I made Washington Pass by mid-morning and, just before the road took
its dive down the Cascade's eastern slope, had to stop to put more clothes
on. Thirty-eight degrees. A hard northwest wind nudged at the front
wheel. I felt as if I stood in the door of a jump plane, everything
all spread below me like that, the wind, the cold. The mountains looked
like hands, gray gnarled fingers splayed open and pointing to the sky:
I tipped over the Pass' ledge and the speedometer flashed nine, then
blanked for several seconds as if rummaging around in its basement for
the old double digits it hasn't used for days. The first numbers it
came back with were 37; then, quickly, 40, 45. 50. The bicycle fled
the mountain. I let it go down a long straight and at the first hairpin
I grabbed the brakes until they sang out. Around the turn, I snapped
them off and watched the speedometer zip through all the numbers up
to 54. All the mountain crags and fissures I'd gotten such long slow
looks at on the way up, now smeared by smooth and gray.
long straightaway opened and I leaned forward, back flat, knees tucked
into the frame. The bike held steady through the 30's and 40's and after
that I didn't look at the speedometer. I only read the yellow dashes
on the asphalt. The wind was thunder through the helmet. Near the bottom
the dashes smudged to an almost solid line.
Thirty-nine degrees at seven am. I didn't think rain could fall any
harder than it did yesterday, but this morning the water arrives in
near-solid waves. We crawl toward Going-to-the-Sun Highway and Logan
Pass, the best road nearby to get over this stretch of the Rockies.
The rain is a gray door slammed shut in front of us. Car lights appear
from nowhere, horns blast at my hip. The drivers pass slowlyeven
they can't see a thing. John's up there somewhere, I guess, on the other
side of the door.
I have no idea why I am doing this.
What little the grasshoppers have left in these fields, the combines
are now trying to scrape up. Huge powerful machines scratch for almost
no cropthey look pathetic. All day they marched up and down the
fields. The wind brought the chaff and silt to the bicycle, and if I
opened my mouth I got the taste of sadness in a second. The grasshoppers
sunned themselves fat and happy on the warm road and when I nailed them
just right they snapped. For most of the day, my only diversion was
to research where they snapped loudest. Between the head and thorax
seemed to work best, at their little grasshopper necks.
Williston, North Dakota
Little spats of lightning swarmed and lept through the clouds far ahead.
As with the thunder, I assumed I had some time before they fell on me.
Suddenly, though, they jumped to a mile up the road, and ten seconds
didn't pass before a bolt slammed into the earth a hundred yards to
my right. Then all hell broke loose. An oak slightly behind me took
hit after hit until one huge bolt nailed its crotch. The roar alone
nearly knocked me from the bike, but the sightI have never been
that close to lightning, never knew that it is an actual thing, a thickness,
not just light, but a substance as big around as a telephone pole. The
tree's main branch splintered, yawned away and crashed on the road.
In the next minutes, lightning bolts landed as close as 30 or 40 yards
away. A picket fence of lightning. All afternoon I crawled three and
four miles an hour out of one storm into another, never so alone or
frightened in my entire life.
Aboard the good ship Kewaunee, somewhere in Lake Michigan.
Man, I hate big boats. But it was either this six-hour ferry across
the Lake, or a four-day ride around its southern end. So here I sit,
topside, in a swarm of Wisconsin house-flies, all of us bound for Michigan.
The rail is six feet away. I made myself go look over the edge a minute
ago, then kind of staggered back to this bench. The water's probably
sixty feet below and I can still feel it; the south wind drives it against
the hull and the ship shudders. The horizon's not moving. We could be
standing still for all we know.
The lifeboats are only seven steps away.
The captain just came on the horn. We're making good time, he says.
We'll be in Michigan in three hours. He seems to think we're moving.
Swartz Creek, MI
Southeastern Michigan is a fantastic bore. Table-flat, it's speckled
with little farms which some other day I might call cute; but under
heavy clouds, even heavier humidity, and swarms of those same damn black
bugs, they barely registered. Southeastern Michigan is a place to get
through, a head wind to duck, bugs to honk out of my nose.
Niagara Fall, ONT
I haven't written these last three days because they've all been so
much the same: hot, humid, and flat. No experiences to note, just riding.
Actually, more like waiting than riding. My own inwardness and this
oppressive weather form a kind of glass-walled room in which I sit until
the Atlantic. The room rolls on, the ditch glides by, there is little
else to tell. This is drudgery. A job only to be done with.
The days are exhausting and dispiriting, the nights are punctuated
by fantastic storms. I've slept in a tin shed, a church basement, and
a born-again preacher's back bedroom, while each night the sky tries
to shake the chokehold of this humidity. I lie awake scared. Between
storms, there are dreams.
The Atlantic finally came into view, blue and clear as a spring dawn.
For a moment I stopped pedaling, then all down the last gentle little
hill I rode the brakes hard. I saw a landing where I could wet the front
wheel complete the grand dreambut at the last second turned
out onto a pier. I walked the Huffy the length of the gray boards, and
at the end, dropped the kickstand, sat, and simply watched the harbor.
A few minutes before sunset, a heavily laden fishing trawler motored
out of the harbor. I watched it its swaying mast lights all the way
to the horizon.