Before the dawn of smart phones, the odds of me getting lost on a weekend bike ride titled towards the high side. Every departure involved the risk, the likelihood, of a simple bike ride lasting an hour or two longer than intended as I found my way home. If I paid attention to the turns I made and returned home along the exact same path, I could make it home without incident. But that was a boring way to ride. When I came to a fork in the road, having to choose between the road I knew and the road I didn’t, I wanted the unknown.
After getting lost a number of times, and then successfully finding my way home, I began to learn the roads around me and the chances of me getting lost diminished. It also helped to get an iPhone.
On the first weekend of October, I plotted a long bike ride. Three, maybe four hours. The weather was perfect. A slight, southerly breeze and temperatures in the seventies. A guy couldn’t ask for a better day to ride a bike.
When I say I plotted a route, I should explain further. This did not involve me sitting down at a computer and consulting maps. Nor did I even look at the Maps App on my phone. Rather, as I began my first pedal strokes down the driveway, I considered the possible options and settled on one.
Everything started according to plan. The first twenty-five miles were smooth. Some flat roads. Some hilly ones. Very little traffic.
At the twenty-five mile mark, I approached a fork in the road. I know this road well, having been down it many times before. Although it may have been a year or more since I’d taken the road to the right, I took the one to the right. It was part of the plan.
The road twisted and turned. Ninety degrees to the right. Ninety degrees to left. To the right. To the left. Slightly uphill. Right. Left. Right. A dog without leash. Speed up. Left. Right. Left.
A road to the left appeared. I slowed down. The road looked familiar. Was I supposed to turn there? I slowed down and tried to recall the route from before. No, the turn was further up the road. I should keep going.
The road went left and right, up and down, but it didn’t look correct. I recognized the roads, having been down them before, but they weren’t the ones I expected to be riding. Also, I should have been heading south, but was going west instead.
Well, it had been a year since I’d been on this route. Maybe I’d gotten things mixed up in my head. Perhaps I’d confused the routes. I decided to keep going.
Turn to the right. And then a steep, short uphill climb. I could hear traffic ahead. Not a good sign. As I crested the top of the road, I ran straight into FM 917.
I knew where I was. That was the good news. The bad news, I was far from where I was supposed to be.
I graduated from high school in 1987. The morning of the graduation ceremony, my dad stopped me in the kitchen. In our small kitchen, there was only room for one person to pass. If two people wanted to pass by one another, the other had to step out of the way. He had me trapped.
“There’s no college fund,” he said.
I was not shocked by the statement. I’d have been shocked if there had been a college fund. The S&L crisis had crippled the Texas economy and since Dad worked as a commercial insulator, there’d been little work the previous two years.
“No worries,” I said.
And it was true. For the past year, I’d worked afternoons in the mail room at a bank, and a couple of weeks before my graduation, they’d offered me a full-time job as the supervisor of the mail room. What did I need college for? I’d vaulted to a supervisor’s position and they were going to pay me thirteen thousand dollars a year. Thirteen thousand dollars. I had it made.
When people asked me if I planned to attend college, I told them ‘No.’ One, the last two years of high school had bored me, and two, I had a great job at the bank.
Two women at the bank hounded me all summer long. You need to go to college. You need to go to college. The bank will pay for it if you go at night. You need to do this. Every single day. Whenever they saw me. You need to go to college.
Two weeks before college classes began, just to get these ladies off my back, I applied to St. Mary’s University, a private university. I could’ve applied to a community college, but if I was going to go to college and the bank was going to pay for it, I might as well go big. Or at least expensive. Also, I hoped St. Mary’s would turn me down since I’d waited until the last minute.
They didn’t. They accepted me and I registered for two night classes.
Unfortunately, those two ladies weren’t done with me. The bank created a new department, computer systems, and with the new department came three new positions. You should apply, they said. Again and again, they said this to me. I relented and applied. One of the ladies spoke to the vice-president of the new department on my behalf.
I got the job.
A week into the new position and I was miserable. I had my very own cubicle on the second floor with my very own computer next to a window that looked out over the city. From this beautiful view, I used my computer to change the addresses of customers. All. Day. Long. Occasionally, they gave me another assignment, but my main duty involved changing addresses.
In my misery, I paid closer attention to other employees at the bank. A short survey helped me figure out that people with college degrees advanced while people without degrees hit a ceiling. I needed a degree.
At my current rate of taking two classes a semester, I would be done with college somewhere between forever and eternity.
What was I going to do?
I knew where I was, FM 917, but it wasn’t anywhere near where I’d planned on being. The upside, I could stay on FM 917. Eventually, the road would lead me where I wanted to be. The downside, it would add another hour to hour and a half to my already long ride.
I could go back the way I came, but seeing as how I didn’t know where I’d missed a turn, going back seemed fraught with the possibility of getting even more lost.
On to FM 917 it was. Up and down hills I went, mostly up it seemed. Cars and trucks, mostly trucks, whizzed by at fifty miles an hour.
I glanced at roads to the left, thinking I might find one that looked familiar, one that might lead me back where I came from. Every single one had a Dead End sign posted. Up a hill. Down a hill. Finally, I spotted a road without a Dead End sign. Before turning, I pulled over to the side of the road and consulted my iPhone.
Would this road lead me where I wanted to be?
I found where I was and located where I wanted to be. The two were connected, but not directly. A number of different roads would need to be travelled in order to make the connection. I didn’t recognize any of the roads. I stared at the screen, memorizing the directions as best I could. If I missed one of those turns, well, I’d still be lost and I’d have to consult the iPhone again.
I took off down the unknown road. Beautiful homes lined the left side of the road. On the right, I passed acres of ranch and farm land. The roads were flat and smooth with hardly any traffic and trees provided plenty of shade. A few miles down the road, I passed a creek with a pier. Horses roamed the land to the left. How had I never been down these roads before?
The road began to creep upwards. At first, the ascent was mild, then it became steep and turned to the right. I shifted down, careful to conserve energy as I wasn’t sure exactly where I was, how lost I might be, or how long I might be out on my bike.
Calling the wife to pick me up was not an option.
I spotted a white iron fence at the top of the hill. It looked familiar, but then I’ve seen a number of farms with white iron fences. Beyond the fence, I spotted a red barn. Again, not an isolated site in Texas. Still, something about the two of them stuck in mind.
As I approached the fence and the barn, a fork in the road appeared. I spotted a house to the right. The house, the fence, the barn. I recognized the place.
I’d made it back to where I wanted to be. I looked back over my shoulder at the road I’d travelled. I would have to remember those roads.
Flailing about as to what to do, I made a decision that still baffles me. Somehow, I thought it would be a good idea to become a minister. Why I decided this is beyond me. Somehow my brain thought this was not only a good decision, but the best decision.
For the record, my Dad was against it.
Where does one go to school for such a thing? I didn’t know, so I asked the pastor of the church I attended. He suggested his alma mater, Hardin-Simmons University, in Abilene, Texas, a small town in West Texas.
Abilene is as far removed from San Antonio in every conceivable way. Nevertheless, in January of 1989, I moved there, giving up my job, my friends, my car, and pretty much everything else. I moved from a big city to a small town where I knew two or three people.
One word described that first semester, misery. Pure misery. What had I done? What was I doing? I couldn’t wait for summer break so I could return to San Antonio.
When I returned home, my plan was to stay there. Put Abilene in the rearview mirror. But then what? Live at home? Attend community college? Start over? How? Where?
As the summer progressed, my stance against returning to Abilene softened. A part of me wanted to return, not because I liked it, but because I thought I had a better chance of finding myself there than staying at home. I knew what was at home. Besides, returning home would be giving up.
I had to give it one more semester. Try again. See how it went. Maybe I’d figure something out.
I arrived on a Friday afternoon with classes due to start on Tuesday. The following night, I met The Girl. The one. By Thursday, we were going on our first date. Within three years, we were married.
The weekend after getting lost near my house, I returned to Round Rock for the Outlaw Trail, my favorite charity ride. The weather is usually great, the support fantastic, and the route wonderful. I signed up for the sixty-five mile route.
Around mile forty-five, I’d found that I’d gotten ahead of most people. An unusual occurrence. Then a woman on a tri-bike blew past me like I was standing still. My male ego took this as a challenge.
I quickened the pace and dropped into an aerodynamic position. I wasn’t catching her, but she wasn’t putting anymore distance between us. Occasionally, I glanced down at my Garmin computer and saw our speed hovered between 25 and 30 mph. I glanced behind me. There was no one. We had left them all behind.
So this is what it felt like to be in the lead. Amazing. Fantastic. Incredible.
I spotted a crossing road in the distance. The woman ahead of me slowed, circled back around, and then stopped.
What the heck was she doing? There was no traffic in either direction.
I stopped next to her.
“I think we’re lost,” she said.
“There’s no marking on the road. I don’t know which way to go.”
I looked at the pavement. True enough, there were no markings on the road indicating whether we should go left or right as there had been at every intersection. I looked behind me. There was no one. Then again, we’d been going pretty fast.
“Do you think we missed a turn?” she said.
“I don’t remember seeing any.”
She took out her phone and furiously began searching for the route map online. I stood there. Enjoying the scenery. The lostness.
We’d find our way. Eventually. Even if we didn’t have a map.