It only happened once or twice. I made a sort of kamikaze effort to get off the front of the group, the result of some combination of my own recklessness and everyone else’s inattention. Away off the front is an odd place. In many ways it looks like all the other places. How, for example, is being on the front of a frothing group ride any different than being on your own on a hard solo ride? Is it the palpable urgency of what’s happening behind you, everyone waking up to the idea that someone has broken the tacit agreement to suffer in close proximity, feeling the insult, the temerity of the move, and somewhere inside themselves resolving to punish the offender?
I was away on vacation last week. You didn’t notice because I did a thing that no writer has ever done in the history of writing before. I got a full week ahead of my deadlines. I got off the front of this thing and left you chasing, albeit unwittingly.
We got up at 4am Boston time and by 9:30 Seattle time were looking at the snowy face of Mt. Rainier from the plane’s awkward, oval window. Then we spent a week touring colleges (how did this happen?), hanging out with friends (including Mr. Stevil Kinevil live in the flesh), and stuffing our faces with the kinds of foods you only ever eat on vacation.
This is the thing about travel. It looks different. The visual stimuli are fresh and new. I had that same sense of having dared to push away from my normal life, and that same sense of responsibilities trailing in my wake. It sharpens the senses and sharpens the scene. We walked into the General Store in Skamania, WA. perched on the narrow highway above the Columbia River Gorge. There I bought a Milky Way and a Mountain Dew, because vacation and because deep calorie debt from hiking activities, and there I made some small jokes with the cashier and another customer. Other people’s workaday lives suddenly seem novel as you move through them, because you’re in a place you never expected to be. You’re having an experience.
Eventually, the chasing horde would catch me. My time away was always going to be limited. And there’s something absurd about making that effort to escape when you know the group will come back together, that you’ll grind over the last hill together before the coffee shop or the pizza place, except that going away has the value of freshening your perspective. It’s thrilling and rejuvenating and necessary, occasionally. Also exhausting.