Road Trip

Posted on September 9, 2011 by Haymaker

One morning you wake up and decide to see America.

It’s your right to see what’s going on with your neighbor in South Dakota, Oregon or Vermont.

“Maybe I’ll visit the beach, visit the mountains, visit family, visit someone in some place I don’t know at all…and they’ll be glad to talk with me because I’m an American too. And maybe I’ll have the best Mexican food of my life in Iowa,” you say aloud in bed as the sun creeps through your blinds. See the USA. A glorious destination is reachable…Slowly.

One of our Dads retired this year. And his retirement dream was to bike US Route 30 (the old Lincoln Highway) the entirety of its current route — Atlantic City, New Jersey to Astoria, Oregon. 3,200 miles. 49 days. About 70 miles per day. It took 6 ½ days to cross Nebraska — a trip most would try to do in their car in one day.

A funny thing happens when you travel like this. Face to face with America’s expansiveness, hour after hour, boring transforms into detailed beauty. Seeing the same 360-degree view for hours on end causes a heightening of the senses and explosion of the imagination. You spend miles marveling over sensory experiences that you would never have noticed had you been screaming down the road at 65 mph, blasting your tunes, and trying to get somewhere.

You become intimately familiar with the road. You feel every crack in the crumbling infrastructure of our nation: your ass is literally numb with them. You marvel at the thickness of road paint. Road kills become fascinating and gruesome attractions. Deer, raccoons, robins, opossums, squirrels, turtles, snakes, ducks, cats: you try to identify the casualties. You marvel at fresh guts, mangled legs, bits of fur, and blood scattered for hundreds of feet down the road. You’re stumped by the petrified road kill, weeks old and completely unrecognizable. Beautiful carnage.

Face to face with nature, the weather conditions affect your travel and mood. A headwind causes intense frustration and a desire to get off this goddamn bike! A single cloud offers relief from the punishing sun. An imposing rainstorm causes a re-evaluation of the day’s goals. Blue skies, cool mornings, and a slight tail wind start perfect 70-mile days.

The horizon offers deceptive goals. Grain silos and water towers are the first signs of approaching towns, indicating upcoming pit stops still almost an hour away. The flatness of the land means that each hill seduces you with the hope of panoramic views that never materialize, just stretches of prairie bracketed by small ridges running parallel to the river valley you ride. Reaching the crest of a hill reveals only the next incline as you slowly crawl toward the continental divide.

Animals along the road become your companions. Red-winged black birds squawk and chase you away from their nests in the ditches. Pheasants explode from bushes and screech across fields. Cows and horses stalk your movements as you pass. They look up from eating and watch you intensely. They give no notice to the cars and trucks that fly by, but you get their undivided attention. “Who is this crazy creature on two wheels?” they seem to be asking each other. You talk to them because you’ve been silently riding for four hours and mooing feels good.

You notice every car and truck that passes you. The courteous ones that give you a wide space as they pass. The ones that elevate your heart rate as they come intimidatingly close. The huge trucks, which at first you find scary, but later appreciate for their headwind-blocking power and the exhilarating boost of speed you get from their manufactured wind tunnel when they pass you. You notice the trains. Full coal trains creeping back from Wyoming. Empty coal trains heading out to be refilled. You’re delighted when a conductor blows the horn in response to your mad waving.

And out there on the prairie left alone with your thoughts, you can’t help but think of our ancestors who made their way across the country just like this. Route 30 in Nebraska follows much of the original Oregon Trail. You can see the effect of this mass migration – from the towns spaced 7-13 miles apart to the actual wagon ruts of the settlers carved into the hills. You realize that even though you thought it was brave to take on this journey with little preparation and no plan, you’re nothing compared with them. They crossed this state when the grasses were four feet high, when there was no paved road with a wide breakdown lane to ride in, when there was no AmericInn with hot tub to stay at, and with everything strapped to their backs or to an ox-drawn wagon. They went on foot with their entire families for months on end, because they were told that something might be out there that’s better than here. They paved the way through this great beauty and vastness, and made it possible for us to go coast to coast in our cars, by train, by plane, or even by bicycle.

Slowly, quickly, see the USA.