Friday, July 10, 2009

To Iowa

Kenbob helped me get the bike ready for the relative emptiness that lay ahead. He gave me zip ties and spare spokes and trued my front wheel. I told him that about 1,000 miles ago, in Johnstown, NY, I was told that wheel had about 1,000 miles left, which would have meant it's right at its end right now.

Kenbob nearly bristled. "Whoever it was didn't know what he was talking about. Your front wheel is holding up fine. You can't ever know how long it'll hold up." (I've ridden on it since and it really is fine.)

The most noticeable change we made was adding waterbottle holders. It doesn't look wonderful, but I'm now carrying seven water bottles (plus another 2-liter pack if I need it), and though I rode through relative emptiness the next day, I had plenty of water to carry me through.

Jilly took one look at the route I'd planned for myself to get out of Freeport and went to print me out some maps. The way I was going to go would be very hilly and almost entirely unpaved, which would mean walking, and walking as many miles as I try to go in a day would take a LONG time.

She showed me a slightly longer route that still had unpaved sections, but was mostly paved. I thanked her for everything, took a bunch of banana bread and granola that she had made (she makes awesome granola in enormous quantities), and took off through the fields.

Before I hit the midwest, there were constant sights to be seen, people to be met, cars and potholes to be dodged. Biking through was like exploration. Now it was more like meditation. It's wonderful to have a continent that lets you alternate things like this.

That said, when I depart a place and immediately hit endless fields, there's a sharp tinge of loneliness that always seems to appear. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I'll never again—or certainly not for a very long time—see the vast majority of the people I meet, and I now have time to think about that as I ride. I meet people and know them for one day, two days, three days, and then they are gone, washed away by the flood of fields that seems to sweep everything to the east and behind me every time I crank the pedals. And I wonder if that's what it would feel like to live forever—to forge relationship after relationship, only to have each whisked away by the inexorable rush of time.

But my job was to keep cranking the pedals, and crank them I did, up and down the little roads, westward, westward, westward, a taste of the gnawing bitterness of eternal life.


Every now and then I would get dumped out into a little town. These were usually comprised of just a few barns. Sometimes there would also be some houses and a church. One town had a bar.

It got hillier and hillier as I approached the river, but finally, after groaning and panting over the final bluffs, I crossed the bridge over the Mississippi into Iowa.

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