I’ve spent a week in Philadelphia, the city I so often romanticized about on those cold, lonely nights in the desert. A place of mental refuge, an idealized city remembered only fondly in my mind. As I approached the Platt Bridge, my gateway to reunion, I was forced to take a shuttle over as it was undergoing construction. A man named Al pulled up in a red pickup, threw my gear in the backseat and told me to hop in. As we reached the peak of the bridge I could see the city skyline. The same skyline I hadn’t seen in almost a year. I’ve seen many on this trip, but not a single one evoked as much intensity and emotion as this. My eyes began to sweat. Al turned to me and said with a smile “There ain’t nothing like home.” I took a deep breath, looked at him, and nodded my head in agreement. At that moment in time, I had no words.
As I rode down the South Philly streets to reach Scott’s house, I pedaled faster than ever before. Scott traveled with me the entire length of this journey. He was always there with words of encouragement or to simply listen to me complain on the phone. When he opened the door to let me in, we said nothing to each other. We simply hugged in the street. A long overdue hug. The kind of hug that calms you down, transcends time, and lets you feel like everything is going to be alright. Danielle (Scott’s girlfriend) and I did the same. Seeing their smiling faces on a sunny afternoon in South Philadelphia was a memory that will forever be engrained in my mind.
My visit to Philadelphia was not about seeing landmarks or strolling down famous streets. No the purpose of this visit was to rekindle old friendships and reinforce the deterioration of others. I started with Scott and Danielle. All I ever wanted was for all my friends to be together in a room to sit a rest. To be together. I soon realized how foolish that was. A lot happens in 10 months. Understanding that certain friends no longer hang out nor even communicate taught me that life moves on with or without you. I became riddled with anxiety. There were going to be many reunions with people that will not be as comfortable as Scott and Danielle’s. With them it felt like I was in Philadelphia last week. I felt like no time had passed at all between us. Nothing had changed. It felt natural. Being around these old familiar friends allowed me to appreciate the extent of our relationships. So many people have come and gone, but they remained constant. To finally have them in a huggable distance from me was a true point of fulfillment.
There were two things I wanted to do in Philadelphia: See all my friends and see my cats. I carried a picture of Brandon and Rafiki across these great states so as to expose this country to their wonder. To know that I was finally going to hold them in my arms was an unbelievable feeling. But the only way I could do so was to see Marisa. I knew it’d be difficult. Our relationship was a complicated one. The last time I was in that apartment, I was dropping off the key. The place I called home with her for a year was my next destination. I took the same route I used to take from my job in Center City. I struggled all week to try and think of the right word to describe the feeling I had on that ride, but the only one that kept coming up was ‘weird’. Marisa greeted me at the door. This encounter was yet another scenario I played out in my head a thousand times on the road. It felt artificial, forced, anti-climactic. As we walked up the stairs to the apartment, I hoped my encounter with the cats wouldn’t produce the same feelings. They did. I assumed that when she opened the door, they would come running towards me and leap into my arms. They just sat there staring at me with the same blank expression I mirrored back to them. Then I reminded myself “oh yeah they’re cats”. I played with them for a few minutes, but my focus rested entirely on all the things in the apartment. She is now living with her current boyfriend. All of his belongings now rest in the same spots that mine used to. Literally down to the same picture frame. The same one that once harbored a picture of me now contains a picture of this mystery person I’ve never met. It was difficult to see how seemingly easily I was replaced. I can’t tell what I’m more jealous of; the fact that she found someone with whom to begin another relationship with, or the fact that she found someone first. There was no longevity to all the brief affairs I had on the road. While I tried to convince myself otherwise, I knew I was only deceiving myself. Being in that apartment was not easy. Trying to maintain a conversation with Marisa was even more of a challenge. Everything felt so forced. So tense. We both wanted out. Why didn’t I just leave? Probably because there was still so much to be said. But I didn’t say anything. We just sat there and stared at these two cats. Then Rafiki walked up to me and rested her paw on my knee. I missed them. I missed all three of them.
I left Marisa’s and biked home in the rain. It seemed like fitting weather. All this time I assumed that when I reached Philadelphia, it’d be all figured out for me. I’d know what steps to take next. But here I stood in the rain, staring at the skyscrapers piercing through the dense fog. The city was cold and uninviting. There are so many people I feel I need to see. So many conversations I feel I need to have. But almost none of them occurred. I felt spread so thin. I felt overwhelmed.
I shouldn’t paint such a somber picture of my experience in Philadelphia. I had some amazing times catching up friends. It was just kind of jarring to see where everyone is and where they’re all headed. Everyone has changed. But I’ve changed too. So why should I expect anything less from my friends? Part of me wants to stay in this city, and another wants nothing more than to leave. I have 140 miles until I reach 10,000. I’m trying to refrain from putting any pressure on those 140 miles. But the luxury of simply avoiding a conflict and biking away is dwindling. These old cracked roads stayed the same. The energy and the mentality of the city are still very much intact. It’s just the people. I foolishly assumed they’d remain the same too. Yeah Al, there sure ain’t nothing like home, but I don’t think this is mine.
Total Ascent: 4153 ft.
Total Ascent: 738 ft.
Riding Through Philadelphia:
Total Ascent: 1227 ft.