I was recently cycling on the Eaton Trail here in Fresno. It was my usual duty ride with fitness and calorie consumption in mind. Running is my drug of choice. I passed a young man sitting on a bench with his bike next to him. He had an assortment of gear spread out on the bench. He was obviously “passing through” and was drying out from the morning rain.
Fresno has it’s share of those passing through and I usually pass on by these folks but wasn’t certain that he might have been a purposeful traveler. Was he a Telemachus or a Mike Horn or to a lesser degree, was he like me? Was this a journey of adventure or aimless wandering? His gear was fairly new and in good repair. He had on an REI jacket.
I stopped and pushed myself backwards till I came along side. I wanted to know his story. His hands and nails were clean and his teeth were brushed and white. It initially seemed like this person who identified himself as Paul was in the midst of an adventure.
And then things began to unravel. As he told his story, things did not add up. He was originally from Colorado, or was it San Diego? He was writing a book on the Pacific Crest Trail or had he read a book? He had not heard of John Muir or the John Muir Trail. There was a Swiss cheese type knowledge base he was working from. He was attempting to live on $200.00 a month sent by his mother. He was headed to Lake Tahoe or such places with no map and no sense where Friant road would lead him. He asked me if any of the mountain passes were open. I mentioned I-80 and he guessed Highway 50 might work to. He guessed that the road (Highway 120) through Yosemite would also take him across and was surprised when I said it was closed in the winter.
Time and the sequencing of travel seemed elusive for him. Many of his statements seemed to start, stop, restart and begin once again. He would pause for some time, I would begin to say something and he would continue by beginning afresh and running over the top of my words. It was a difficult dance. He was cordial yet flat of affect. As I write this I feel like I am charting a hospital intake interview. I eventually bid him goodbye and gave him a blessing but my heart was somewhat sad for him.
He said he had no place and no friends. He was on a journey but there was joylessness to it. He seemed disconnected even from the immediacy of the surroundings. Perhaps the rhythm of his pedals provides a sense of peace and progress. Some would say he is as free as a bird. He said he had a sister somewhere who might help him write a book about his travels.Thinking about Paul reminded me somewhat of Jack Kerouac who wrote of his travels. Kerouac’s book “On The Road” had the same feel about it.
My heroes in life were and are pilgrims. St. Paul had three missionary journeys (one might even say adventures). Mike Horn accomplished the unimaginable goal of circumnavigating the earth at the Arctic Circle. Orland Bartholomew skied the John Muir Trail alone. There is an absolute necessity of inspired dreams, goal setting, planning, self-preparation and closure.
Where is Paul in all this? What is the difference between a drifter and a hero on a journey of self-discovery? Hopefully Paul will find himself along the way.