We're still out here.
It's been almost a month since our nearly symbolic neighborhood departure, which really messes with my sense of time.
In a way, the job-quitting/life-flipping/honeymoon period has concluded and the reality of what we've committed to is emerging.
With the easiest (or at least most familiar) stretch technically behind us, it's bound to get more interesting from here on out.
The stories will be less tame.
(Sorry mom and dad.)
And the experiences more absurd.
We're eager to get (even further) out of our comfort zones and begin the real problem solving portion of the trip.
Spanish still minimal.
Asses no less chafed.
Appetites no less raging.
Enthusiasm steadily increasing.
In the spirit of disclosing perverse details -- those shedding light on juuuuust the right amount of miserable, in turn providing you a refreshed sense of appreciation for your current life situation, whatever that may be -- I divulge. And apologize for those hoping for exhaustive observations of the natural world. Know that, in summation, it's been really, really pretty so far.
Firstly, thank you to all the new moms out there who offered sincere diaper rash suggestions. Knowing, all self deprecation aside, that I actually needed to be mothered through the discomfort. Between that itch/sitch and an unpredictable variety of other ailments, I've now officially purchased every embarrassing ointment/cream stocked at your local supermarket. The same selection of once-practical-joke-but-now-prescribed tubes that Aidan used to sneak into the basket with our otherwise unremarkable grocery selection in an attempt to cause cashier-facing panic. Flustered, "Oh I don't actually want that, I mean I don't need that, I mean, I-didn't-put-that-there-how-did-that-even-get-in-there-?!-crazy, ha.....ha....ha." There it goes down the conveyer belt, juuuuust out of subtle snatching distance, not the slightest bit camouflaged amongst the mostly produce lineup. Might as well have a blinking light attached to it. Those pharmaceutical solutions are never cheap either. Insult to injury.
Ointments aside, challenges and discomforts have been aplenty. When not "discreetly" squatted on the side of busy highways in a safety orange vest, I essentially live for public bathroom sightings. Some experiences better than others, but largely foul thus far. When a questionable (read super duper sketchy) man exits the women's grocery store bathroom, after you've been impatiently clenching, cross-legged outside for ten minutes, with his hands innocently surrendered above his head claiming, "I didn't do that, it was like that when I went in there," you ask yourself how bad it really has to be to deny your now-throbbing bladder the relief it demands. It's all relative these days.
We spent over two hours in a SoCal Urgent Care in order to diagnose what could only be described as grossly mangled hands. If you want to be treated like a total freak, turn up to a clinic armed with a mysterious rash. They. Are. Terrified. No one wants to check in patient zero. There was even a sign taped to the front door addressing all rashees: IF YOU HAVE A RASH, DO NOT ENTER THE BUILDING, SEND SOMEONE INSIDE TO ALERT THE RECEPTIONIST. I ignored the sign because they couldn't possibly be talking to moi. As a result, quarantined to an exam room to finish my paperwork. (At the risk of down-playing the story, the unsightly outbreak was merely a contact allergy to some of the materials comprising my handlebars. I. Am. Not. A. Monster.) Back to the store for yet another tube of shame.
Squeege the reg' (region/reej) is a term now applied to any sort of south-of-the-border sprucing. Because, like everything else, personal hygiene is now subject to a sliding scale of cleanliness standards. We've merely skimmed the surface of our ultimate filth potential. And we know that. So it may come across as soft when I choose words like pungent, damp, burning, slimy and so on as descriptors. Because we know it's going to get so much worse. Like the time in Nepal, a few weeks into a backpacking trip, when I felt a strange nip twitch-itch. Knowing full well that ignorance is often bliss, I tolerated this tickle for over an hour before curiosity finally guided my hand into the depths of my sports bra, consequentially setting a oversized moth free. Did not remain calm and carry on. Couple gag noises mixed with panicked shakes, wiggles and high knees. There's probably a fittingingly crass joke about that moth being lucky, or something. Unfortunately the intimacy couldn't possibly have been a picnic for that poor fella as showering up there was not an option. And this, this is the drastically low level of awareness we anticipate achieving. A level of filth causing one to legitimately lose track of what's going on, or rather living, beneath your base layers. Ew.
Part of the joy of traveling with someone is reciprocated commiseration. And reevaluating a situation, whether pleasant or unpleasant, through another's lense/perspective. Aidan's well-timed comment amidst a hot sloggy push, "I feel like we are cartoon characters." He briefly explained the thought process behind an otherwise sorta random comment. Brilliant. And oh-so-true. We're out here, in the same disheveled outfits every day, riding continuously through a strip of interrelated scenes, some more outlandish than others, briefly interacting with periodical-worthy personalities. Forming an ongoing narrative. Speech bubbles occupied with @#$%&!!'s and quippy one-liners. Thought bubbles crowded with exaggerated food illustrations. What a gloriously positive interpretation of riding bikes all day every day, adorned in increasingly filthy, but recognizeable garb.
Of course it wouldn't be fair to rattle on about perverse hygienic details and cartoon-like existences without delving into the most memorable aspect of the trip thus far; the people.
For better or worse.
I've always believed there to be two type of people in this world; those who get it and those who don't. While this theory validates itself often, a sub category of those seemingly categorized as the former, but able to be broken down, has surfaced. Someone whose human side is accessible, but simply requires navigating a stone-walled exterior. These folks, with a little legwork, are willing to "make an exception." And have an ounce of compassion and understanding that, in the face of adverse conditions, rules are made to be broken. Damn. The. Man.
The Verizon representative did just this during our contract-cancelling conversation. Another heel-dragger task saved for the last possible US-soiled moment. (Setting aside at least an hour after my virtual vacation with the bank guy in Portland ran long.) In the painfully impersonal situation of dialing corporate's 1-800 number, it can be a fool's errand to convince the voice on the other end that you are a human being, with a real story and legitimate reasons for wanting to disarm your domestic iPhone before it occupies it's fateful position somewhere near the bottom of your (now abroad) bag, used every so often to tell time, convert the metric system and/or maybe post a photo. And that's about it. Hardly legitimizes a hundred bucks a month. There's a technique for appealing to these folks whose underlying goal is to do their job, and do it well. It's usually just glossy enough a tone to be personable, but not crossing into ass-kissing territory. People can smell the bullshit through the Bluetooth earpiece. The agent and I began the conversation on a discouragingly formal these-are-your-options-as-read-directly-from-my-manual level before I resorted to subtly/strategically mentioning the bike trip, which led to curious, basic inquiry/chit-chat. Which led to the agent's fascination with Olympic triathletes. Perfect. I've got an in. Kinda. Which led to warnings of dirty water. Which led to roundabout references to Into The Wild and her Midwestern motherly plea for me "not to eat the berries down there." "Down there" in reference to anywhere outside the United States. And to "watch out for all the robbers." She reemphasized, "Lotsa robbers down there." "Oh, yes ma'am," I replied in a respectful, but casual tone. I will play along with your relatively narrow-minded advice because I can tell you are trying to relate. And no ma'am, I will not eat the berries "like that guy did in that one movie where Eddie Vedder sang" (her words, not mine.) And yes ma'am, I will be careful of all of the robbers even though robbers and/or dickbags exist everywhere and do not all originate from Mexico as your tone suggests. What began as a routine, scripted back-and-forth slowly transformed into a hilariously memorable conversation about basically everything exciting and/or scary that this woman had ever seen on the TV. (An admittedly unfair, dickbagish assessment.) She kinda didn't get it, but was clearly trying. And obviously compassionate. And that counts. And yes, she waived my $350 contract termination fee. NBD.
There have been countless good-willed, good-intentioned folks. Unfortunately, with the good inevitably comes the bad. Or rather the stubborn. We've encountered people on both sides of the rule-abiding fence, truly appreciative of those, on side A, who understand that one size does not fit all and shit simply happens. While those on existing on side B, we are less thrilled by. Those who look us directly in our distraught eyes at 7:06PM after riding 80+ miles, our fourth straight unbathed day, and tell us that, "The showers close at 7:00 sharp and them's the rules." Hands are tied. Sir, false, your hands are not tied. You're in charge. You are the boss of those shower keys visibly dangling from your belt loop. Don't let anyone tell you differently. Alas, we used wet wipes that night and snuck out pre-dawn in an operation much more covert in our imaginations than in reality. We. Showed. Him.
And now we're here, in Laguna Beach, at Aidan's grandmother's cozy oceanfront condo (thanks Pam/Tamara/Rick/Adeline), living the indulgent life for a brief stint before officially crossing south, mentally converting to kilometers, ditching unnecessary gear and finally digging out that Spanish dictionary from the bottom of the left rear pannier. An important stopover to regroup and reflect on what's been a truly amazing trip so far. So often we find ourselves engrossed in a moment, celebrating something seemingly silly like the mirage-like unfolding of an unexpected Mexican market through heat waves on the horizon amidst a blood sugar crisis, or an out-of-character fist pump from a passing Ferrari, or the absurdness that is elephant seals (haven't giggled like that in years), or a bathroom with hand soap, or a fresh jar of peanut butter and the number of miles it will inevitably fuel, or a "date shake" recommendation turned blush-worthy conversation, or dolphins jumping Lisa Frank-style off the Big Sur coast, or simply connecting with friends and family along the way, all of whom have been the most outrageously gracious hosts. Gracias y adios!