Am I on The Truman Show?

22 Jun

Do you ever feel like Jim Carrey in The Truman Show? Where situations and actors shift according to a script you don’t even know exists and things in your life somehow just “happen” to line up in mysterious ways?  That’s kinda how I feel right now.  An “unseen life script” is really the only way to explain the following facts:

  • The first two people I met on this trip, Barb and Martha, are both physical therapists and another woman, Monica, actually works in the very same PT/neuro lab at USC where I will start volunteering come September. In addition, Monica’s husband, Joe, is a lawyer (solo practitioner) who devotes ~20% of his time to handling pro bono cases on behalf of veterans. I will definitely have lots to learn from these folks this week!
  • My randomly assigned roommate, Jennifer, is currently studying Biology at Chico State but she intends to enroll in law school in the fall (compare that to the fact that I’m currently a lawyer who will begin taking Bio courses this fall). We are both recovering from TBI issues and share many of the same lingering after-effects (hypersensitivity to light, short-term/working memory issues, multi-input processing errors), but also the same post-injury euphoria (i.e., total love of life at all times — even when we are confronted with our disabilities or by people/situations that would have driven us bat-shit crazy pre-injury). Lots of mutual learning and bonding there + we were born less than 2 weeks apart and we both brought those little roll-up flat shoes to stow in a jersey pockets so that we wouldn’t have to clomp around memorial sites in our cycling shoes (sometimes it’s the little things that really demonstrate life’s wonderfully random synchronicity).
  • Several of the guys with whom I rode this morning also suffered TBIs and every single one of them reported that their neuro processing skills enjoyed a truly significant uptick once they started cycling – regardless of how long ago they suffered their injuries and with significantly more “notice-ability” as compared to their progress in other therapy programs/activities.

Taken together, all of these seem to really solidify my commitment to embarking on the next phase of my life: Engaging in neuro-rehab research.  I suspect this clarity of purpose will only grow stronger as the trip continues and I get to speak with more folks who are on this journey with me.

And speaking of the journey …

Oh my goodness, what a stunning, amazing, beautiful, empowering day!  Everyone involved in today’s trip – staff, volunteers, riders, local supporters, random school children – have been nothing but completely lovely, helpful, and encouraging. The group dynamics are breathtakingly functional – no wasted energy, no acrimony, no bickering or competitiveness. Just 100% supportive and fortifying friendships – either already well formed (some of these folks have enjoyed 10+ multi-day trips together) or in the making (there is ZERO awkwardness for a newbie like me – everyone is unfailingly welcoming). With such a large group, you can always find at least several people who want enjoy the same pace or activity (or non-activity); and there enough differences among the groups that no one seems to feel stymied or threatened; plus it’s seamlessly easy to shift from one group to another and be welcomed with equal eagerness/openness regardless of where you drift.

Today’s ride was also jaw-droppingly gorgeous: undulating farmlands, picturesque villages, perfect riding weather (at least 90% of the time – there were some pretty wicked head- and cross-winds on the return ride). I’m terribly sorry that I continue to experience photo-uploading issues. I will remedy that with a nice/tightly edited album once I get back to the U.S.

We did just a short ride today, to allow people to sort out their pacing choices while also taking into account the jet-lag/sleep deprivation issues that continue to plague most of us.  Our ultimate outbound destination was the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery and Memorial.  The array of 7,992 gravestones for Americans killed during the Battle of the Bulge was stunning and sobering.  You can only imagine our shock and grief when we learned that these 7,992 markers actually are only a fraction of the 17,000+ individuals who were originally buried here (more than 8,000 deceased soldiers were eventually repatriated to the U.S. at the request of their next-of-kin; I can’t remember what became of the other ~2,000).

Yesterday I alluded to the fact that one of the guys on our trip, George, was a WWII Battle of the Bulge veteran who literally brought tears to my eyes during our bus ride from Brussels to our hotel here in Liege.  Well, today George caused petty much all of us to get choked up when he spoke at the cemetery. You see, George’s duty in World War II was to gather the dead on the battlefields for eleven continuous months.  In fact, he was personally responsible for interring many of the individuals who now grace the Herni-Chappelle Cemetery and Memorial.

George spoke of what it was like to see death in the eyes of young men and he assured us that he has never forgotten the experience.  Later this week we’ll hopefully get a change to see a documentary about George’s service.  This man is a true hero. And he is probably going to outlive all of us!  He is 89 years old, but I have seen many 65 year olds who look and act MUCH older than he does. He truly is an inspiration.

After the cemetery, we rode to the Remember Museum, which was created in 1994 by a Belgian couple at their farmhouse in thanksgiving for and celebration of the Allied victory that enabled their family to live in freedom. Most of the museum’s artifacts were left on their farmland by soldiers who had rested there from the 101 First Infantry Division. Other items have been donated by WWII veterans. Mathilde and Marcel literally opened their home to us and fed us an incredible meal that was selected and created from their very own garden, chicken coop, and baking facility.  Local beer was also made available and many of our guys really enjoyed accepting that offer (not surprisingly, all of those guys also wisely opted to load their bikes into the cargo trucks and got driven back to the hotel).

Since I was sober and because I had failed to take any photos on the outbound journey, I opted to ride back with 10 of the guys and 1 other woman. Everyone in this group (as I later learned) has been riding for at least 6 years and many have been riding for at least twice that long. So I was pretty damn happy that I kept up with them as we jammed back to Liege at a 23.2mph average pace (there were 2 or 3 mid-grade climbs and one extended game of chicken with a large bus that slowed us down).

Our outbound ride had taken 2 hours but our return clocked in at just a smidge over an hour.  I took a solid pull at the front during one of the head-wind blasts.  If I can somehow figure out how to channel/convert my headwind blasting powers into hill climbing powers, I would really start to rock this whole riding thing. Alas, my ample ass anchor continues to weigh me down (literally) on all climbing efforts L

No more than 45 seconds after we stowed our bikes, it began to rain, which caused my little ride crew to break into a spontaneous round of applause for me. Reason?  This morning, at my Bike Boss’s insistence, I installed a fender on Dexter’s rear end. After which I was subjected to a TON of shit-talk and razzing from the crew. I then boldly (stupidly?) proclaimed: “This fender in an official talisman against rain. As long as it stays on my bike, I guarantee that it will not rain while I am riding.”

This reasoning worked perfectly today. But who knows how long it will last. I’d love it if it actually holds true even though if it does happen, then I really WILL start to believe that I am living in/on The Truman Show!.

After the rain subsided, we reconvened at the outdoor patio/bar in front of our hotel for a little people watching a beer drinking – a truly lovely way to while away a couple hours.  And it was made even more lovely when one of the guys asked me (a) how long I’ve been riding and (b) how I got hooked up with R2R in the first place.  Apparently you blog junkies are right: my little brain bashing/rapid rehab story really is appealing/inspiring to strangers (although these guys may no longer count as strangers).  Of course, when we got to the part where I explained that I was leaving the law to get a Ph.D in neuroscience, they all piled on with a hole host of jabs: “And then what? You’ll train elephants to dance the ballet? Or invent something to enable teleporting? Or co-found the first human colony on Mars?” Sarcasm and hard-core ribbing is definitely alive and well in the military social sphere!

After the bus returned the non-riders (who had stayed at the museum for a couple hours do to an extended tour), we all headed over to the City Hall Palace, where we were greeted by the Mayor who toasted us with a great deal of warm emotion and then invited us to drink liberally with him. And I’m pretty sure he extended us an invitation to watch the Tour de France, which begins in Liege on Saturday, from the balcony of the mayoral palace. He was VERY into the whole cycling thing and beyond jazzed about how we (Americans) have managed to transform sport into a healing power for the greater social good (cue tears for the 3rd time today — #1 and #2 were both at the cemetery, btw: first when they played the National Anthem on church bells and second when George was recounting the horrors and the honor of burying so many of the war dead).

At dinner tonight, I got “adopted” by The Fat Boys. Two hilarious guys who definitely live up to their collective nickname. I’m contemplating spending tomorrow’s ride with the group they lead – it’ll be slow (possibly painfully so), but it sure sounds like it also be one helluva ton of fun.

Two last quick tidbits before I hit the hay:

1. The children of the Henri-Chappell region came out in full flag (Belgian and American)-waving force to greet us at the cemetery and all along the highway. Their adorable, adoring faces were worth more than any cycling medal or trophy. They definitely made us all feel like “winners” today.

2. I may have called Sal, the Medal of Honor of winner, a “pussy” at the Mayor’s reception today….

During his speech, the Mayor had praised us in advance for all the climbing that we’ll apparently be doing tomorrow.  Afterwards, Sal and I happened to line up for the free wine at the same time and Sal said:

 “Man, I’m kind of worried about all the climbing we’re gonna have to do tomorrow. <pause> I mean, the Mayor seems like someone who probably rides a lot and he said we’ll have to do a LOT of climbing tomorrow. I don’t know if I’m ready for that. <double pause … and then very sweetly and with his full good-natured character:> Does that make me a pussy? Do I sound like a pussy?”

To which I replied, “Well … maybe just a little <pinching my fingers close together and scrunching my face up to indicate that I really didn’t want to have to say that he kinda was sounding like a bit of a pussy>”

As which point he cracked up and said, “Thank you. You’re awesome!”

Whereupon I stammered something like: “I can’t believe I just said that to YOU of all people. That may be one of the worst things I’ve ever said in my life.”

And he, being a TRUE gentleman, hero, and all-around just great guy, said: “No, really. I needed that. A good reality check is a sign of a good friend. Keeps it real. Let’s do some climbing together tomorrow.”

<Swoon!>

Ride Day 2 is already shaping up to be one for the personal history books…

4 Responses to “Am I on The Truman Show?”

  1. katerinadiaviano June 22, 2012 at 1:33 pm #

    Great read Cristin. Watching the Greeks get creamed by Germany. Gotta head off to work. Gonna watch Italia vs Inghelterra on Sunday. Kristin says Mario isrooting for Espana!! Boh! Guess we shouldn’t have taken him to the bullfight when he was 6 weeks old.

  2. Amy Kuehl Gianos June 22, 2012 at 2:16 pm #

    Girlfriend – 23.2MPH?? You’re a bigger stud than I thought, and that was already a hard bar to reach.

    • justadventures June 22, 2012 at 8:33 pm #

      Sitting 5th wheel back makes everything much easier!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Engaging in a little “OFP” | JustAdventures - July 1, 2012

    […] a series of truly Truman Show-like chance encounters, missed connections, half-assed “planning,” serendipitous situational […]

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