Longing for Intimacy
July 29, 2013
“Yes,” she laughingly assured me, “the numbness will eventually go away. Don’t worry, we all get it with our first tour.”
Some tidbits of knowledge just can’t be found in books or guides, and I had the good fortune of finally spending time with others who had toured enough to share a few pointers with me.
To be honest, with the history of heart attacks and strokes in my family, I had feared the worst: mild stroke. My fingers had been numb since the day after I had launched. At best, I believed it was only the same muscular strain that had resulted in my inability to even hold a fork after the first day: too much shifting and braking for my Lakeshore training.
The strength, however, had returned to my thumb (somewhat, depending upon the terrain, how often I tugged at my bungees to load or unload my duffle, and number of flats I have to repair in a day). But the perpetual numbness had persisted, leaving me fearing the worst.
“When can I expect to regain feeling?” I asked.
“When will you stop applying pressure to the nerve?” he replied.
Since I had met them in Denison, IA, and wasn’t even half-way finished with my trip, I knew I would have to endure the numbness, but remained content with the reassurance that it was nothing more than pinched nerves.
When I had the pleasure of joining the Bike N Build participants at the bike shop in Ames, IA, I secretly chuckled to myself as a male rider pointed to a saddle cream (made by a woman for women) and told his companion, “Here, this is what you need.”
Rashes, numbness, toilet paper, cornfield fairies, tailwinds: the private world shared by only those who have toured.
Nothing is sacred.
“You don’t know what de-tassling is?” he asked, explaining that male and female plant parts are incompatible in the production of sweet corn. The work, he added, is hot, tedious, and dirty. While there is good money in going to the field before dawn and hand plucking the tassels off the maturing corn stalks until it is too hot to do so any longer, few are able to endure it for long.
“But you couldn’t do it,” he added, noting my height as I sat at the table at The Tow Line in Fremont, NE. “You have to be at least five feet tall.”
The young mother listened to our conversation, keeping her eye on her children as they played in the nearby lake.
“She is getting to the age where I am afraid her friends will begin using her to get closer to her brother,” she noted, after shouting at her son again for picking on his sister and her friend. “I don’t understand why the girls always have to be separated from the boys. I wish they could all just be part of the same group.”
I silently noted the irony of the two transecting conversations.
Size and gender: sensitive issues for me. Is separation of gender as necessary in humans as it is in the production of sweet corn?
“Is there a difference between male and female cornfields?” I asked the other biker as we both waited for our bikes at The Bike Shed in Kearney, NE. After hearing of my quest, they had generously agreed to squeeze me into what they had identified as an already full schedule.
“It is all in the direction the corn points,” the other biker responded.
After sharing my up-ended photo from my cornfield encounter, he warned, “Beware of those cornfield fairies. They are always up to no good,” adding that only the very worst ever comes of relieving oneself in a cornfield.
My brother, still an avid bicyclist in spite of finding himself on the far side of a hood attached to a hit-and-run vehicle, after I told him of the reversal of aging I had recently undergone, laughed, noting, “Yeah, biking will work anything out of you. It is a great cure for constipation as well,” adding that on those days, he is thankful for a good headwind.
“I prefer the headwinds over the tailwinds,” the biker who had warned me against the seductive, evil cornfield fairies later noted.
Combined with my brother’s earlier comment, I thought, “Yeah, if you don’t like corn fairies well, it explains why you prefer the headwinds!”
As we sat at the breakfast table in Denison, I held up my hands again, mingling my laughter with hers, noting that I couldn’t wait to no longer have the inevitable chain grease embedded under my fingernails, adding I felt as though I always looked like a cross between a transient and a mechanic. She agreed, assuring me it was part of the touring world and suggested I purchase a pair of riding gloves for the numbness and inevitable layer of dirt encrusting my hands.
She added that she kept her gloves on throughout the tour for everything—yes, EVERYTHING, including washing her hands at every possible turn in the road. I smiled, reflecting on her advice as I reached for a pair of riding gloves the same color of the Red Knight’s pick-up who had directed me to Kearney’s Bike Shed.
Later, as her husband began giving me directions how to leave their campground/yard in Denison, I reached for my GPS, handily stored in the most convenient pocket every female biker has. She laughed when I apologized, adding that she, too, used to use her sports bra as a convenient phone pocket until she went through a few of them (phones, not sports bras) because of the moisture, something that the male riders were unable to do.
I added my touch screen, already cracked from a previous toilet accident, no longer readily responded to my touch.
Human touch, a sense of belonging, a sense of uninhibited intimacy. We all long for it. I am glad I have found it, unexpectedly, in the community of bicyclers and campground hosts I have encountered along the way.