Blood, Sweat, Tears and Gelato
The dish towel, which also happens to be my sweat towel and the tent towel, is tied around the handlebars of my bike and flaps in the wind. I fly it as a way of saying, "I have no shame." It is a small flag that shows I enjoy my travels with a little blood, sweat, tears and gelato, of course.
If going out and traveling the world was too tidy and clean, it would be missing something. I need to have a little dirt under my fingernails. My clothes need to get soaking wet, because it is the experiences of trial and grime that give character to the soul.
The tales of how things were "so beautiful" or "so delicious" don't carry the stories of a lifetime.
When the server hands me that scoop of gelato after a long hard day peddling under the sun, I take a moment to look at it. Underneath that perfect scoop of cream and sugar is a farmer who wakes up at dawn to milk the cows. There are sugar cane fields, and husbands and wives with tired backs who harvest the stalks with their bare hands. In some far away village is a metal smith, crafting molten steel to make a scoop. That scoop is now in the server's hand digging into the tub just before the cone is passed off to me. I like a little blood, sweat and tears with my gelato.
Everything has a story to tell. Objects and possessions tell the tales of the ones behind them.
Sitting in a cafe, a young Italian man pulled the curtains to the side to peer over at our bikes leanining against a wall. "Adventure!" he said, with a big smile.
When you see any old bike you don't always think "Adventure." But there is something about our bikes that tell that story. It could be that my bike has become a mobile laundry rack. The rag tied to the handlebars, a sticker with a personal reminder on the front fender, various cross hatches of duct tape patching Lydia's pannier and holding her headlamp in place, scratches, dents, mud, grease, dead bugs, tools strapped to the frame, bungee cords strapping bags down - all of these things give our bikes character, personality and stories to tell. A story of adventure.
Songwriter Willie Nelson still plays his old guitar that has a hole in the front of the body. The hole doesn't speak junky old instrument. The hole tells a story of a man with a deep passion for music; someone with romance for the guitar who has spent many long nights strumming into the empty air, writing songs, failing, succeeding, putting his heart into this instrument. Or possibly, the instrument helps his heart speak. My grandma has a walker to help her get around. There is a little compartment for her to put her belongings she takes with her. I can picture the two knitting needles sticking up with a half finished blanket. There's the section of a newspaper cut out with the daily crossword puzzle. She used to carry around a pack of cigarettes; she'd light one and leave it in the ashtray, and hardly ever take a drag.
The knitting needles hold the story of her artisan gift; a women who helped her mother sew her own wedding dress. The crossword puzzles preserve the wordsmith in her mind. My grandma is a writer and was one of few women who worked behind the scenes in television back in the day. The smoke from cigarettes still carry the aroma of my grandfather passed. My grandmother would light one and set it in the ashtray. My grandpa would sit in his recliner next to her and puff away as hers would smolder, untouched. She didn't love smoking, she loved my grandpa. Things do not make us who we are, we give life and luster to the things we use. And when the material things wither away, the stories are still a part of who we are. It is the stories that we hold with us for a lifetime that shape us into who we are.
The stories capture the beauty of a stranger encountered on a great adventure. I may not remember everyone's name I meet as I navigate the globe, but I do remember the Italian man's smile when he looked at our bikes. That, I will never forget.