Slings and Arrows on the Road to Lorelai
Uhrigge..as they say in Bavaria...deeply rooted
The 200 kilometer ride from Quetta to Peshawar via Lorelai turned out to be the single most significant stretch of roadway on my entire trip. Coming from a rider who has endured hurricanes, earthquakes, killer bee attacks and a nearly 9 month battle against malaria (which wasn't even diagnosed until I got back to the USA!!!!), that has to be saying something. But it is not hyperbole. On this stretch of road i endured and enjoyed every aspect of scenery, friendship, hostility, solitude, and an emotional rollercoaster that made me feel like my bicycle was a 2 wheeled theme park. Looking back now with the wisdom of hindsight, this trip was my entire cycling tour in miniature. The whole ball of wax was there: the good, the bad, the ugly, and all the feelings and emotions that go with it. The next few pages aren't your normal cycle tour log...but as I say constantly on this site, mine was not your normal cycling tour and I am not your typical rider. Read the following and join me while I laugh and cry.
From my earliest days I have been fascinated by trees...their great height, their great bore, the great depths of their roots and solidity of their wood, set amidst the often delicate beauty of their branches, leaves and flowers. It is one of the reasons I admire Tolkien's writing, for in his Silmarillion he valued the trees so highly that the Gods placed shepherds among the trees (the 'ents' in his later work, Lord of the Rings) to protect them. "Long in the growing, swift shall they be in the felling, and unless they pay toll with fruit upon bough little mourned in their passing", recounted Yavanna, sadly. Trees have a dignity that escapes almost all other living things: fixed as they are when they set their roots, bearing the scars of the world around them for all too see. And that all may see that, in spite of the scars they bear, they will grow and survive just the same. Not just survive...endure. So it is with me and my bicycle tour...much intervened before and along the way to try and stop me. I received little support and encouragement from friends and family--those i love and whose opinions matter to me most-- as I planned for this tour. Now that I am back I am amused at attempts to make my accomplishment somehow their own! 'What a great thing to have done,' they coo and gush, forgetting that had I listened to them before I never would have left to begin with. Yet, like these trees along the lorelai road, I move onward and upward, growing in spite of, not because of, their scorn gilded with the thinnest patina of admiration. These arrows and barbs are hardly unique to anyone who strikes out on their own initiative. Oh, but the trees en route to Lorelai bear scars far deeper and older....
Back in August 1968 I was a sniffling little teenager intoxicated with a world that seemed to be designed just for me. I have always been self centered...at the center of my own universe, you might say, and I resolutely remain so, which is not easy in the Kiss-ass festival that the 1990s and 2000s have become. From this comes great strength, which I now know I have and call upon on a regular basis. I did not have as much back then though. The reservoir was much less full; but it soon was to get a major deposit.
That summer I had wrestled alot with what it meant to be gay. I had known for a long time--almost 5 years-- that I was gay, but now that my emotional and sexual development were proceeding at breakneck pace, the issue was on my mind much more. Did I want to get 'married' when I was an adult, or spend most of my time on my own, as most gay men do? Were my feelings right and natural, or wrong, immoral, and sinful? Perhaps you readers are tempted to make light of these internal battles, but in the 1960s people felt it was very important to understand and appreciate what they were. We wore our hearts on our sleeve much more than people do now. We asked far more questions, accepted far fewer answers at face value, than folks do now. Well, I was a Catholic and knew well my Church's view on homosexuality, so i thought I would talk to a priest about it down at our local parish.
We had one priest down there who was notorious in the confessional. He apparently had some kind of sinus problem, or perhaps more honestly, a sinus drainage problem, and was constantly sucking up his snots, be it in the middle of his sermons or in the midst of forgiving sins. Often, when the confessional door slid open and this priest blessed you and invited you to shed your sins, it was followed by the patented 'snotsuck serenade'--as we kids called it. You could hear people (in the pews outside, waiting for their souls to be made pure and white as virgin wool) laughing under their breath. And sometimes not under their breath. Anyway, this is the guy who i decided to talk to about being gay. Well, after another serenade, during which he probably ruminated on the church heirarchy's views and his own views on the subject, he spoke. "The Church's view is that this is a disease. You are an outcast from society; your best course of action is to nip these feelings in the bud and....."
but by then i wasn't hearing anything any more. I was contrite, and young, and vulnerable, wanting support, and for this I came to the small wooden confessional in the fading light of an August afternoon; for this I had turned to an adult, an authority figure in an organization which i admired, whose opinion I would value. I needed a shoulder to lean on; honest words, by all means (as only honesty can be leaned on...everything else soon crumbles) but still ol' snotsuckers words weren't the best said to anyone, even an adult, let alone a kid who was only pressing 15, and a young fifteen at that. For we were younger at our age then than kids of 15 are now (a mixed blessing, perhaps). I was quite rattled; left the confessional feeling hot and my woozy, my head swimming a bit with the blunt words I had just been told; turned away, rudely, when I needed most to feel part of the Catholic church and its doctrine of Love in Christ. In fact for several weeks i felt rotten at the core, depressed, unclean as even the Christians had once labeled lepers; heavy hearted even as the sticky summer days gave way to the cooler and pleasant colors that only New England can bring to a September. The bounce drained from my step: where before I had walked briskly as one glad to be alive, now each foot fell in front of the other. At odd times the priests words would ring in my ears, heavy and ponderous, draining me of all joy from whatever I was doing or accomplishing at that time; indeed sapping away any initiative, a self-fulfilling spiral of depression.
By all rights, that priests' words should have alienated me from the Catholic Church for good. He was, after all, stating nothing more than Catholic doctrine and teachings (to this very day), even if his bedside manners were somewhat lacking. And indeed, I was tempted to do that. Many gays have--turned their back on the Catholic Church, the Pope, Christian theology. But that ran counter to my independent streak--as I said, growing strong even in those early days. It occurred to me that a priest who couldn't control his snots very well perhaps couldn't control his words well, either. Perhaps his brusque manners, which obviously needed improvement, meant that his doctrine needed improvement as well. Perhaps since his sinuses weren't the paragon of perfection, I didn't need to be the paragon of perfection, either. I started to see a humor, an irony, in the events of the last few weeks, and my mood quickly brightened. In fact, I grew stronger because of the blow that had been given. The twist I had received made me feel more real, more alive in fact, than I had felt those weeks before I went to talk to him. I looked back on the Roughstuff (not my nickname at the time) of earlier that summer and he seemed curiously incomplete, untested, unbeaten. Like a new soldier in a regiment: i hadn't seen warfare yet. The new clean uniform, perfect complexion, spotless demeanor...all of a sudden, they were features I did not admire and did not care for. Having been cut, and bled, and healed on my own, I began to admire those features, in myself, and even more so in others. It was far to easy a route to take..the one most other gays have: turn your back on the Catholic Church because of this one slash, turn your back on all the good it has done and all the good it continues to do. I knew, even at that tender age, what that road would lead to: turning morality into a Smorgasbord, where you take what ya like and leave the rest on the table to rot, not realizing that the rot is with you. Even now you can see it: feminists prattering about the death penalty while they huff and puff about the right
to kill their own fetus. Oh, no...sorry folks. I know where THAT road leads...and if it means i have to endure alot of scorn and contempt because I refuse to go that way, so much the better. To be more blunt for those of you educated these days to have an attention span of five seconds or less: Ok..the church has a problem with gays. So be it. No one was perfect...not me, not Father snotsuck...and, as I would argue later and argue now, not the Church, either.
The tree..the bike...the rider...old, twisted, bent, scarred...but unbeaten
Well...what the hell has this got to do with lorelai? Well, everything if ya realize that on this road I endured a similar assortment of love and hate, fun and fear, joy and sadness. You never knew what to expect on this road. At one point people--children and adults-- would run to the curb and ask where you were from, beg you to join them for food and drink and hospitality as only the Pakistanis can offer. Over the next hill would come a volley of rocks and pursuit by people hell bent on garbbing whatever they could from your bags and equipment..maybe the whole lot if they could get it. At one police checkpoint I signed in and had a nice chat with the officer about the road and the route ahead: he warned me about the lack of pavement and heavy construction. An hour further down the road a fellow pretending to be a police officer grabs a hold of my handlebars in the middle of the road and, when I brushed him off and road away, fires a volley of rocks in my direction! This in the middle of a small village, and not a hand or voice raised in protest. Here is a school where the teachers beckon me in to show their youngsters how English is spoken by one of native tongue; further on is a schoolyard that turned into a gauntlet of teenage urchins so ready to grab stuff off my bike I had to walk and threaten menacingly in the international body language of anger.
And watching over it all were the trees...the ageless, bent and broken, twisted and scarred. But dignified, still standing, in defiance. And so was I: twisted by some poorly chosen remarks in the past, angered by some hostility in the present; overwhelmed by kindness and humility amongst strangers. Thru it all, the road stretched out ahead...and there would be one, only one, and always one person who would decide if I would go down that road: me. Not one other. All its joys and all its pain, would be mine and mine alone. I say in my entry from Qingdao, I can share some of it with you...but not all. Perhaps unique among cyclists (i never read sagas similar to the ones I have written, on other peoples' sites) my tour had these flashbacks and stretches of larger meaning. And while the bcicyle tour is over..a road of a different kind (and much longer) of course, still lies ahead.