The Torqued Wrench: The beauty of being lost

In his latest column, The Torqued Wrench is lost on Corsica and finding his connection to the power of riding unknown roads

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

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CORSICA, France (VN) — Blindfold a mailman, they say, and he can tell you where he is through the soles of his boots; the contours of his oft-treaded route have been ingrained by repetition into those recesses of the brain that sit beneath thought.

He is comfortable. He is safe. He knows where he is and where he is going. He knows how many dogs lurk and where the water pools into ice and how far until the old lady with the oven-warm cookies.

He knows much; everything he needs to, really.

But maybe he wishes he didn’t. Maybe he wishes he were lost.

I find myself rolling amid a whirlwind of man-scarves and motorbikes, a buzzing, insane world in which the rules I know and understand no longer apply. The wide bike lanes and predictable drivers of Boulder, Colorado, are a literal and figurative world away. Timidity would be terrifying, counterproductive, and downright dangerous.

I am lost, and loving it.

Within our species, now and in the past, there is a persistent and probably intrinsic need to discover. A voice that chants, “get out there,” tirelessly. The same one that sent our forebears across oceans and plains and through the atmosphere now sends us along the more mundane yet equally unknown paths of everyday life.

“Ride it,” it says. “Try it. Climb it. One more switchback. Now another.”

It’s best to listen.

Escaping town does not turn out to be particularly difficult. Shoot for the hills, darting around cars and mopeds, loop around until I find the canyon road I’m looking for. I climb up, around, and away from the bustle, away from the one square block on this island that I know.

The lane rises slowly, arching around each successive bluff at the sort of grade that playfully challenges me to stay in the big ring, making me feel like more rider than I really am. The crest points straight west, towards a Corsican sunset tinted with red.

Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. I’m floating on two wheels across a foreign island, behind every blind bend a panorama of the unknown.

At home I’m never lost. In that realm, my safe realm, the lunch ride potholes are memorized, the gravel in the third corner routinely and deftly avoided without conscious thought. Like the mailman, I am familiar to the point of immunity to the local roads, our usual routes; the uncertainty is all but gone.

Spend too much time there and all I can think about is setting adrift. It’s not that I dislike it. I love being home, riding at home. I love knowing how long each climb will take and when the wind will shift and what time the thunderstorms roll in. And I love riding with the people that matter to me.

But rounding a new curve, its unknown apex and exit lending a brief and rare moment of complete uncertainty, is as close to bliss as I can imagine.

I am not a religious man, but for lack of a better phrase, I am, in that fleeting moment, in the hands of God. Or fate. Or destiny. Or luck — the most likely of the three. The hands that hold me are certainly not only my own. And that is the moment’s power.

That’s what makes being lost so beautiful. That’s what makes it something worth chasing.

And that’s what sent me up here. I’ve been a mailman, doing my rounds each day, and I came here to lose myself.

When was the last time you did?

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.