Not lost, only wandering: nomadic bicyclists worry families back home

Theseus’ Bike

“Are you the missing cyclists?” asks the mounty.

Dan turned 40 years old on this trip, a man by most accounts, but his Israeli mother doesn’t see this as reason to cease worrying. Thoughtfully, before he left, Dan told said mom that if she verged on panic she should call Xiaoyue, his girlfriend, in hopes that the soothing calm of Xiaoyue’s mind would put out potential brush fires in his mother’s.

But fires are unpredictable. Xiaoyue hadn’t heard from Dan since he crossed the Canadian border several days earlier, and she didn’t think to call my parents who are, by now, acclimated to my disappearing acts. She did, however, think to call the Alaskan police who encouraged her to phone the border patrol. Unfortunately, the Yukon border keeps no records but suggested she ring the mounties. Two missing persons reports later, and here we were, talking to Constable Patrick Poulin, likely one of the territory’s mere handful of law enforcers.

“Missing cyclists?”

We’re not there now, of course. Having reached the end of the Canadian mainland road some time ago, we hopped a ferry to the northern tip of Vancouver Island, trading barren beauty for sunny beaches, fields of clover and daisies, infinite supplies of blackberries and cheery, loquacious islanders.

Island life is slow, and the locals don’t so much march as amble to the sounds of their own hand drums. Two days ago, moments after experiencing our first earthquake, as nearby wind chimes rattled a musical alarm at a shop we’d stopped at, the elderly owner beside me calmly said, “That’s an earthquake. Haven’t felt one of those since I was a girl.”

But we welcome the change, embrace the heat. We haven’t unpacked our fleeces since we landed, forgo our tents and bags, stretch out on rocky beaches under the stars and gaze at the fishing boats and ferries, letting the surf lull us to sleep. As I drift off and reminisce I’m reminded of Theseus’s boat.

Theseus the Greek loved to sail. As the miles passed, and the faces and places changed, parts of his boat needed restoring. After many years on the open waters, he’d replaced nearly every part of his vessel. He wondered: Were he to take all of the old parts and reassemble them, which craft, the new or the old, would be his? Which was truly Theseus’s boat?

A few days ago, I broke my last original wheel and replaced that. With over 13,000 miles on it, my mechanical steed and Theseus’s boat could swap war stories. Shifters, chain, cassette, rims, hubs, tires, breaks, pedals, saddle, seat post, toe clips and derailleur slough off like dead skin cells. What persists?

To leave on this odyssey I chucked much of my belongings along with my apartment, put what remained in storage, left my degree unfinished and a broken relationship un-repaired.

I’ve got a single shirt to my name, I shower in the Pacific, and I gauge the passage of time by running my hand over my beard. My tent’s been repaired multiple times, as have my panniers and even our garbage bags have patches of duct tape.

As of yesterday, Dan’s wallet is again MIA. What remains?

I smile and look over at Dan, my friend, my partner, equally adrift on the Pacific. Homeless, healthy and happy.

I close my eyes and recollect:

“Are you the missing cyclists?” repeats the mounty. “One of you is Israeli, another is from Toronto?”

“That can’t be us, sir,” we chime in unison. “We know exactly where we are.”

Guy is a graduate student.