What We Like to Call The Blooper Reel
Amy says . . . The directions to our next stop written on a napkin, safety-pinned to Maya's back and flapping in the wind so hard I can't read it.
The Bob Kerrey Bridge crossing from Nebraska into Iowa and the anti-climactic lack of a sign announcing our arrival in Iowa. Plus Stef didn't make it to the other side with the camera in time so we had to ride back to the Nebraska side and pretend to ride into Iowa again.
Level B Roads. We've encounterd a few. We accidentally traveled down this one trying to get from Corning to Creston, Iowa today. We rode for 8 miles on hard-packed dirt and loose gravel. We lost the bag with our extra inner tubes and our bike tool and our snacks in it. We also came face-to-face with a John Deere tractor and nowhere to go but the ditch.
Amy says . . . sometimes we have to bail on the plan. Sometimes we need to call Stef and cry, "Uncle." We're getting dehydrated. Google Maps was wrong we are not where we thought we would be. The bike trail we were on went the wrong direction and we are two towns to the north. We are too tired to ride another mile. Come get us. Please. Come get us.
Amy says . . . You would think by day 14 we'd have a routine. No routine is the routine. Every day it's a new town and every day it's a new event and every day it's a new set of people. We have to think on the fly. We have to be flexible. We have to be prepared. We have to be prepared to get lost. We have to be prepared for little boys wearing togas who read us amazing poetry about the moon. We have to be prepared to autograph typewriters. We have to be prepared for a salad bar with jello and watermelon and cheddar cheese and kidney beans. We have to be prepared for wide loads of hay and roads that lead to nowhere and hills that look and feel like mountains and running out of water and losing things and living out of so many bags and dust and strange noises and cats that bring us dead birds as an offering. We have to be prepared to write poetry about words like Partridge Pea and Aries 1X rocket and nuclear bomb and the number three. We have to be prepared for two little girls with the middle name Hope. We have to be prepared for shy red-headed nine-year-old boys whose amazing artwork hangs on the walls where we stay for the night and we have to be prepared for the mother of that nine-year-old boy, an artist, who feels like a sister the minute we meet. We have to be prepared for sharing stories late into the night by the light of a backyard fire. We have to be prepared to wake up early and not remember what state we are in, whose house we are in, what day it is, where we are headed. We have to be prepared to be tired and cranky and hangry (hungry and angry) and to get on the bicycle and ride anyway. We have to be prepared to not get along every minute of the day. We have to be prepared to put on a brave face. We have to be prepared to be lost. We have to be prepared to miss home. We have to be prepared to forgive. We have to be prepared to forget. We have to be prepared to start over. Every morning, we have to be prepared to start over.
Sometimes I know how the day's going to go before my feet hit the floor. Something about the scrunched-blankets and the pile of pillows under my neck and the strange dreams and the flicker of router lights or that I left my contacts lenses in all night or fell asleep with my night's reading under my right hip. There are signs. And I wake, knowing this, knowing that the day will be at least a little wonky, and try to gird myself against the flying monkeys. But the flying monkeys always know where Dorothy is, and they descend, eventually, to trouble the path.
Here, in the middle of the middle, I try to stay both alert and pliant, because that is the great balancing act that is this adventure, the to-ing and fro-ing, the advance and retreat, another hello and another goodbye every single day. It does and does not get easier. And the only thing we can be is human.
And there are the gifts, always. Leslie's good, strong, perfect coffee. The sweet camaraderie of the drive to Omaha, the oohing and aahing over landlocked lighthouses and riverbends and hawks and old signs. There are the sing-alongs to 80s music and the accents we are beginning to adopt, and the hilarity of how dusty we are, and all the grease marks on my legs and Tingle's sprouty hair, and Stef's deadpan looks. There is the quizzical collision of lap pools and poetry, swim lessons and slam, a slide show in a warm room that smells of chlorine. There is the man who proffers a Sharpie to autograph a plastic typewriter, and one more poem before we wrap it up because we just can't stand to see a kid cry, and 7-year-old Trammel Thompson who will surely be an best-selling author one day. There is the mad dash to a pedestrian bridge, and a photo op that doesn't quite happen, and how the water bottles keep falling and the wind that makes it feel as if we're not peddling at all.
There is a hasty lunch in Council Bluffs and guestimating the travel time and taking the scenic route too long and the first monster of a hill that leaves us breathless, and the coast from the top of it that brings our breath back. There's the frantic scanning on a phone for the best way out of the mess and then there's a panicked check of the time and then there's a phone call to say "Come back for us" and then, out of nowhere, there is a burst of laughter on the next long uphill, how sometimes when we step back and look at how full the chapters of these days are, it is impossible not to chuckle at the dreamy ambition of it, the almost adolescent indulgence, the big bite we are trying to stuff down our gullets. I am proud of us and I am also in love with the innocence of our foolishness and the ballooning hope that births us anew daily. And isn't that, maybe, the point?