Derek Maiolo: Farewell and thank you
When I announced plans to quit my job and embark on a solo bike tour down to New Mexico amid a global pandemic, the general consensus of the idea was that it was ridiculous.
My parents worried about the country going mad, people becoming monsters, and how could one person defend himself against it all? My grandmother kept asking if I’d found anyone to go with. A stranger to whom I described the plan outside Sunpie’s, back before the pandemic made us wary of strangers, just shook his head and asked if I needed a stiff drink.
I had been mulling the idea of the bike tour for about a year. By the time I told anyone about it, there was no going back. Gabe, my boyfriend since college, supported the idea, or at least kept any underlying trepidation to himself. For my birthday, Oct. 9, also my last day at Steamboat Pilot & Today, he gifted panniers to carry my things. My best friend and former coworker, Katie, agreed to drive down and meet me in Taos to take me back home when I was done.
Charting my bike route and planning in general didn’t come so easy. I didn’t have a set itinerary until the night before I left when my mom demanded we sit at the kitchen table with an atlas. So yes, the trip had some hiccups that probably could have been avoided with better planning. But I am a firm believer that the most harrowing experiences make the best stories.
By the end of the first day of the bike tour, I had already made a few memories liable to fret any mother. Out of concern for any criminal liability I prefer to keep them on the hush for now.
But it is important, in my opinion, for a person to reclaim his wildness every now and then. The modern world has a terrible knack of cushioning the body into a decadent sort of sedation. I am no Nietzschean, but I find kinship in the German philosopher’s idea that a person needs solitude and hardship to “become who you are.” It is all well and good to pursue a career and build a home and find love, but life is also about doing things you do not completely understand for no obvious reason whatsoever. That’s what this trip became for me.
I write most of this from a tent in the Oh Be Joyful recreation area just north of Crested Butte, four days into the journey. A bitter wind is making a ruckus of the tent and howling through the leafless aspens. I begin to feel lonely. Uneasy. I want to be with someone who loves me. But then I write.
I write about how the leafless aspens look like bristles of a brush. I write about Crested Butte and passing a man with a dog on a leash and how, as I passed, the man half-whispered to this dog, loud enough so I could hear, “Don’t kill again, Mika.” I write about seeing another man dance on a small cement stage with “Footloose” abandon to the tune of “Singing in the Rain.”
I write about all the chaos and sorrow in the world. I write about how lucky I am, despite it all, to have called a place like the Yampa Valley my home. I spent almost the same number of years living in Steamboat Springs as I did living in Moffat County, my high school alma mater. I came to know both places as one knows a loved one, as charming and irksome and suffuse with beauty. I will always remember driving from Steamboat to Craig and seeing the most magnificent sunsets.
I write about leaving a place I love so much and how scary it is but also necessary. Another of my beliefs is that if you find someone who loves you for who you are — that deepest, most honest you — then you should keep them around. That is what I am trying to do for as long as Gabe will let me.
I am no good at goodbyes, which is why I am already gone. I write the remainder of this from Oregon, where I am staying with Gabe’s family for the holidays. Then who knows. I’ll find work, ideally writing in some regard. By next fall, I hope to be in a graduate program working toward a Master of Fine Arts in creative nonfiction.
While I will continue to seek occasional solitude, which the life of a writer depends on, I am excited to cultivate something beautiful with a person I love.
There is so much more I would like to say, but that’s why I’m a writer, I guess.
I cannot express in words how much gratitude I feel for the Yampa Valley community. This is a special place. We all know it and tell outsiders about it with relish. It is why we put up with annoying tourists and exorbitant housing prices and neighbors who leave their trash outside when it’s not garbage day.
Thank you to everyone who pushed me to be a better journalist. Thank you to those who took time away from your busy lives for an interview. Thank you to those who emailed with corrections and criticism, even if you weren’t polite.
May all of you enjoy this wild and wonderful ride.
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STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Learning to ski was as mandatory in the Schnackenberg household as reading and learning to tie shoes.