Take A Seat

The End of Inbetween

Sat 13 Mar, 2010  /  Dom and Ernie  /  12 comments

I’ve been sitting on this train for ten minutes and its almost as if to my left its still the same cresting and rolling wave I’ve been following since I boarded. I left Ernie at the single isolated platform of the aptly named Surf station. I saw him waving vaguely at an invisible me somewhere behind the heavily tinted glass.

This wide open land and the act of saying goodbye – albeit it only for a couple of short months – has put me in a strange state of mind. Sad, almost, but determined to succeed in the plan that has just over the last week, from the home-base of Ernie’s RV, become reality.

Yesterday Ernie and I went for a ride together on our new bicycle, a semi recumbent tandem that allows Ernie to sit, reclining up front with a 180 degree view uninterrupted by handlebars. Thanks to the coasting mechanism between us, he can put in only as much effort as he wants to. We cycled 22 miles to the ocean and back along the agricultural valley that forms a gentle east to west corridor from Lompoc to the coast. Ernie was bundled up in jeans, braces and a thick plaid shirt – he feels the cold what with the blood thinners he has to take, and he gets short of breath quickly. Thats what Lymphocytic Leukemia does. Through a slow proliferation of white blood cells, it crowds out the red cells, very, very slowly suffocating you.

But 74 year old Ernie has one more dream. And he can achieve it – I’m sure of it – with a little help. Maybe not quite how he had in minds many years ago, but hopefully he’ll discover a country he has not yet had the opportunity to explore by bicycle.

Ernie has a bracelet. I read it with a mix of amusement and concern. It reads:

Ernest Greenwald. Lompoc California. If my heart stops please do not resuscitate me. If I died on my bike I died happy.

Ernie’s last wife had died after a long painful period of battling illness. His life had stopped after that, as if it had had the battery taken out. Six months after that day I rolled through Lompoc on my way south on Achilles the tandem – that was two years ago. Ernie pulled himself together enough to join me for a day’s pedaling to Santa Barbara and in doing so helped me see a valuable side to my journey – an adventure that others could, in some small way benefit from. I liked that. It made everything seem a little more worthwhile.

“I cannot begin to describe the pleasure and pain I’ve been feeling today” he’d said, hobbling off the bike after a hot shadeless 60 miles. He seemed to have turned a corner, and the stoop in his walk had lessened. He was smiling.

He’d made the mistake of telling me that day that forty years previously, he’d always planned on cycling across his own country. If he hadn’t said that I may not have seen him again. I wouldn’t have sourced a suitable bike for the job and I certainly wouldn’t been quietly chiding Ernie for his funny habits while sitting in his RV. We set off from the west coast at the end of June this year, accompanied by a film camera, Ernie’s RV for him to sleep in and his two small dogs from whom he will not be parted.

He bought his bracelet before I whispered the idea of our journey in his ear, so I can be sure I didn’t coerce him into wearing this statement. I don’t think our journey will kill him, in fact I’m sure of it. But Ernie is that kind of guy. He agonizes over the blue prints and the statistics of every eventuality. Jesus, everything in this man’s life follows a thorough monitoring. He’s drilled a hole in the top of his small kettle in order to put a temperature gauge in it, not satisfied with the bubbling of boiling water as an indicator. He has three clocks in his tiny RV. One digital one is hung next to the traditional  clock on the end wall next to the small but perfectly formed bathroom. Another clock, he told me, is hidden out of sight, because he said, taking on an air of extreme accuracy, ‘with only two clocks you cannot tell which one is wrong’. In every way this man is a self professed nerd.

At the age of fifteen he scrounged relays and circuitry from old pinball machines to construct an electronic tick tack toe board that never lost even if the human opponent played the first move. He was discounted from winning a regional science competition due to the fact that ‘he must have had considerable adult help’. He didn’t mind though. Its not in his nature to worry over ‘fair’ and ‘unfair’. Having now lived with Ernie for a few short days, I know he wouldn’t have needed help, his intelligence is so immense that it overflows into the social aptitude part of his brain, clogging it up occasionally, leaving him unable to compute simple humour or body language. Doctors call it Asperges disease, but like a friend of mine once said to me, we have so many labels these days they don’t mean much anymore. I prefer to call Ernie a proud sufferer of ‘Nerdiness’.

But underneath that carapace of binary and logic there are a deep set of emotions. He thinks about the past, about his shortfalls, about his children and about the days he let slip buy with ‘undue care and attention’. And looking carefully I think I recognize something like sadness.

Now I’ve been on this train heading south for one hour and still things are the same. On one side is the deep blue, broken with the darker shadows of waves growing in from the ocean. The other side is a vivid green, folding with the less regular shadows of tight valleys and empty cattle grazing hills. The Californian coastline here is an empty, organized wilderness.

The next time I’ll see this place will be in June, maybe on my birthday. But then I’ll be heading north ready to cycle east with Ernie, over the rockies and into the searing heat of the desert sun. And on, to the sea. One more goal completed. One more dream lived for Ernie. Hopefully.

Its never too late to live the dream.

12 comments on "The End of Inbetween"

  1. domgill15 Apr, 2010

    Thanks Jason, that means a lot to me, I will carry on, though not always in a positive vein – its like a therapy for me, when i am down i write!! speak soon!

  2. domgill15 Apr, 2010

    hey there!! visit http://www.domandernie.com and find my Facebook page from there – we end our journey in NY, you should meet us!!!

  3. domgill15 Apr, 2010

    we will always welcome company, the more the merrier!! keep in touch and find the FB group from http://www.domandernie.com !!

  4. Andrew Inman13 Apr, 2010

    If you guys want/need help for part of your new tour give a shout out. I’m trying to get to the point I can do a few century rides this year.

    Your feat and journal is truly inspirational and impressive. Hang in there keep at it and continue to be true to yourself.

  5. bryce24 Mar, 2010

    hell yeah!

  6. Annie Lozada22 Mar, 2010

    Your heart and compassion is evident in your post and I look hope your path across the US takes you south by me. You and Ernie are welcome to stay with me, not much of a house, but alot of land for the trailer and great place for the dogs to run around. Keep me informed of your plans, would love to have you!

  7. Pat & Leon Phelps16 Mar, 2010

    Dear Dom and Welcome aboard to Ernie,

    I am also excited to think that you will be back in the US and crossing America. We met you on the “Haul Rd/aka Dalton Highway” as you began your journey south and shared that famous cucumber sandwich with you. I’ve also enjoyed reading your blog and would love to be able to see your documentary film–how may that be possible?

    If your ride brings you any place near central/upstate Ithaca, NY, we will be there to cheer you and Ernie on.

    God Bless you. Leon and Pat Phelps, Ithaca, NY

  8. Jen15 Mar, 2010

    Hi Dom,

    I checked out Take A Seat at Banff Film Fest in Philadelphia, PA and it blew*me*away. What an incredible odyssey. Now I am enjoying your tweets and blogs immensely. Hopefully your trek brings you both through Philly!

    Safe travels & continued adventures to you both…

  9. Kyle13 Mar, 2010

    Dom, It will be great having you biking in the USA again! I picked up posts from your North/South ride about the time you let Ernie take a seat. It was such fun following you all the way south! It’s my hope that this summer’s ride will bring you through Kansas. That would give me a chance to say Hi as you pass by Kansas City. Good hearing from you again.

  10. Jason13 Mar, 2010

    Wow. Ernie’s statements he wears on his bracelet are fantastic. A last testament. An inner expression of will reflecting the poor state of end-of-life issues here in the US. And as you so beautifully describe, an almost pathologic compulsive need to prepare for every contingency.

    Here’s hoping you consistently find time for reflective writing. This is great.

  11. Charles Kunken13 Mar, 2010

    GO ERNIE!!!

  12. Rob Rowley13 Mar, 2010

    I’m so looking forward to the ‘Dom & Ernie Show.’ Good luck in your preparations and on your journey.


Leave a comment