The Bikin' Fools
"A great adventure is one when half-way, you wished you were home." Mark Twain
Perhaps it was exactly the half-way point when I found myself walking the bike. I was dejected, demoralized and felt whipped by the constant, unrelenting winds that slowed our progress to a snails pace and required constant attention to stay upright. It was the day after our night at Storm Lake Iowa. The day started out with a terrific thunderstorm.
We had hoped for high mile days across the bread basket of the country. But the winds robbed us of our hopes for a quick passage. It forced us to spend more time in this stark and ominous territory. The endless fields of corn existed as they have for a hundred years. Yet the feeling of prosperity and fertility had long left the area. They left with the advent of Interstate 80 and the demise of the family farm. Now air conditioned, monstrous machines mechanically groom the vanishing topsoil. Majestic, old farmhouses stand vacant amid a monoculture of corn. These structures were home to so many generations who found such wealth in the land, the their family and in their work. Vitality has vanished from the eyes of the people. Now they stay only to survive.
Surviving was exactly what I was doing at the moment. It was one of those times when the universe seems to conspire to heap adversity and grief upon ones fragile spirit. Austin was far ahead of me. I started the day by shredding hard, wanting to capture some serious ground. We did well until we took a break. Part of my speed that morning was attributable to my lingering angst about the previous twenty four hours. Among other qualifications, I viewed our neighbors at the campground as dwellers in the American caste know commonly as trailer trash. To his credit Austin didnt share my harsh judgment and quickly made acquaintance with the nine tent people next door. There was one grandma, two sisters, four children and two fellows, one a registered child molester. The adults sat around, ate potato chips, smoked cigarettes and drank (bad) beer and (or) Coke.
Austin is twenty three years old. He is no longer my kid. Hes a full blown (yet novice) adult. I can no more bend and warp his mind now than I could when he was younger. Parents are allowed to try such when children are small. It is somehow accepted and life moves on. In adulthood, the same rules dont apply. He had a great time socializing with the group next door and I sat around doing the camp mode stuff; setting up the tent, looking at the map, writing in my journal and bumming out on the notion of my innocent, youg boy cozying up to the neighbors.
My crusty shell began to crack when the kids Tyler, Jonathon, Courtney and Dakota, in childlike fashion, invaded our camp. They came on the flimsiest of notions. They managed to engage us in a makeshift ballgame. They entertained us with their simple and honest activities. Dakota is still in diapers. He took unrelenting kidding from the brothers and sisters. Finally when little Dakota could no longer tolerate the abuse, he would take off his diaper and start swinging it at his siblings. For my money some parental intervention would have been greatly appreciated at this juncture. Little ever came.
Our neighbors were camping at Storm Lake on the hopes of winning the catfish tournament. 500 bucks in their economy would go a long way to buy a new Evinrude motor for the boat with a few bucks, no doubt, dedicated towards another 24 pack of Bud Lite. to be continued-
I knew that quitting was not an option. I was feeling one of lifes lows when all the hopes and expectations plummet into vast and not-so-glorious depths. In fanciful dreams about this part of the country we pedaled as Olympic athletes turning the cornfields into blurs of vanishing green. Reality struck us like the Rock of Gibraltar. In Nebraska, out of sheer frustration, we began to pace (draft) each other. For one mile one would pedal as hard as they could. The other floated with little effort in the windbreak provided by the lead cyclist. Although it was easy to coast along, the intensity of attention was huge. One had to be absolutely wheel to wheel to take advantage of the draft. Often the wheels overlapped, creating the potential for an instant, unavoidable face-plant for the following rider should the lead rider change course by six inches or more!
It was ironic. In the morning when I finally stopped to take a break, Austin and I had one of those treasured moments when barriers melt and we both awaken to the moment, to the task at hand. It was the moment when a sliver of glory slipped into our heads. Despite the adverse winds we had gone one thousand miles by pedal power in two weeks. The winds had to change or lighten at some point. We knew then that we had a shot at this thing.
Austin was so far ahead I could not yell. Often he was out of sight in the rolling farm land. I walked feeling sad, tired and frustrated. That was it. The bottom. From that moment forth, the trip began to have a whole new flavor. We would begin to soar on our daily success, not on my sense of bad luck. The terrain finally began to change. In the worst of winds, the notion that we were doing something big never vanished, only intensified with each new gust. We were making steerage towards the promised land. That afternoon in Iowa we had a quick glimpse of many moments to come. The work and struggle began to yield to a grand and glorious escape on the bicycles.