Interrupted sleep. Dreams about deficiency, secrets, words I didn’t know the meanings to. We all woke, I think, with a little bit of a chip on our shoulder.
Weak coffee. Rice Krispies in a Styrofoam bowl. The morning news. The smell of manure just outside the front doors.
Packing up, as if on autopilot. Something half-hearted in our movements. The short drive to Lexington, NE. And finally, our first argument, erupting over coffee at Madeline’s. The 10 minutes it took to get somewhere. How delicate the dance is now. The tenderness in turmoil.
A notice on the counter for a funeral service that afternoon. A man dead from cancer at 52. The cinnamon roll too sweet for us to finish.
Getting on the road, and the miles slowly pulling the disturbance out of us. Tandem bike as therapy, as the glue that binds. The dozens of metaphors in that piece of machinery, for what it takes to ride it..
How even the corn looked exhausted.
Twenty miles and stopping in Elm Creek. Enough. Cranberry juice and cinnamon Teddy Grahams.. Calling Stef for a pickup. A stop for antiques. An old school filled to the gills. The gym a collision of bureaus, refrigerators, bunk beds. Rusty Radio Flyers and skulls on the front lawn.
Fifteen more minutes until Kearney. Dragging ourselves through the downtown blocks. Flippin’ Sweet Pizza. The salad, cold as I wanted it to be. Lemonade and peach iced tea. Jalapenos and artichoke hearts and sliced rounds of black olives. Sauce a little on the sweet side.
More thrift shopping. Photographs of signs with outworn fonts. 90 degrees. Long blocks. Time to go.
The drive to Minden. A roadside attraction well past its prime. A near-empty campground. A closed restaurant. Driving the streets, looking for what I don’t know. A girl, walking home in her swim suit. The Optimist Club. Auto parts stores. An IGA, where we pieced together dinner. Leinenkugels and Pringles for hors d’oeuvres. A thunderstorm an hour away. Watching the sky metastasize. More wind. The sun taking forever to set. The storm, eventually, arriving. Waking to thunder and rain. Listening for tornado sirens. Waiting for everything to pass. Knowing that it would.
A storm is always a metaphor for something, isn’t it? Today the storm was a metaphor for the whole day behind us. We woke with empty bellies after not being able to find anything for dinner the night before other than an ice-cold beer and a handful of microwave popcorn from the hotel vending machine. We sipped dirty-dishwater coffee out of styrofoam cups and I tried to talk myself into the ride. Today was a “rest” day, which means we didn’t have any official events planned so in my mind that meant we didn’t necessarily have to cycle either. Although yesterday our ride to Cozad was only 10 miles so it seemed silly not to get a little bit of road beneath our tires.
But I was tired and hungry and not mentally up for it. Maya, on the other hand, was itching to ride. The ride is where she works out disappointment and frustration. Today the thought of the ride was only adding to mine. We drove with Stef to the little town of Lexington to lessen the miles between us and our final resting point in Kearney. We only had about 35 miles between stops, but that was 34 1/2 too many for me. At Madeline’s Cafe, where we stopped for coffee I expressed my disinterest in riding the full distance today. Maya answered with a sigh, which sounded more like a grunt. And I got my back up. I roughly prodded her to fess up and tell me she was unhappy. She bristled. I bristled back. We exchanged words and got angry. We worked through it enough to get on the bike and start riding and out on Rte. 30 we were immediately hit with a headwind stronger than any we had encountered so far. It was pushing hard on my chest so it must have been pushing even harder on hers. The corn was bent nearly in half and birds in flight looked like they were standing still.
We started arguing again and discovered that our methods of communication had clashed. I wanted an answer immediately. I wanted to hear her say she was disappointed and move on. She wanted to mull it over, take her time pinpointing her distress, chew on it, and then give it to me in tiny bite-size pieces. I was argumentative and agressive, which in my mind was far better than passive agressive, but in hers was simply bullying. By the time we had battled against the wind for the better part of 10 miles, we had wrangled the meaning out of the morning and decided we would just have to agree to disagree. Not every argument is won or lost. Not every answer is clear. Sometimes stormy skies lead to a storm, and sometimes they clear.
We arrived at the 20-mile point and stopped on a shady corner in Elm Creek, NE. We were both a bit bruised. Spent by the wind and the ride and our words. Ready to find the pizza place Laura had recommended (The Flippin Sweet - YUM!) and then head to our campground and rest. We found the pizza, puttered around Kearney for a while, and headed to Pioneer Village, the most bizzare of all our campsites yet. This place had its heyday sometime last century and it was earily quiet and just slightly this side of creepy. We unloaded, set up Maude, cracked open a beer, and the storm hit with a wallop. Angry black clouds whizzed toward us. Stef’s phone squawked a tornado warning. We all froze for a minute, trying to imagine what we would do if we saw the funnel cloud. I had seen a storm cellar entrance up front near the deserted motel. We’d run there or huddle in the cement bath house. The temperature dropped 10 degrees in 10 seconds. The birds quieted but the bugs began screeching. We waited. . . . And watched as the worst of it pass just east of us. We slept fitfully between cracks of distant lightning and rumbling thunder that rolled for miles.
We woke to sunshine and blue skies and an easy 35 miles ahead of us to Hastings where Lisa Smith would be waiting. The storm had passed. We were safe. A storm is always a metaphor for something, isn’t it?