Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Wall

To steal from Pink Floyd (to the tune of Another Brick in the Wall):

We don't need no more pedalin'
We don't need to ride no more.
Sick and tired of all this asphalt,
Rocks and glass; roadkill galore.

I think there must come a point in every long-distance trip, whether it be one by car, bike, or even on foot, that the traveler starts to seriously question their efforts. That time hit this morning. Not so much in a "I want to quit and go home" kind of way for me, but rather a "isn't there more to life on the road then bike-eat-sleep-repeat"? I know that Meriwether Lewis had a bout of despair and questioned not only his purpose on for the Corps of Discovery, but also his purpose in life. We haven't got to that point yet!

Once we hit the bikes in Turtle River State Park this morning and the kids started singing a rousing rendition of the polka tune "Someone Stole the Keeshka" (by the Matis Brothers. It's kind of a long story how they learned this song; maybe for another post) I felt better and ready to continue.

Almost a month into the trip I realize that the mental effort can exceed the physical effort some days. I need to remind myself to look around, not just at the 20 foot stretch of shoulder in front of me. So, we take pleasure in the little things, like the following list (partial; Sonia is keeping the official list. She and Gus are at the waterpark as I write this, so these are the items I can remember) of Things We Have Found on the Road :

  • four shoes (none that matched)
  • three boots
  • four flip-flops
  • a beach towel
  • a dog paw print bandanna
  • pink Dora the Explorer duffel bag
  • pink feather duster
  • North Dakota license plate
  • American flag
  • Mr. Goodwrench "flame" hat
  • LA Lakers hat (someone upset that they lost?)
And this list doesn't include items that look like they were purposefully thrown out of the car, like beer and soda cans (we have seen thousands, I am sure) and other garbage (diapers were big on a stretch through central Montana).

If visitors from another planet came to earth, specifically North Dakota, and studied what we discard on our roadways, I wonder what conclusions they would reach about our culture. Would they try to make connections between what we discard or lose (a pink feather duster and the American flag -- could relate to the upcoming presidential election?) So these things keep me going some days when the miles seem like they will take forever.

I have also found talking with people along the way to be informative and enjoyable. Most people are curious about what we are doing and find the bikes interesting. Many just shake their heads when we tell them we are traveling from Oregon to Maine. I find this a good way into a conversation about their lives, however. I spoke with a man and his wife in a laundromat in Rugby a few days back. They are both retired, but still very active. After talking for about half an hour I asked what people in North Dakota were most concerned about with the upcoming presidential election. Was it the economy? The price of gas? The war? He said that it was definitely the war. He said that the use of the North Dakota National Guard has hurt many communities and that some soldiers have done three, four, and five tours. I would guess that in many areas this gentleman was fairly conservative. When it came to the war, however, he wanted it over as soon as possible.

I also enjoyed talking with Curry who runs the summer recreation programs in Rugby (he is also a high school teacher). He seems like the kind of guy that finds it hard to sit for even a few minutes, but he did take time to talk with us and make sure that our stay in town (we camped at a city park) was going well. After he left I told Alison that he reminded me of a guy we met on the Aran Islands of the coast of Ireland when we cycled there in 1992. Other people on the island referred to him as "the Mayor", even though he held no elective office. As Alison put it, he wasn't the head of the community, but certainly the heart. I think the same could be said for Curry.

Today we are taking the afternoon in Grand Forks to rejuvenate, and then we will finish up the last 22 miles to Crookston, Minnesota this afternoon. The kids are at a waterpark and Alison and I are at the library. We also got a new front tire for her bike (kevlar). Phil, a guy who has been reading our blog from Australia recommended the type we purchased (thanks for the advice Phil!). It is great to see all the comments and the help as we travel along.

Thanks again for all the comments. We love reading them!

~ Dan

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