Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Cedar Falls

Pitching a tent takes time. Taking it down and packing it up takes longer. Rolling up the sleeping bag and pad generally takes at least several frustrating attempts before I succeed in catching them without giving them a chance to unroll. I saw a picnic table with a small shelter built over it and decided that there's no need to waste my time on any of this. I lay down on the picnic table and tried to go to sleep.

"That is f___ed up, man," I heard some kid saying in the distance. "That is F___ED UP."

It wasn't a wooden picnic table. It was made of a thick but sparse wire mesh that made it uncomfortable in the extreme. For the first time since New York, I took out my hat and non-cycling gloves and put them under my head for a pillow. It still hurt to remain in one position long enough to go to sleep. I took out more spare layers of clothing (which had been getting zero action for well over a month now) and padded the table enough that I went to sleep, though I'd still have to wake up anytime I wanted to change positions.

Hours had passed, but I could still hear the same kid's voice. "Dude, you and that girl, that's just f___ed up. I'd'a nailed her months ago."

Around 4 AM, I woke up and realized my issue wasn't that I needed to change my position. Dew had started collecting on me. I'd thought body temperature was too warm for that to happen. Weird.

I got up and packed slowly, taking my time. It was about 5 by the time I left. I walked out of town, rolling the bike alongside me. The houses ended and the cornfields were visible again in the early dawn. A sign said Jesup was eight miles away. Another sign said the road was closed. I walked around it and kept going. Colors began to appear. The fields became green again, touching a blue sky in every direction except the northeast, where the sky became a deep red. Dew drops sparkled on the corn.

The road was under construction, which was better than gravel but worse than being paved. I'd thought I'd walk through the closed section and then ride, but then I realized it was taking longer than I'd thought and got on the bike. I'm glad I did, because the closed section was eight miles long, all the way to Jesup. I rode at a slow, leisurely pace, dodging holes, cracks and piles of gravel without much of a problem, there being no traffic. After Jesup, I just cranked the pedals and enjoyed myself, watching the corn go by.

I couldn't help but smile at the occasional (for now rare) bales of hay I passed by. I noticed that like I had laces with which to keep my sleeping bag under control, so the bales were tied together with wires. In the 1920s, the most common—and cheapest—way to fix a broken piece of machinery was just to tie whatever broke together with that wire. The problem with the approach was that the wire had a bit too much elasticity, causing machines to behave in erratic, and often very strange, ways. That behavior was really the only association I had with the word "haywire."

By 8:30 AM, I was 30 miles away, in Cedar Falls. Not having known about the paved bike trail that leads right into it, I went up a pretty nasty road to get there (once you get into Waterloo, everything goes downhill VERY rapidly), and even though it was still morning and relatively early, I was glad I was there because I'd had quite enough.

I met Emily up by the University of Northern Iowa. Pretty much the first thing I did after coming to her place was take a shower. Then she made me breakfast. Her friend Hillary came over for breakfast too, so when Emily went to work after that, Hillary and I got on our bikes and she showed me around town. It was once again a real pleasure to be biking with no luggage.

I realized that the wood strewn all over the ground was not due to anything man had made and then poorly cleaned up. I was in the real midwest now, where there were harsh storms and massive debris afterwards. Hillary showed me a house where she and Emily had once lived as roommates, and I don't know how the current tenants planned to exit or enter that day.

When Emily got off work, we went to pick some berries and lettuce, and then to the Lamppost, a coffeeshop. Instead of making money, the people who worked at the Lamppost simply lived upstairs, and there, on the second floor, we added our berries and lettuce to the salad the tenants were making, and we all sat down to dinner together.

After dinner, I joined Krystal, one of the tenants of the Lamppost, for a run along the Cedar River. (I cheated and rode my bike alongside.) Then we walked, and now it became easier for Krystal, because I was dragging a bike. There was an incredible number of hissing geese, but like with all animals, if you respond aggressively, they back off very, very fast.

As it got dark, we all got together in a park and just sat around and talked. Then, when it got really late, we drove a ways out of town to an old bridge over a set of railroad tracks, where there was a better night sky. There, in the near-pitch darkness, save for the sparkle of the lightning bugs, and in the near-silence, save for the bullfrogs, we sat with a bottle of wine, eating bread with the pesto Krystal had made that day and telling stories. I pointed out Venus, at which I'd been staring most of the previous night, while lying on the picnic table.

A light appeared way off in the distance and as it started gradually getting brighter, we identified it as a train. As it got closer, it became blinding, like a spotlight. We did a dance for the driver. I realized I need to work on my improvised interpretive dance skills. When the train was about 20 feet in front of the bridge, the driver honked the horn, which was so sudden and loud we almost all fell over.


I slept in, and the final time I woke up, the apartment was ostensibly empty. Emily had left me a note on the table along with an enormous breakfast. But when I went into the kitchen to look for something in which to boil water, I scared an unfamiliar girl to the point where I thought she'd need to go to the hospital. Before anyone had come home, she had walked into the unlocked door, walked into a bedroom, and gone to sleep. Neither Emily nor I had known she was there all night, and she certainly hadn't expected me. She joined me for breakfast.

My kind of state, Iowa.

1 comment:

  1. I'm so glad Iowa is treating you well, it's my 3rd least favorite state to drive through :)