Really Living on a River: Guest Post by Al Izykowski

Great story of joy and suffering, beauty and physical and emotional intensity from my great friend Al Izykowski: enjoy. It was a Thursday night, March 5th, 5 degrees at 10pm. The full moon hung huge in the crystal clear skies amidst the silence of the windless air as I gazed out the patio door contemplating my life. Choice…plop on the lazy boy and listen to more low grade TV entertainment and commercialized propaganda perpetuating conformity, or get off my ass and listen to the voice in my head and the wonderful sounds outside the door that cannot be imitated, duplicated or replicated.

I could hear the TV in the other room as I began pulling on my bike shorts, tights, layers of clothing and organizing the bike and gear. My wife looks a what I am doing and looks at me with a glance that says, “you are crazy”. I am not deterred. I finish the prep for the conditions and saddle my horse into the van and head off to my launch point. Before I roll I send a text to you my friend, as there is no one else who would better appreciate and would get it. Your text back was: “fuck yeah!” Inspiration! As I rolled out, the air bit crisply and reminded me that I was not a spectator on the lazy boy, but a participant in the real show. Whatever doubts or concerns I may have had about what somebody may think or whether this was a prudent thing to do quickly vanished as I rolled down the bank of the river in the same place I have several times before in the light of day amidst the sights and sounds of whizzing snowmobiles. This was different, way different. No people, no machines, no sounds, no distractions. For a brief moment my brain went on pause, I wondered maybe I am crazy, nobody else is here. As I charged down the river bank onto the frozen ice tracks my ears were greeted with the overwhelming sound of the snow and ice crunching under my tires, reminding me of special memories as a child, and as a father, playing in the snow.


So here the little journey begins…on the river….and in my mind. Once I settled into the moment the magic began. The huge full moon hung low casting long shadows as the familiar surroundings took on a new look. Within minutes moving down the river the ambient light of the city and the troubles of the day dimmed and I was moved to a unique place. Everything looked different, felt different, and all the while the only sound was that crunching beneath my wheels. I was in auditory overload flooded by that magical sound as my mind raced to sort out the troubles of my day and life.  Thoughts quickly changed to “now” and I entered the zone of really living. As I rolled down the river passing familiar sights and under familiar bridges, the sound beneath my wheels took me to a place of less familiar sights and sounds, in particular the sounds of the ocean. So, I began to experiment with moving in and out of hard pack, into fluff, into ice, and back and forth and until I found a rhythm. I let my mind wander and remember the sounds of lying on a beach in Grand Cayman and what the ocean sounded like. I sashayed in and out of the different surfaces and created the sounds of waves crashing on the shore, and that subtle sound of the backwash as the wave retreating back to sea, and another crashing on the shore, and retreating, crashing and retreating. I wiggled my toes and I could feel the warmth of the sandy beach between them. For a few seconds at a time I would close my eyes, and despite the icicles hanging from my chin, I was on that beach that I re-created in my mind enjoying the sounds of the ocean that I commanded, as the waves crashed and retreated…I basked in its magnificence listening to the sea on frozen river.

And so it went, as I pedaled my ship totally lost in what felt like a moment.

Well all ships must return to port, and even the longest days at the beach lead back home. As I wiggled my toes again I came to the realization that the grit I was feeling was not sand, but the beginning of loss of feeling, I wanted to keep going nonetheless. The further I got from the city and the safety of my car the more I got into the moment. As I write this I still do not remember making a conscience choice to turn and go back, I just did.

And the journey begins anew. I stopped to take a drink and send a photo to you. The insulated water bottle was a solid frozen chunk of ice, the phone displayed a message I never saw before….do not use device, temperature too low. I packed a bottle of Gatorade in my jacket thinking my body heat would keep it viable as a back-up…also frozen solid. Uh oh, no hydration, no communication, and frozen toes in a pair of leather work boots and cotton socks, a long way out and the temp dropped to zero!

Time to switch gears. Though I experienced all the same sights and sounds as I had on the way out, it was a whole different mind set. The ride back brought a whole different perspective, I couldn’t believe I had gone so far in what seemed like just a moment (right?) Now I realized I may be in some trouble. Ironically, the survival ride back was as rewarding as the pleasurable ride out. Fortunately, I turned back just in time. I was gassed, soaked with sweat, dehydrated and toes on the verge of frostbite. I peered around every bend haunted by those comforting waves hoping the next corner would land me be back to start…seriously wondering if I would make it.

The journey back is always a personal one and the self talk within one’s mind is often the difference that defines the experience.  I thought of your journey back. Needless to say I made it and was never in any real danger. The mystery is, that the initial motivation to get as far away was surpassed only by the motivation to get back.

So, what could have, should have, would have been just another mundane Thursday night in the teeth of an angry winter, had I not seized the moment, was instead a short adventure I will always remember and be indebted to the notion of "really living" for.

As I peeled off the sweat soaked layers while the car warmed up, I looked at the clock and was amazed at what I saw. All of this happened in just 2 hours!

Through my shivers I smiled and thought of the Art of Really Living, the messenger, the message. I realized that I had briefly expanded time, compacted time, and if only for a little while, I really lived! Thank you, thank you!

The best things in life often really are free…..if we are willing to pay for them.