In 2009 I left Duluth on a boat that would take me to Europe.
To get there, I did something I have never done before or since. I boxed my bicycle and took a bus. If I hadn’t, I would have missed my ship and my dream of circling the globe would have come to nothing – or so I thought.
In reality, for reasons of weather and wheat – my vessel’s absent cargo – I waited in port for nearly two weeks before setting out across Lake Superior. I could have cycled all the way to the water’s edge but I had no way of knowing it.
That fact has been gnawing at my mind for six long years. My around-the-world adventure had a giant asterisk, and even if nobody knew it but me, it made me a cheat. I don’t do half measures. For me, it’s all the way or not at all.
I promised myself I would make it right, and I’m proud to say that yesterday I did just that. I am back in Duluth with my bicycle – the same bicycle – and nowhere to go but home.
Tonight I am sleeping at the seedy Grand Motel on Central Avenue. The neighbor to my left has one eye. By all appearances, the other was removed by a barroom surgeon. To my right is a snuff-soaked drunk screwing an old woman who sounds like Tammy Wynette when she’s excited.
Let’s face it: cycle touring never gets easier and it certainly isn’t glamorous. That’s why I chose it. You can hurt, you can grit your teeth or kick and curse, but at the end of the day, you need to get where you’re going. And when you’re there, after you bust your guts and break your back, you just gotta laugh.
The road behind is a case in point. Those were the hard yards, the ones that don’t find their way into pretty pictures or prose.
After 58,000 kilometres and some of the worst roads the world has to offer, my original rear rim finally cracked on the eastern edge of Wyoming. I was stranded in the coal-mining town of Newcastle for two weeks – one for the wrong replacement wheel to arrive and another to receive the right part. I bled money and watched stone-faced as the last of autumn disappeared.
In South Dakota, it became abundantly clear that if God didn’t hate me, he certainly held a grudge. My bicycle crumpled against a headwind that stuck for seven straight days. I got nowhere fast and blew out a knee that already had no business being on a body this young.
Minnesota was refreshingly straightforward by comparison. Simply put, the weather was shitty and the roads were worse. I slept with frost on my beard and banged over routes so bumpy and cracked that they seemed more wagon trail than highway. But I made it, just as I always have.
The other day a man at a library shook my frozen hand and called me one tough son of a bitch. I haven’t thought much about it before, but lately I am starting to think he might be right.
I am going to pedal to Brandon for my parents and Regina for the end. I’ll do it even in winter because it’s right and because my fatal flaw is also my greatest strength. Like it or not, I am as pig-headed as they come. I won’t stop until I am done.