The endless highway drudges on, hypnotic, soporific.
I catch myself struggling for consciousness, but I’m too stubborn to pull over. I’ve been on the road for hours and gotten nowhere – evacuation traffic just never ends.
Lessons in riding tired are almost learned the hard way as I make my slow advance towards Houston, but my foggy consciousness manages to keep me on the road and off collision courses.
I try to catch some shuteye under a bridge and later again on the roof of a waffle house, my keffiyeh wrapped around my face to ward off mosquitoes. They still get to me.
McDonalds for coffee – everyone inside is from New Orleans and it feels like a house party. I smile to myself but no time to soak it in. Back on the bike with a scalded tongue; my coffee-sharpened awareness quickly peaks and declines.
At a Taco Bell, somewhere East of Houston, I finally give in. 4:00 A.M. I set up my hammock between two trees by the drive-thru. Two hours of sleep, real sleep, later: Back on the bike, determined to make it in time.
The sun has been up at least an hour when I get in, and apologize – I had told my aunt Bitty I might make it by midnight last night; she fell asleep on the sofa waiting for me. They have a plush bed ready for me, and I sink into blissful oblivion.
I wake up to a strange new world.
There’s a shower I can use at will. Coffee machine and fully stocked fridge downstairs. Laundry. Wireless. Chocolates. Oh, and they are taking me and the cousins to SeaWorld.
After the adventure, it’s strange to find myself in an amusement park that’s actually operational. I’ve gotta say, riding a rollercoaster just isn’t the same after climbing it. You can’t package and sterilize danger, and even the stomach-dropping loops fail to recall the feeling of sweaty hands on slick metal, worn sneakers sliding on greasy tracks from vertiginous heights. As an aside, why are there rollercoasters at Seaworld? The animals are cool, but I don’t blame those orcas for eating one of their trainers. Seems a pretty shitty lot for a titan of the sea to be stuck in a pool in Texas.
Anyway. It is great catching up, and a nice break from life on the road back in Houston where everything is clean and easy.
The dancing is how you can tell this is the latino side of the family
All too soon though, it’s time to hit the road again. I’ve got an appointment with a very busy man on the West Coast who is going to help me out with an oil leaking problem and give Lost a heart transplant.
I make my goodbyes replenished. Time with family is always nourishing. But enough of the comfort zone – concerts and golf and theme parks make for great ways to pass time, but I’ve no time to waste on soft living. Hell, aunt Bitty almost made me get a manicure. I leave with hugs and my family praying for me, wondering what I did to deserve such love from people I’ve only seen a handful of times in my life.
My destination is Rhome, Texas. Stopping in Austin for coffee, a bird smacks against the window of the coffee shop. Nobody moves. For some reason I go outside, and find a dove lying motionless on the ground, on its back with wings fanned out. Unsure of what to do, I slip my hand underneath and lift it. It’s impossibly light; I support its limp neck and wonder what I think I’m doing. Then, weakly, an eye opens and holds me captive. The dove reaches out a delicate leg and softly clutches my finger.
The approach of other people startles the dove, and with a start it awkwardly flaps away, one wing hanging limp. It’s time for me to move on as well.
After a quick dip in the water off the idyllic rosebud island, ignoring the “no swimming” signs as I float downriver with a damselfly perched on my nose (it even flew away and came back a couple of times!), I hit the road again. As the sun gets low and I try to squeeze in some final miles before calling it a day; I’m glad for the 17 tooth sprocket keeping the bike’s RPMs down and somewhat abating Lost’s insatiable thirst for 10w-40.
Texas is big. I am pretty far from Rhome when darkness falls. I’m pretty far from anywhere, really. In a small, unfriendly looking town I spot some grain silos and decide to stash the bike between them for the night, and make a nest on top of their sloped roofs for myself. In full riding gear with the sound of passing freight trucks I fall asleep, thinking of birds and insects and fatal gravity.