A memoir of a friendship: Chapter 2

This is a continuation of Chapter 1 in the series.

I wasn’t a very good high school student. Nothing much excited me beyond ice hockey and the usual teenage boy distractions. So when I did not get accepted into some of the better hockey colleges, I wasn’t surprised. I had no plan “B”. I didn’t see much point in going to more school, so I took a year off. One of the memorable adventures that year was riding the Lewis and Clark Trail with my buddy Den Coello and his wife from Astoria, Oregon to St. Louis, Missouri. That was an amazing 45 days and a life-changing experience.

art_bike

A skinny Art in the middle of the Lewis and Clark Trail bicycle ride. The dark patch on my rear end is the black dye from the bicycle saddle. Photo by Dennis Coello.

 

Just before the Lewis and Clark Trail, I decided to apply to St. John’s College. My best friend Joe from high school had gone there the year before, and it sounded great. On top of everything else, they were sympathetic to students with “non-traditional” paths and “non-traditional” grades and test scores.

This was the setting when I first met Lynn. When I got to St. John’s, I still didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was intrigued by a traditional liberal arts and Great Books curriculum and still had the bug of a recent adventure on a bicycle.

ase_passport_no_doc

Passport photo from 1981, which was about how I looked when I met Lynn at St. John’s.

St. John’s attracts a wide diversity of students, and from my perspective, I was one of the more traditional. I attended classes, almost always prepared, and I didn’t do much partying. The main thing I remember from those days was an intense focus on trying to figure out what was interesting to me. For several months, Joe and I regularly visited a beautiful Catholic Carmelite Monastery that was a short walk down an arroyo from St. John’s. I still remember fondly listening to the beautiful songs of cloistered nuns, smelling incense, and hearing latin in daily services. I would have converted if I had believed in god, but that was the part I couldn’t deal with.

I don’t recall the details about how Lynn and I started to connect, but by the end of our first year, neither of us planned on returning the following year. Nothing really grabbed me in school, even though I did enjoy the classes and books. I especially loved Euclid (and still do!). I think one difference between me and Lynn was that he had very little patience for things that didn’t interest him, so he gradually drifted away from his studies and classes. When he did participate in seminars, he would often discuss books that were not on our list. Nietzsche was his favorite, and he would regularly remind the class that “God is dead”. He would then be asked by the tutors to stay within the topic and not jump to books that we had not yet read.

bike_route

Route that Lynn and I took to ride from St. John’s together.

 

Near the end of the year, Lynn and I were talking and trying to figure out what to do next. I still had the bicycling bug and wanted to visit my old friends in Minnesota, so I decided to ride my bike from Santa Fe to Minneapolis. When I told Lynn, we decided to ride together. We had about a week to prepare. I had my complete rig from the Lewis and Clark ride, but Lynn had to cobble things together. Without a single training ride, we took off together for Kansas City, MO. Then we would split up: Lynn would ride on to St. Louis, and I would ride to Minneapolis.

Santa Fe is about 7000′ above sea level, and there is quite a climb to cross the mountains around Taos and Angle Fire. The sun is also quite intense at that elevation in the early summer, and by the end of the first day, Lynn and I both had severe sun burns. We camped the whole way, and I think that if we hadn’t been completely exhausted from the climb, we would have never slept because of the pain of the sun burns. I have a fairly dark complexion, but Lynn was very fair, with his bright orange hair. He had the worst of it, but neither of us learned anything from the first burn. We thought that we were just conditioning ourselves and that after a few days it would be much better. Instead, after a few days we both peeled and reburned under the exposed patches. We then each had bright red spots with a background of color ranging from brown to a lighter red.

The memory that stays with me the most was riding through southeast Kansas, which before we got there sounded about as awful as I could have imagined. Boy, was I wrong! This was in the days without cell phones, and neither of us had a camera. I found this photo online in another blog post, and it captures the memory of that trip. Lynn and I were past the big mountains and our sunburns were healing. There were no cars for miles, and all we could hear was the wind softly blowing through the grass, which made the most beautiful “grass snakes” that I’ve ever seen. We didn’t talk, because we didn’t need to.

We rode together until we reached the fork in our paths near Kansas City. I went north; Lynn went east. Memories have faded for me, but we bonded on that ride, which must have taken about 2 weeks. I was sad to say goodbye, and neither of us knew if we’d ever see each other again.

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