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Team Slow and Unsteady

This week, we wanted to talk about adventure: the adventures that can happen in wedding planning; the adventures that can happen in married life; the adventures that can lead us to (or away) from those places. But we wanted to explore the idea of adventure in multiple ways. Today we’re talking about both internal and external adventure, but over the course of the week we want to discuss the adventures that take you away from home, and the adventures that happen right where you are. So this week, here is to Team Slow and Unsteady. We’re starting with Stacia’s truly amazing story. (Maddie says this might be her favorite APW post of all time.)

About a year after Andrew and I moved in together, we moved out. We put almost all of our things in storage and loaded the rest into panniers on our bicycles. We locked the door, put the key in the mail slot for the landlord, and biked away to Colorado from our home in Portland, Oregon.

This was not the first big adventure we’d planned together. When we first started dating in the spring of 2008, Andrew was planning a five-month trip to India and Nepal that fall and winter. A couple of months in, when he asked if I’d like to join him, it was a Big Deal. I bought a plane ticket to join him for a part of the time he’d be there. But before we could go anywhere, I got hit by a car while on my bike. My collarbone was broken, my knee was injured, and I was totally miserable. Andrew was a superhero, feeding me painkillers and saltines in the middle of the night and helping me in and out of my figure-of-eight brace so I could shower.

Then exactly four weeks later, I boarded a city bus while Andrew kissed me see-ya-later and hopped on his bike—he’d meet me at my house. A few blocks later, the bus driver said, “I think that van just hit that biker” and my heart stopped. By the time I got to him, Andrew was standing up, miraculously uninjured save some road rash, but he’d been dragged for almost ninety feet underneath the van before a bystander forced the drunk driver to stop.

I remember sitting together the next evening on the old metal merry-go-round at the playground near my house feeling like the universe had tested us, and we had passed. We were united against everything awful and unfair in the world (mostly cars and their drivers, at that point) and nothing could separate us. But I was wrong. Andrew had been 100% available for me when I was injured and upset, but when he was hurt, I was still recovering from my own travails. Because his physical injuries were less than mine, I think I assumed that was okay, but psychologically those ninety feet haunted him. We started fighting and we didn’t stop. We said terrible things to each other. By the time Andrew was getting ready to leave for India, we’d broken up. I traded in my ticket for one to Hawaii (why not?).

But we kept talking—arguing—over Google chat 7,000 miles apart, me in my hut at a hippie eco-hostel in the jungle in Hawaii, him at internet cafes in Kathmandu. Until one day my friends on the island took me to a tiny secluded beach surrounded by volcanic cliffs, not far from where lava spilled into the ocean from Kilauea, sending up huge plumes of steam. We spent a day relaxing and exploring with the beach and the surrounding jungle all to ourselves, and when we got back to the hostel I wanted to tell Andrew about the beauty of the day. He was online; we talked. I told him about my day and he told me about his. And then we decided to do something drastic—we decided to forgive. Each night before we fell asleep, we agreed, instead of focusing on the ways we’d been wronged, we’d try consciously to send out rays of pure forgiveness to each other.

And it worked. Slowly, our arguments decreased in frequency, length, and fierceness. We wrote long emails back and forth in which we dissected our feelings and our communication, and we signed them “love.” We are so good at this! I thought. Thanks to our abundant compassion and maturity, we’ve gotten past all the horrible things that have happened to us and now nothing can separate us.

Hah! When Andrew got back to The States, the difficulty of readjusting to being physically present in one another’s lives after so long apart came close to separating us. Then, a particularly rough couple of weeks after we moved in together came even closer. But we struggled through it and came out on the other side and, finally, on June 30th, 2010, we biked away together towards the sunrise.

The trip was everything I had imagined it would be—challenging, breathtaking, long, interesting. We saw places we never would have seen any other way, and we met wonderful and generous people who helped us out along the way. At diners and county museums and on the street, we were often asked where we were headed to. We started to joke that we ought to say, “Here.” We biked from Portland, Oregon, to visit this small town or learn about the railroad that once came through here or eat this omelet or admire the way the sunlight fades over this grassy hill. Truly, we weren’t biking across the West in order to arrive in Boulder, Colorado. There are many more efficient ways of getting from place to place. We biked to see the spaces in between and all the things we didn’t know were there.

Along the way, we met a lot of friendly people who told us how cool our trip was and then followed up with “I could never do something like that!” I’d only been biking regularly for a few years, and only around town. When we left on our trip, I hadn’t biked more than 30 miles in a day in two years. But I’d made the choice to take the trip, to do the thing I dreamed of doing, though I knew it would sometimes be difficult. You have to make the choice, that’s all. You have to do it.

We rode a long way. We changed flat tires and cursed headwinds. We soaked in hot springs and waded in cold rivers. We took turns saying encouraging things when one or the other of us felt like we couldn’t go on. We set up our tent and took it down again, over and over. We cooked a lot of oatmeal on our little stove. We huddled together while lightning crashed in Wyoming. We sat outside of coffee shops and pored over our crumpled maps.

We watched a bear lope across the road in front of us. We counted coyotes and road-killed birds. We were occasionally welcomed into the homes of complete strangers. We unpacked entire panniers on the side of the road looking for that one thing we were sure was in there somewhere. We sang songs when we could spare the breath, or talked, or didn’t. We crossed the Continental Divide nine times. We traded books back and forth. Every day, we woke up and made the decision to get on our bikes and keep going. On a climb somewhere in Wyoming or Colorado, we made up this little chant:

Me: I am slow and he’s unsteady!
Him: She’s unsteady, and I’m slow!
Together: Together we’re Team Slow and Unsteady!
For mountain passes, we’re sure not ready!
Most of the time, we’d rather go to beddy!
But look out! ‘Cause Team Slow and Unsteady
Will make it someday!

On what turned out to be far and away the best day of the trip, we climbed 25 miles to the top of Trail Ridge Road through Rocky Mountain National Park, at over 12,000 feet, and then rode down the other side.

Our future together wasn’t clear when we left Portland. Andrew would be moving to California for grad school shortly after we got to Colorado, and I wasn’t sure I could bring myself to leave Portland, my home of homes, a place I loved so much, where my family and friends lived, where I had become an adult. In Boulder, we kissed goodbye and agreed to give ourselves two months to figure things out by ourselves—two months during which we wouldn’t talk about “us.” Andrew flew home to start the next chapter in his life, and I got back on my bike and headed east again, across the plains. We lasted six weeks before he called me in my tent in Berea, Kentucky, and I confessed that I’d spent most of eastern Colorado and Kansas’s long lonely miles daydreaming about marrying and growing old with him, and that with some literal distance on it, Portland seemed less like the be-all-and-end-all of cool places to live. “I think I have to move to Berkeley,” I said.

But no decisions until we saw each other again, we agreed. In the meantime, I finished my ride in Yorktown, Virginia, and then spent a month traveling around the East Coast visiting friends and family. Andrew started to settle into his new city and his grad program, and we both did some reckoning. Turns out that life-altering decisions are sort of big and scary; who knew? Andrew flipped out a little bit and I retreated a little bit and I spent a week in Chicago telling my friends there that I thought we’d break up. Then, in mid-November, I took a train to the Bay Area, and in the evening Andrew met me at the BART station and took my hand, and we walked home. We chose each other. The next day we went to Ocean Beach in San Francisco and laughed together at how silly we’d been. On January 19th, I moved to California, and on January 26th, I proposed to Andrew at Ocean Beach. We will be married this coming Saturday, exactly two years after we left on our adventure.

But the journey isn’t over, and it never will be. I’m not sure what our ultimate destination is, but I know we’re traveling not to get there, but to see the spaces in between together, to see all the things we don’t know are there yet. I don’t think anymore that nothing can separate us. I know that it’s not about what happens to us or even about the things we’ve learned; it’s about the choices we make every day to keep going, to keep trying (even when we’d rather go to beddy). Team Slow and Unsteady will make it someday.

Photo from Stacia’s personal collection

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