Being alone has been at the forefront of my mind recently. My teenage children 17, 14, and 11 have been particularly ornery lately and all three, even the nice middle one, have been using me as their punching bag. Quite often in the last few weeks I have thought and said out loud that I would like nothing more than to live alone on a cliff overlooking the ocean. I wanted everyone to just leave me alone. It’s more than just a whimsical thought, believe me, I have considered it seriously. They are at an age where they don’t seem to really need me except for money and rides, all which could be provided by their father or other mom-stand-in.
Ah, to be alone. It’s what I crave–minutes, hours, days of endless me-time.
When it comes to exercise and training I prefer to go it solo. I’ve never been one to join running clubs or biking groups, although I am frequently asked. I have always preferred to run alone, swim alone (dangerous, I know) and up until recently, bike alone. When I started training for my first triathlon, I used to bike alone. I would ride fast 15 mile sprints to prepare for my races. It never occurred to me to go further than that.
That all changed four years ago when Susan showed up after having hip surgery .
“Hey, can I go biking with you some day. I’m not supposed to be running as much on my hip.”
“Sure,” I said, remembering the last woman in town who asked to bike with me. After a fast and precarious ride around the Wakefield rotary at Lake Quannapowit during morning rush hour, I never heard from her again. It worked once, I was sure it would work again. Susan didn’t look so tough to me. If the rotary didn’t throw her off than the straight shot up Charles street with the trucks and potholes would surely send her away and I could get back to my solo training in no time.
“We’ll go tomorrow,” I said, “I’ll take you to Wakefield, by Lake Q. See you then.”
Well obviously you know how that ended. Three Pan-Mass seasons later we have become official ‘bike partners’. Susan, my sherpa, my bike-Nazi was tougher than I thought. Her slight frame and matching outfit belied her core strength and tenacity. When we got home from the 13 mile ride replete with every obstacle imaginable short of coyotes, she said, “That was great. What time tomorrow?”
And so began my slow slide from solo-biker to biker-dependent. Nowadays it is Susan who maps our routes and she is always the one who insists we ride even when I am advocating going back to bed–just for a little while. Usually if Susan isn’t riding, neither am I.
But yesterday Susan was working and it was a beautiful day and I didn’t feel like running; so I rode alone. At first it felt wonderful. I was free to go fast or slow, whenever I wanted. I cut some sharp lefts in front of cars that Susan would never have allowed and pushed through yellow lights where Susan would have stopped. I felt liberated and independent. ‘I don’t need Susan to ride with’ I thought.
Yesterday as the miles rolled by, and I was imagining my cottage on the cliff and how happy I would be to be alone and away from my family; I was thinking how quiet and perfect it would be. Then I saw a biker riding while talking on his cell phone. If Susan were there we would have scoffed at that together and discussed the dangers of cell-phone use in all moving vehicles. But I just shook my head. Then I saw a bird eating an egg. I surely would have mentioned that to Susan and something along the lines of “eating your young” and maybe how I could understand that a little these days. But she was not there, so I rode along–making mental notes of my surroundings and as the miles added up and my ride continued I started to get lonely. It seemed so great when I had started out a few hours before but now I wanted someone with me to notice all that I saw.
Alone is good in small doses, for short rides. But the long haul demands company. I imagine my cottage on the cliff would be similar to my bike ride. At first I am sure it would be quite liberating to be alone, sleep as long as I wanted, cook for myself, and have no one yelling at me. I could take sharp lefts and speed through yellow lights and for a while that would be great. But when the sun came up over the water and the seagulls fought over a fish on the shore, who would I share that with? Without others along for your ride to share in the beauty and absurdities this world offers –it’s simply not as fun.