Thursday, August 23, 2007

Geoff and me

Date: Aug. 22
Mileage: 22.1
August mileage: 729.5
Temperature upon departure: 53

So Geoff bought me a copy of "24 Solo" for my birthday. I found the film entertaining enough, but I think Geoff took its motivating message to a farther extreme. Ever since we watched it, he has been scheming about adding even more events to his already overfull schedule. And since the place we happen to live is the isolated hamlet of Juneau, Alaska, I think it may be safe to assume that he's going to be gone, well ... all of next year, at least. Happy birthday to me.

I keep trying to tell Geoff that I am really not interested in following him into the madness. I don't actually want to live homeless in the scorching heat of a Mountain West summer. I don't want to subsist on sponsor snacks, or train eight hours a day, or set out to ride a sub-24-day GDR. That is really not my bag. That is way beyond my bag. That is a bag that belongs to a climber on Everest compared to my K-Mart bookbag. I like my domestic, balanced life. I like employment. I like income, and shelter, and the ability to purchase food. Geoff seems to think these things are optional.

It's funny, because I think most of our Alaska friends believe Geoff and I originally connected because we have similar "nutjob" qualities and a mutual respect for the other's rabid individualism. But that's really not the case at all. We met because I was inexperienced and naive, and Geoff had this compulsion to do beyond-the-call-of-duty good deeds for complete strangers. It's a good story, actually. And I'm going to tell it, because this is my blog and I'll do what I want. (Sorry, Geoff)

We had a mutual friend who invited me to visit her in upstate New York for the New Year's 2001. I didn't really take the offer too seriously. The next day at work, I was playing around with priceline.com, one of those Web sites where you name your price for just about anything, but you're held to it if your offer is accepted. I entered an offer for a plane ticket to New York City ("All those Eastern states are small. How far away from Syracuse could it be?") on Christmas Day ("That must be a busy day for flying anyway") for the crazy low price of about $150. Imagine my shock when the offer went through.

At the time, I was 21 years old. I had never flown by myself or even traveled by myself. Only briefly had I ever even travelled east if the Mississippi, at age 15. I had no idea New York City and Syracuse were more than a five-hour drive apart. I had no idea how to find transportation. And I wasn't surprised when my friend said, "No, I can't make a 10-hour trip to pick you up at an airport on Christmas Day."

For a while, I thought I was just out $150. But then my friend told me that a friend of hers who was in Syracuse visiting his family might be able to come pick me up. I had met him briefly on several occasions because he had recently moved to Utah, but I hardly could say I knew the guy. The plane touched down at La Guardia airport at 12:05 a.m. on what was by then Dec. 26. It proceeded to sit on the tarmac for another 60 minutes, waiting for the all-but-shut-down airline to open a gate. By the time I stumbled off the plane, it was after 1 a.m. The airport was so empty you could hear clocks ticking, and I knew there was no way this random guy was actually going to be there waiting for me. But I turned a corner, and there was Geoff, calmly waiting for me in the abandoned corridors of a distant airport on the wee hours after Christmas as though he did things like that every week.

The cold in New York City that night cut deep, close to 0 degrees, the kind of temperatures that drive even the most sleepless cities into darkness and silence. We pulled up into Times Square and parked right on the main drag, the only car to be seen for blocks. Everything was closed for the holiday. All the lights were dimmed, turned off, subdued. There wasn't a single other person on the sidewalks ... no transients, no teenagers, no homeless people, no one. It was a though the nuclear bomb had finally hit and we were the only people left alive in this vast and unknowable city. It felt completely natural.

Geoff and I crawled Manhattan for the rest of the night, talking about the everything and nothing of our lives. I think I could count the cars I saw - all taxis - on one hand. We circumnavigated Central Park as I shivered in my jeans and light cotton jacket, hatless and gloveless, slowly becoming a true solid. The deep freeze settled in so completely that I could scarcely keep enough blood flowing to my legs to continue walking. But I continued walking, because I was so enthralled by the very idea of New York City, and winter, and Geoff.

Can't exactly say it was love at first sight. But it was on those deserted city streets that a younger and much more naive version of myself first planted that seed. At the time, it was my grandest adventure. And it was only a foundation.