”What do you mean by telling me to ‘get a life’ Rich?” Niall asked in a belligerent tone as a tyre lever snapped on him.
“Forget it mate.” Rich responded, and I felt myself cringe inside, tired of the tension.
It was a hot afternoon on the shoulder of a busy freeway, yet another puncture on Niall’s rear wheel and too many kilometres still beckoning. In Southern California, the dusk doesn’t linger. We’ve rolled into camp in the dark a lot lately. I tried to stay calm, thinking how we may snap at each other on a journey like this, but we rely on each other to be there as team mates, regardless of our mood or tiredness.
Team dynamics is always interesting, and this trip has been no exception. I feel like the glue between two very different personalities. Living and journeying together for six weeks, we have explored our nooks and crannies, our perks and quirks, and different facets and insecurities of ourselves and one another. We each have parts of us we don’t like and ways of escaping… maybe its to cider, a sweet treat, a chai latte or to just keep riding to the end of the universe. We are driven differently, by lack of life purpose, a desire for change, and I am aware that I’m always pushing with some inner clock that wants to squeeze more and more just in case life runs out soon. In our colourful dynamic I have wondered if and when our delicate threesome might fall apart, but it wasn’t until a few days later that I realised we have bonded not broken.
A few nights later we slept bare to the stars, dehydrated and restless in the burning Santa Anna winds after a day riding in crazy heat, 45 Celsius and sandblasting headwind. We rose in the night for a dawn ride through Malibu and onto Santa Monica, early morning joggers and surfers sharing the beach with us. We took a sidetrip into Hollywood, and all agreed that following bike paths across the beaches was a nicer way to spend the day. But beach trails ran into urban sprawl and we were forced to traverse central Los Angeles in the glow of evening sun, navigating a maze of busy streets and three-lane highways. Niall punctured twice on the rear, and suddenly we had miles of LA to negotiate in the dark. A guy inexplicably spinning himself in circles with a heavy bag took a swing at Niall as we rode by, an explosion cracked the night air – gunshot or maybe just a firework – and sirens screamed in the distance. But we felt untouchable, riding the night, flying towards Long Beach, chasing to Mexico. Invisible potholes and street debris caused two more punctures and a broken spoke, but we were slick and calm, way more oiled than our chains. Much later we rolled into Long Beach, and the magic was palpable. The lights of cruise liners and Ferris wheel twinkled, the moonlight silhouetted palm trees, families and couples strolled in the hot night air.
They say a team goes through different stages… forming, storming, norming, performing. The three of us do all of these things in micro cycles every day, but last night we definitely performed. And in our six weeks on the road, we are travelling those micro cycles within ourselves too, on a journey much greater than the physical one from Canada to Mexico. Niall has shed kilos in a Godzilla effort towing a trailer and wheelchair, getting lighter in spirit as he does in weight. He powers up hills that would previously have daunted him. Rich is a soldier at heart, and has reflected on life’s wars and wounds. He knows ways of healing, and maybe this journey will take him closer to that. Me? Well, I like myself more when I feel fit and healthy, and so I ride and try not to overdo it, or the chai. I am not restless or running. Its just that my DNA is wired to leave no stone unturned. I will always want to discover what is around the next corner… be that in the road ahead, in myself or those I journey with.
With just a few days left to Mexico, I feel proud of the team we have become. The number of tyres we have tackled for punctures is like a metaphor for how we have adapted to our ways and differences. We have almost accomplished what we set out to. We are kind of perfect in our imperfection.