2014 South Dakota – Day 28 – Custer: The connection

Monday June 16, 2014, 12 miles (19 km) – Total so far: 1,338 miles (2,153 km)

There was a time back in 2005 and 2006, when everything was hard and the future so unknown, that I would take a lawn chair into the far depths of our backyard late at night and just sit and look up to the sky. The neighbour’s lights did not penetrate there. I could be alone in the late night quiet.

It was a time when I felt very disconnected and isolated. It was a time when I watched Nigel descend into his spirals of turmoil and had no idea what to do. He would descend so far into the darkness that I could not see him – this shell of a person would say nasty things and talk a scary, bitter talk, but Nigel was gone. Far away. Too far down to see. But people don’t talk about this sort of shit. I had no role models. There was no one to turn to. Friends distanced themselves. There is nothing so lonely as caring for someone with a mental illness. No one wants to know. There is so much stigma attached. I would think, ‘if only he had some physical illness, something we could see, something doctors could measure and scan and tell us when it was getting better or worse’. Friends would rally behind us as we fought ‘it’ and bring us casseroles and cards. But no, not when the torment is internal and ‘just all in his head’.

So, when it all got too much, and my energy had all seeped out, I would retreat to the backyard and gaze at the stars. I would look to the sky and try to connect myself again. I would imagine that all the hurt and all the burdens would fall away and I could float free, weightless into the sky, into the silence and vacuum of space. I would imagine a lifeline extended from the stars that I could climb and leave all the worries behind. I would mentally float up to the stars, meteors and satellites, trying to absorb all that energy from those orbs of light so far away. This is when I felt most connected – when I could disappear for a few moments into the depths of the universe. The vastness of time and distance consumed me. My finiteness felt like a relief. I was just atoms and atoms of carbon – I was just a piece of all this. These troubles did not really matter. They fall away when you float to the stars and absorb all the energy of the universe.

And so it is, on a night like tonight, when I’m alone in a campground, stretched out on a picnic table staring at the sky, that I marvel at how connected I am now. I never feel so connected as I do when I’m riding. I’m alone but not isolated. Every day I ride through stunning examples of geology or natural history or cultural history. I can see the connections of physical geography and human history. I feel the immensity of time and distance and my little place among it all. It is one of the things I love most about bike tours – feeling so connected. Each night I camp, I force myself to stay awake long enough to spot two shooting stars and two satellites. And in my head, I thank all the people and circumstances that allow me to be here, riding and camping and travelling and experiencing so much joy. Because I know the other side of that sky. I remember the isolation under those southern stars and so never take for granted the good times.

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