From 1985 until 1991, I was in the Air Force and stationed on the Mediterranean island of Crete. When I first arrived, I was in my mid-twenties and my being there was the culmination of a life-long dream, at least up to that point. And I took full full advantage of it by drinking everything in. At work, I was known as the “Marlboro Man.” One, because I smoked Marlboro’s, (Duh) and two because, more often than not, I spent my days alone, hiking trail, climbing sheer cliffs, and riding my bicycle along the Island’s backroads.
One such ride was an annual event for me. Every year at Greek Orthodox Easter time I straddled my trusty mountain bike and set off on an arduous century ride across the island. The hundred miles of steep, twisting roads from one side of Crete to the other crossed one of the island’s highest mountain ranges and took about twelve hours to complete round trip. I could have done it faster, but speed was never part of my intent. Just getting from one end point to another was not what I was after; it was the infinite points between the two coasts that I sought.
One of those infinite points came near the end of my second annual trip. I had pulled to the side of the road just before descending the first switchback at the lip of the highlands, the part of the island that overlooks the narrow strip of coastal plain. I stopped there, still straddling my bike, to take in the soon to be twinkling villages and towns that dotted the olive landscape over a thousand feet below. Being the Eighties, my ubiquitous Sony Walkman was playing a mix of my favorites. And at that moment, Landslide, by Fleetwood Mac played down the headphones. The music and the late evening light played a soft duet through my senses. The evening scents of the sea and the surrounding spice of aromatic plants sang their roles as well.
I turned to look behind me, and there stood the towering peak of Mount Dikti, snow-covered and lit with a soft-pink alpen glow. Just then, the hushed, husky voice of Stevie Nicks sang, “Climbed a mountain and I turned around And I saw my reflection in the snow covered hills;” at that moment every ache and spiritual longing, every distant, fallen love rose to the surface of my being. I could not turn my tear-filled eyes from that scene until long after its last note trailed away.
I have always loved that song, as it is one of those anthems to loneliness that perfectly describes my teen years. But from that moment, perched on the veranda of Crete, onward, it became something more. It was no longer just a song of lost love or regret; it reached deep into who I was, what formed me, and what would be the architect of my future. Like the song says, I was getting older and was afraid of changing, but there was a need for both.
I didn’t want to ride on, that moment held me there, afraid to lose it for some time. Obviously, I did ride on. The sun was setting, and I had to return to work the next day. But I never really rode away from that moment. I carried it with me and I still do.