I got on a plane in Moline, Illinois at the Quad City Airport, headed back to Atlanta. I had just finished riding my bicycle (NOT my motorcycle) 500 miles across Iowa in July of 2006 in what is known as RAGBRAI. But this post is not about perseverance, or determination, or endurance, or even why someone would choose to ride a bicycle across Iowa with approximately 20,000 other cyclists in July. It's about perspective.
It was my second time riding RAGBRAI. I had ridden in the summer of 2004, justifying it to hubby as a "once in a lifetime" event, but then I just had to go back. Once I got out there and started riding, it was hard to remember why I had felt the compulsion to go back. I even said to hubby in a cell phone conversation from approximately the middle of nowhere, "If I ever say the words bicycle and Iowa together in the same sentence again, I hope you pop me right in the mouth."
Don't get me wrong....I loved Iowa. I had never met friendlier, more considerate people outside my home state of Georgia. And I didn't mind the cornfields and pig farms, or the lack of pine trees, and I didn't miss the red clay at all.
I didn't even mind the riding. I ride my bicycle across Georgia every year; I've ridden in BRAG for 17 consecutive years, and we typically ride an average of 60 miles per day. Never mind that some days in Iowa the route was 80 miles from one town to another, and THEN you had to follow the signs to our particular charter service, Pork Belly Ventures, which could be as many as 5 additional miles. It was usually worth the extra miles for the awesome campsite the PBV folks had acquired, but still.... On a bike ride you're only mentally prepared to do as many miles as you set out to do. You can't tack on an extra 5 here and there.
And it wasn't really the sheer number of people on the road at one time. I've always said I was too dumb to be scared on my bike. Besides, the drivers in Iowa know the best thing for them to do that week is just stay off the road, so we didn't have to worry about traffic too much.
And it certainly wasn't a lack of food. Heaven knows you can't ride more than a mile (usually less) in Iowa without seeing a vendor selling something delicious. Pork chops, fried turkey legs, pasta, homemade ice cream, and pies, not to mention all the locals who set up lemonade stands, sandwich stands, and all kinds of other delectable choices all along the route. It was impossible to go hungry. Broke, yes; hungry, no.
But still, I found myself pedaling along, feeling homesick for hubby and wondering why the hell I was there. I had a perfectly good (in fact, brand new) motorcycle at home, a swimming pool in my backyard, all the necessary ingredients for margaritas, and a comfy bed with a warm hubby to snuggle up to, as opposed to sleeping in a tent that was snuggled right up to 300 other tents. After the day's riding was through (60 miles, 70 miles, 80 miles, whatever), the real work began. I had to find my baggage and lug it to whatever square three feet of space I could find in the blazing sun. Then I had to put up my tent and go in search of a shower.
A "shower" on RAGBRAI could mean many things. It might mean using Pete's Shower Thingy in camp, which was a) convenient and b) free. Or it might mean chasing down a shuttle and trekking to the neighborhood YMCA for a luxurious warm shower for $4.00. Maybe $5.00 if you didn't bring your own towel. Or it might mean a concrete block building with two showerheads and cold water and a million spiders, maybe for $3.00. Or it might mean a fire station where they ran PVC pipe around the walls of one of the truck bays and hung up black plastic to separate the men from the women and everyone of the same gender showered together for $4.00. I'm not kidding. But anything was better than staying in those cycling clothes, and getting rid of the grime of the road was worth any amount of money.
Meals in the towns were usually provided by the local churches (for most of them it was their biggest fund raiser of the year), and man was the food delicious. But you had to a) decide where the group wanted to eat, usually according to what was being served; b) find it; c) stand in line; and d) pray they didn't run out of food before your part of the line got there.
Back in camp, I hung around under the big red and white striped tent and drank a few adult beverages (three on a REALLY wild night) and listened to the evening's entertainment before heading off to sleep on the ground in my tent. I really enjoyed the camaraderie. But I was away from home. And I missed my hubby.
So back to perspective. (You thought I forgot where I was going with this, didn't you?) Instead of riding home for 2 days in a van with the 12 other people from Georgia who were pretty tired of each other by the end of the week (namely someone who shall remain nameless but whose initials are G-L-O-R-I-A), I chose to fly back to Atlanta. It was worth every bit of the $99 ticket I had to buy. A couple from Atlanta who also rode chose the same option, and the husband of the pair booked us a limousine from the end of the ride to the airport in Moline. A real limousine. Stretch. For three of us. Cool.
I was pleasantly surprised by the airport personnel. Remember, the airport I am most used to and deal with most often is Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta. In the Quad City Airport, the ticket agent commented on how good my driver's license picture was (I had recently had a new picture made for my motorcycle license), which led to a discussion about motorcycles. She wanted to see a picture of it too, along with any other random pictures I had on hand. Or camera. We chatted for quite a while. A completely new experience for me in an airport.
When I checked in via the kiosk, the question came up about upgrading to first class (or whatever they call it these days). My finger hovered over the screen. I had never flown first class before. I had just spent about $1000 -- yes, there are three zeros there -- for a week of agony. The charge to upgrade to first class was another $35. At which point I said, I think aloud, "I've GOT 35 dollars." So first class it was.
I had to wait about 4 hours to board my plane, because my friends the limo-renters had an earlier flight, and I was, well, tagging along in their limo. There I was in the airport, along with all the other jet-setters just like me (ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha), a whole week removed from wearing any makeup or blow-drying my hair, wearing a skort, t-shirt, baseball cap, and fanny pack, a funky tan line from bicycle shorts and cycling sandals, and hauling two giant duffel bags with a week's worth of smelly cycling gear in them that probably would have set off a couple of radioactive alarms, had we been in an airport of any size. I was feeling so sophisticated at this point that I did the most obvious, logical thing -- I went to sleep. On the floor. With no pillow or blanket or anything. How regal.
Back to perspective.
Finally the time came to board the plane. I felt very smug every time I looked at my ticket and saw that my seat was "1A." I looked sympathetically at the other passengers when I got to board first. I sat down in my window seat and was thinking about how good it would feel to get home. I was all ready to chat with my seatmate about how I had just spent the week and share with him/her just how badly my legs ached. Oh, how my legs ached. They were muscular and tan and looked pretty decent coming out from under a skort, but oh, how they ached.
My seatmate was the last person to board the plane, along with her 11-year-old stepson. He sat across the aisle, very polite and well-mannered, not the goober I anticipated. She leaned over to him and said quietly, "Just remember, we'll be last to get off the plane in Atlanta." He nodded, and she leaned her head back against the seat with her eyes closed, a smile of contentment on her face.
Her demeanor was so calm, so peaceful, and she just gave off the aura of someone who had never complained in her life.
And she had no legs. I couldn't speak at all.