Tuesday, May 10, 2016

A Day Without Me (Part Two: My Redemption)

It was 10:18am, and the miles were flying past. My windows were down and my iPod was jamming one great song after another. Gin Blossoms, Journey, Live, and other favorites from my 'Soundtrack' playlist were screaming through the Jeep's speakers. I was singing at the top of my lungs, oblivious to the fact I'm tone-deaf. Thank goodness the dog is deaf or this may have been viewed as cruel and unusual punishment. The fog was lifting and the cloud that was following me around all week started to dissipate. The reality is, I wasn't broken hearted. I was hurt. I was falling for someone and had the rug pulled out from under me for circumstances I could do nothing about. All-in-all, the pain was life affirming. I was relieved to find I was still capable of these feelings. Granted it look me losing them to realize I had them, but it was a positive life experience, and for that I found myself feeling a bit grateful. I arrived at the trail-head at a 'local only' entrance to Potawatomi State Park. 1,225 acres of gorgeous north-woods along Sturgeon Bay. I remember riding here every day when I lived here. I'd peel through these wood at daybreak before my shift at restaurant. I still remember the smell of coffee and bacon would fill the heavy fall air as the campers began their days. I got my bike ready to go and checked my water and computer. Today I had brought my carbon fiber hard tail. It would be the first time I'd ever rode this bike here. This bike was made for these kinds of trails. I was ready to begin....and then I saw a sign: "State Park -- Warning -- Hunting in Progress." Hmmmm... It looked as though I was going to get all the adventure that comes with mountain biking, with the added excitement of possibly being shot! "Oh well," I thought to myself. "I didn't come all this way to not ride!" ...and off I went. Surprisingly, I remembered right where the trail met up with the road and I swung off the pavement to tackle the first big hill up to the main trail system. The trails were much better marked than when I was last here. I stopped at the first map and picked which signs I'd follow. I took off and started to find a rhythm. Then, on the way up the next hill...SNAP...my chain broke! I have a tool packed for any relatively minor repair, but fixing a chain is still a huge pain in the butt. Largely because it takes at least three hands. After messing with it for a few minutes, I stood up to stretch my back. I sat back down. I had the link pin in my mouth for safe keeping, I used my left foot to hold the rear derailleur forward to keep the chain slacked so I could hold the two ends together. This time I got it on the first try. I got up, stretched a little, took a long pull from my bottle, and started off again down the trail. This time I fell into my groove. My back went from throbbing to aching to acceptance. My shoulders squared up to allow my elbows and wrists to relax and absorb the ground. My legs pounded out a cadence as if to say, 'no matter what you throw at us today, we're not breaking this pace.' The bike itself ate up the trail. No longer was I fighting to stay on the six-inch wide piece of packed dirt. It was to the point it felt like the ground was reaching up and holding my tire in place. Trees flew past mere inches from me, but it didn't matter. Nothing was slowing me down. Along with the blurry scenery rushing past, my worries also diminished. Suddenly what my boss thought of me was a lot less important to me than not breaking a collarbone on one of these beautiful birch trees. My mind began to wander back to my recent break up. Everything happens for a reason. What would this teach me? PFFFF! My mind snapped back to the task at hand with the interrupting 'cough' of the bike's front shock taking a hit. "Keep your head in the game," I thought to myself. After all, it's all about staying in the moment today. This is my religion. This is where I find the peace I cannot find anywhere else. This is my higher power. Body and mind are one, if only for a moment. I was so in a groove here, that I decided to stay and do another lap rather than pack it in and go further up north to find another trail. Why would I stop? The more I rode, the better I felt physically and emotionally. The songs blaring through my head went from Shinedown's 'The Sound of Madness,' to Marillion's 'Don't Hurt Yourself' to The Eagles' 'Peaceful, Easy Feeling.' Life was simpler like this. I rounded out the ride by coasting down the last hill right to the waterfront. I sit there and bask in it all for a little while. It had been just over ten miles. I had topped out at over 20mph in there. I rode back to the Jeep and stowed my bike shoes and helmet. I let Zooey out and we walked back down along the channel, as I contemplated my next move. I intended to go all the way up to Fish Creek to ride at Peninsula State Park, and cap off the day at my friend Britt's restaurant. But if I decided to do that, I might not get on the road home until after 7pm. That would make for an exhausting drive home. I decided to rather go into Sturgeon Bay and hit Inn at Cedar Crossing' Pub for a burger and cold beverage. After a delicious $13 sandwich and three raspberry lemonades, I got a mocha and walked Z some more through a park along the water before heading home. For you that are still curious about the message on my phone at the end of 'A Day Without Me (Part One)', that caused my day to start late, thanks for staying with the story. If you think it was the girl who I had just split with calling to make up, I'd advise you to stop watching Meg Ryan movies. That's not how the world works. The message was a cross-roads of sorts. It was a message from an online dating site saying someone was trying to contact me. Another great ploy these sites use is this one: After you quit, they leave your information posted. Then maybe someone reaches out to you. But if you want to see who it is or what they want, you have to rejoin. I fell for this once. I signed back up to make contact, only to have nothing materialize. Basically I paid $35 to be rejected. Nothing like adding insult to injury! So here I am staring at my phone. "'MissZ' sent you an email. Click here to subscribe and see what she wrote." Fate staring at me from the three-inch screen of my cell phone. She could be my friend. We could spend hours on a coffee house couch until our butts became numb talking and reading the stories in each other's eyes. She could be my lover. She could be my soulmate. She could be my destiny. But as of today, we will never know.

Friday, May 6, 2016

A Day Without Me (Part One: The Backstory)

The Metaphor of my Life: Always stay to the right!
Forgive me BlogSpot, for I have sinned. It has been three years since my last post, and I am not a healthier person for it. I used to write because I rode. I used to write because I was inspired to write. I used to have people in my life that I wrote to inspire. In the last three years, I have not been riding, and even more tragic, I have not been inspired. The last time I was inspired to post anything was when I wrote a letter to my step daughter as she prepared to graduate from high school three springs ago. She is now wrapping up her sophomore year of college and her mother and I have been apart for the last four years.
The first of those years solo was spent reinventing myself. After being in two marriages totaling twenty plus years, it was time to rediscover who I was. Or more accurately, who I had become through these experiences. I soon discovered what I had always suspected: I am pretty boring. I settled into a fairly predictable routine of working and fatherhood. Served up with a side of good coffee and a long walk every Saturday morning. The kids and I created a solid, stable, and predictable life for ourselves. Every year around Father's Day and my birthday (the two weekends I am sure to have them), we'd go camping, or to the Wisconsin Dells, or Door County for a mini vacation. We start every Saturday together with a trip to the bakery for fresh donuts and swing by a coffee house for my 'day off mocha' before heading to the beach for a long decompressing walk on the beach. Life was becoming good again. But hardly anything blog-worthy was happening to me. Writing a blog is like making a movie: Who would want to watch a movie about a day in the life of John Q Public? But if something extraordinarily good or bad would happen to John, then people might take an interest. Enter online dating: the good and bad (mostly bad) that brought me back to the fold.
The very day I wrote to my step daughter, I received a pop-up ad from Match.com. I thought to myself, "it's been a year. Maybe it's time?" I signed up for a three month membership. Online dating is like going on a job search for a job you might not even like. Your write some stuff about yourself that you hope will attract the right person (your resume). You add some pictures of yourself trying to look your coolest (I had never taken a selfie until this fiasco). Then you wait.... You read others' credentials and reach out to people you might be interested in. But for the most part, you just log on to watch what's left of your self esteem and dignity go down the drain. The first girl to reach out to me however, was very nice. She was together, cute, well spoken, smart, and fun to be around. We had similar experiences and got along really well. Our main difference was I had been single for a year and the ink was still drying on her divorce papers. She was just out there to 'meet a few people.' We casually saw each other for about six months. In that six months we never kissed, held hands, or split a check. It was by far the most expensive acquaintanceship I've ever had! In the end, she ended up dumping me just days after I had taken her out to dinner and a concert in Milwaukee for my birthday. She said, "well I can't date everybody." Implying that she had chosen to be with a different dude. "You can do that?" I thought to myself. I don't really think I have it in me to be a serial dater. For starters, I'm not that good with names. I could just see myself sitting across from my date: "Now are you the one with the two dogs, or the one who's son is in the Navy?" I just don't see that ending well for me. "Check please!?" After Match came a month on Zoosk where, in the first half hour, I became reconnected with a girl I used to know when we worked at the same hotel in Appleton twenty years earlier. We were together for a few months until the distance led us into a dead end. The same fate took it's toll on the only relationship I had in a subsequent stint on eHarmony. Online dating sort of sets you up to fail. I live in a small city with much larger cities 50 miles away to the north and to the south. That being the case, 90% of whom I am introduced to are at least an hour away. You are then matched with someone like you: decent job, single parent, and has a home and roots. Who in their right mind would give all that up for some random dude they met on the internet? Unless we're matched with someone down the block, we're doomed before we begin. Then a couple months ago, I got a text from Match.com that I'd get a free 24 hour trail to entice me back to their service. Great ploy: you meet someone and then the 24 hours is over and you have to rejoin to keep the game going. After getting a couple responses, I started chatting with someone about an hour west of me. At least it wasn't Green Bay or Milwaukee. We hit it off and exchanged numbers before my dime ran out. We met for a date less than a week later. Things took off from there. We clicked as a couple and saw each other often. Weeks went by and I realized feelings were coming to the surface that I hadn't allowed myself to feel in over a decade. Love was in the air. I could actually start to see a future with this person. We shared so many complimentary traits. Life was good and getting better.
Now, anyone who has been in love more than once can vouch for me here. The hardest step to make down the road of love is the transition from infatuation to actual love. Infatuation rocks. Nothing can touch infatuation. Infatuation is all the fun and emotion of falling in love without any of the reality. Our realities were now started to seep into the mix. We lost a lot of sleep by making trips to see each other even it was just for a few hours. Baggage started becoming an issue. Soon phrases like, "I'm not sure I can do this," started creeping into the conversations. I started to put out fires that I didn't know how they had started. We were still heading down the road of love, but the bumps were becoming more pronounced. A few months into it, we were done. I was shattered. Work sucked. Home sucked. Even the beach sucked. Oh yeah.... a broken heart sucks! I walked around in a daze for the next week. The pain was like a dark cloud that followed me everywhere, and I just couldn't shake it.
I had vacation time coming. I had requested some PTO so her and I could get away for a few days, but never cancelled it after our demise. I decided I would take the time for myself. I needed to get away and try to get out from under this cloud. As the days went by, I felt a little guilty for not working when I really didn't need the time off. But the closer I got to the time off, the more excited I got. My plan was to spend the day mountain biking some of favorite trails in Door County and then treat myself to a good meal before heading home. I had invited a friend to come with me, but was secretly grateful when he declined. Sunday wound down at work and Koval and I hung out at night. As he got ready for bed, I packed the Jeep and got my bike ready to rock-n-roll. I even went as far as to lay out my outfits for before, during, and after my ride. I slept good that night. It was nice to feel the anticipation of a new day, rather than the dread. Monday morning arrived as if it was made just for me. The sun was shining and temperature was on the rise. It would be a perfect day no matter what I did. I got dressed (in my pre-ride outfit) and took Koval to school. I then headed to get myself a mocha before going to the beach with Zooey. We took a nice long walk to get her satisfied before having to spend two hours in the Jeep. We returned to the house where I changed into my bike shorts and a t-shirt for the drive up. It was 9am. The exact time I had planned on hitting the road. The Jeep was packed, the dog was already curled up on the passenger seat, I grabbed my Nalgene of sun tea from the fridge, and was ready to roll. And then my phone buzzed.