“Ale Is another Man”- Anonymous

In the Bike Hermit’s experience, ale is at least two other men. The first “other” man comes around for the first two or three rounds- depending on the ale’s alcohol content. He is more loquacious than the original Bike Hermit and his mood is fine. For him the hard edges of living are sort of smoothed and softened. If the session continues (usually ill-advisedly, and due to impaired judgment) this man often stays. Other times, on some unpredictable cue, a second “other man” appears and vitiates the first “other man”. This second “other man” is mean spirited and hurtful. But he is confident that his behavior is justified and he is unwilling to back down. He is not a tough guy though; he doesn’t pick fights with strangers, because that might hurt. No, he bullies his friends and loved ones with his anger and resentment and hurt feelings. He feels as though he has been wronged or insulted or embarrassed in some way and those feelings are strong enough to be accepted as true (by him). He’s actually quite good (better than he realizes apparently) at getting retribution for these perceived wrongs. He is something of a coward, really. He doesn’t care for himself either. His meanness comes from insecurity and self loathing and an urgency to “do unto others before they do unto you”.

This is not a drinking story though; the Bike Hermit does not care for the second “other man” but he knows he will always be there- a ghost in the machine, which is just more plainly visible with alcohol.


Boise to Enterprise

As it turns out I am bike touring with not just one companion but two. To a self proclaimed hermit like myself this is not customary. It’s a good thing they both know me well, are patient with me and mostly forgive my antisocial tendencies. My present companions each provide entertainment value in their own ways and the shared experiences deepen our friendships. Sometimes it’s nice to have reinforcements; D. is not afraid to approach people at campsites and ask if he can buy beer from them when we run out (here’s a tip; they usually offer it for free)  P. reminds me when I am being critical of, or less than generous toward, my fellow man that I am no better than they are. That said, traveling alone on the bicycle is for me a rewarding, almost spiritual endeavor.

I know I’m different; maybe there is something wrong with me. When I was 18 I hitchhiked across the country and rode my bike around New England in states of confusion and loneliness. That same year I rode from my home in Bozeman, MT. to Swan Lake near Missoula. I carried no water and I rode in blue jeans. I didn’t even have a tent. It must have been after that summer that I found a poster of Lon Haldeman’s touring bike.  I hung that poster on my wall and studied it every day and tried to figure out how he got all that stuff hooked onto his bike. I don’t remember too much about that bike anymore except for the wire bead clincher tire folded perfectly and strapped neatly to the outside of a pannier.

I think what I like most about that picture was the suggestion that a person could  be self sufficient with a machine like that. There was a promise of escape and of freedom. By freedom I mean being able to start whenever I like in the morning, to ride at my own pace and to stop when I want. Being able take a detour if I feel like it; camp where and when I want to; get a room when and where I want to. Self sufficiency and freedom are compromised when one is a member of a group; even a group of 2.

I don’t understand when people have a week or two vacation to use but don’t go bike touring just because they have nobody else to go with. They tell me they get bored without someone to talk to. Personally, I think it can be a lot of work and sometimes awkward to be patient and courteous and social with others, and I am not always able to exhibit those apparently simple skills. Imaginary friends work out well for me however. I can post on online forums and my own blog without threat to my social personality. There is less responsibility there. I don’t need to be nice to those people when their hamburger doesn’t taste right- or when I’m having a shitty day.

I suppose there is safety, or the impression of safety,  in numbers in case of mishaps but Lon Haldeman and I are self sufficient. I know I can fix anything that goes wrong with the bike. Strangers are either interested in what the guy on the bike is doing or they don’t even seem to see me, so the fear of being harassed isn’t that threatening.

Most people talk about all the great people they meet on their tours, almost as if that is the reason they go. While I too have met some interesting people, that is not one of the things that drives me. I like being sort of invisible. I don’t need to interact with anybody if I don’t feel like it. I have never seen these people before and likely will never see them again; I’m a ghost. Like Diogenes, the self proclaimed “prophet of truth and plain speaking” who gave away everything to live in a storage jar on the street where he could observe and criticize and shock polite society, the paradox is that without civilization and society, the existence of the solitary bike hermit would be meaningless, in fact it would be impossible since we both rely on the society in order to survive.

I can be myself or thereabouts. My “self” becomes a little less restricted when out on the bike. I have no definition of  how I am supposed to act because the persona I adopt in my daily life doesn’t apply. That is a feeling of freedom too; the freedom to improvise.

All this tough talk about being some sort of swashbuckling eremitic figure is just talk though. After a couple months or a couple of years on the road by myself  the solitude might start to wear. A few years ago I had  the urge to sign up for a 10 day meditation retreat in Oregon. 10 days of asceticism and silence sounded really good, and a little frightening, to me at the time.  When I wondered aloud what I might find if I went, an acquaintance who identifies as  a Buddhist told me, with a twinkle in his eye;

“You’ll find yourself, brother.” That’s more than a little frightening.

D. is turning back tomorrow since he only has a couple days to goof around. P. is going on to Canada and I am riding with him as far as Enterprise, OR. D. was willing, indeed he seemed anxious, to stop at each of the scattered farm houses along this lightly traveled back road to inquire about places to camp or to ask for water. None of the locals appeared to be the least bit interested in helping.  “Well”,  says P., “There is a reason they live out here”.  Now we have arrived at a small oasis; a grove of trees along the road offers shade and a place to hang the hammocks. D’s efforts finally pay off and the  ranchers from the low, scattered buildings across the road let us fill our water bottles from one of their faucets.  With that problem solved for the moment we sit in the dry grass, silt and cow shit; like hobos on the bank waiting for a train. P. and I drink the beers we bought earlier while D. drinks whiskey. Then we turn in.