I expected to wake up early, ride 25 miles to Eureka Kansas and say goodbye to the folks I've been riding with - then goof around till Lee showed up in a Jeep. But the Jeep was not to come. Between Army meetings, a pending divorce and moving, it's not a good time. He could have said so, but nobody is anxious to be a spoil-sport. It put the slightest hitch in my expectations, but realistically my life is still made out of cake.
I had a nice breakfast in town with Graham, Wendy and Matt. (The Eds disappeared and have not been seen.) We said our goodbyes and exchanged numbers. Then I went to the library for many hours. I was planning to seek beer when Lee gave me the news that a meetup was simply not possible.
I cut some pages out of my guidebook and hit the road. As I banged out some distance between myself and disappointment, a new plan formed in my head: just ride the fucking TransAm. No trains or buses or hitchhiking or shuttles. Just a long ride from Philadelphia to Astoria, and don't complicate it. I was looking at shuttles and options to go off-route to Denver to meet Tara in a couple weeks. Instead of paying for that and dealing with schedules, I'm just going to ride some longer days to give myself plenty of time to get to Denver first - on my handy dandy Hoopty. Like a real man.
Other than the heat, conditions were favorable. By that, I mean the wind wasn't against me. It was more or less behind me. Moments ago, I had been feeling a level of stress. (big surprise...ha.) It melted away.
I pedaled vigorously onward, and reflected on how ridiculous it was to feel stress! My worst day is another person's euphoria! People would beg for the chance to pedal over this vast expanse. I should feel nothing but exaltation. And with this thought, I began to.
I was pedaling alone, and I was happy. I dictated my own pace, and as usual, it was fairly fast. I exited a busier road, and took a right on a small farm road. Mi amor. Over the few hours since leaving Eureka, I cycled a vigorous 40 miles. I listened to music, and saw hundreds more cows than cars. At the tops of small inclines, I could see for miles.
I arrived in Cassoday - the next inhabited place. I saw Graham walking along the road to get a beer, and I pulled over to surprise him and compare notes. I was planning an additional 40 miles to take advantage of the favorable conditions, but when I saw the kiwis relaxing in camp, it was difficult to keep pedaling. The town park was shaded and pretty. I decided to stay.
I ate a pizza and drank a long row of 16oz beers. I went back for a sandwich and more beers. I leaned my back on the gazebo and satisfied all of my appetites. I think Graham was concerned about the number of cans lining up, but I didn't have much to explain. I set up camp, listened to music, and was unable to locate sleep. It was time to go.
I have a headlight; I have a tail light. The moon was a close approximation of full. I looked at the tiny sign next to the small farm road beside the park: Newton 38. Let's do this!
I packed quickly and filled my water bottles. Conditions could not be more perfect. I spun quickly and began burning off all of those cans of Natural Light. I kept a fast pace with a large moon rising over my left shoulder. The road was a straight line, and wide open fields assured full illumination. Corn to the left, wheat to the right. The wheat was practically glowing, and lightning bugs flashed toward me at the edges of the crops.
I covered the distance, and found myself pedaling on the streets of Newton by 1am. I was in a cookie-cutter banality of hotels and gas stations. I continued to sneak through, seeing only one person. A man on a folding chair watched me pass from his perch beside the bricks of a gas station. I emerged from the fields to his left as he watched the blinking hotel advertisement to his right. I snaked my way into a residential district and arrived at Main Street. The actual Newton, not the newfangled homogeneous interstate version. Half a mile later, I found the town park and put up a tent.
I found a nest of van-supported cyclists, and set up quietly on the periphery.