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Deer feces and learning to look at life differently

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POSTED November 6, 2009 2:01 a.m.
We had just turned off Highway 395 outside of Lee Vining and onto Highway 120 heading west toward lofty Tioga Pass at 9,934 feet.

The climb had just started when I heard the sickening sound of a crank arm snapping.

My disposition went from happy to ticked off in three seconds flat.

I had been planning the four-day trip by bicycle from Lincoln over Donner Summit down Highway 395 via Lake Tahoe and through the Yosemite high country and back to Lincoln from the back roads out of Sonora through Folsom for months.

Brian McLain, who was 17 at the time, heard about the trip and wanted to go along. I was anything but thrilled about the prospect. I wanted to ride alone as I didn’t want to worry about anyone plus I was planning on pushing myself. It was a lot of climbing and just over 400 miles in four days. Besides, I’m not exactly social – at least at that point in my life – when I’m cycling. The last thing I wanted was someone 14 years my junior tagging along.

Brian persisted and I found myself carrying 50 pounds of gear on a fully loaded touring bicycle riding alongside with a teen on a racing bicycle. I laid down a few rules before we left including the fact he had to have a mechanic at a bike shop look over his bike. If he couldn’t afford it, I’d pay for it.

Brian had a tendency to want to do all of his mechanical work including the bottom bracket.

I stood there on the shoulder of Highway 120 getting angrier by the moment as Brian fumbled with the crank arm. It was clear from what happened – the bottom bracket had also come loose - that Brian did his own work getting his bike ready.

My face was obviously easy to read. He started pleading that he could fix it. I noted it was impossible as it was a major repair and there wasn’t a bicycle shop for at least 80 miles. The only thing we could do was to go back to Lee Vining and call someone to come pick us up. To say I was angry would have been an understatement.

That’s when Brian started to cry.

Then between brushing away the tears streaming down his face Brian said, “I ruined your vacation. I ruined it. It’s all my fault.”

I’ll never forget that moment as long as I breathe. I suddenly felt six inches tall – if that. I was so self-absorbed in myself and how I was now stuck in Lee Vining with a teen who had ruined a trip I’d been preparing to take for close to a year that I didn’t realize that I was displaying anger and disgust to the point a 17-year-old football player was crying.

I started thinking. I had other bicycles Brian could ride. If we could get Brian’s grandparents to go over to my mom’s house who in turn could get one of my bicycles and bring it down with them, we could continue the trip. In less than an hour, arrangements were made. We had to wait for another hour or so to get the motel room back we had the night before.

That’s when Brian looked out the window and saw Mono Lake suggesting we hike down there. He thought it was a half mile or so. It was a good two miles away in the summer heat. I started to say “no” as it wasn’t on my well-planned itinerary but then I relented which was out of character for me at the time.

An hour or so later we were nearing the lake. For most of the hike Brian was talking about the space shuttle, and stuff he read in science books. I was listening but not doing much talking. Then all of a sudden Brian stopped, and in a real excited voice shouted, “look!”

I did look around. All I saw were dry animal droppings.

Then Brian – with his voice a mixture of astonishment and exclaimed, “they’re deer feces, just like Mr. Fowler showed us!”

I looked at him for a minute as if he was crazy. It’s then I realized that I was the crazy one. I was so self-absorbed at that point in my life with having control that I wasn’t really open to new ventures – until then.

Thanks to Brian that day I also discovered that brine flies don’t land on you and that I needed to open my eyes to other views of the world. It was also thanks to Brian’s mechanical snafu that the next day we got to ride up Tioga Pass on bicycles in a snow storm on the first day of summer.

We rode together and went on other extended tours – sometimes with other people – over the next few years.

Brian called me a few years back thanking me for making a big difference in his life at a time when he needed direction.

I told him he had it wrong. He was the one who made a difference in my life.
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