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Wheels on the bike go round and round 26: Half Way
by Mike Jennett
2009-08-06 08:41:34
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It’s raining.

I’m alone in a Dairy Queen.

I think it’s Tuesday.

By tomorrow night in Topeka, we’ll have passed the halfway point, both in miles and time. That’s around 1,700 miles - is the trip half done or half left? Ask Freud, I don’t know.

Yesterday was the end of a nine-day continuous stretch from Sante Fe to Abilene. Everyone is much stronger and daily mileages have become meaningless. Seventy miles, a distance that might strike terror into the hearts of mortals, now feels like a rest day. Tomorrow’s ride is 108 miles with 6,200 feet of elevation gain and the only point of consternation is the weather.

George and I will be allowed to leave early because we are the slowest – ahem, the most concerned with looking around at the beautiful countryside. It’s like being the foxes for the baying hounds, who’ll be given our scent and allowed out of the hotel when we have a forty-five minutes’ head start.

Sitting here, watching the rain outside, it’s hard to accept that, only two weeks ago, we were burning up in the heat of the Mojave Desert. Hydration is no longer a key issue and ‘camelback’ is no longer a swear word on people’s lips.

Gone are the scrub bushes and wastelands of the desert, gone are the seemingly endless mountain passes and switchback ascents and in their place are farmlands with undulating terrain, rolling hills and fields of wheat rippling in the wind.

Not gone, are the instances of minimal IQ in this heartland of the country. I’ve eaten at restaurants that list chocolate pudding as a vegetable. OK, I admit it – only one did that – but we meet people who couldn’t point to a world map and know any of the countries except Canada or Mexico. Getting both of them right might be a stretch. Even the pod people in Grants could do better.

All that differs on tour from one day to the next is the destination, of which we generally see very little. It’s easy to forget where we are, where we were and where we’re going. Remembering what room you’re in? That’s just not going to happen.

Local sights are noted on the cue sheets but it’s easy to roll straight past – or decide not to bother in favor of a hot shower and dinner. Abilene has the Eisenhower museum, Liberal had Dorothy’s house from the Wizard of Oz and Dodge City had the OK coral. Missed ‘em all.

Our hotels are almost always on the edge of town and surrounded by little more than a gas station with a convenience store. That’s wonderful if you need 19 kinds of beef jerky, 5 types of chewing tobacco or a 64oz Slurpee with free (miss-spelt) donut but not so useful if you want a postcard or a magazine about something other than NASCAR or guns. Luxury is the occasional Walmart.

Breakfasts are either so-called continental breakfasts in the hotel, which is really no more than an excuse for wasting an hour over sticky plastic-wrapped muffins, fake eggs and the occasional do-it-yourself waffle, or the full-on diner, where an embarrassing amount of food is served, so large that it will often not fit onto a single table. As Ira said, in appalled recognition, “Now I know why Americans are so fat.”

There’s more of a willingness amongst the riders to socialize after dinner now. Sometimes it’s no more than a swift drink in a sterile environment but other times we experience the treat of seeing locals at play in their natural habitat.

In Dalhart, we discovered the Texas Tavern; a wood fronted local saloon with a cute blonde bartender missing a tooth. Blue and red neon beer signs glared through swirling cigarette smoke and Stevie Ray Vaughan sang from a CD jukebox.

Two people played a noisy game of pool - Sam, clad in denim overalls and grinning like a country bumpkin and Brenda, generously sized brunette with a bulging midriff, squeezed into a poorly-chosen white tee-shirt. Brenda had a way with words…

“When I start drinking,” she said, up-ending the bottle of Jack Daniels by its neck and taking a long swig, “Two things could happen; I go to jail, or I get laid.”

Ignored by all, she swayed her abundant self to the pool table to take a shot.

“I ain’t had it for more’n two months and I’m gonna get me some tonight,” she continued, unabashed by disinterest. “I think I done dried up.”

We had discovered the cultural center…

Read more at: www.mikeonwheels.com OR www.wheelsonthebikegoroundandround.blogspot.com

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