Chris and I were getting on the subway in Tblisi. It was our last night there. I caught the eye of this blonde, a cute number who was a few inches shorter than me, and probably a few years shorter, too. Her designer boots and carefully arranged hair suggested that her dad was one of the people aggressively steering his new Mercedes around the potholes and fruit stands on the streets above. I caught her checking me out, only because I was obviously and casually admiring the side profile of her chest. Eye contact. We get on the train, a few stations pass, and we’re basically looking everywhere but each other, until we are looking at each other. Eye contact #2, which means showtime. By the third station I’m standing over her, asking her to join me for dinner. She can’t, but she might be willing to meet up later. Chris jumps out at our station, but I stay on the train so I can get her number down in my reporter’s notebook.
When we get off the train I watched her walk off with a brief look back at me, and then started to wait on the other side of tracks. It was enthralling stuff for a guy who’d been sitting on a mountain for a week. But it was just an exercise; I knew I’d never see her again. Not that I wouldn’t call—I did—but that even if she could come out for a Georgian midnight escapade (very unlikely), I wouldn’t have a clue where to go with her.
Sex and Bike Touring do not go well together. Do not mistake me—when I get back to New York I expect my stories about sleeping in jungle huts to get me laid plenty of times. I’m just saying that no sex is happening out in the jungle hut itself. Or, more, likely, in the 7 dollar hotel room I’m in right now, where a moth flew out from under the blanket when it was lifted and the walls are covered with mold. It’s not really happening in the tent either—“Chris, could you move over for a sec? We need a little more headroom for the reverse cowgirl.” And probably not at our couchsurfer’s place. “Hey dude, nice to meet you, I hope you don’t mind if I get feisty with this random girl on your living room floor.”
No, you see, sex and bike touring do not blend especially well, if for nothing more than lack of location. But there are bigger barriers than that. Consider, first, my cologne. I didn’t have time to stop at the Macy’s before leaving for a five day bike tour, so I settled instead for my own concoction of a week of accumulated sweat, bleeding mosquito bites, and grease remnants from my bike chain, gently aged in the protective shell of the same bike jersey worn day after day. They say you’re impervious to your own brand. That might be true in most cases, but there were more than a few cold nights where, faced with the choice of gathering frost on my eyes or a being trapped with my nose in my sleeping bag, I chose the iced eyebrows. The grossness continues on the visual element, with our skin normally muddy or sunburnt, our clothes horribly dirty or stained.
Now, there are a few moments (glorious moments) when we’re not bike touring and not scared out of our minds that we don’t have a story yet; when sounds of laundry machines can be heard in the background, and our skin is tingling and pink from the aftermath of a shower. These times are great. We’re relaxed and fresh, ready to tear up the city, spare t-shirts donned and clinging to our rib cages.
Then, at this brilliant moment of possibilities, at the time of greatest opportunity, my confidence fails me. Mostly because I cannot see a girl in sight whose eyes I can trust, or at least who is giving off the western glints of sex in their eye. The glints are eastern now, if they glint at all, and their faces are about as readable as the Hindi signs. Maybe it’s because we haven’t figured out where to be, where the right pick up spot is. East of Istanbul, they’re certainly not in the bars. Maybe it’s because on the off chance that I do succeed, I have this nightmare fantasy about a portly guy busting through the room hollering “Marriage! Tomorrow!” at me (though I think that would fantastic blog post.) Mostly, it’s because I have no idea where to start, and we haven’t really stayed anywhere long enough to figure it out. Whatever the reason, Chris and I have never looked at each other and said, “OK, you go for the saree and I’ll go for the burka.”
These difficulties only really started once we entered Turkey, into vastly different cultures which take some time to comprehend. It’s not a complaint, it hasn’t really affected us besides a few short bouts of loneliness. It’s just a simple fact of bike touring, and it’s not a huge deal. There are always youth hostels right?
Youth hostels! The universal fountains of debauchery, irresponsibility, and hornyness! What fun! Except, well, then you’re hanging out with backpackers. Which is to say that you’re having conversations about where you’re going to travel next, bitching about logistics, and remarking (for the third time) about how low the price of beer is in the present country as you go serve yourself another. It’s boring as hell, in my opinion, and 4 times out of 5 the crowd is pretty quiet or coupled up and you come up empty handed. Once in a while, though, a free agent allows me to flex the charm and retain amateur status.
The plus side of all this is that even though we’re not doing a whole lot of orgasming, we get to do something pretty close. At the end of every day, we get to liberate our jewels from the spandex.