You have reached an intersection. The path to the right is level and lined with houses. The path to the left is hilly and wooded. Which path do you take?
I never liked those Choose Your Own Adventure books. When we were little, my sister would flip back and forth, participating in choosing her adventures, while I mostly stuck to reading my books from left to right, page by page. But it wasn’t the unnecessary physical effort of finding page 35, then 15, then 42, that bothered me the most about those books. It was the taste of regrettable choices; of being informed at that young age that sorry, sometimes shit just doesn’t work out. Manifested in those pages as a simple, “You have died,” it sparked furious backpedaling, retracing the choices until coming to the one where you thought you had made some sort of mistake. And then trying to select the correct combinations of paths taken and doors opened that would lead to survival [do you fight the thief you run into on page 20 instead of running away? Or do you not open the door on page 32 that led to the thief in the first place?]. In hindsight, those books seem like a lazy joke thought up by a bitter yet ingenious children’s author. “Here,” this author might have said, “I’m tired of trying to think up stories to keep your short, juvenile attention spans entertained. Read this book and try to figure out a way not to die.”
But as much as I hate to admit it, the degree of “shit that just goes wrong,” in Choose Your Own Adventure books correlates closely with reality. Because there’s always that unpleasant back end of “adventure” that no one actually tells you about, usually because things eventually work themselves out enough to make the whole charade something worth recollecting with fondness. When you don’t hear about the adventure, that’s when, in Choose Your Own Adventure parlance, “You have died.”
But Choose Your Own Adventure books are still deceiving in one important aspect: sometimes you don’t get to choose your own adventure. In fact, most of the time, it sort of gets chosen for you. Sure, you voluntarily chose to roll out of bed and get on that bike, but you didn’t exactly choose to get horribly lost with no food, half a bottle of water, and a burning need to pee. I pity the ever-prepared who have the foresight to not chug a cup of coffee five minutes before heading out for a ride, thereby always eluding the telltale signs of a new adventure, as urologically uncomfortable as it may be at first. And it’s exactly the idea of being presented with the possibility of an adventure – because you do get to choose what you do with it – that makes turning around and going back, of retracing your steps through the pages, that much more disingenuous. Because you’re already clipped in, climbing, and really need to pee; might as well see how it all plays out.
Last Sunday, it played out like one of those days where you leave home all sharp and polished and stumble back 20 hours later looking like you’ve been snorting meth for the past five years. My eyes were so bloodshot they looked like I was suffering a severe case of pink eye, my hair stringy and limp with sweat. My ass was sore, my legs wobbly, and my fingers were swollen from dehydration. And though there was [thankfully] no diving into bathrooms or wooded areas, Simon – a new ride friend introduced to me by Deej – did remind me that despite the pain, it’s usually worth it to see rides through. No turning back early allowed.
And honestly, 75 miles never hurt so good.
We had left plans open-ended, but started up the usual Onekan route before spinning through a more urban area towards the Yabitsu pass. Simon led the way, soft pedaling to my awkward lurching up grades that weren’t steep but longer than I really would have preferred. At one point I tried to turn back, but I was knee deep in an adventure of sorts and I wasn’t being presented with any choices except, “get your ass up that hill and pray Simon doesn’t have to physically push you home.” And besides, it was mostly my fault for nodding my head and being friendly and otherwise forgetting that any good ride buddy of Deej’s would want to climb every mountain in sight. I had accepted the possibility of an adventure; dying legs were the price I was apparently going to pay.
And pay I did; but the view of Lake Miyagase was more than a fair return on investment. We passed through a tunnel before twisting up a near-deserted road hugging the border of the lake, surrounded by evergreens and still-bare trees. I was still struggling to juice some decent speed out of my legs, but the sun peeked out and even the wind seemed to get a touch warmer. Descents started to rush at us as we left the lake, and when we came to the bridge we had crossed on the way in, Simon took us underneath it.
“Oh, so we don’t have to dodge cars and stuff?,” I asked.
“No,” he said, “there’s an extra climb here. You’ll see it once we turn the corner.”
“I hate you.”
“It’s not so bad,” he said, adding, probably out of pity, “just a little longer than it really should be.”
By then aware that the definition of anyone else’s “longer than it really should be,” [particularly when that “anyone” is someone whose favorite climbs are at least 5 miles long with an average grade of 7%] is actually my definition of “longer than it really should be” + 20%, I wasn’t so surprised at the length of the thing. I was surprised I actually made it up without crying. I even had the energy to groan when Simon pointed up, shattering hopes that maybe, just maybe, we were done with this climb.
By the end of it all, I was covered in what I like to call, “party grease,” that thin layer of gross that rubs into your skin and clothes after a good night out [usually accompanied by the stench of alcohol and smoke]. A look in the mirror when I got home confirmed suspicions that comments that I looked “tired,” were a polite way of saying that I actually looked like death. I smelled like it, too.
But since that’s part of the shit that goes down when you choose to have an adventure, it didn’t keep me from patting myself on the back for the rest of the week for doing my first 75-miler of the year. And like all good adventures, this one gave me a taste of more to come, extending into fantasies of the day when I might be able to say, “oh, hello, climb, MEET MY BIG RING YOU WORTHLESS PIECE OF SLOPING ASPHALT...!” At least for a few seconds.
I’m lusting after new ride routes for the weekend, seeking out steeper slopes, situations in which my new iPhone will conveniently die, and I’ll get horribly lost right as it starts to rain. The ingredients of an adventure not quite of my choosing.
But given the possibility of mountain passes and party grease, I’ll gladly take my chances.