Cuddled on the couch sipping tea at a friend’s house this fall, we were lamenting the beginning of the rainy season in the northwest. A knock on the door brought us homemade tamales from their favorite roving street vendor. She walks the neighborhoods and brings piping hot delicious corny goodness right to your couch. Hearing our lament of the weather that day, I heard her sweet voice say with all the compassion in the world, “The rain is life.” This from a woman walking door-to-door to make ends meet. Now there was some perspective.
When we got home I put that statement on my computer screensaver knowing that come the dark days of winter, I would need some reminder. Well, the dark days just hit. We enjoyed a glorious December with more blue sky than I can ever remember, but I had been glued to my computer and failed to take advantage of many of those blue sky days. Now in this quiet week between the holidays, the blanket of gray threatens to slow my body and spirit down.
But there is that phrase on my screen. I’m seeing it again after months of not noticing, but its message to me is now unmistakable. Seize and celebrate the rejuvenation from the rain.
My body is aching to move, to be warm, to be light, so I put on my down jacket followed by my rain shell and head outside. Within a short distance I am on a trail and at peace. My pace is easy, inside my layers it feels like a comfortable day in the tropics. Energy surges as I walk up the hill. I am so grateful to be outside I’m beaming. Raindrops sparkle like jewels and I feel as nourished as the brilliant green moss.
I know the blanket of gray and drizzle of rain will last longer than my good mood. But if I can keep an ounce of that healthy perspective — if I can recognize the rain as a gift rather than a curse — if I can get my ass off the couch and laugh at the elements — I’ll make it through another northwest winter.
What is the perfect gift? Ask a hundred people, and you’ll get a hundred different answers. But when you give one, or receive one — you know it.
I received one of those gifts thirty years ago. I still carry it with me today.
The summer of 1981 was magical for me. I’d pedaled across the U.S. with my best buddy Thomas. The sense of accomplishment was amazing. My connection to the world around me had never been so raw and wonderful.
But coming home after an adventure can be a tough transition. I’d taken a quarter off from the junior college I was attending. I’d been taking general education courses with no particular focus (Astronomy, Geology, English Comp, Theater, Business Math, etc.)
On my bike trip, I knew exactly (well, almost) where I was going. In life … I was lost. Too many options, and none of them was presenting itself as my future major, let alone my future.
I was talking with my mom. I babbled about my frustrations, and lack of any focus.
She looked me in the eye and said, “I want you to know something. Whether you become a biologist, or an actor, or a teacher … or whether you put a pack on your back and wander the world for the rest of your life … I want you to know that I consider you a success.”
That was it. In twenty seconds, my mom had given me the perfect gift. It was as if she had given me a magical gift certificate. I didn’t have to worry about what I did. I just needed to fill in the gift card with whatever my heart desired.
Little did my mother know how literally I’d take her words. Though I’ve used panniers instead of a pack.
And it hasn’t all been bicycle travel. I’ve driven trucks, acted on stage, waited tables, fought forest fires, written columns, and tried many other pursuits.
But no matter what I’ve done, I’ve always known that in the heart of one of the most important people in my life, I’ve been a success.
It’s the time of year when holiday tunes are playing everywhere. But sometimes when you are traveling far away from home in another culture, hearing a Christmas carol or familiar song can be a wonderful reminder of home … or not.
We were cycling in Northern Thailand during Christmas. We pedaled into a small town northwest of Chiang Mai. I heard a familiar tune. Jingle Bells. It wasn’t Bing Crosby or Nat King Cole singing. It was one of those little Christmas trees with blinking lights and a chip that plays a loop of holiday favorites.
As we got closer, we realized that the storefront window was filled with these things … all competing with each other.
Before you listen to the clip below, I’m going to give you fair warning that this is an earworm for me. There is something about the obnoxious sound quality and the hideous way that Jingle Bells transitions to Santa Claus is Coming to Town that haunts me to this day. I can’t hear Jingle Bells without this version playing in the background of my mind.
If you do listen, you’ll hear a couple of motor scooters go by and you’ll also hear Silent Night from another cheap plastic tree competing with Jingle Bells.
Not all the sounds of travel are pleasant ones. Unfortunately, this one has stuck with me.
If you have listened to the audio file and want something more pleasing to bring you back into the holiday spirit, you can check out my post from last year. It is a medley of tunes I recorded in Seville, Spain.
If bread is the Staff of Life, it is also, at the very least, the Kickstand of Cycling. It holds you up and keeps you from falling over. I love this carbolicious treat.
As a kid, homemade bread was not in my universe. Bread was something that came in brightly colored cellophane packages from the grocery store. Bread was white, processed, and guaranteed to build my body in a dozen ways. The stuff was so spongy, you could pretend to play a sliced loaf like an accordion. My friends and I used to remove the crusts, and see how many slices we could jam into our mouths at once. I believe my personal record was seventeen.
I’m not sure I truly learned to love bread until I became a bike traveler. I discovered that bread could be chewy and nutty, savory and spicy, hard and crusty (in a good way), or flat and crispy.
There have been so many memorable loafs. But one loaf rises above them all.
It came out of a wood-fired stove/oven in a small village in Turkey.
We had pedaled up into the mountains a couple of days’ ride from Istanbul. The temperature dropped faster than we climbed. We had to walk our bikes through drifts of snow. We debated on whether we had the winter gear to survive the night in our tent. But a couple invited us into their house, gave us their own bed to sleep in, and fed us one of the top-ten best meals I’ve eaten on this planet.
This was a meal that included freshly caught trout, baked with garlic and cheese! But the star of the meal was the loaf of bread. When our host opened her oven I gasped. This loaf was enormous. It was laughably huge. It could feed a village.
Its sheer size made it memorable, but the taste, that glorious nutty, chewy, crusty, yeasty, warm goodness, made our tongues dance and spontaneous grins break out on our faces.
You know, it’s hard to chew and grin at the same time.
It was and remains the ultimate loaf.
Perhaps we should be honest and declare ourselves bread seekers who use bicycles to travel from one loaf to the next.
Do we eat to cycle or cycle to eat?
I’m not sure. But it brings me great joy to understand that the very treasure we seek is also the fuel that propels us onward!