Early in the morning of May 16th, six cyclists from the Bangor YMCA Adventure Seeker’s Program met at 17 Second Street In Bangor. They had a long drive ahead of them and wasted no time loading an 11 passenger van with 6 bikes, 5 tents, 2 coolers of food, a box for the camp kitchen, sleeping pads, sleeping bags, personal luggage and themselves to preparations for their journey to French Creek State Park, Pennsylvania. Over the next 7 days, the group would drive for 25 hours and cycle for 5 continuous days for over 330 miles. Collectively, the group amassed over 500 photographs and videos of various scenic points of interest like: rustic covered bridges, Amish farms, horse drawn buggies, endless farmland, limestone houses, Mennonite children playing happily, goats, lamas, cows, sunsets and the monuments of Gettysburg National Park. Of them all, however, none tell the story of the adventure together better than the two below.
The six of us came together that Thursday morning as, mostly, strangers from different walks of life. We ranged in ages from 33 to 65; among us was a paralegal, a cycling professional, a nurse, a retiree, a Social Security manager and a rock climber. When we returned, however, the evening of May 22nd, we were a community with shared stories, memories and experiences that will bind us together in those 7 days through our lifetimes.
Cycling across Lancaster and York counties, in Pennsylvania, should be on every adventurer’s bucket list! The rolling hills are challenging but achievable, the weather is mild, the roads are well maintained and the back-roads are, not only charmingly picturesque, but they are so infrequently traveled that cyclists seemingly own the road. Of course, the landscape is breathtaking. It’s like cycling through time to an era when life was lived with a more natural pace. We returned with a few hundred photos. We could have easily taken thousands.
With all that, however, what truly made the adventure memorable (as with any adventure) were the unexpected surprises that one cannot capture in a photo: the nightly cribbage lessons hosted by Dave (our resident, conservative looking social security manager with a secret wild side.) The “minute mystery” that lasted three days. The competition to see who can achieve the highest top speed (me, by the way, 44.6 mph! Yahoooo!) The campfire bike maintenance lessons from Erik, my co-leader and our cycling pro. Mistakenly driving through New York City with a massive passenger van loaded to the hilt with bikes. Finding Cindy, our lovable but “navigationaly challenged” retiree. Escaping the heat, impromptu, by using therm-a-rest sleeping mats as pool floats. Riding for 12 hours in a van heaped with the luggage. The book on tape (our on-board entertainment) featuring an “Alien Platypus.” Hiking “Mount Everest” to take a shower on the third night. Waiting for Jen and Cindy to finish free wine tastings. The surprise visit from Erik’s parents, who live in the Pennsylvania. Emergency Shrewsbury bathrooms. The Green Dragon. The Good Scoop. The 20th Maine. Eavesdropping on guided tours of Gettysburg. Paul, journaling every evening in order to share in the adventure with his elderly in-laws. Leftover meatballs. Jen, getting dirty and crushing the gravel. Of course, despite Erik’s and my best efforts to pre-plan routes, getting lost in the woods and having to hauls bikes over streams and up mountains to return to the road; an event that will be forever known as “The Hike-a-Bike.”
Our trip on bikes across Pennsylvania, like every adventure, was a contradiction. We planned, organized and prepared but got the most value out of the unexpected and unplanned. We cursed the route, moaned and groaned up every hill only to celebrate with laughter in the evening while eagerly awaiting our next round of suffering. We took joy and pleasure in our freedom and the affirmation of our lives. Yet, we yearned for our families back home and to return to the comfort of our stable lives.
Every adventure seekers lives this contraction. It is this, I think, that facilitates bonding despite differences in age and station in life. Every adventure seeker, from pioneering mountaineers to weekend warriors, silently grapples with the same inner conflicts. While, it is usually left unspoken, every one of us knows the feeling of being Alive. It is the feeling that comes only with pushing ourselves to our limits and taking risks and we reconciles this selfish desire against the desire to be a good husband/wife, a good parent, a worthy friend. To what extent do we live our lives for ourselves versus our duties to others?
Every adventure must also end. When it does, we find ourselves again faced with competitive and contrary feelings. Like a kid who waits all year for Christmas, once it has passed, for better -or-for-worse, it is never quite as we imaged and we are left looking forward, into an emptiness. There is pride in what we have done, the temptation to leave our lives behind, to remain free and unchained forever. Yet, there is the real, profound joy of returning to our loved ones. There is a deep comfort our lives overshadowed always by a restlessness.
The Amish Country Tour was the second that I have organized and lead. It will remain with me forever, not just as a professional accomplishment, a learning experience or even as a memory of a beautiful place but because I shared a close time with five other adults who, although form different walks in life, all understand and live the same struggles as me. In seven days, I came to know and genuinely like each one of them. I spent a lot of time since our return daydreaming of our time together and, already, I grow restless and set my eyes on the future.
My thoughts begin to turn to August, a 5 day trip across Prince Edward Island. The planning has already begun: routes are being mapped, menus are being planned, campgrounds are being reserved, money is being budgeted, posters are being made, all those logistical pieces that are withing my control are being laid out. Yet, I know, no amount of planning will ultimately determine the true value of the adventure. The true value will come, as it always does, from the people who ride, their unexpected stories, the little unplanned surprises and the time we share together; a group of adventure seekers bonded by experience sharing together in the silent struggle.
We will start, together, strangers, standing awkwardly, politely posing for a photo careful not to invade the space of our neighbor. When we return, we will be sad to leave each-other and we will hug goodbye. That I expect.