Shared strengths are major assets to partners in a committed, longterm relationship, but when both individuals possess the same weakness it can be a bane rather than a boon.

Prior to meeting the virtuous vision of loveliness who was to later become my wife, I had never encountered anyone as incompetent as I was at getting from Point A to Point B. However, by happy coincidence she, too, had gone through life convinced she had the world’s worst sense of direction. During the infatuation stage of our courtship, we found this common defect endearing in one another.

Nearly two decades (and three children) later, this shared inadequacy is no longer cute, nor even remotely attractive. It is an inconvenient and occasionally infuriating failing. My wife deals with her shortcoming by using an app on an electronic device she carries, but I still get around the old fashioned way, reasoning that if Christopher Columbus could find his way to America, I ought to be able to get from Kennebunk to Gorham without a GPS.

However, there are risks involved when a directionally challenged individual attempts to negotiate his way through unfamiliar territory, as I was reminded during our family’s recent trip to Ft. Collins, Colo.

Knowing that I am an enthusiastic cyclist, my brother-in-law, with whom we were staying, suggested I use his bicycle early each morning in order to better learn the lay of the land, and even though the bike’s seat was a little lower ”“ and a lot less comfortable ”“ than I was accustomed to, I eagerly took him up on this generous offer.

Initially, I stayed relatively close to home, and since the sun was generally in the process of rising each morning when I ventured out, I had little problem figuring out which way was east. In addition, the Rocky Mountains, which are pretty tough to miss, lie due west of Ft. Collins. By my third day, I had explored a good deal of the city’s 53 square miles, so on the Fourth of July I decided to make what I estimated would be a 12-mile round trip to see the 32,500-seat venue where Colorado State University’s Rams play their home football games. I made the lengthy, meandering, virtually hill-free ride over in a relatively stress-free 45 minutes, and after verifying that Hughes Stadium was indeed a stadium, decided to head back via a more direct route.

Heading east on West Drake Road, a major thoroughfare I had become familiar with on my previous wanderings, I began congratulating myself for my resourcefulness as it turned into East Drake. But when the road suddenly veered to the right, I instinctively/foolishly took a left in order to avoid heading south. Shortly thereafter, I found myself on an unpaved bike path. Three friendly cyclists I encountered there provided seemingly clear instructions on how to get where I wanted to go. They also refilled my water bottle. That turned out to be far more helpful than the directions, which I very quickly forgot, badly misinterpreted, or both. Probably both.

Even as I was seemingly heading further and further out of town, I didn’t panic, knowing all I had to do was find the Rockies to ascertain which way was west.

Unfortunately, smoke from the out-of-control forest fires that had been burning west of Ft. Collins for a month or so could on occasion severely limit visibility, and on July 4, the wind made an unfortunate shift (for me) that totally obscured the mountains.

Lacking other options I kept on pedaling, alternately hallucinating and imagining the sound of my wife’s sweet but persistent voice suggesting that I take a cell phone with me when I go exploring. Continuing over even more remote and seemingly endless terrain reminded me that Ft. Collins is located 5,003 feet above sea level, which can take a toll on those of us more accustomed to exercising close to a coast. Seeing a thermometer outside of a bank indicate it was 98 degrees didn’t help my state of mind either, nor did the increasingly hard-as-a rock seat that I lacked the opportunity to dismount from. I finally emerged on College Avenue at the extreme north end of town, far beyond the sections of it I had seen on my previous rides.

I got home nearly four hours after leaving, completely out of water, energy and feeling in my derriere.  

But after a nap, a shower, and a great night’s sleep, it turned out that the 40-mile bike trek from Hell had only one lingering after-effect: It’s hard enough to produce an 800-word essay fit for publication each week. But just try composing one of them while standing up!

— Andy Young and his family are currently heading back toward the Eastern Time Zone. They’re probably going through Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and/or North Dakota as you read this, assuming that it’s still Tuesday.

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