Wednesday, September 13, 2006

So take me to the airport, and put me on a plane...

I was dreaming about the song "When a Man Loves a Woman" when George's voice interrupted.
He was talking a quickly, and by the dim light of the room and the heavy sleep in my head, I could assume that it was still early morning. What was he doing awake and dressed? What the hell was he talking about? What happened? Why?
The dream was a result of the previous evening. We'd made it back to civilization from the Tibetan Plateau, to Xining, the capitol of Qinghai province and were gladly jumping right back into the trappings of a larger Chinese city. We'd gorged ourselves at a KFC while a Qingqi dealer took our bikes to give them bumper-to-bumper tune-ups. We then headed to a KTV karaoke place to howl out "It's so Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday" a few more times. Michael Bolton was added to the playlist at some point, and had invaded my dreams.
After the karaoke, we wandered into a night market. Some skateboard stunts and horseplay entertained the locals but resulted in George smashing his thumb. No one but George thought much of it until he woke me in the morning.
"I've been up since 6 thinking this through and working through it, so just bear with me," he started, speaking quickly as I blinked and tried to focus on him.
"My hand hurts, man. Look: my thumb is a bit swollen, and it hurts to grab things, so working the clutch on my bike is going to be a nightmare unless we hang out in this city long enough for me to heal, which will prevent us from making all the stops and seeing all the cool things we've talked about, and if we mess up on the timing getting home I will be late getting back to Jinan and teaching, which is out of the question."
I really wasn't sure where he was going with this, and he wasn't giving me time to think it through, particularly considering the lack of sleep and abundance of alcohol the previous night.
"So since I woke up early, I've been thinking this through all morning and then went out and did some research and I am going to fly back to Jinan today."
"Wait, slow down. What are you talking about?!"
"Look man, it's just a stupid small injury, but I don't want to mess up the trip."
My mind slowly started catching up and I tried to offer some solutions. "Maybe there's a way we can rig the bike so you don't need your thumb," I offered, probably not the smartest idea, but the first thing that came to mind.
"No, it's not worth it. It's my left hand- the clutch hand -and with the amount we need to use the clutch, it won't work. Look, I've done this trip before, this final part of it in particular. I kicked my own ass last year, driving too many hours a day and having to get my bike welded back together every few days just so I could ride back into Jinan. I don't need to do that again. You guys have gotten the hang of this and now you are ready to finish this without my half-translating. You can take the rest of the challenge on your own. There's a flight today and there isn't one tomorrow, so I am taking it."
"Now hold on. We're stuck here a couple days while the bikes are fixed up; can't we wait and see how you heal, and go from there? You could take the flight in a couple days." His logic was sound, but the decision seemed so rash, so abrupt. This was just a routine injury in the world of George, who'd hurt his sternum wrestling Mongolians just a couple months previous, but squeezing a motorcycle clutch a few hundred times a day with any sort of injured hand would definitely be a nightmare. And at this point in the trip, we can either flat-out burn down the highway and get back into Jinan in a few days, or we can actually enjoy the trip home, making stops at all the sights along the way. Burning up time, however, could eat away at a buffer that we need to keep to ensure the George and Mike can get back with time to prepare for the school year, so we have to be careful. "But, I mean, we're supposed to finish this thing as the four of us."
"I know, but I've made my decision and I am going. I don't want to dwell on it because it will just bring me down. Besides, I'm ready to be home. And you guys are ready to finish this off and enjoy getting back to Jinan like I did last year." He then began running through how we'd have to sell his bike for him, and implored me to make sure that the three of us get back to Jinan safe and with the remaining bikes.
I thought that perhaps the other guys would help dissuade him, but when we woke Mike, he obviously saw the reason within George's decision. David had left a few minutes earlier to find food and explore the city while he thought the rest of us would be sleeping.
So in the end, George's decision stuck. Some brainstorming led us to inquire at the nearby train station as to whether we could send his bike back, and we were successful, Team China helping get the bike on a train in short order.
Back at the hotel, George went through his backpack, offering up things he wouldn't need back home. Rain boots, mittens, his heavy faux-fur blanket, an array of bungees, his rain poncho, his cheap shoes that quickly tattered after he bought them a few days earlier. "I'll just get real, decent shoes back home," he said.
I could tell that he was, in fact, ready to be home. We'd all talked since early in the trip, longing for soft beds, couches, Cheerios, tacos, hambugers, IHOP. When faced with the decision between two weeks of pain or a short flight to those comforts, he was ready. He'd been traveling since spring on frantic, rough trips like this, and skipping the re-run portion of this trip was a small sacrifice before getting wrapped up in the chaos of teaching again. And he was right: we are ready to finish this thing on our own. We've all traveled solo before, we've gotten the hang of the drive-find hotel-sleep-drive pattern. We've gleaned enough of the language to take care of many of the details that he took care of for us. It's a bummer that we won't be finishing the trip all together, but it is exciting to see how we finish it off without having George to rely on.

We caught David on the way out the door to the airport. We grabbed lunch and messed around in the airport a while before George turned and crossed the gate, wearing his cowboy hat and Qingqi jacket.

So now there are three. I have no doubts that we will make it back safely, in time, and with at least a couple stories that George will enjoy reading from the comforts of his apartment. And then we will reconvene back in Jinan, where we'll have a few last hurrahs, tacos, Cheerios, and hamburgers included.

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8 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who needs a thumb, I could use the clutch with the power of the mind. It's just like bending spoons.

Your truly -
Uri Geller

9/14/2006 9:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

good luck to you all.
-fry

9/14/2006 11:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh George...
Love, mom

9/15/2006 8:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please be taking good care of yourself. You are very missed.

-Lala

9/16/2006 4:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

for the record, my thumb is smashed beyond use for ANYTHING. There is no possible way that I could drive a motorcycle 1 kilometer, let alone 2000 kilometers. THAT is the reason I went back. For the love of GOD, why would I go back early unless I HAD to? I was just trying to stay positive about my predicament with all the talking about the comforts of home. I'm dying over here not being able to finish the trip. This is George we're talking about here. If I could have rigged something to finish the trip I would have. You need your left thumb to drive a motorycle.

have a good time guys. Good luck.

-George

9/16/2006 6:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A few ideas on the Qingqi Jumper:

Jumper 1


Jumper 2


-Kevin

9/18/2006 1:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Oh George.."

Wow! I just want you to know...I didn't just read that...I heard it in my head...Is it scary how much you can tell a mother loves and understands her son with only 2 words?

It's a bummer you couldn't finish the trip. You can tell we are all getting a little older. 10 years ago, you would have thoughtlessly duct-taped a fork to your elbow and put a pencap on the end of it. Now...Responsibilities step in.

Good luck with the rest of the Trip.

-Shaun

9/18/2006 1:19 PM  
Blogger Adam said...

I like George's pose in #1 better, but my pose n #2 better. These are up to George as to what to send to Qingqi - whaddya think, G? I will post a link to Jack's submission when I have a min.

9/22/2006 7:32 PM  

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