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.”
For $2.99 per month you can subscribe to this blog, which is kind of a bargain. Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Thank you!