Chapter 19 - For All the People Who Said They Couldn't
“I wish,” said Wyeth, “that I had a nickel for every time someone said, ‘I wish I could do something like your trip.’ I’d be rich by the time we get to Oregon!”
Wyeth was right. Almost every day, people at gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants or parks would look at our bikes and say, *I Wish I Could Do That*—and then they'd tell us why they couldn't, wouldn't, and/or shouldn't.
Some of those people seemed sad: "I wish I could do something like that!" they'd say. Then they'd gaze absentmindedly into the distance for a while. "You know, I had this dream once…" they'd continue, as if they hadn't thought about that dream for a long time. They'd say how, when they were young, they'd wanted to travel in Italy, or hike the Appalachian Trail, or paddle a canoe across Lake Superior. "…But I couldn't do that now," the person would always end with finality. "It's too late." Case closed. No amount of arguing could convince them otherwise, we realized, and after a while we stopped trying very hard.
Other people we met seemed barely able to conceal their resentment: "I wish I could do something like that!" they'd say, staring at us sternly. *You're just selfish, irresponsible kids,* they appeared to be thinking. *Don't you know that the Real World isn't all fun and games? I've got dreams too, but I've got a Good Job and a family, and I'm putting off my dreams till Later. That's the way you're supposed to do things!*
Maybe that resentment was what caused strangers gave us the finger or honk violently when they passed us. Maybe it was too hard for them to see other people doing what they wanted with their lives.
On March 17, the week before I left on my trip, my grandfather called me up. He informed me, in his rasping Emphysema voice, that he didn't want me to go. “…Sara, you haven’t thought about what you are going to do. There are crazies out there, and you’re too young to know what you need to take care of yourself. You can’t go.” There was a static pause.
“But Grandpa,” I said after a minute, “I am going. I have thought about the dangers, I realize that they exist, and I have to go anyway. I’m sorry that you feel that I shouldn’t go—but, well, I’m leaving a week from today.”
“And that’s why I’m calling…” He trailed off for a minute, gasping for breath on the other end of the phone line. “What about college? There are all sorts of things you need to do. You can’t go on this trip. As the patriarch of this family, I forbid you to go. If you leave, you will be disobeying me…” His weak voice turned into a cough and made the whole thing almost humorous. I had a mental image of my practically bed-ridden grandfather suddenly leaping up, and, after ten years of never leaving his home, coming from Long Island to NJ to physically prevent me from leaving.
There wasn’t much I could say after that. “Well, I—uh—I am going,” I said softly, repeating myself for lack of better words. “I’m sorry you're so upset about it. But I want to take this trip more than anything, and—well—I have to leave…”
My grandfather wheezed heavily into the phone as we talked, trying to get enough air for his dying lungs; I felt like crying as I listened to him puffing on his oxygen machine.
My grandfather was scared for me, I knew. But what confused me was his unspoken philosophy of, "I suffered, so you should suffer." It wasn't like my grandparents turned out happy or healthy, so why did they want me to live my life with the same goals they had? Why did they want me to go to college when I didn't want to and wasn't ready? Why did my goals lack validity when they weren't academic ones? I was annoyed that my grandparents—and other concerned friends and family—wouldn't recognize my achievements unless they were learned and developed in school.
*So many people,* I thought, *put off their dreams because people like Grandpa tell them to. I'm not going to put mine off.*
Some people I met while riding hadn't lost sight of their goals: "I've always wanted to do something like that!" they'd say. "How'd you get time off from work, anyway? How'd you train for it? Where do you sleep at night?" They'd pepper us with questions, and later they'd walk away smiling. "I'm gonna do something like that!" they'd say. Those were the folks who seemed least likely to forget about their own dreams, whatever they happened to be. They understood how important it was not to put things off too long.
In Virginia, a bike mechanic neighbor of my host family had offered to check over my trusty steed. As Michael tightened various nuts and bolts, we talked about bicycling and he told me about the best route to take over the next few mountains. As he wiped his forehead with the back of his hand, he said that he’d always wanted to take a trip like mine.
“Good luck on your journey,” he said, handing my bike back. Then he looked at me and added wistfully, “Lots of people wish they could do something like this, you know. You’re riding for all of us.”