If my calculations are correct, this should post as we are crossing the border. We’ve been seeing signs for Mexico for over a week now. I’ve spent much of that time thinking about America as it is likely that we won’t walk on her soil for close to two years unless some unforeseen circumstances arise. It is hard not to wonder if one could really change so much in this span of time and I wonder what impact it will all have on me. We will pass through towns, landscapes, frontiers, cultures, strangers, single serving friends, states, and national borders in the same way that most people drive by a car wash and a donut shop during the morning commute. I don’t know how exactly it will feel, but I know that every time I leave a place for a prolonged period, it all feels smaller upon returning and I feel less like I belong. It’s like you move at a faster pace than everything around you. I can go back to the bar I worked at in my twenties and almost guarantee that on Sunday at six thirty, Old Jack will be there picking up a carryout of meatloaf and a buffalo burger. “What’s going on Old Jack,” I would ask. “Oh same old same old. Grinding that axe”
How America and I get along in two years’ time is irrelevant to speculate on though. For the last four months we have generally been treated as courageous conquerors of the inconsequential. An amusing and mostly inoffensive sideshow that has somehow crept into the thought out and tidy routines of people’s lives. In Alaska and the Yukon the locals were so used to seeing jackasses like ourselves that we were just another pair of jerks willing to pay five bucks for an avocado. Most of the other road warriors up there were travelling in half million dollar RV’s kitted out with more luxury than I will ever have in a home planted firmly to the earth. For them we were this scraggly yet well-kept enough pair with this peculiar idea of riding bicycles across 20,000 miles of paved and graded land that would accommodate a mortgage on wheels just fine. For some we looked like their kids and they did what they hoped somebody else would do; share a little bread, water, and sometimes a roof.
Sometimes I sensed a strange enmity. That what we were doing was fine, but somehow unmerited. That we hadn’t yet acquired enough or consumed enough or suffered enough to be doing this. The fact that our knees have not yet been replaced was sometimes treated as an unnatural advantage. We were seen as “that new generation,” that don’t care about material gain, only quality of life. Hedonistic care-nots for the inheritance of a world that we didn’t build and find cumbersome to drive.
But America, for all of its desire in drawing a line between one another, is a vast puddle of polychromatic mud. An ornery and cantankerous old man prone to fits of unprovoked violence with a heart of gold and a six pack of the cheap shit for whoever makes it past the .22 and onto the porch.
The charisma of modern media has brilliantly highlighted our swirling surface differences in such a way to stoke malevolence toward those that fluctuate on a handful of arguably trivial issues and caused us to paint those that don’t conform to our own absolute wisdom of what is right and wrong as the excrement of humanity.
When you’re sitting on the side of the road in the freezing high desert with an empty water bottle and a flat tire, you don’t really care about whether or not the person driving by is pro-life, pro-choice, pro-gun, vegetarian, or a cannibal. You hope that they have a drop or two of water in their bottle and just enough humanity pooled up in their heart to tip their cup into yours so you can carry on without worry. Nearly every time we’ve needed or even hoped for something, we’ve gotten it without asking. People have an instinctive capacity to sense when somebody could use a hand.
At the same time, it is hard not to wonder how all of this would play out if I weren’t riding a seventeen hundred dollar bike with a clean shirt, fancy sandals, and the attitude of a white guy that has spent most of his life in the comfortable echelons of the food chain. A degree from a semi-reputable institution, a few marketable skills, the ability to craft a good line of bullshit, and most importantly a mid-brow social network with a handful of semi-aristocratic connections and I can step back into the rat race and get more than my fair share of cheese with relative ease. The charity and hospitality are appreciated beyond words because some days I just don’t have it in me to cook rice and beans on our shitty little stove, but it is by no means needed.
I hope that as we ride through these places that are burdened with a bit more than my first world problems that we can return some of the kindness that has been shown to us. And I hope that if and when I fall back into one of those well-ordered within the frame kind of American lives that I will remember how easy it is to look at everything floating around in the muck and forget that we’re all swimming in the same swill.
America is grand as an intellection and physical space. It is no wonder we all see it differently. From afar it is just apple pie and assault rifles. Up close we each hold something that is special about it though. How we toss the dough, a favorite type of ammo, or soaking the fruit in a pint of piss whiskey and then shooting the bottle. The same way that I left Denali wondering what wilderness meant to me, I leave America asking myself what it means to me.