Friday, August 19, 2016

This just in from the Road to Hell

“The road to Hell,” my late mother Huena used to say, “is paved with the stones of good intentions.”

In other words, you can’t get to heaven just by thinking good deeds; you actually have to do them.

At least I think that's what she meant. My mom was a fountain of behavioral advice like that. A human Old Faithful, Huena was.  And most of the time, even though my brothers and sisters and I heard her jewels of wisdom, we—or maybe just I—never gave them much thought.

But 14 days ago, for about six hours—and I’m not exaggerating one little bit—six hours—I mused, reflected, mused again and then thought some more about what Huena meant when she said “the road to hell is paved with the stones of good intentions.”

I analyzed the logic and wondered about how it seemed to contradict the way Huena lived because she was such a forgiving person. At one point in my deliberations I actually composed a little song called “The Road To Hell,” and if you ever come visit I’ll sing it for you. 

Weird? Maybe.

But here's why I’m going on about this.

For the past three weeks, my wife Helena and I have been travelling around Poland. If you zoom in real close on a Google-Map of that country, you’ll see that up along the northwestern Baltic Coast, a tiny 35-km spit of land sticks out into the sea. There are a few towns on it, and we spent four days in one of them, called Kuznica.

One morning, we rented and then pedalled bicycles 24 clicks east from Kuznica to where the strip of land ends; and there, on the very tip, sits an old fishing village turned tourist magnet named “Hel.”

What a gift from Heaven going to Hel was. When I first learned  it was on our agenda, I told my brother Ed, “We're going to Hel! The jokes will write themselves!” (Of course they didn’t. They never do.) It would have been okay if they translated the name, too. “Hel” in  English is “Helium.” The locals would have had really high-pitched voices.
FARE WAY TO HADES: What route # would you expect?

But I like Hel more.  Because it gave me an excuse to write this:

Three lessons I learned on the Road to Hel.

·         * At 11:00 a.m., with my shiny 18-speed rental at hand, I confidently hoisted my left leg up and over the rear fender and I straddled what I thought would be a bike seat.  It turned out to be a triangular foam-and-plastic weapon of ass-destruction that subjected my backside to a foreign object the likes of which it hadn’t accommodated since maybe 1978. I am not a bicyclist. My butt is anything but triangular.  So why was I surprised, when four hours later, I found myself so chafed and sore? Indeed, at that point I was trying to ease the strain on my butt cheeks by shifting all my weight from one cheek to the other, every couple of pedals. Of course this was a completely unsustainable solution. The only thing that happened was my other body parts--my knees, elbows and shoulders--got crosser at me than they already were. Everything hurt. Along with the stones of good intentions, the road in question is paved with cheap attempts to use minor tweaks to solve major problems. Plus you can’t fool your body and you can’t fake sweat.

·         * Remember I mentioned that while we pedaled I wrote a song? It’s true. "It's called "The Road to Hell is Paved With The Stones of Good Intentions." Three complete verses and a chorus. 
       It starts like this:

       "I'm gonna quit drinkin' as soon as I'm home;
       I drink too much whisky whenever I roam.
       I'll hop on the  wagon, and that's where I'll stay;
           I'm gonna quit drinkin' come next Saturday."

I started working on the song early in the trip and during hours five and six, I was belting it out as loudly as I could, probably to drown out the wails 
from my rebelling body parts.

Singing actually made the pain go away.

      That said, next morning, I was sorer than ever.  And really glad I had packed a tube of my go-to topical pain reliever Voltaren—a German masseuse in a tube. 

The singing might have helped, but as the late oncologist Doctor Robert Buckman once wrote: “Laughter is not the best medicine. Medicine is the best medicine. Laughter is the second-best medicine.”

·         * Finally, as I mentioned earlier, the first part of the ride was a breeze. The bike hummed along seamlessly and the road was smooth. By late afternoon though, with every cell in my body rebelling and with me gasping a silent prayer of thanks any time the road showed the slightest sign of being downhill, when I finally reached the rental joint, I rolled in, let the bike fall to to the left, and learned, then and there, as has every soul who has done time or gone through rehab or survived a lousy relationship, getting out of Hel is a lot harder than getting in.


  1. Hell, that was a good ass! I just bought a 21 speed bike. It came with a seat that would've slipped into my ass crack had I hit a hard 'good intention'; so I bought a fat ass seat. That's my story.

  2. Hell, that was a good ass! I just bought a 21 speed bike. It came with a seat that would've slipped into my ass crack had I hit a hard 'good intention'; so I bought a fat ass seat. That's my story.

  3. Peter Carter went to church
    He went there every Sunday
    Peter Carter went to Hel,
    To enjoy a real holiday