Monday, 16 November 2009

Lactic Acid Washed jeans

Hahhhh-ohhhohh…. Hahhhh-ohhhohhhahhhh-ohhhohh… There were no other sounds, just laborious, lungs busting breaths, one after another, as I peddled up relentless incline. I take that back, I made other sounds. About 2 klicks back, it sounded more like blahhhhhhachkahupluchupluk….as I lost my lunch over a guard wall to the valley many hundreds of meters below.

It was our first “bitch” day—60 kilometers up, and over the Truong Son Mountains to an outpost of a town within sight of the Loation boarder. To say the day was tough would do disservice to the word tough. In fact, somewhere along the line, when “bitch” all of the sudden wasn’t strong enough, the team abandoned one word adjectives all together. Instead we used a metaphor. We were going to find Jesus.

Early on in the ride, a fellow rider shouted, “I’m saved!” I am sure she was, but the geographical location of her afterlife, wasn’t the reason for her outburst. No, she thought she had made it to the top of the mountain. However, that was not to be the case. No it was just another switchback with a somewhat sympathetic flat 100 meters before returning to never ending 10% grade ascent.

It was about this time, that I realized we were not searching for a happy new testament, Sermon on the Mount, camel and needle Jesus. This was grade A, fire and brimstone, thunder and lightning, old testament territory. There would be no Jesus; only atonement. I was there to repent! To purge my mortal body of sin! Sons were to be sacrificed out on Vietnamese route 61!

This purgatory would be filled with fire, though the fire would not burn my skin. No, the fire would burn deep in my thighs, spirits so agitated all they could do is explode in a manic, firery convulsion, looking for any avenue to escape my quadriceps. Although, this was not of immediate concern as a demonic carpenter had begun ravaging the insides of my lungs with 30 grit sandpaper.

Pedal, pedal, pedal, was my mantra as I stomped on my bikes cylinder heads, making slow but steady progress, tiring rapidly. After an all too brief and terrorizing trip down the first mountain, the ascent of the second begun.

“Tell me your sins so you may be forgive child,” a voice whispered. Hallucinations, I thought, drink some more water. Ignoring the voice, I toiled upward. Daring not to stop and photography the idyllic surroundings of my own, ohh... so step, purgatory.

It’d been 45 minutes since earthly nourishment had violently existed my mortal coil for a more vestal creation of the all-mighty. This could explain why the peripherals of my sight line shrunk to a smaller and smaller circle, my focus narrowed in on an, as of yet, out of sight objective, though it isn’t. There was something more.

“BLESS ME FATHER FOR I HAVE SINNED!” blasted the Holy Spirit, involuntary like kicking when the doctor hits your knee with her orange triangular hammer, off my tongue. I thought I had left this remnant of childhood behind like a dirty green security blanket. My mom has suffered for it. Her son, had left the church and she though it a failure of her parental talents. . It was only tucked away in a dark recess of my mind, like one of the unlucky acorns a square finds at the beginning of spring.

“It’s been many years since my last confessional.” I blurted, this time less constrained. I was hungry for nourishment whether it came from a farmer or the lord; I was going to eat it. A starving man can not be picky with his dinner.

As I examined my conscious, mentally reliving the nights of lust, gluttony and greed that Saigon breeds, the road to salvation shallowed. Encouraged, I recounted the sloth, pride and envy that damned my previous relations with fellow mortals. The half-assed lessons, the lying and cheating cascaded out.

As my roadway to redemption steepened, I wondered out loud if all those hot showers, wholly unnecessary, counted as mere venial sins or where they more serious. Did they kill my soul and slam the door on my relationship with the Devine? I pumped harder and harder on my pedals, my chain straining under the immense torque of atonement. Is global warming a mortal Sin? No, this exercise was not to be in vain. Purification had to lie over and around the next switch back.

In fact, this, the last climb of the day, was absolution. After all, a Hail Mary or forty would not and could not absolve two years in Saigon. I had to purge the demons from my soul not with prayer but with enduring pain and so I trudged, pedal by pedal, through the aches and burning insides to the summit.

As I write this, I am not sure how I stand in the grace of the Catholic God but I do know that Jonathan Edwards had not built a city on top of that hill 60k west Hue. I was not yet to be a Sinner in the Hands of an Angry God. Yet, I do know I’ve been purified. I know what it is to be alive. I know sacrifice. I know purpose. It’s been a long time since I could call my self so satisfied.

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