Freezy knees. Jacket on. The day’s dimmer switch is slowly tweaked and light pushes dark away. My poor achy knees are not enjoying this. They radiate stiffness and rudely creak as they dash off angry complaint letters to the People for the Ethical Treatment of Knees society. I make a mental note that at some point I should probably invest in some knee warmers for mornings like this. It’s in the 50s for the first time this trip.
I imagine what it will be like later. In the Rockies.
On I go. Leaving the allure of Summersville well behind me in the half light of this new morning. Past farm gates and gravel drives. Past US Mail Service approved mail boxes and rectangular trailer homes with lattice fences half-built.
“I DON’T KNOW WHO YOU ARE BUT I DON’T LIKE YOU AND I WISH YOU WOULD GO AWAY I WANT TO EAT YOU”
Or loosely translated into dog speak: WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF GROWL WOOF GROWL.
The black streak of fur and slobber and teeth and gums comes from nowhere. There is anger in its face as it runs towards me at full speed, yelling and showing me its impressive set of teeth. The dribble that hangs there is eager to be on me, but I thwart the attack. Stop. Stand firm. Yell loudly and don’t care who I wake up. And I swear, if one person comes out and says, “Don’t worry, he won’t bite. He just playin’ wit you”, I shall explode.
Explode in reds and yellows and brilliant oranges all over this road and onto the fronts of their shirts.
Two other mutts have joined Kujo, but they’re just interested bystanders. Like kids that gather ‘round a fight behind the bike sheds.
“Gow’on, punch. Yeah. Kick! Fight! Fight! Fight!”
Slowly, I wheel off. Should I get that can of HALT! back out of my bag? I really thought I was done with the dog thing. What a hassle. I’m lazy. Bah.
Enjoyable morning, take two.
On I go, past freshly slashed grass and pasture. Past white wooden fences and hay fresh with dew.
But here’s another one. The other dog’s doofus brother. Black and muscle-bound and single-mindedly eyeing my poor right calf. Again, I use my outside voice and don’t give a frog’s left testicle who I wake up. That’s right. Get back in your box. I am not afraid of you.
On I go, past…
You’ve got to be kidding me! This one is a Blue Heeler, intent on stopping me from proceeding and enjoying my boring admiration of the morning. I yell at him in Australian and my compatriot is forced to back down. Stupid mutt. What a drongo.
Once I’ve left him behind, muttering to myself about lack of expat-to-expat respect, I start wondering if Kentucky’s got a bum rap when it comes to the dog thing. It’s all you hear about when you start looking into the TransAmerica. Kentucky is thick with the bad dogs. Oh, look out when you go through Kentucky. Dog attack central.
Well, Missouri, you are thick with it too. Three attacks in the first 8 miles of my ride. Seriously. That’s a record.
Before long, I begin to experience a new kind of fear and terror. The fear is sheer, the terror is terrible. On this no-shoulder road with blind corners galore, trucks and cars are oblivious to my presence. They blow by like big blustery bullets shot from a gun of don’t-give-a-damn. No-one slows down at all, and trucks seem intent on creating giant drafts to actually shoot me off the road and into the grassy ditches. Cars do not give an inch, even when there is no car coming from the other direction.
For the first time on this trip, I am afraid for my life.
I anxiously glance at my rear-view mirror every few seconds to prepare for attack from behind. Even when I pull off to the side of the road to let vehicles pass, they do not move out to acknowledge they’ve even seen me or appreciate the effort.
State Route 17, I hate you.
At Yukon I turn, still on SR 17, but suddenly everything is different. Less traffic. The change is immediate, and even those cars that do come along seem to be more courteous and respectful. It takes a while, but the tense drains out of my shoulders and onto the road. Before long I’m enjoying myself.
It’s a sudden realization.
I’m really enjoying this.
Kicking myself a little for not doing this run to Houston yesterday. It’s very easy. I’m suspicious of the ease. Have a little feeling this route is holding something back. A little Ozark torture for this afternoon perhaps? I keep waiting for this horror that East bounders have told me about. Maybe today is the day? Yes, yesterday had some bad patches, but that can’t be what they were talking about. Can it?
Breakfast. I need breakfast. Food is being summoned to my belly and when my belly doesn’t get what it wants, it gets all tetchy and belligerent and starts beating on the drum skin of my stomach lining. The first place it sees in Houston is McDonalds.
No, says my brain. That is just bad news. It turns my head the other way but in a flash, it’s swiveled back against its will and I’m clipped in and moving toward the arches of doom.
There’s something magical that happens when I park Precious in a parking spot. He becomes magnetic. To finger pointers and tire kickers. To those with trucker caps (not worn ironically) and tool belts. I’ve watched many times as people look at him, stop and look at him from another angle, then sometimes say something to their companion and point. As I sit in the booth and eat my $1 sausage burrito and hash brown, I watch a grey-haired man in a flannel shirt stop dead in his tracks and just stare. When he moves on toward the door, he glances back one more time.
Precious does look quite captivating today.
Breakfast finished, I go to leave. The gazer, sitting one booth over, realizes that I must be the rider of the horse outside and peppers me with questions.
Where are you going? How many miles a day do you do? Is it hard pulling that thing? Where do you sleep? Are you on your own? You from England?
After patiently answering each of his questions, I tell him I should be pushing on. Wave my thumb in a direction indicating “I best be off thataway”. Sometimes it’s very hard to withdraw from these conversations politely, but I don’t think he hears my loud reversing beep and I slink off with ease.
Clip in. Look both ways. Again. Out onto the main road, then down to a sign that when cropped a certain way can be made to say Licking Success. Which is now my trip motto. Each day, I will attempt to Lick Success in some way. Though I’m sure on most days it will simply be the success of getting from point A to B that will be licked.
As I turn left and begin leaving town, I spy a cyclist coming the other way. Pulling a Zimmerman of his own. He checks both ways, then swerves over to my side and comes to a halt.
“Are you Janeen?” he asks.
Weird. I think the slow leaking out of the word yeeeeees from my mouth evokes both suspicion and confusion on my part.
He explains that he rode for a while with Sami, a person whom I’ve never met but have had back and forth conversations with on twitter. She had apparently told him to look out for me and by a freak stroke of luck we just happened to run into each other.
Aha. He must be the Scottish guy she told ME to look out for.
As we chat, I admire the bananas strapped to the top of his bag, and just the sheer smallness of what he has packed into that Bob. Jealousy rubs itself all over me and Zimmerman just sits there looking fat.
“Did you send anything home?” I ask, and he confirms he did. But then also says that it just creates space that you fill with other junk. I am in two minds about sending my cooking gear home. What would I fill that space with? Beads? Rocks? Beer?
Lovely. He is lovely. Just the kind of person I would like to ride with for a few days. But he’s totally going in the wrong direction for that. Forty five minutes later and I must push on. In the back of my mind, I had planned to maybe make it to Marshfield. But it’s looking more and more like Hartville, where Lindsay says there is no shower but you can camp on the courthouse lawn and use the bathrooms there.
Buoyed by the good chin wag, I carry on. On a bridge, I watch an eagle dicking around on wind currents for a while. Just having fun I think. It must be fantastic to fly. To tilt your wing and lift yourself higher. I smile and tilt the wing of my leg to push on the pedal and get this train moving.
It’s a smile day. Feel it. Wear it long and hard, like you mean it.
I glide. I sail. Not quite like that eagle but up and over hills, then down and on and swosh we go. I turn onto the 38 and stop. Look to my left, back at the hills and mountains I have left behind. Am struck by the glorious fact that they will always be behind me. That I have conquered them once and once is all it takes. That they must watch me leave and let me go and mourn my departure and say to each other ‘we knew each other, once.’
It is a very good feeling, to see them there. Boyfriends of mountains past.
These roads are lovely. The countryside rolls along and me, though it. Trees. Green. I am singing, but there is no music.
In Ben Davis I stop at The Feed Store and walk in to get a chocolate milk. I walk right into a farm conversation, straight through a sentence about crops and over to the fridge. The three men having the conversation continue, even when I step up to pay. I can’t quite work out if it’s a shop or not, or literally a feed store that happens to have some drinks and snacks.
Once, I had considered stopping here for the night. Apparently, you can camp out the back if you ask the owner, but I would feel odd doing that. Like an intruder. I don’t linger and go outside under the tree where I’ve parked and drink my milk.
While I’m standing there, one of the men comes out to get in his truck. He walks over.
“Where ya headed?”
I tell him Hartville, having half given up on the idea of Marshfield.
“Oh, be careful,” he says “There’s roadworks after the 95. Single lane for quite a ways.”
Roadworks. Awesome. More Fresh Oil signs and heat bouncing off the black top and stabbing my motivation in its craggy face. More tar on my tires and rocks clicking on the inside of my fenders.
Thanking him, but not sure what he expects me to do about it – give up? – I push my sunglasses up the bridge of my nose and roll off the gravel and back to the road.
After Graff, it hits me. Just when I’m getting cocky in my brain and saying things to myself like ‘OMG, I’m totally not going to walk up a hill today!’, it hits me. One hill. After a small bridge and a creek called Beaver. I cross the beav and up I go, full of confidence and ‘aw yeah!’ and what a great day.
Muscle it up, McCrae! Oh. Wait. Crap. Wrong gear. Oh. Poo.
I clip out. Strangely, I’m still smiling. Whatever. So I have to walk up a hill. Big deal. I’m 47 miles in to the day’s ride and look at me. Walking and whistling and waving to cars as they pass by my circus.
It’s a steep hill. I feel no shame. There is no requirement except to move forward. For the momentum to be carried in the right direction. The anger I feel when I hear people say “Oh, I haven’t walked once” will not materialize to make me feel bad about this.
My ride is my own. I own my ride.
You own yours.
By the time I get to the road works I’ve been warned about, I’m ready. Ready for whatever. The other side of the road is brand new tar, sitting an inch or so above the level of the road I’m on. No single lane that I can see. For many miles, this is the case, and I just carry on with the task of the day. Point A to B.
I look around and note the sounds. I pause in shade and take mental notes. Marvel at an Armadillo on the road. He looks perfect in every way. Flawless. Except for being dead. The armadillos in Missouri have no luck at all. This is actually the most I’ve seen of one, usually being left only with a few scattered shells of their armor to remind the world that ‘I was here. I once existed.”
Finally, I come up behind two trucks waiting at a flagman. This must be the single lane section. As he lets us go though, he says to me “I’ve just told them you’re the last one, so you better pedal!”
Oh, bloody hell. I worry about situations like this. Cars backed up at the other end of the roadworks, wondering why they can’t leave, then seeing a pathetic girl on a bike emerging from the tar mirage and cursing about me being the cause of their wait.
And this road works is a long one. I crank it. I really go for it. For a while it’s kind of fun, but that’s mainly because I’m on a straight and flat section. As the world tilts, my energy runs out behind me and I find myself climbing in the heat and going too fast in my guilt.
It finishes on an uphill and I am wrung out when I reach the top. There are no cars waiting. All that energy, burnt for nothing.
“Why couldn’t you guys be working on a downhill?” I say to the flagman at this end.
He looks at me strangely, then turns in the direction I’m headed.
“It’s all uphill!” he says.
Fair point. Taken. But really, today is not too bad. The climbs are not too viscious and most simply require good gear selection and slow seated constant effort to the top. No killing myself softly. Just ride.
Finally, Hartville. I roll up the main street and see a sign at a cafe welcoming bikers. Decide to go in and look at the map to see where my lawn bedroom is.
Something is in this root beer. Something is in this chicken sandwich. The something is an additive called Why the Hell Not (WTHN).
Push on to Marshfield? Why the Hell Not. Ride an extra 25 miles today? Why the Hell Not. Should I do it? Why the Hell Not.
Get out of this smoky diner? Why. The. Hell. Not.
The road is welcoming to my refueled legs. Miles are dropping off the edge of my map and into the bank. It’s the time of day when shadows start to fall the other way and school buses begin their afternoon crawl. Their yellow presence has become my measuring stick for how advanced the afternoon is.
Still many miles to go, but my tiredness is a happy one. The 25 miles I do now are 25 miles I won’t have to do some other day. Must keep going. Must keep moving on.
A cheeky breeze rides along with me for a while, tickling my face. Lovely. Lovely how it lifts your spirits on this long and lonely stretch of road. I tackle it mile-by-mile and keep my arm coolers damp and my head tilted oddly to peer above the rims of my sunglasses. The brighter light is clearer. The air on my eyeballs keeps me awake.
Long, slow hills, but not hard slow hills. Just there to test my patience and desire to move. But I’m on the home stretch now. The shoulder shrinks and I’m on the straight line into Marshfield. It feels smaller than I had anticipated. Drier. Out the anchor goes and I pull up in the dirt. Pull out the map.
Knees, niggling and irritated, guide my eyes to the hotels over on the other side of town. Feel no guilt, they say. Look after us and we shall look after you. There is no greater comfort than a bag of hotel ice on the knee and the chance to put more cream on the itch of the ivy.
Later, as I escort my chilled legs over to a rib place that is more fast food than local charm, I marvel at the dying light on the horizon. The bright orange turning the sky a purplish blue until it succumbs to the final destiny of black.
Against it, even the impersonal glow of the highway-hugging golden arches looks elegant and well framed.
Date: August 26, 2010
From: Summersville, MO
To: Marshfield, MO
Distance: 88.43 miles
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