There’s a saying that that I thought of often during college, whenever one of my friend group would go home or after summers, or when I would go home myself. It’s gotten a little fuzzy for me now but it was something like “When we go back to a place we see not how it has changed, but how we have.” I know someone famous said it, probably a writer, but I can’t find the origin anymore. I thought of it often because I wondered if it was true. Sometimes I would go home after being away in New Orleans, and it felt as if Milwaukie and my high school friends became a kind of measuring stick—a way to see all the new things I was and had become. Then it felt true. But other times I would come back and find that the city and the people in it really had changed, not just me, or I’d been somewhere else new and felt that I was seeing Milwaukie through an entirely different perspective that made it feel like it had changed. It was easier to see then, because I was always leaving and coming back, and it was a time of rapid growth and transformation. Now I live here, and though I haven’t stopped growing it has taken on a more reasonable pace these days. But I sometimes miss the feeling of coming back to something well-known, because it’s such a particular feeling. A little lonely, a little comforting, a little joy, a little melancholy. And now I have to work a little harder to reflect on how I might be changing, because I have no stark standard anymore to return to. Or at least that’s what I thought, until I got a little closer to the feeling last weekend when we went to Baker.
It’s our tradition to go back the last weekend of every June, for the bicycle race my dad started in 2001. A big group of my parents’ friends go now too, and a handful of my uncles. I don’t often miss it, except I have for the last two years: once I was traveling, once I had friends in town. And so this year going back felt like I really had been away for a long time, not really from Baker so much but from this particular ritual. The first year of the race I was ten, and I have vivid memories of the freedom of that weekend—my parents were always busy, and so a gaggle of our friends and my cousins ran around Baker like we owned it—and going back every year has felt like a different kind of measuring stick. Not so laden with the weight of returning home, but still a place familiar to me and full of meaning. This year, particularly because I’d missed the last few, felt like something different. I was seeing Baker with fresh eyes and myself too, and it felt a little like coming home after college—maybe because the last time I was there I hadn’t started the MFA, maybe because even though the growing I’ve done has slowed down it still accumulates, and two years is a long time. Either way, it was good to be back, and it was a good reminder that there are so many places beyond Milwaukie that anchor me.
Maybe because Baker is so distinguished, so singular, in terms of the places I know, it felt like a kind of homecoming. Going back is a return after being so far away. And it’s gratifying too, to do all the familiar things: sitting outside in the morning sun on the back patios at the Sunridge, shopping at 1911 and Queen City Modern and Bella, ducking into Peterson’s and Crossroads to see the art, carbo-loading for nothing at the spaghetti feed, eating cheese and cheering during the crit, going to Lone Pine for every breakfast and Sorbenot's for coffee in the morning. Being surrounded by people you know and love, all the time. It’s so much fun.
It’s also a chance to reflect. Who was I then, a wiry, scabbed ten-year-old kid, drunk on freedom and still taking on responsibility for race packets and t-shirts? Who was I at fifteen, corner marshaling with my sister in our matching blue crank brothers sweatshirts and talking about the racers? Who was I when I was here during school, trying to reconcile the two versions of myself that I felt warring constantly when I came home—the person I was in New Orleans and the person I was in Oregon? And who am I now, done with a second round of school and looking towards what’s next? There’s something about doing the same things every year, in the same place, with the same people, that give us an opportunity to stop and see ourselves the way we really are (at least as much as we’re able). It can be uncomfortable, but also gratifying, to be asked to think about how we might answer those questions.
And in the end I just love that trip. I love Baker, the way I know it. I like that it’s the kind of town that makes me dream a little, a place with a big story. I love that my family’s history is so intertwined with a physical place. I love hearing my parents talk about the places they knew or went that are now closed and exclaiming over new places. Being around the bike racers conjure so many thick memories of my childhood that don’t often have reasons to surface anymore. It is just good, all the way around. I’m already looking forward to next year.