Lost in the East

In light of all these natural disasters, the End of the World has been coming up a lot lately. Like most people, I often find myself contemplating post-apocalyptic scenarios and wondering what unique skills I’ll have to offer the loose band of bewildered survivors.

After all, the post-disaster hours are bound to be hectic; it’s critical to weigh your pros and cons in advance so you can slide into the right role immediately. First, you have to consider your wheelhouse. Don’t posit yourself as the group dictator or medic when your skill set favors “lookout guy” or “guy who pillages trail mix from broken snack machines.”

And don’t jump right in as the guy who has to slap someone repeatedly while barking, “Pull yourself together, man!” because it could get awkward if you don’t have the stern authority or timing to pull something like that off. Take a good hard look at yourself. You’re part of a team now. Every Justice League needs an Aquaman, and in this case, maybe it’s you.

As for me, serious and casual consideration has determined I’d make a pretty good leader. I’m quick on my feet and no slouch in a crisis. In my years as a bike-tour guide and D&D player, I certainly picked up an outdoors-survival skill or two, be it starting a fire with sticks, jerry-rigging a wheel with zip-ties or calmly delivering the appropriate amount of EpiPennage to a catatonic peer. I can leaven a grim situation with a joke or two about labradoodles. I also really, really like trust exercises. And if that’s not leadership, by all means, feel free to revoke my Wilderness First Aid Certification.

But that’s pretty much where my hit parade ends. Any fire-starting prowess is canceled out by fact that I slip into a static trance if snacks aren’t made available every four hours. Then there’s the fact that everything that gives my life meaning—funny cat videos on the Internet—will essentially be nonexistent once society collapses into chaos.

But the worst of my traits—the one that’ll lead our diverse band of hearty misfits directly into ruin—is my navigational arrogance. I’ve often boasted you could airdrop me, Roofied and blindfolded, into the middle of Antarctica, and I could still tell you which direction is North and which direction leads to Shackleton’s whiskey. So it’s with this breezy overconfidence that I now find myself lost on a bike—fresh off several bewildering highway merges—typing this into my confusing new Android phone somewhere in Allentown, Pa.

Oh, did I mention I live in a different state now? I thought if I neglected to update my blog, friends, family and the assortment of folks who stumble here googling “man runs from dinosaur” would just assume I’d broken a crucial body part and was taking another summer running hiatus.

No, I’m still running, but now I’m doing it in a grey, steely underworld called Bethlehem, Pa. I’m told it’s where Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen was filmed, and without having seen the film, I can confirm it looks appropriately post-apocalyptic there. All’s quiet throughout the town. The college kids have disappeared for the summer and left little but Oreo-packaging tumbleweeds in their wake. A baffling tangle of metal can be seen from my bedroom window, which I’d like to say is the rusted innards of a “foundry”—a word I know exclusively from the first level of Tony Hawk 3.

This guy looks kind of cool.

Everything is weird here. The people. The food. The library hours. Dawn Riddle made me eat something called “water ice,” which was composed of neither water nor ice. Beer is only available from secret, underground lairs more difficult to find than the hidden shops in Legend of Zelda. And as far as I can tell, drinking in the car, Missouri-style, is illegal. It’s bewildering.

Tomorrow I start an internship at Bicycling, which is headquartered in Emmaus, Pa., somewhere on the other side of wherever I’m at right now. I’m pretty excited to be doing my professional project at the magazine, and if my committee approves the results, I’ll be a master of journalism by the end of the summer. I can’t believe it’s almost over—it feels like just a few months ago that I left Portland to start my confusing new life in Missouri.

I’m trying to savor this feeling of being lost and overwhelmed because it’s a good sign that I’m following through on the dubious life advice I gave my friend Angela when she accepted a new job in Georgia. “If something scares you, you have to do it,” I told her, letting the throaty rasp of seasonal allergies cloak my philosophy in gruff wisdom. This is the same advice I gave to my mom when she was scared to jump off the 100-foot cliff at the Lake of the Ozarks. Lifelong back problems are a small price to pay for triumphing over the unknown, right, Mom?

I’m also trying to remember how weird and lonely Missouri felt when I first moved there. In fact, here’s a woefully mis-punctuated blog entry I wrote when I first arrived in Heartland America. Sheesh. How I’ve grown in the last two years. I even kind of started loving Columbia, just in time to tear myself away and reset the whole process.

Before this gets any more earnest, I think I better get back on my bike and go find Bicycling. Or at least a route out of Allentown. I’ve been typing on my phone for over an hour.

This post alone ended up nowhere near where I intended, nor did it have anything to do with running. But rest assured, I’m totally in control here.