Oh, Mr Moon, I see you there and know that you see me. Here, on this straight and blue-black road. Cranking in the half light with my beam thrown out in a fast ball pitch and my tires humming and me smiling at the stars and the night and you. You’re peering over night’s mantle and throwing down your washed out not-full moonlight. Just enough to make the morning seem likes it’s rushing in. Rushing, rushing from a late night out with one too many drinks and feeling that trip-trap stagger dawn.
It is 5:30am and I am riding into the void. My headlight is a strong tunnel which I enter but never come out of. Following the white line, endless and endless, and on and on to a day that has yet to reveal itself to me.
Still. Peaceful. A light breeze of warm current and me, flying into this darkness with nothing in my mind but vigilant thoughts of ‘headlights coming’ and the sound of Billy Bragg in my ears. The road bumps, insects flock and fleck towards the beam and spill out back to dark.
Listen chirping creatures of the night! Curve your ears, nocturnal beings! What will you do when you wake up one morning to find that God’s made you plain in a beautiful person’s world? I expect no answer. I am just singing. Loudly. In this arena, the night.
This is the hour when I feel truly on the earth. One small speck on the surface of a planet. A lone performer on this magic moment stage. The stars, the moon, the road, and us. Team Noodle. Ragtag and bumbling.
A truck approaches from behind and I watch in Fletch, my mirror, as it slowly glides out to go around me. What must I look like from behind, with my flashing lights and my reflective triangle and my small road hugging form? The truck streaks away, its red devil taillights getting smaller and smaller.
On their way to Kansas.
I too will be there soon.
As the morning stretches and yawns and shakes its bed head in that alluring way, I feel myself getting riled up for the moment. I’m relishing the peace and solitude but I want to feel the thrill of the crossing. The skipping over an invisible line that I’ve been riding toward for days. Because then it will be official.
The mountains will be gone. Nothing but the promise of wind and the straight road and the slow, gradual uphill to the Rockies.
Pst, look behind you. Fletch catches my attention with a glint of golden orb in his reflection and I stop to look back and take a quick photo. But not yet. It’s not time yet for the killer shot. Move on. A bit longer. Patience.
Waiting, waiting. The orange seeps along the horizon, flattening the black and gradually painting the sky a bruised blue. Not yet.
Drift off. Forget. The sun creeps up and I am zoned out and just watching the road, climbing a small rise. By the time I remember I was waiting for the perfect shot, the sun’s popped up and sitting impatiently on the horizon.
Opportunity frittered. Lost. Gone.
Higher it goes. Higher. A golden blanket across the corn. A golden wash across the green of stagnant John Deere harvesters. Golden, golden, golden.
And there it is. A blue sign. Kind of low key actually, but with a little area to pull off and look longingly at it. To give you time to reflect on your life to this point. The life that brought you to Kansas. To this blue Kansas sign in the grass on a quiet road in the early morning light.
I walk Precious over into the long grass and prop him up at the sign’s legs. I then proceed to arse around for a good ten minutes trying to get the timer shot to work on my camera so we can both be in the photo. It’s not a very successful endeavor, but the moment is marked. The time is recorded. The state is entered. Victory over distance and time and hills and mind.
Out of the itchy grass and back on the road. I’m making good time and get to Pittsburg a little after eight. Harry’s Cafe reaches out to the street and pulls me inside, into a booth. Orange juice tangs on my tongue and I wait for the aroma of fresh-cooked pancakes and hashbrown and bacon to drift into my nostrils and grab hold of my brain. And there it is.
A trigger is switched and I stab things with my fork and shovel. Melted butter and syrup and pancake and potato and crunchy bacon. I shovel until it’s gone.
Eavesdropping on locals, admiring decor, calculating the tip. It would be great to sit here slurping my coffee and absorbing the vibe. But I must away with haste. Short stack. Short time. Away, away and on into the heart of Kansas.
It’s not the first thing I say to the Blue Heeler that comes out of nowhere as I leave the edge of town. It’s the kind of thing you say after you’ve calmed down and your heart has steadied and you’ve have time to think of smart-arse things to utter to expat dogs who’ve forgotten who they are. But he wasn’t there first either. Two other dogs had come out blazing with yaps and legs churning and I’d laughed at them. Not even stopped. And then boom, out comes ol’ rusty and his teeth are not friendly and he’s running full pelt across the yard and straight at me and annoyed at how I laughed at his mates.
Aggressive. Angry. Single-minded. He looked directly at the leg closest to him and went for it, but I’d stopped by this time and yelled ‘GO HOME!’, which seems to be my go to phrase. He paused, lunged, paused, then decided to go for Mr. Zimmerman. I could barely believe the nerve.
An SUV intervened, stuck as it was with a dog in its path. The driver honked his horn and yelled at the dog, putting his vehicle between me and it.
“Go on,” he told me, acting as a shield. I thanked him and moved on, but it took all of 5 seconds for the dog to figure out what was up. He came around the side of the car and gave chase, but I was gunning it up the road and watching him in my mirror. What a nerve, attacking a countryman like that. Where’s the solidarity? Where’s the love of kin and country?
That dog needs to learn some manners.
Turkeys. I’d spied wild turkeys just before the dog incident and was hoping to get a photo of them in the field. Closer, closer, but I screw up the timing and try to get just a little too close to snap their gobbly forms. Off they go in a huff. Another opportunity lost and I look back in the direction of the dog. Turkey spooker.
Back to the business of getting the day done. Watching the miles tick by. I think about how behind I’m getting with emails and blog and phone calls. Questions from all directions but the truth is revealed to me as I watch the pebbles of the road pass under my feet as they turn, turn, turn the pedals.
My brain is dead. It has been emptied of all extraneous things and can only focus on the now. On one thing. The day in front of me and getting through it. I will do what I can to make it through. I look, I stop, I record notes about the day. Comment on the fissures in the road, the way they crack and gape and groove their way to the edges. Marvel at how straight the road is in front of me. Try listening to music to get the time to go faster, but I still feel strange about it. Like it somehow cuts off a sense, a connection to the scene I’m in.
The crops are creeping up and I am sailing through farmland. Little rises and falls in the landscape and on through soy and red-headed sorghum and more corn. John Deere harvesters crouch in the paddocks, ready for action.
The afternoon is shutting up shop.
The map points one way but that way is closed. The road is actually physically gone. Ripped up. The earth sits there naked. Looking at the map, I see the alternate and turn. It will get me to Chanute from the top side of town. I just have to go due North in a straight line for 10 miles, throw a hard left and straight on into town for another 10. I like these direct roads. They give a clear line of sight to the future of the ride. Straight up, straight down, just straight.
This road has a wide shoulder and I can simply focus on the task at hand. Just keep going. Ignore the heat. Get there and decide if tomorrow will be a rest day.
In the distance, I see a deer pop out of the brush and skip up and onto the road. It stops and turns to look at me. Standing there, brazen and all middle-of-the-roadish. No cars approach. The road is suddenly empty of vehicles. Just me. And this deer.
It looks at me. I look at it. I am getting closer and must suddenly come into focus. It’s off. White tail flapping as it daintily bounds over the flat land. I stop and watch it go. Deer. I think they are the kangaroos of this country.
By the time I get to Chanute, I’m spent. My knees are a little bitchy and I think ice may be in order. Maybe a little Ibuprofen to wash through their little sockets and bathe them in some medicinal magic. A little TLC from me and propping them up on some pillows. I’m a little worried about their sanity. About what the mountains have done to them. I’m not even half way so they have some work ahead of them yet.
But for now, I’m not even half way through this town. Spinning along streets, I search for a hotel. Pass one in the main street which looks to have tight stairs and cramped conditions. Not that one. Out I go, out the other side of town, adding more and more miles to my already long day.
Nearly 98 in the mile bank and I pull into the parking lot of a Super 8. That’ll do, pig, say the knees and it will. I’m done.
Later, I stand at the window and look down on the pool I can’t swim in (due to a swimsuit packing malfunction), and I see you, Moonie. Mr Moon, Mr Moon, reflecting your light on the surface of a tiny, shimmering chlorine lake. May your massive tidal power push me on and on, day by day, through the rise and fall.
But never fall, if you don’t mind.
Date: August 28, 2010
From: Golden City, MO
To: Chunute, KS
Distance: 97.79 miles
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