Eight months ago, Jackie and I were strangers. A few weeks from now, we are taking off on a several-month-long adventure, just the two of us. We’re strapping all our camping gear to our bikes and riding 1500 miles through Uganda and Rwanda.
This adventure started before we met. Back in September I was stir-crazy from a short yet chaotic month in NYC. I needed an escape, so I hopped a train to Vermont where I could ride Joe Cruz’s route “The Green Mountain Gravel Growler.”
The trail was beautiful, the beer was delicious, but after five days of rain my feet were starting to rot. To get out of the weather I ducked into a pub in Middlebury. Sitting at the bar, I ordered a shepherd’s pie and a beer. I was using my fork more as a shovel when I noticed a pretty girl sitting three stools to my left. She smiled easily and had bright curious eyes. My excitement at seeing her gave way to dread. I hadn’t showered in three days, there was mud caked to my sandaled feet, and I was sure no one was sitting next to me because of a certain spice emanating from my unattended flesh. Yet soon enough we were talking.
She told me about the year and a half she spent in Colombia. I told her about my new found love of bikepacking. We laughed as she ate a pretzel which made her happier than it should have.The world fell away for an hour or maybe three. We exchanged facebook information, but I wasn’t sure I’d ever see her again when she left.
Invigorated by my chance encounter with Jackie, and curious to see if the bar had more hidden friendships or love to bestow, I stayed and was soon making new friends, laughing, even cursing in Spanish. Then I received a facebook message. Jackie, her uncle and cousin were going to see the movie “It” at the theater in town, they invited me. My first thought was, “Is it weird to go to a movie with a woman you just met and her two adult chaperones?”
I arrived to a dark theatre, the movie had just started. As I wandered down the isle Jackie recognized my silhouette she probably noticed my head scanning from side to side. She waived me down with a careless hand flung in the air. Relieved to have found her, and that she had chose a seat behind her family (not next to them) I sat down. The movie was good, but it was hard to focus. I was thinking about putting my arm around her neck, but knowing that if I did she would smell the results of 3 days without a shower. In the end I couldn’t help myself, I snuck a kiss behind her uncle’s seat.
For me it was almost immediate. The addict like symptoms that go along with falling in love, or lust with someone.Though I woke up to a beautiful day, and had planned to ride I had to stay. I said I would be in town another day, and that I wanted to see her. She was amenable, but was working in the morning. I’d have to wait till evening. I passed the day unable to escape the daydream of her. I was riding trails, and visiting new breweries yet she was always there flowing through my mind, and filling me with excitement, longing, and curiosity. That night we went for dinner and a walk around a nearby town. It was awkward, I’m always awkward in the beginning. I cringe remembering when I tried to impress her by doing a pull-up, but the attempt backfired when I farted as I lifted myself up. I would later find out that she felt the same way too. That excitement and sickness inflicted upon the newly enamored. We spent the next two days in a haze.
When I went back to New York we stayed in touch by phone and made promises to come and see one another. Jackie was going to be in Philadelphia, an easy bus ride away. In NYC we went to the theater and rode our bikes through the burrows. We spent 30 minutes staring at each other googly-eyed on a packed uptown metro. Months went by, we met each others’ friends and family and took out-of-town trips together, our trust for one another built steadily.
Then in January, Jackie went off to radio documentary school and I took my bike to Patagonia. We were apart for two months, and we missed each other dearly. Right as I was about to fly to Maine to see Jackie, we talked on the phone and decided to chase our dreams together. We would combine our love of bikepacking and storytelling and make a podcast about a bikepacking journey in Africa.
The adventure and love of human connection are what drive us to do trips like this. I’ve been on a lot of adventures in my life, but this one is going to be different because I can share it with Jackie.