Political views: check
World views: check
Spiritual views: check
Sense of humor: check
Where he grew up (really? yes really!): mine in reverse. His early life in coastal California, teens and young adulthood were spent in Illinois. I was born in Illinois and moved to California at age 6. We share both a midwestern and a southern California hybrid mix attitude.
So, after that first conversation, he emailed or texted almost every day. As we became more and more interested in each other as well as comfortable to be ourselves, he began to suggest he would come to meet me when I reached the midwest. He has family there and would combine a trip to visit his sister and her family and then would drive out to meet me on the road.
I continued on my trip north along the coast and then turned west in Washington to cross the Cascades. Halfway up the range, I stayed in North Bend and spent the night with Robin Sims—the experience with Robin is in the blog Eastward Bound from June.
Peter asked if I would send him a photo of myself.
That was proving problematic. Friends and family would ask for a photo of myself but all my photos were taken with me behind the camera lens, not in front of it. And “Selfies” from my iPhone showed all my wrinkles!!! Yeck! So I needed someone to take a photo of me from at least 6 feet away—which is longer than my arm span! While sitting outside on Robin’s deck with a delectable vegetarian meal in front of me (thank you, Robin!), I asked her to shoot a photo. Which she did.
I sent it immediately in a text message to Peter.
He has jokingly declared that, as soon as he saw the photo, he decided to come in July and meet me at Rapid City in one month, rather than waiting another month or so and combining a sister visit.
I guess he liked the photo...
So, we continued to text and email and chat when possible. This became more difficult while traveling the rural country in Montana, as the cell phone service was patchy at best. As I crossed Montana and South Dakota became closer, my excitement and anxiety ratcheted upward.
When I finally cycled into South Dakota and made it to Rapid City, I found a KOA where I could land for a few days ahead of Peter. Then I could do laundry and maybe girlie things to my face which was sun damaged and aging—to say the least. The Rapid City KOA was wonderful, perched on a short, very steep hill, with the Black Hills in view. Beautiful country. I was entertained in the evening by the singing cowboy poet at the KOA, and did laundry and face masks during the day.
Peter secured a room at The Grandstay Residential Suite. He was scheduled to arrive in the evening of July 2nd, but I could check in early. And I did. After sleeping on the ground and generally being dirty most of each day, it was heavenly to walk around the large suite, complete with a kitchen and living room, as well as the usual bedroom and gloriously large bathroom.
I started to hyperventilate. Thank god the living room couch was a sleeper couch.
So I cleaned up and even put on makeup. I had cycled in the dark the previous night to find a shopping center so I could buy a modest dress. I had been wearing skorts, leggings, tank tops, and lightweight sports shirts for a few months now. If we went out to dinner, I reasoned, what would I wear? I simply MUST make an impression when we meet, don’t I? So I purchased a diagonally striped A-line, sleeveless dress with a semi-flared skirt. And 2 dollar flip-flops. All I had were the cheap, purple running shoes that I used for cycling—bought for their plentiful, ugly rubber on the bottom, which I used as a brake pad going down those crazy, steep mountains. Well, I also had a pair of running Five Finger Vibrams, which separate your toes into nice little sleeves. I usually wore those at night, after showering at the campsite or in a motel. So, neither type of shoe was proper accompaniment for a dress.
It is very complicated being a female. The male touring cyclists don’t give a darn about their fashion. They wear the same shirt and shorts for 3 days and then, if they don’t have a laundromat handy on day 4, they simply turn their clothes inside out and wear them another 2-3 days. Gross!!
I am definitely not a guy and prize cleanliness and at least a semblance of fashion. So, inexpensive striped dress and flip-flops. Check!
I waited with nerves on high pitch for the rest of the day. He arrived around 6 pm, pulling into the far side of the lot. I could see him from the 2nd floor room and I peeked through window between the gap between the curtain and the wall so I could watch him surreptitiously.
Hmmmm. Tall. Light colored short hair. Purposeful walk with a very slight bend like Steve Jobs. But a better arm swing than the Apple genius. He grabbed a suitcase out of the trunk of the car and headed for the lobby.
Yikes! Oh God, help me!!
What if I don’t like him?
Hmmmm—I liked his personality, oh yes, quite a bit. But the pheromones. Those little smelly rascals that signal attraction or its opposite or, at least, indifference. I wouldn’t know till I was up close.
I would feel pretty bad for him if the pheromones were not right—he would have traveled all this way to meet someone who decided, “Uh, no, not quite right. Sorry!”
And I would feel trapped. I hate that feeling.
So. Imagine the stress we were both feeling during those last hours leading up to our meeting.
He knocked on the door. I swung it open. We stood there staring at each other with huge grins on our faces for what seemed like an eternity but was probably only 10 nanoseconds.
He had a huge smile, perfect white teeth in a triangular face with a strong jaw, and deep blue eyes.
He let go of his suitcase handle and we hugged.
The next part may seem a bit weird for most of my readers, but anyone who knows a bit about biology will think this should become part of any dating ritual.
I smelled him. I smelled his neck, his face, his shoulder, his chest (it was at my nose level—come on!!), even his hand.
Oh wow. No scent.
How was this possible? A man without a scent? He was like air! Or water!
Fresh air. Now that was something I loved.
The pheromones were there. And they were good.
He came in and set down his bag while we exchanged the typical, banal pleasantries regarding the drive, the day, etc. Then we walked down to his car to bring up his stuff. This took several trips as he had brought half of his kitchen. He planned to make me his signature black bean soup with mango relish the next day, so he brought groceries, kitchen pots and pans and utensils. He brought cheeses and crackers and delicacies. After spending most days devouring Subway salads and trail mix, I knew I was in for a gastronomical feast.
Not to mention other kinds of feasts...
We put away the supplies and went to dinner at Ruby Tuesdays. Still in my dress, feeling shy one moment and courageous the next.
Yak, yak, yak. We talked in person, face to face, enjoying the facial expressions we had missed with phone conversations. The spell was woven.
Sitting on the couch at the motel room, we talked some more. He had brought recordings of some of his musical compositions. Exquisite music: moving, sensual, mysterious.
Then he asked (and quite politely, I might add), “May I kiss you?”
I said, “Yes.”
Let’s just say, “Wow.”
Yup, the pheromones were just fine.
The next 4 days were a flurry of excitement and fun and fond thoughts of our country as it was the week of the 4th of July. The next day was July 3rd. We started the day with a 1-2 mile jog around the nearby mall parking lot. OK, even better. He can actually run.
Then, we went to Mount Rushmore—the wonder I read about as a grade school kid and always dreamt of seeing one day. That’s why I was in South Dakota rather than North Dakota. I had detoured southeast to capture the opportunity to see this incredibly massive mountain sculpture.
To see this wonder at that time of year was incomparable. There were thousands of visitors, but still, we managed practically front row seats to see a Lakota woman do an incredible demonstration of hoop dancing. She was the first Lakota woman to break down the gender barriers and compete in the national hoop dancing competition. This had always been a male dominated field but she won first place. She joked about one of her male competitors who gave her the backhanded compliment, “You’re pretty good for a woman.” She laughed, with Award in hand and said, “Yeah, just try doing this in a dress!”
The dance was phenomenal. Imaging keeping a specific dance step while weaving your body in and out of hoops about the size of a hula hoop. She started with a single hoop and by the end of the dance had about 2 dozen in hand. Well, hand, feet, neck, legs, waistline, etc. Never missing a beat or tripping over the hoops. The camera could not catch the complexity of the dance.
While at Mt Rushmore park, we listened to a Lakota man make melody on his flute while adding background guitar through his mixer. We saw wild mountain goats. And, of course, we saw Mt Rushmore, from every angle possible. I still am amazed at the scale of this sculpture of our presidents: Presidents George Washington, Teddy Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln. The design appeared to catch the hopes and the pains of each president as he faced the building and and rebuilding of our resilient nation. Yes, we Americans share different views. Yes, we can be our own worst enemy. But, at the end of the day, we rally for each other. It’s like saying: “We can criticize our family, but you better not.” We support each other. Generally.
I have met so many travelers from around the world on this wonderful trek. I ask them what they think about Americans. Even when they don’t like our politics of the day, they all agree that we are a warm, hospitable, friendly lot of people. On the news, we hear about those of us who would take another’s life. But, out on the road, you see the beautiful array of people who make up our country and make it the beautiful tapestry it is.
People have goodness in them.
Later that day, Peter made his homemade soup and I added gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches to the meal. With candle light and a huge aster flower gracing the table center, we relished a delightful dinner after an exceptional day at Mt Rushmore.
It had been better than I had ever dreamed. Both Mt Rushmore and Peter himself.
On July 4th, we wandered the downtown of Rapid City, where the town showed itself to be about as patriotic as Boston. On every corner was a 3/4 scale bronze sculpture of another president. There were also beautiful sculptures of famous Lakota leaders, Lakota sayings, and Native American animal sculptures. It was a heady day mixing the patriotism of the 4th of July with the meaningful and touching phrases of the “first Americans.” While we as a nation, even still, are not honoring our treaties with the first residents, these same deeply spiritual peoples are trying to find common ground with us.
While wandering the downtown section of Rapid City, we popped into quaint stores, took photos of the bronze sculptures, and watched a young fiddler play celtic tunes with her family band. We drank coffee near the square, watched children play in fountains, wondered at all the local art, and ate a lunch of vegetarian nachos while enjoying the outside air at a nearby cafe.
The next day, July 5th, was decision day. Peter had arranged it so that, if we didn’t take to each other, he could make an escape on the 5th. No harm, no foul.
Well, we DID take to each other, so we found a Super 8, less hard on the finances, and moved our stuff so we could spend a few more days with each other. We wandered in the downtown area some more, talked all day, lost track of time, and then went out to a popular pizza spot on the night before our dual departure.
I awakened on July 7th, a Sunday morning, with my adrenaline pumping again, as I prepared to take off on Henry David for the remainder of my trip. I had met Tammy, the lovely lady who worked the desk at the Super 8, and she came out with Peter and I to wish me safe travels.
We said our goodbyes and shared hugs and kisses and I cycled out of the parking lot into the rest of my life. Changed forever.
The next several months were spent on the road again. But this time with daily contact with Peter, whether by text or phone calls.
I met his sister and her family in Indiana. Maggie and Vince treated me to a pizza dinner in Monticello, Indiana. Maggie, Vince, and their two daughters, Kathleen and Carolyn, took turns giving HD a spin around the parking lot. The girls charmed me with their stories. What a nice family.
As I headed south along the Atlantic Coast, Peter helped keep up my spirits when I hit terrible roads or harsh conditions. He encouraged me every day of this long trek. It was so meaningful to have someone love you and support you and listen to you and tell you stories of his own life. His stories delighted me.
I met his parents and another sister and brother-in-law in Hilton Head, South Carolina. (That trip is also outlined on the blog Magical Land, posted in October). Peter came out to see me on October 2nd, right on Hilton Head Island. We spent the rest of the week together, sharing time with his parents, sister, and brother-in-law.
When he left on Sunday, October 6th, his sister Mary and brother-in-law Jack drove me around Savannah. HD and I hit the road again the next morning, heeding warnings of a possible hurricane.
Peter remained a vital force for the remainder of the trip: calling daily, texting intermittently, and sharing his daily life with me. His regular encouragement gave me strength. Every day he asked about the day’s ride: How was it? Did you meet anyone? Where are you now? Are you feeling ok?
And he ended every day with, “I love you.”
He joined me for a few days in Texas, when I was within a few hours drive of his home in Lubbock. He also joined the welcoming party in Carlsbad. And, wonder of wonders, he received the approval of my daughter Shannon and my son Deois. Only one child remained to give their blessing. Heather—my angel in Albuquerque. But she told me that, if I loved him, she would too.
So, I met the man of my dreams in Oregon on the Internet. He lives a scant 3 hour drive away from my home. He came to see me 3 times on the road, bearing gifts of flowers, food, warmth, and love. He shares my political and spiritual outlook—which is important to most Irish-Americans, such as we are! He kept me updated on world news as well as included me in his daily work, composing a violin concerto—a true masterpiece. He called every day to give me emotional sustenance. He has remained steady and supportive and loving, yet surprises me regularly with a new side of him as we get to know each other more deeply. He listens while I ramble—and even pays attention! I hope I give him half of what he has given me.
We are planning a future. Together.
Life is good.
Very strange things can happen on the road. Indeed.