Anticipatory Pleasures

I have been training like a madman for the first adventure I announced in my last post – the planned bicycle ride that I have been variously calling the FLA/ME ride – since it is expected to take me from Florida’s southern tip to Portland, Maine – and the Prison Breakout Ride, since I hope it will mark the end of my – and our collective – periods of virtual confinement. 

I have become optimistic that the ride will actually happen. I am scheduled to get my second vaccination shot in a couple of days, have found a driver for the sag wagon and, perhaps most important, (after this morning’s hilly 67 miler with a good friend) I judge myself to be fit enough to attempt it. Barring any hitches James (the sag driver) and I will set out from Key West early on the morning of April 24th, perhaps accompanied by a cycling friend or two. What route we will follow after the first day’s ride through the keys, on which there’s only one possible route, isn’t known; neither do I know how long the trip will take. 

As my excitement about this adventure has mounted, I’ve decided to try to explain why I will be undertaking it. After all, on first consideration such a journey might well seem like a ludicrous waste of time, energy and money, as well as an inconvenience and worry to the Beloved Spouse – because, among other things, it is all that.

When I finished the ride from Los Angeles, CA to Old Lyme, CT five years ago I was convinced that while it had been a great experience, I would never do such a thing again. Been there, done that, as they say; don’t need to do it again. 

I couldn’t have known how almost impossibly free it would someday seem that I had been while on that trip. I had been able to explore vast parts of the country, both expecting and receiving warm welcomes from strangers along the way. The subsequent pandemic-era lockdowns and travel restrictions made the idea of an open-ended journey across many states, choosing my route as I went, seem like a lost dream. Over the last year, I have had an almost desperate need to retrieve that freedom – and the sense that this is one great and largely welcoming country, notwithstanding its diverse subcultures; now I expect to re-find both. 

This will be a very different trip. Instead of making my own discoveries of the southwest, the Rockies and our nation’s seemingly endless farm country, I will be traveling the east coast, with which I have been broadly familiar all my life. The only major town that I expect to pass through that I haven’t already visited is Savannah; I hope to take a rest day there to explore it. 

While the journey won’t offer spectacular unfamiliar landscapes, it will give me something I have greater need of now: chances to spend time with a whole series of very dear friends whom I haven’t been able to see for quite a while. After the very first day’s ride I expect to see three such friends – a couple of former neighbors and a business friend – all of whom I’ve been close to for well over thirty years. Two nights later, if the riding goes as planned, I’ll see a guy who was a business mentor and friend even longer ago. In Charleston, I’ll see a woman who has been a close friend since college, in DC another friend of thirty years. In Philadelphia I assume we’ll see James’s mom and dad – the latter being my brother-in-law – and northeast from there we’ll see friends and family all along the way. What a great way to reconnect with people I love.

The subtlest source of joy on a trip like this, though, is how its myriad uncertainties will force me – and other participants – to live more fully in the moment than at almost any other time. The physical nature of the tasks at hand can be overwhelming: a distance cyclist must constantly be assessing not only how he or she is feeling at the moment, but whether the combination of pace, food and fluid intake will mean that the effort can be sustained as hoped. And as a matter of safety he or she must be radically alive to his or her surroundings at all times.

What’s more, each day must be planned one day at a time. On this morning’s ride, my companion said that if he were to do such a trip, he would meticulously plan the whole thing months in advance. He’s wrong about that: it can’t be done. Weather has its constantly changing say in the matter, roads may be out or hotels unexpectedly closed, and exhaustion that demands a rest day, or just a shorter day, is unpredictable. What starts as a comprehensive plan will surely be foiled, throwing off schedules and necessitating innumerable adjustments. Better by far to plan tonight for tomorrow and leave the rest to fate.

There is a strange pleasure in these uncertainties. Being forced to make and remake decisions that affect our bodies right now – and to trade the siren call of the Internet’s ersatz reality for actual sounds of the road – where hearing cars and trucks is of literally vital importance – has a concreteness that stands in welcome contrast to the blur that can characterize our daily lives. These will be days many of which, for better or worse, I will likely remember for the rest of my life.

All these pleasures will come at a cost, of course. I will miss the Beloved Spouse, our children, grandchildren, the friends I see near home and my puppy, the irrepressible Sundae. I will miss this year’s most exciting days in our garden. I will temporarily (mostly) set aside the exciting new business venture I’m pursuing. My real life will be on hold. 

So be it; I believe that life will be sweeter with the renewed sense of personal freedom that is the overarching reason for the journey.

M. H. Johnston

4 comments to Anticipatory Pleasures

  • Filip Gieszczykiewicz  says:

    On topic of “matter of safety”, when you’re on the open road, I do hope you light yourself up like a Christmas Tree. Or, will the sag mobile be always right behind you, to provide the crumple zone? As a driver, I have run across cyclers at the oddest places and lights were often the different between a swerve and planned slow-down 🙂

  • Rob Alberts  says:

    Mark, what a wonderful journey you are about to undertake. If you need any support as you pass through the Virginia-D.C.-Maryland metro area, please reach out. It would be an honor to meet you.

    • M Johnston  says:

      Thanks. If at all possible, I’ll try to schedule a chance to meet, maybe while stopping at some roadside place for lunch. I’ll email likely timing a day or two out.

  • DP  says:


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