I wanted to wake up outdoors. Every day. And he helped make that happen. I knew all along that this would be different, that there would be no babying. There would be no hand holding – literally or figuratively. It is more of a business relationship as he called it once. I admit that description was a bit beyond the unromantic borderlines where I felt confident. But I took it, knowing that is the nature of our commitment, and that he cares more deeply than meaningless, sentimental pillow talk. It started in resistance and with safeguards declared at every pivotal moment. There were tests.
Finally this was not the superficiality of a one-dimensional, self-centered crush. After all, we both clearly survive on our own. He and I had both already rescued ourselves from our private sinking ships called, “Try to Fit In” and “Be a Success Story.” D.H. Lawrence theorized that, “Perhaps only people who are capable of real togetherness have that look of being alone in the universe. The others have a certain stickiness, they stick to the mass.” Two aberrations, dubiously building a new model of living.
One night we pulled over at a truck stop at the bottom of The Grapevine. It was the first trial. Our first seven day road trip took us down through California in my hatchback. I think it was raining. After rearranging bags and camping gear both of us climbed into sleeping bags on the uneven, fold-down seats, under parking lot lights. It was uncomfortable, but I loved it.
I proved I could adapt. I proved I could poop in the woods and live out of a cooler and move with no plans or guarantees of comfortable nights. He confirmed that I was not under obligation to the usual romantic expectations. Our instinctual independent and nomadic behaviors meshed and fell into rhythm.
Tests aren’t a hundred percent flawless, of course. My demonstrated easygoing attitude cracked on a steep and rocky double track outside of Ketchum one day. I fell apart. He responded like no one else ever had and, while future incidents have naturally not always been handled as well, it was a moment heaped in quiet acknowledgment and comfort that struck me with immense gratitude.
He didn’t realize just how messy I can be, or that he would nick name me “Bull in a China Shop Sue.” I lost $80 once while walking from our chosen camping spot to the kiosk to pay. It’s a sure bet that if we meet a creek crossing on a trail run I will fall in. I let cider cans fall through paper sacks then frantically chase them down the hill leading to our luxury Travelodge, getting sprayed and soaked in dry hopped goodness hoping some might be salvageable. I was unaware that behind his witty and relaxed demeanor lies hard-headedness and very particular habits. On the other hand, he has amazing talent at catching grapes in his mouth thrown from great heights. He can flip an egg in a pan like a pro. I make a perfect pico de gallo.
Sometimes our attempts at being traditionally affectionate to each other are still unbelievably awkward. But he always racks and unracks the bikes, and I always make morning coffee in the plastic pour-over. I do laundry and he doesn’t complain that I casually fold his shirts unevenly and far less particularly than how he does. I’m incapable, really.
Often I find myself furiously pedaling to keep on his wheel. Not only does his bike move faster than mine, especially through thick sandy and murky gunk, but his mind out runs mine, too, leaving me in the dust sometimes. I’m lucky though; without the pressure to keep moving through I tend to stagnate and bow out. Without my somewhat fanatical drive to get out and find the most grueling runs we can he might default to more cerebral activities, missing out on the excitement of my poor planning and sketchy navigation.
Somehow all this comes together inside 60-some square feet of liberating space, filled with both dirt from hard work and play, and unexecuted plans waiting to take shape. I still want to wake up outdoors, but once in a while a mediocre hotel bed is definitely a blessing. I still know I can survive – not only survive, but enjoy – this world on my own. But holy hell, it’s way more fun to sit in the passenger seat sometimes, even if the window is broken.