What I did and did not expect. A paradox.
I expected the smell of manure. We'd been warned. It's legendary on the outskirts of Greeley, they said. A powerful stench. But I did not expect it to be so overwhelming that I'd breathe through my mouth for miles. And I did not expect the rush of shame and sympathy and anguish I felt for those cattle. Hundreds and hundreds of cattle in paddocks without a blade of grass in sight, squeezed so close together that a few of them had climbed to the tops of the 12-foot-high piles of manure where they stood motionless in the haze.
I expected the roadkill. Of course. We are cycling on well-traveled roads in unpopulated areas where there are often signs of wildlife. I did not expect the lurch of my stomach when we passed by their dead bodies. The glaze of their eyes. The smell of their intestines. The scrawl of fur smashed into the pavement. I did not expect the prayer that jumps to my lips every time we pass one.
I expected the nerves. I am not a cyclist. The last time I rode even close to these distances I was 16 and riding across New York state with my youth group. I was young and in shape and had very few inhibitions. So I certainly expected I'd be nervous. I did not expect the terror. My pulse quickens when I see the trucks in my rear view mirror. My heart leaps to my throat and I hold my breath as they pass by. I am afraid of rocks. ROCKS! One of my favorite possessions are the rocks I have collected from almost every place I have visited. They sit in jars on our bookshelves, my dresser top, our window-sills. But the thought of a rock being kicked up by a passing car or truck - missile-ing toward one of our faces, an arm, a bare calf - is terrifying.
I expected the silence. We're alone on these roads, miles and miles from the nearest town, sometimes miles from the nearest building or another human. I expected birdsong and wind and the noise of traffic and the sound of Maya's voice in my ear (we're wearing headsets so we can hear each other without turning our heads which throws off the balance of the tandem quite easily). I did not expect to miss music as much as I do. I am a belt-it-out-at-the-top-of-your-lungs girl and a Pandora and Spotify addict. If I could live my dream, I'd be the lead singer in a band. I should have realized how much I'd miss the sound of music, the lyrics, the instruments, Brandi Carlile bursting from my iPod.
I expected to love meeting new people. When anyone asked us prior to leaving what we were most excited about, I always answered, "the people". Meeting the contacts we had made over these past few months via email. Turning strangers into friends. Hearing shards of people's stories. I did not expect how amazing it would be to make these connections every day. To find out Beth used to be a teacher and she has a 16-year-old son with an attitude that is hard to ignore just like I do and that Robert is an expert on the Civil War and Sadie is looking forward to theater camp this summer. . . Lanny had a grandfather who was the child of a Native American and a white woman, a man who rarely spoke a word but when he did, it really meant something. . . . Jen and Nathan gave their children animals for middles names - Fox and Bear. . . . Jody's husband was the turnip growing champion of the United States for years. . . . Ann added cinnamon to her paint to make her landscape look just like the red soil of Colorado. . . . Marcia loves soccer and has been to see the World Cup in Germany. . . . Jeff is afraid of his wife dying but also of dying before she does and leaving her with no one to take care of her. . . . Katie wrote us her own poem about "places." . . . Javier's whole life is a paradox.
Brown sugar-and-cinnamon Pop Tarts for breakfast.
10 miles of absolute quiet. A road called 54 ¼.
Stef delivering us a latte and a dirty chai in Kersey.
34 East and the landscape leveling out.
Long and straight and long and straight.
Pedaling like a mantra.
Thousands of cows.
The startle of roadkill up close. A housecat, a young deer, birds.
The day, heating by degrees.
How cold the water managed to stay.
Splitting a banana on the shoulder.
Black cherry electrolyte gummy chews.
40 miles by noon.
Hitching a ride to lunch.
The most expensive pizza I’ve ever eaten.
The Fort Morgan Public Library & Museum.
How no one came but the staff.
An audience of 6.
The beauty of brevity.
Finding a poem in a turnip.
The Bicycle Livery and an impromptu purchase.
A bell in the shape of a hamburger.
Iced mochas and internet.
A new coffeepot.
Deciding against the first campground.
Jackson Lake State Park and the quiet power of a sunset.
Beth and her Teardrop.
Dried cherries, Ramen noodles, crackers dipped in peanut buter.
The nostalgia of an evening campfire.
Miles from anywhere.