Get lost

October 3, 2014 § 28 Comments

I sometimes hear riders talk about getting lost, but I don’t believe it. Hardly anyone gets lost anymore. With a phone and a Garmin, you can’t.

My first proper bike ride, I got lost. “Lost” as in “I had no fucking idea where I was, where I was going, or how to get back home.” On that December day in 1982 I took my mostly new Nishiki International into Freewheeling Bicycles. Uncle Phil had told me to bring it in after I’d ridden it for a month to get it tuned up. He checked the cables and made a few minor adjustments, all for free, of course.

“Where is a good place to cycle if I want to ride longer than my commute to school?” I asked him.

He grabbed a bicycling map from a little rack and spread it out on the counter. “How far do you want to go?”

“I don’t know. A couple of hours, maybe?”

He bent down over the map and used a pencil to trace a route from the bike shop to Manor and back. In those days once you got just the tiniest bit east of Austin, there was nothing but country roads. “Have a good ride,” he said.

I started out on what was a cool and sunny day. As the route went east, I passed through poor parts of Austin I never knew existed. Although I’d tried to memorize the streets and the turns, I periodically took out the map and checked. It was a big city map, and the wind made it flap, and it shared the common deficiency of all maps, that is, once they are unfolded they can’t be refolded along the same lines. It’s the Fourth Law of Thermodynamics, actually.

So each time I’d refold the map along different lines and stick it back into my sweaty wool jersey it would be soggier the next time I took it out. Oh, and wet paper tends to tear. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Garmin tear.

By the time I got up to somewhere, located just off of somewhere else, and not too far from over yonder, I was totally fucking lost and my map was in tatters. You know what used to happen when you got lost? You got scared. Just the word “lost” was scary. Lost is what happened to soldiers who ran out of water tracking Indians between Texas and Mexico, and ended in them drinking their own piss, and then slitting their veins to drink their own blood.

Lost is what happened when you were miles from a convenience store, when you didn’t have a phone, when email hadn’t been invented, and when you didn’t dare go up to some brokedown trailer with a junkyard dog on a chain and ask the woman in the wifebeater t-shirt where you were.

Worst of all, lost was something you were going to have to deal with, and it wasn’t going to be fun because however far you planned to ride, lost only happened when you were the absolute farthest from home, and lost guaranteed that you were about to add twenty miles of riding to your trip.

Lost also, in accordance with the Fifth Law of Thermodynamics, only occurred when your one water bottle was empty and the day had reached its maximum temperature and that tiny saddle sore had bloomed into a gaping magnolia-sized flower of blood and pus, and, if you were really lucky, after you’d flatted and used your last tube and had bonked.

Fortunately, I was endowed with a keen sense of direction, which I relied on until I flagged down a pickup. “Where’s Manor?” I asked.

“Manor? You’re headed in the wrong direction, sonny. Just turn around and follow this road for the next ten miles or so.”

Ten miles or so, in Texas, is a distance roughly equivalent to something between ten and fifty miles. I flipped it and got to Manor, eventually. Even more eventually, I got back home, but without a Garmin I wasn’t even able to console myself with the satisfaction of knowing how far I’d ridden. The only consolation was, I suppose, that I hadn’t had to drink my own blood.

But that’s not quite true. Getting lost meant a couple of things. First, incredible satisfaction at finding your way back. If the bike ride was an accomplishment, getting lost and then getting found was an even bigger one. Second, you learned the roads. Nothing sharpens your sense of location and memory of places like fear. I can still remember that route vividly. Third, it almost always made a good story, especially the part where you broke down and begged the woman in the wifebeater to let you drink out of the hose and she said, “Shore, it’s over there by the dog, don’t worry he won’t bite usually,” and you had to decide whether it was going to be worse getting the rabies shots or drinking your own piss and blood.

Yesterday Derek and I headed east and took the LA River Bike Trail. It goes northeast and ends not far from somewhere, pretty close to over yonder but not as far as way over yonder. We stopped to take a leak.

“Dude,” he said. “I gotta know where we are.” He whipped out his phone.

“Hell, I can tell you where we are,” I said.

“Yeah?” he glanced up as he waited for his phone to pick up a signal. “Where?”

“We aren’t lost, that’s where.”



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§ 28 Responses to Get lost

  • Brian in VA says:

    Where are we?

    Well, it’s not the end of the world, but I can see it from here….

    Great story, Seth!

  • Arkansas Traveler says:

    Heard some brain-scientist-guy on the radio yesterday, talking about how technology was destroying our ability to reason.

  • Peter says:

    I always liked the adventure of going for a ride and just hoping for the best.

  • Crashgybe says:

    I get lost every Tuesday morning on NPR.

  • Don W. says:

    Me and a buddy went for a ride, on mountain bikes, past Decker Lake and out towards Manor once. We were out in the middle of nowhere, and came upon an old black gentleman sitting on his front porch. He asked us where we came from, and where we were going, then said “You boys is lost!” I bonked pretty hard on that ride. It’s difficult to get lost out there now, because there is a huge toll road cutting through that area. Thanks for reminding me of that ride, Seth.

    • fsethd says:

      Ha, ha! That old guy knew more about your situation than you did!

      The last time I drove east or west of Austin, I couldn’t tell.

  • Joe Clement says:

    We’re lost, but we’re making good time!

  • Cliff Schultz says:

    I second that emotion. Forgetting your phone and getting lost is also a great way to avoid mowing the lawn, doing laundry, walking the dog etc.

  • Winemaker says:

    “Lost” is riding logging roads in the high Sierras with Neel and Hayman, drinking water from streams, being 3-4 hours past bonking, and getting home at 9 PM, dark, in the rain, in October. My wife said, “You were lost, weren’t you?”

  • sibex9591 says:

    I am always amazed at just how little attention others pay to their environs. The same people on the same routes for all these years, and I still hear them say at some point in the ride “Oh, now I know where we are?” It boggles my mind. I am always acutely aware of where I am, where I am going, the direction I am heading, the landmarks I have seen. Even more so, if it isn’t my ride!!

    It was the same when I was a kid growing up and my Dad would take me on whatever excursion he had to do that Sunday. Years later, I would end up in those places on my own, and recognize them. “I was here with my Dad.”

    When my then girlfriend took me to her home town, Beaver Pa, and we went on an excursion down to Rochester, I recognized her downtown, because we had pulled off of Route 51 to come into town to find a convenience store. “I was here two years ago when I rode my bike across the country.”

  • No one of consequence says:

    Simple. If you ever are unsure which way to go, choose uphill. If you were wrong the back tracking will be quick and easy, plus bonus altitude gain. If you get lost on a flat, well then that serves you right for riding flats doesn’t it, pussy?

  • Worldchamp says:

    There was email and chat (sort of like texting) in 82. You just had to be hardwired to a mainframe to use it. Not much help when you were lost on the bike.

    My best rides have been getting.lost with you. Its always a great adventure and story.

    • fsethd says:

      Flat tires in Compton. What could possibly go wrong?

      • Worldchamp says:

        Especially when one is carrying a HUGE messenger bag. Those are always filled with useful stuff, right?

        • fsethd says:

          Messenger bags are filled with spare tires, CO2 cartridges, tubes, and tools. Except when, you know, they aren’t.

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