Mike’s Epilogue – Northwest Airlines Flight from Minneapolis to San Francisco, July 8

Homeless. I’ve spent a week in Madison following our arrival by bicycle. We looked at some houses, looked at some single bikes, and worked with our agent in San Francisco to get our SF house onto the market to sell. It should be, I suppose, a pretty nostalgic and difficult process, but it’s not somehow. I think I am kind of numb.

I am returning to San Francisco for the remainder of the summer to finish up my Ph.D. I had hoped to be done and for the epic bike ride to be a poetic departure from Stanford and the Bay Area. It was such a departure, but the nonpoetic part is my necessary return for a few months. It’s OK – I was prepared for this. I am not, however, the same person that left. I have grown stronger, leaner, wiser, and closer (not sure if I thought it possible) to my stoker/partner/wife Chandra. The hardest part of the summer will be separation after such a totally intense connection.

I flew first from Millwaukee, Wisconsin to Minneapolis, Minnesota. Two days before leaving San Francisco on Talula, I was in the Millwaukee airport, at the conclusion of my last tour with San Jose Taiko. I was full of anticipation, reflection on my taiko career, and excitement for the journey. It was a strange bookend to be there once again at the conclusion of the epic, returning again to California. It was a little cloudy flying across Wisconsin, but I was able to recognize the terrain, and the crossing again of the Mississippi River. I also felt the velocity. So fast. As Chandra drove me to the airport – far and beyond the longest journey in a car (80 miles) since May 8 – we remarked at how the land from the interstate and at the speed of a car looked flat, unremarkable, homogeneous. There are flowers that we only recognized because we looked hard for them. The subtle undulations of the land that mean the difference between a fast and a slow day on a bike are meaningless in a car. The fields all look the same – there isn’t enough time to study irregularities in the rows, patterns in the planting, the contours of the land, the motion of an irrigation rig. These things all require a slower, more deliberate pace. The ability to really breathe the air, to see the differences. One needs a bicycle to really understand.

I hoped to be able to watch the terrain pass below at the rocket-speed pace from the plane, to somehow understand the return. It was possible at first. I’m almost positive we flew over New Ulm, Sleepy Eye, and Springfield, Minnesota. The Minnesota River Valley – as a kid, I never really realized the magnitude of the valley I grew up in, but reaching it slowly from across the plains, it was apparent while we rode. I could see it again. I saw the crossing into South Dakota at Sioux Falls – south of our route. As we crossed the Missouri, I could see the topography roughen to the west. The trees giving way to deserted washes and little canyons in the plains. At the same time, the lowering sun angle and hazy clouds made it harder and harder to recognize the ground at all. Less than an hour later, clouds took over and the ground was no longer visible. The disconnect was jarring. The strong connection to the earth, to America, to Chandra, to the kindness of strangers – all ripped from me. I don’t want the clouds and haze to make the separation permanent. This moment, and this journey will live on in us, and in how we live our lives from here on out. The haze is an illusion. Things will fade in their focus at times, but we will hold onto what we have accomplished and, most importantly, share in the fact that we accomplished it together, as a team.

So now I sit, probably over Nevada, on the plane. I’m listening to the Wailin’ Jennys on my iPod. I got out my computer and looked, at a gentle pace, over all the photographs we have taken on the way. Riding up the coast, Portland, Idaho, Lolo – these places all seem like a distant memory somehow. It’s hard to believe we experienced so much together without interuption until today. I love to see our faces in the pictures – full of optimism, excitement, joy, expectation. Those feelings are what we really must hold on to. The transition from one life to another is largely complete. In the process, we found yet another life that we will embrace. Moving forward – always moving. The blue light of transition still shines above us – sometimes it is stage lighting, sometimes it is the moon.

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