Today’s ride of 39 miles will end in Syracuse, just 30 miles south of the small rural town I grew up in. I rarely traveled there as a child and only became familiar with the area near the hospitals as my aging parents required their services. I do not know my way around downtown and never visited any of the venues for entertainment or shopping there. But then again I moved away from the area at 18 and returned only for brief visits with family.
The buzz of the day is the long, steep, legendary hill on the way to our campsite at Burnet Park, next to the zoo. I plan to pedal as far as I can then join the pedestrians, ignoring the “stay in the saddle” philosophy of more hard core riders, having accepted that my two feet function on pavement as well as on pedals. I begin to talk myself upward, around the next corner, just to the end of the block, maybe to the blue house ahead, and unexpectedly find myself in view of the familiar tent skyline. Engulfed in the thrill of accomplishment I dwell briefly in the awe of me.
I gather my gear, find my tent, spread wet items out across rope lines, on my bike – anywhere they might dry. Then I walk with my bathroom supplies and clean clothes to the tractor trailer with the long white container attached. There are lines outside waiting to enter the doors of the container. This is my first experience with the shower truck. Inside, stalls line two walls. Benches stand in the open middle space where other women undress, wrap themselves in the supplied towels-or not-and wait for the next stall to open up. My thoughts zoom back in time to the dreaded high school locker room. I want to turn around and leave. But my sticky, smelly body stops my feet, despite the desperate urgings of my brain. I notice the vast array of bodies surrounding me: tall, short, heavy, slim, wrinkled, smooth, droopy, toned. Some cringe and try to hide what they feel is unacceptable (even if young and thin and envied by those that recognize their beauty). Some laugh and chat as they freely display what we each possess in some form or another. I fall in the cringing/hiding group, and envy those so comfortable in their own skin that their size, shape or condition is of less focus than what lives within those boundaries of flesh. I wonder why I am so concerned about how others see and judge me, and why I judge myself so harshly. Never feeling good enough on the outside, no matter how much caring and kindness I possess on the inside.
After showering I meet my tent mate and we head to the zoo, but it is closed. It is later than I thought. I contemplate calling a taxi to go pick up a suitable outfit for my uncle’s funeral. I discuss the situation with her and we both realize it is too late on a weekday to find a store nearby in time to purchase something to wear. Fatigue is also quickly setting in. I realize my desire to see my uncle for one last time is not realistic. I feel like I am letting my mother down. She would have wanted me to be there. But I think she would also have wanted me to do this bike trip. Not because of the challenge of the distance, but to fulfil a more personal need. The need to discover my own strengths, and to leave no “I always wished I’d….” lists behind when my time arrives. My uncle is in my thoughts and I know he has a place in my heart that will remain forever. I believe she knows too.
There are warnings of huge thunderstorms through the night. The rain starts to fall soon after dinner ends. Many move from their tents, on the top of this open hill, into an enclosed hockey rink in the park for additional protection. My tent mate and I are tired and just want to go to bed and decide to stay in our tent. We’ve slept through rain before.