Here's something you don't yet know about me:
When I was nineteen years old, I cycled across the United States. As in, I rode my bicycle from Florida to California. Three months and over 3,000 miles.
Crazy, huh? People always ask what possessed me, and there is no good answer. I was bored and restless in college and wanted some time off to figure out my life. Oh, and there was, uh, a guy. Sometimes it seems like there was always a guy behind my stranger decisions.
Anyway, the story of that trip deserves to be told another time. Suffice to say it was a long, hard journey, but one full of interesting encounters and eye-opening revelations. By the time we reached the Pacific ocean, I had thigh muscles like tree trunks. And the guy in question turned out to be something of an anal-retentive fuckwit. He used to yell at me for not tying the knots on the panniers tight enough, and he would never let me put the tent up in case I somehow damaged one of the itty bitty poles or heaven forfend, got dirt on it. Even though we were camping! Sleeping on the ground! Ground means dirt! Let's just say more than one journey ended when we got to California.
But I digress. I was thinking about that trip today for a different reason. You see, no matter which state we were in, there were lots of long dull stretches of road where nothing much happened. In Florida there was lots of flat farm land, and orange trees. In Texas there was lots of flat scrub brush and cows. And day after day, we'd ride the white line, with the wind blasting in our faces. Everyone knows that the wind blows out of the west, and we were heading right into it. As far as journey planning goes, not one of my cleverer moves.
Some days we'd pass through little towns in the middle of nowhere- so dry and remote, so down in the mouth that I would shudder. The houses had crumbling porches and needed paint. There were rusted- out cars in the front lawn. The only shop seemed to be a 7-11 or a withered Dairy Queen. Some nights we ended up stopping in those towns because we could find nowhere else to camp, but if at all possible we would press through until we could find a less depressing prospect.
Invariably after one of these small town interludes, I would turn to Mr "Don't Get My Tent Dirty" and say, "I never want to end up in a place like this."
And he would roll his eyes, before pedalling off at top speed, miles ahead of me. Leaving me to wonder if perhaps there were any axe murderers lurking in the shrubbery by the side of the road. Actually, there weren't- although there was this one town on the Florida-Alabama border where a disconcerting proportion of inhabitants appeared to be lacking limbs.
Eventually, I became slightly obsessed with worry that the trip would never end, and I would find myself living in a lopsided shingle house beneath an overpass, in the kind of place where people like me pass through going "Who the hell lives here?" What was really odd is that when we finished the bike trip, I flew back to the east coast; whereupon I promptly got a job in California and two weeks later drove back across the entire country. So I got to experience some of those same charming landscapes twice.
The irony is that it seems like despite my best efforts, I've ended up under the overpass anyway. I don't mean in the literal sense, obviously. But in my head, I feel as if I've arrived at a dry, desolate place- stranded on the way to somewhere else- and I can't get out. It's exactly the place I didn't want to be, and here I am anyway. And there's not even a fucking Dairy Queen.
Still, I have hope. I believe that if every day I climb on my bike, and pedal as hard as I can, one day the dusty plains will eventually be behind me. That I will see the ocean again. And that I will get there with all my limbs, and my sanity, intact.
But right now it's just wind in my face, mile after mile of white lines, and barrenness punctuated by sadness.