After back to back century rides I collapsed in my Marathon, Florida hotel room and flipped on the TV while feeling pretty good about myself. I had 54 miles to go the next day to reach the southernmost point in the United States and complete the 72 Hours to Key West bike ride. I didn’t care about football, I’m not a huge fan and I settled on a show on NatGeo called Off The Grid. It told the stories of 4 different sets of folks who had rejected modern civilization. One lived in a cave in the Ozarks, another was a mountain man in Idaho, there was a couple living in a tree house in Washington state and a guy and his family on a remote island in the middle of Lake Michigan.
I was instantly hooked (and too tired to push the remote button again) so I watched 4 episodes about people who went to extreme lengths to not associate with other people. They reveled in their aloneness, in their rejection of suburban America, in their ability to overcome any hardship to live the way they wanted to live. I found this attractive in an antisocial and grumpy old Grandpa fashion.
I usually ride my bike alone, only riding in big group rides for the support, not so much for the fellowship and I don’t mind a little discomfort or solitude. The day before I’d ridden 120 miles into the wind through the Everglades. This day I’d ridden 102 miles from Miami to the Keys. Both times within a big group, but I drifted in and out of different smaller groups of riders. Tonight, as I missed my fellow riders’ party in the hotel bar, I thought: “Off the grid, huh?”
I get these people!
Now, let’s get this straight: I don’t live in a cave in the Ozarks that occasionally gets buried after occasional earthquakes where I have to occasionally wonder if I will be buried alive. Nor do I live in a tree surrounded by wildfires, or must I try to survive devastating droughts in the high country of the Rockies. Nope, the wildest I get is to stick my old middle class ass on an expensive road bike and even then I often ride with support and sleep in nice hotels. I’m not even off the grid when I ride, I have a GPS enabled Garmin and a cell phone.
I’m not exactly a mountain man.
But I like the pain, the endurance and yes, the solitude that come with a long bike ride. I like that I can ride in a group if I find one whose pace suits me, or that I can set out on my own, ahead of or behind the other riders. I’ve outgrown team sports, and, on a lot of days, I’ve outgrown people in general.
That’s when I go for a nice long ride. There’s something to be said for knowing that there are alternatives to sitting on the couch. When I got to Key West the next day there was a cruise ship in and the town was filled with old people strolling about like the tourists they were, folks who obviously enjoy the couch much more than me. At least on this day, Key West was no longer a sketchy artist’s community at the edge of the world, it now resembled a shopping mall filled with shuffling retirees who saw the town as a nice diversion before they got back to the cruise ship buffet. This was not the town of Hemingway, it was not the end of the road. Not any more.
It was Anyplace, USA.
It was on the grid.
I wished I could turn around and ride home.