Somewhere between the mint Oreos, blaring Led Zeppelin, and observing tree growth patterns, I noticed a figure in the road.
My first thought was that it was the tungsten miner I had picked up in the Yukon the day before. Today, I had seen somewhere around zero people, so I envisioned pulling over, laughing, and telling Rob to “Get the hell back in.” But as I closed in, the figure was no hitchhiker named Rob, it was some unknown cyclist.
I laughed and thought to myself, “Well, I get to keep trying.” You see, I play this game… every time I pass a cyclist, I slow down and ask if they need anything… sugar, fruit, chocolate, beer, whiskey (if I have any). Seems only right, considering I’ve got my whole home with me, and they’ve got just a sad stack of necessities.
No one ever takes me up on the offer. “I’m good,” they always say, as their knees keep pumping out pedal rotations. “OK, you’re the one missing out on the good stuff,” I think.
I get it though, I would probably do the same… it takes a severe sense of stubbornness to undertake any long solo cycling tour, especially now, as winter flung itself on the Alaska Highway. The people out here aren’t the type who want help.
But I leaned over to the passenger-window crank, spun the knob, and downshifted to his pace – 2nd gear. “You want anything?” I yelled (it could have been a more direct question, like, “Do you want an apple?”). “You have any sugar?” he screamed back.
I had just the thing… I knew there were 5 mint Oreos left in the pack. When I handed them to him in the 3PM orange light of the North, he said in a Dutch accent, “You are making my day right now.”
His name was Dirk and was a guy about my age from Amsterdam. He told me his trip was called 99% Ride; he was riding from the tip of Alaska to the tip of Argentina for charity. He was 1 month into a 17 month commitment.
“Tough son of a bitch,” I thought to myself and asked about his dramatic lifestyle change. He told me he had been working in an office all week and going to the clubs on the weekend. “I realized there had to be more to life,” he said… “It came together very fast, selling all my stuff and flying to Anchorage.” This all made good sense to me.
Driving away, I felt a couple feelings: first of inadequacy, him pedaling, me doing it the easy way – holding down the pedal. But then I realized we were on different paths, and Donnie was perfect for mine.
Back in California after 9 months away. Simon (or was it Garfunkel?) sang about gathering all the news you need on the weather report. I looked lazily across the 101, lost in some sort of daydream bliss about the last week.
On the shoulder of the southbound lane, pedaling like a man running from the law, passed a familiar figure. He was gone before I got two looks.
It couldn’t be, could it?… Dirk?!? My Dutch friend who likes mint Oreos? There was something in that single glimpse that was all I needed.
“How to catch him without killing him?” I thought, as I spun a U and punched hard in 3rd. The shoulder was narrow here, so we were going to need perfect timing.
His knees were pumping powerful pistons; I spotted the only exit, flew in just ahead of him and opened my door, screaming as he was passing… “Dirk! Dirk!!” I was in his lane now and he almost crashed into me, skidding to a slow stop with his heavy touring bike.
“Matt?! 63mph Matt?!” he screamed back.
“It’s me!” I screamed, even though we didn’t need to be screaming anymore.
“I thought the van that cut me off looked familiar.”
“There was no other way, man."
His sunglasses lay on the ground, a result of our sloppy bear hug. My bare feet sank into the hot tar. We had both been on the road for a very long time now, and it seemed words meant nothing in this moment of chance. We tried a few questions, but we mostly smiled… bigger than almost any smile before.
After wishing for a 3rd crossing of our paths on some unknown day of some unknown year, we both got back underway, me heading North and him heading South… very far South.