Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Day One-Hundred-Twenty-Three, Leaving Home

I woke up at seven-thirty, just in time to say goodbye to Darren. He works hard; he has to; he's got four kids. I don't think he needs one more. Not one who eats as much as I do, at least. I had to get back on the road. Though it was not easy. I liked being a Smith. Most families have their black sheep.

I know mine does.

Of course I did not bolt right out of the door. First I had a big breakfast. And played with the dog and counted the cats and shot BB guns out in yard. And admired the house and wrassled with Wyatt and had a nice talk with Maren. Who made sure I had gloves and repaired my split pants and stuffed my backpack full of snacks. And who did not threaten to pray for my soul, though I'm pretty sure that she will.

And has.

I don't very much care for long goodbyes, or short ones, for that matter. But they are rarely a burden to me. I make very few attachments. I'd say it's because I'm soured on all mankind, and there's some truth in that. But it has as much to do with the fact that I'm shy around people. I'm not good at making friends. So those few I have I intend to hang onto.

Even the Republicans.

There will come a day, I've stated as much, many long years from now, when there will come a knock on my door. I don't know where I'll be living. A bearded stranger will growl at me. "I'm Wyatt," he's going to say. And I'm going to make him call his mother before he falls asleep on my couch.

Or drinks up all my good beer.

Back on the road my feet were sore. It happens to me every time. I rest my muscles but my soles grow soft. Hot showers and easy living. I'll toughen 'em up but it reveals a truth. One that most of you know. Walking Across America is a grand adventure. But not Walking Across America is nice, too.

In that way it's like Being in Love.

I trudged on for three or four miles. Distances are tricky here. After an hour I turned around. The Smith compound was right there. Smaller perhaps but easy to see. I was tempted to walk right back. Why not, I thought. I can live in the barn. I know how to do small repairs. I can teach the boy to speak Japanese. I could help with the dishes. I would go to church and meet a nice girl.

I'd become a Vikings fan.

Instead I shot down a gravel road. I did not consult my map. In Iowa the roads are a mile apart. They run east/west and north/south. Some don't go through but most of them do. It is pretty hard to get lost. The major highways can be a bit tricky, but the gravel roads are easy. But they're hard on my feet and when a car does pass you inhale a lot of dust. And a few farmers looked more than once at me, like I was some kind of weirdo. And a St. Bernard nearly beat me to death with his friendly thumping tail.

I sawtoothed my way to 175 and the small town of Odebolt. Which Mrs. Smith said was named when some unhappy Swede discovered what was wrong with his wagon. Which I don't think should reflect too poorly on her. I just want to show she's not perfect.

Odebolt sits at an angle between highways and seems neat enough. I did not fall in love with the place. I nodded to a biker who did not nod back. A woman gave me directions. But she looked me over from head to toe with a look of shock and disgust. The girl at the gas station was fairly kind, but by that time I'd formed my opinion. The Smiths are nicer than most Iowans, whether they know it or not. I'd done got spoiled. I started thinking I'd be greeted like a beloved uncle everywhere I went.

I did not linger in Odebolt.

From there it was east. I am still unhappy with the way they make their roads. The shoulders are covered with sharp gravel, heaped up a bit too thick. There has for years now been an annual bicycle ride across Iowa. RAGBRAI, look it up. But it draws tens of thousands of participants. They can ride in the street. But the shoulders seem to have been designed to keep the hobos out.

"Hobo!" I was recently called. Rotten little brat.

Between cars I can walk on the pavement, but I certainly cannot relax. I am as likely to be struck down dead from behind, by some idiot who just has to pass.

Back when I drove I enjoyed passing. I really liked driving fast. But I was an idiot and so are you. You have my life in your hands. And I remember every car that almost kills me, on the off chance I'll see it again in the next town. It ain't happened yet but I do entertain a particular revenge fantasy. I hope the poor fellow whose nose I bloody understands that he is but the unfortunate stand-in for every idiot driver I have met so far.

If he's too big I'll wait for the next one. Somebody has to pay.

I know too that there are a number of otherwise good people who think it is just fine to jibber on their cell phones while they drive. It isn't. Knock it off.

"But... but..." I don't want to hear it. Do as I say. Knock it off.

I stopped three or four miles short of Lake View, Iowa. That was just sixteen miles for the day. Not too too bad for how late I started. Twenty would have been better still. But, though it is harder in Iowa, I did find a great place to camp. I am in a sort of gravel pit, amongst some rusty truck parts. Someone might come and yell at me, but probably not until morning. And probably not even then. I am well out of everyone's way.

THANK YOU again to the good Smiths, their friends and extended family. It is a good thing everyone's watching me or I might get downright mushy.

MY LITTLE RADIO is dead. I quite liked it while it lasted. But I've now got a dozen new audio book Mp3s. Charles Dickens rocks.
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