Monday, April 26, 2010

From the Mountains to the Coast

"Come on," Beth said. "It will be fun." How many crazy ideas start that way? My friend had just suggested that we, two middle-aged Rubenesque women, should bike across the state of South Carolina. Never mind that we weren't bikers, nor that we had the right equipment, nor that we had ever biked across the neighborhood, much less the state. It would be fun.

Today marked the end of this three-day adventure, that had been six months in the making. We had been riding every week, building stamina according to some kind of training regimen that, Beth promised, would prepare us for the 270 mile trek. Theoretically we were also supposed to be going to the gym and training between rides, but I conveniently forgot that part most weeks. I did a little yoga when it was convenient, but otherwise, I relied on our weekly rides to condition me.

Tonight we arrived at Folly Beach, having left at the NC/SC state line just two days earlier. By leapfrogging each other, we took 10 mile segments, one riding while the other rested. On Day Two, her daughter Laura joined the team and added a shot of energy and endurance to the effort. Ten miles at a time we made it. We rode in the rain and wind. We waited out thunderstorms. We stuck it out when it seemed tedious, or onerous. We laughed a lot and encouraged each other every leg of the way. We faced a few dogs, lots of vultures, a possum playing possum, a friendly neighborhood shotgun incident, and getting lost. We smelled every kind of roadkill --possum, squirrel, frogs, vulture, snake, armadillo, deer, alligator, and many, many unidentifiable creatures -- and Beth even contributed (twice!!) to creating some. We noticed many plants in bloom: bachelor buttons, red clover, blackberries, wild roses, trumpet vine, wild iris. We noted roadsigns we would never have noticed if we weren't forced to slow down and read them: Do Right Lane, Peach Leaf Curl Road, Redemption Way. We learned how the topography and ecology and local flavor of the counties -- Greenville, Laurens, Greenwood, Saluda, Aiken, Orangeburg, Dorchester, Charleston -- differed from one another. We learned, if we had forgotten, that there are lots of ways to live happily. Sometimes the simplest things can be the most beautiful and satisfying... even just a long weekend, spent on a bike with a friend.

And she was right. It was fun.

So close to home

Thanks to Ruthie at synch-ro-ni-zing for this poem.

by Coleman Barks

Milton, the airport driver, retired now
from trucking, who ferried me
from the Greenville-Spartanburg airport
to Athens last Sunday midnight to 2:30 A.M.,
tells me about his son, Tom, just back
from the Gulf war. "He's at Fort Stewart
with the 102nd Mechanized, the first tank unit
over the line, not a shot fired at them.
His job was to check the Iraqi tanks
that the airstrikes hit, hundreds of them.
The boy had never even come up on a car accident
here at home, twenty-four years old. Can you
imagine what he lifted the lid to find?
Three helmets with heads in them staring
from the floor, and that's just one tank.
He has screaming flashbacks, can't talk about it
anymore. I just told him to be strong
and put it out of his mind. With time,
if you stay strong, those things'll go away.
Or they'd find a bunker, one of those holes
they hid in, and yell something in American,
and wait a minute, and then roll grenades in
and check it and find nineteen freshly killed guys,
some sixty, some fourteen, real thin.
They were just too scared to move.
He feels pretty bad about it, truthfully,
all this yellow ribbon celebrating.
It wasn't a war really. I mean, he says
it was just piles and piles of their bodies.
Some of his friends got sick, started vomiting,
and had to be walked back to the rear.
Looks like to me it could have been worked
some other way. My boy came through OK,
but he won't go back, I'll tell you that.
He's getting out as soon as he can.
First chance comes, he'll be in Greenville
selling cars, or fixing them. He's good at both.
Pretty good carpenter too, you know how I know?
He'll tear the whole thing out if it's not right
and start over. There's some that'll look
at a board that's not flush and say shit,
nail it, but he can't do that, Tom."