Thursday, June 11, 2009

Saying Goodbye

Half of my biking crew left yesterday morning, and for the first time on this trip, I realized a great risk of this journey. John, Huw, Joe, Mark and Sam. It was so incredibly unexpected, this feeling that struck me, is there anything I can write that could come close to expressing it?

How do you explain, for example, meeting a group of people who after only a few days truly feel like family?
Or the feeling of being so incredibly adopted that you feel completely comfortable, and at home with a group of people who only days before were complete strangers? What about trying to imagine your trip without them?

God, it's so cheesy to try and explain, but it would include all of these things, I suppose: Laughs, lots of laughs, so much good, really good conversation, so many stories told, pool playing, walks into town, cramming into cabs to get back, watching the TT and getting schooled in bike racing, all the fabulous shared suppertimes and breakfasts, and then there was of course, trussing me up for my first bike ride around the mountain... I felt like I was being fussed about by 7 father hens.

They're probably all blushing. The British aren't so mushy like us Americans, or more specifically, like me.

Right. So yesterday morning when John knocked on my door and announced, "Sig, we're leaving..." I flew out of bed in my pajamas and swung open the door, squinting to see them without my glasses on, all a-panic. Leaving? Already? I was wanting to get up to have breakfast with them before they were gone.... I was hoping to get some more time.... but I'd overslept.

John and I exchanged a quick hug, but all the rest of the boys were geared up already, helmets, gloves, glasses, on their bikes. I didn't have my shoes on and I couldn't see very far. I had been thinking much of the night before about what I wanted to say to them... how I could possibly express everything so they would really understand.

I had been trying it out in my head. Thank you for being so awesome, thank you for the full English breakfasts and the laughs and the... making me feel like family.

I wanted to tell them that I would never forget any of them, and that I wished I could be a part of their clan forever. That they were one of the best bunches of fellows I'd ever met in my life, and the world was a better off place with them on it.
Instead I said, "Bye, bye... have a safe journey... bye..." with a smile. John mounted his bike and they drove off. I closed the door, and sat down on the edge of the bed, and I actually had a little cry. I felt a huge sense of loss at not being able to tell them all the things I had wanted to say, but maybe some things, I realized, sometimes don't need saying.

Wol and Big John and Paul were still here until Saturday, which is, incidentally, my birthday. I was so glad to have them here for a few more days, and at the same time, the thought of having to feel this terrible feeling twice was just horrible.

I think I've heard people say that sometimes when you travel, you have to be careful not too get attached. That's the risk I'd discovered, and I might sound silly, but it took me completely unawares. But to those people, I would like to say, that I think that is absolute garbage. In fact, if you find any people worth really getting attached to, absolutely do it. Because you are among the very lucky.

I may have to say goodbye, but maybe goodbye doesn't always mean farewell.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Isle of Man

I had very specifically tried to avoid coming to Isle of Man during the week or more of mayhem known as "The T.T." (or Tourist's Trophy). This was a time when the usual serenity and remote stillness of this fair isle in the middle of the Irish Sea was shattered by the arrival of thousands of European men on loud, stinky motorbikes, in what I came to learn is one of the most famous motorbike races in all the world. To me, of course, hoping to take long quiet walks in the woods in search of our fair friends, the fact that my trip here had coincided with the TT Race was nearly catastrophic.

But just like in the search for the invisible, or even an imaginary world of faeries, nothing is ever as it seems.
The bikers, particularly eight of them here at the centre where I am staying, have become my only friends here near Ramsey, on the Isle of Man.
I am getting so homesick, and they cheer me by dragging me out to the nearby pubs, refusing to take my money in exchange for the beers, insisting on feeding me perfectly seasoned chicken curry and pasta bolognaise from their vast steaming pots of communally cooked supper, and even I think, allowing me to not lose so badly when playing them in games of pool.

During the days, however, I am left to my own devices. I am here on this island which is only 32 miles long and at its widest, 15 miles across. But I feel lost and alone. Up to this point, since I'd left London, things had been happening in leaps and bounds. Every where I went the right people to talk to had been practically falling into my lap. I had tremendous interviews and some truly unbelievable experiences, which I'm working out how to include in the book. But here, even though it seemed so clear that this was exactly where I needed to be, nothing is happening, contacts are hard to find, even a freaking telephone is hard to find.

Yesterday I set out on my first hike up a glen since arriving here. The stories of faerie haunted glens in Manx folklore were so numerous, and I was nearly convinced I would feel something, or hear something, or maybe even see something, that would lead me to believe I was led here for a reason. But aside from a very creepy coniferous forest that I tiptoed my way through, there was nothing. It was certainly a beautiful hike, but nothing. I guess this is when all of the doubt begins creeping in.
I start thinking, and disbelieving, and wondering...
What am I doing here? Why did I choose to come here for so long, so far away from all of my friends, my family, and Eric? What am I even looking for that I couldn't find in my own backyard, or even, heaven forbid, within my own self?

Even the Manx people have forgotten their legends, and when asked they all regurgitate the same story about the faerie bridge in town, and how all the bikers and bus drivers salute the bridge when crossing. No one really knows why, and besides, they're thinking about taking down all the trinkets people leave there, as they're beginning to get in the way.
Can't they see that people are leaving trinkets there because they are desperate to feel a tie to something, a tie to their own histories, their heritage, to the land, to a magical world that now lies permanently shrouded from our increasingly modern world? It's very discouraging, and today my heart feels very heavy indeed.

But there are my biker friends to consider, and I have promised, in lieu of being able to find any other way to possibly thank them for their friendship over the past few days, that tonight I will make dinner for them. And here, groceries are a town away, and the races are today, so the roads are closed, some of them even for walking. I will go and wait at the electric tram stop, a quaint wooden train that chugs slowly from town to town, more or less on a schedule, but only if you can sufficiently flag it down as it approaches. Sometimes it seems, they think you are just waving.