Monday, October 3, 2011

Day One-Hundred-Twenty-Eight, Old Age

There must be dozens of men, Larry King comes to mind, whose day began just like mine. The aching back, the hacking cough, a slackness about the jowls. The weak muscles and wobbly knees. The cruelly misshapen toes. And pruny fingers and baggy eyes. I was never a handsome man. But what beauty youth offered is now lost to me. I'll have to get by on my wits.

Such is life, such is life. It could have been worse. At least my tent stayed dry. I've taken to sleeping with my windows open. It's worth whatever it costs. Let the frosts whiten my beard and take all the snap from my skin. Let peeping squirrels and curious raccoons catch me in awkward positions. I've been outdoors too long to care. I've earned my every wrinkle. So what, who cares, I'm almost glad that no one will ever love me.

I hiked into Redfield by ten o'clock. When I got there no one was home. The streets were deserted; the restaurant was closed. It was a little bit spooky. I finally met Larry and his shy smiling wife. "Everyone's in church," he explained. He had had enough of that business when he was just a kid.

They were having a yard sale, waiting for that post sermon rush. And just after that the shops would open. I went to wait in the park. There I could plug my computer in. I spent some time looking at my map. I'll be damned if I know where I'm going any more. There are too many roads to choose from. Montana made most of my decisions for me. The Midwest puts it all on you.

The reason I stayed north as long as I did is that I had hoped to visit Dubuque. Dubuque, Iowa on the Mississippi. I spent my childhood there. It was not such a very happy childhood, but that is not Dubuque's fault. I thought it would be fun to see my old house, to maybe visit my school. I wanted to borrow a bicycle, to spend some days riding around. I wondered if it might not be cathartic, in one sense at least.

In fact I'd half planned to winter there, to pick up my trip in the spring. But spring comes slow to Dubuque, Iowa. I'd have been there six months. And while I have taken a day off here and there, much more would seem like cheating. Anyone can Walk Across America if they do it in little chunks.

I still might have managed a day or two. In the end I chickened out. It wasn't nostalgia that frightened me. It was this chill in the air. It is cold now but bearable. I couldn't endure much worse. Or I could but I certainly would not care to. Now I am headed south.

Just to where I could not say. Maybe Arkansas. I have not heard of it anything good. I could go to Tennessee. There are 1,352 guitar pickers in Nashville. Some of them must be nice.

They don't eat breakfast in Redfield. I settled in for lunch. Pork and extra mashed potatoes. Broccoli salad with bacon and raisins. Some kind of casserole. It did not much move me but the people were nice. Soon Larry turned up. He brought me a warm shirt and a pair of gloves. I gratefully turned him down.

We talked a bit. Larry's a giant. He's maybe six-foot-five. And laughs all the time. I wish I were as cheerful, even just once in a while. He was a mechanic for a lot of years but had to quit because his hands cramped up. Arthritis, the doctors call it. He's two years younger than me. Worked harder, though, I don't doubt it. He has too some medical training. First-aid stuff, slapping on band-aids. He stalks the Raccoon River Trail. When people crash their bikes he's there to help them. I guess it happens all the time.

In summation, he is a big laughing giant of a man who gets his greatest joy from helping people. Cyclists, no less, a detestable class. I am yet only me. Cheers Larry, you're an American hero. We're lucky to have you here.

Leaving town a German shepherd came very close to, how shall I say it, making me the last of the Pierces. A rope stopped him short, within a fang length or so. He meant to snap them off. I do not exaggerate. It left me rather shaken. Not that they're of any real use to me. It's the principle of the thing.

My trail was especially pretty through here. The path is lined with trees. The leaves are changing color and the air is fresh. It was really a pleasant walk. Here and there was a bench where I'd stop and stare at the trees just a little too long. I was spoiled only by the vast number of snakes who had come out to enjoy the warm day. And dozens of like-minded cyclists, vermin of a kind.

As a sort of social experiment I greeted them all with a warm hello and a smile. Maybe a third of them greeted me back, but you could tell their hearts were not in it. Most just rode on with a look of disdain, as if I were the one wearing foo-foo shorts. Does riding a bicycle make you a jerk, or are jerks just drawn to the sport?

There were some old folks on shopping bikes. I'm not referring to them. I mean the ones who take themselves seriously, who think they are better than me. When someone says hi you say hi back--that's just a Law of Nature. Especially when you are sharing a trail or the shoulder of some remote road. They think they're so blasted heroic for riding their bike twenty miles.

"But, ooh, it's so hard! Our bottoms are sore!" I'll just bet they are.

Excuse me.

I dillied and dallied, as they used to say. I juggled walnuts and watched the red squirrels. But in spite of myself I eventually made it to Adel, Iowa. It is a bustling town of some three-thousand people, big in the brick industry. And farming, of course, and the equipment for that. There were very few places to eat. All I really wanted was a coffee shop. I needed to recharge my computer. I had been to long studying maps and reading about Tennessee.

I finally wound up in a Subway. I had a tuna sandwich. Which could have been worse but honestly, I really hate the place. I weep when I think of all the good sandwich shops Subway drove out of business. And I am disgusted with the American people who just cannot tell the difference.

The secret to making a good sandwich is this: balance. So too is the Secret of Life. Not too much gin, not too much vermouth. It is as simple as that. Subway overloads their sandwiches with watery, flavorless vegetables. Their bread is doughy and the annoy their customers with a series of impertinent question. "Do you want this flavorless vegetable or this flavorless vegetable?" With no thought as to proportions. And their seats are hard and their soda fountains get the mix all wrong.

Their marketing is deceitful and offensive (see Product Placement) and their franchise agreements are exploitative of the American Dream. Hey, Subway! Sponsor my walk! I'll go from town to town telling everyone how much you suck.

But the girls behind the counter were pretty. It's all part of their Evil Plan.

At Adel I left my trail. That's always so hard to do. But from there it was headed straight into Des Moines, where I do not want to go. It may be in Iowa but it's a metropolis. It would take me two days to walk through there. And big city folks are not hobo friendly. They think I've come to rob them.

So I took off south on Highway 169, up and over steep hills. Which there are all kinds of in Iowa, no matter what anyone says. And stopped well short of a twenty-mile day. I had found a nice place to camp. I'm a bit snuffly. I thought I needed the rest. Every little bit helps.

My little computer promised me it would not be as cold as it was last night. My little computer lies. It is evil cold out there. But I've got the place to myself. I dug through some woods and found myself on the edge of a motocross track. Which has not been used for a couple of weeks. You can tell by the state of the grass. I like to be well off the road on cold nights, so no one can see my shame. Suffering robs you of dignity, ask any poor person you know.

THESE RAGBRAIers, a different class of cyclist, come up in conversation from time to time. The word most often used to describe them? "Maniac." By far.

COLD NIGHTS make the stars beautiful. I noticed when I went out to pee. If I had had an empty Gatorade bottle I never would have seen.
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1 comment:

  1. A little bird pointed out that this entire blog is actually composed in verse---brilliant!