where we meet a pilgrim

The cyclist’s name is Ryan.  He seems like a perfectly normal young man at first, able to be quiet and near invisible on my front porch as he spends a few minutes online, or completely companionable later over a beer, staying up late with my husband and I and talking about child-raising, psychology, evolution and neuroscience.  But he’s not normal, or at least he is doing something rather astonishing: late August finds him completing the last leg of a 2,000 mile journey that brought him up to the Arctic Sea and back.

He’s probably been thin his whole life, but now he looks like part of his machine, his sun-brown arms resting comfortably on the handlebars of a bicycle that looks unremarkable considering it’s carried this man, his food, his “home” of a tent, pad, and sleeping bag, his possessions – including a phone, camera, and iPod – up to the far reaches of our world and back through Alaska, the west coast of Canada, the arboreal forest, back to civilization.  He cites the Dalton Highway as the hardest part of his trip, a 400+ highway between Fairbanks and the Arctic Sea, claimed as one of the most isolated roads in our country. He spent thirteen days in near complete isolation besides the mosquitoes so vicious it was nearly impossible to stop the bike for any length of time.

It’s funny; I’d thought of talking to the proprietor at a local bike shop and offering up my household as a place for cyclists doing tours to get a shower, a meal, do some laundry, have a bed to sleep in.  Something had held me back, though – would it be too impulsive, silly?  Ryan was introduced to us by friends who met him at the movie the night before. I can’t help but think this young man must inspire many “adoptions” along the way – and I can’t help wishing this was how people related to one another more often.

I am unsure of how to host someone like this; much like a pilgrim, he has few needs and he can take hardly anything with him.  He downloads a new song each week to his iPod to reflect on and enjoy – a simple pleasure during long miles on the road.  In our house he washes his clothes – a small, sedate pile of brown, grey and black – and takes a shower and occupies a bed and quickly and efficiently plugs in his small electronic devices and plays a bit on Ralph’s guitars. I ask if he’s allergic to cats or has any dietary restrictions and of course, he has no special needs and requires no special treatment.  If most people I know rely on the comforts of home, Ryan is a startling example to the contrary.

At noon today he leaves, having eaten a volumnous amount of food in my presence and carefully weighed how much water he wanted to take before the inland hills through Raymond.  His visit is a painful reminder to me of the impermanence of all things; people beautiful and wonderful who then disappear off to their own paths.

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