"It's been such a wild, wonderful ride already, and we've barely gotten
started...thanks so much for helping bring this dream alive! More soon
from down the road, Caucasus mountains here we come..." Kate Harris, February 5, 2011
...the borderland between freeze and thaw in Turkey
Turkey, at least the thin strip of the country we’ve been biking, is made like its tea only served cold: steep, intensely dark and concentrated, with a lot of water poured on top. The Black Sea region is infamous among cyclists for the kind of short steep hills that tie knots in your lungs, knots that slacken slightly on the brief descents, only to cinch tighter yet on the next climb. Dense parabolas of pain define the contours of the coastline, endlessly, though often spectacularly.
Then there’s the winter weather. Nothing we weren’t warned about, everything we secretly prayed was exaggerated. So far the only borderland we’ve explored on this expedition is the territory between rain and hail, and all consistencies of cold contained therein. Once a fluke beam of sunshine made it through a brief yawn in the clouds. I was so startled by the sudden light I thought a big truck with its high beams on must be bearing down on me, so I swerved sharply into the gutter. Then I realized it was just the sun, a pale asterisk in the sky referring to a footnote at the bottom of the world that reads, in very small print, ‘shines hotly in theory’. But thanks to Turkey’s rather harsh initiation to this bike trip, we have fast become fit and finely tuned to beauty: the merest scrap of light prompts unabashed rapture. If only we were always so exquisitely calibrated.
The meteorology of mind is equally worthy of report. After years of dreaming, saving, and longing with my whole soul for this adventure, here we so incontrovertibly are, finally living it. Some days this fact mugs me with astonishment; luckily I wear a helmet most of the time. Still, the past few weeks has seen my head scrambling to catch up to my body. It takes a long while to leave the world behind. Departure is easy: step out of the door, into the wind of your life. Direction is simple: forward is whatever way you fancy pointing, up or down, in or out. What is hard is not looking back, not measuring gain or loss by lapsed time, or aching legs, or the leering mile markers of ambition. You are on your way when clouds substitute their sense and syntax for words. You are getting further when you confuse flakes of soot for snow, and recognize them as cold fire either way. You are nearly gone when sleep flutters at your face like a moth, drawn to dreams that mimic the moon. You have finally left it all behind when you realize that creak you hear is not your wheels, not your head, but the sound of the planet, turning.
Rainy nights in the tent, I’ve been reading a lot of Rumi, a 12th-century mystic Sufi poet who was born in Afghanistan, then migrated west to avoid Genghis Khan’s approaching hordes. He finally settled in Turkey, in the city of Konya, where even today his whirling dervish disciples live out his teachings. When Rumi died, religious leaders of all faiths attended his funeral; he was a dissolver of borders. In many ways Rumi’s spirit of approach is perfect for this expedition: we want to celebrate, as we bike, the ecstatic core of existence, in all its wildness and wonder, with full awareness of its heartbreaks and its joys.
Every day, whatever the weather, we wring a bit of both out of the ride. Joy is the sound of birds pecking sweet holes in silence, or the way the clouds bloom in the sky like so many sodden blossoms. Heartbreak, in a few of its milder iterations, is how the road, I swear it!, the road only goes up, or waking up to the morse of freezing rain pounding its mean code on the tent. “The only rule is,” says Rumi, “suffer the pain.” And so we ride, wheels and heads whirling like dervishes, toward a closer acquaintance with the wildness at the heart of our life. And the world.
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other”
doesn’t make any sense.