Now we are into the heart of the story. This passage continues the story from this point...
For those of you keeping up with this story, I have built a table of contents where every link to the story will be posted. This table of contents will be updated as new sections of the story are posted here on FanNation...
We were soon sustaining a twenty-mile-an-hour pace along the undulating highway. I kept looking back down at my speedometer, certain that the thing had to be broken. We were making incredible time, getting ever closer toward the next fork in the road. It had taken nearly two hours to summit the pass; at our current pace, it would take only one more hour before we were splitting off toward Big Piney.
I settled into the pace, drafting off Zeke as I took the trailer for a while. Wiley sat upright in the trailer, tongue flapping in the breeze flowing off the back wheel. We were getting a subtle tailwind push to further assist our progress. I felt incredibly light on the pedals, spinning effortlessly across the rollers. Time and distance melted away in a blur; all that mattered was the flow of the air currents, the shine of the sun's rays on my back, and the spin of my hips as the crank arms made revolution after propelling revolution.
There are no worries about work or family or relationships on the road. All a cyclist has when he sets out on the trail, carrying everything to satiate his basic human needs with him on the bicycle, is his wits and knowledge and preparation and the assistance, should he be lucky enough, of any and all riding companions who might be sharing in the voyage. As Zeke was fond of saying, "When most people see a cyclist on the road, they think automatically only three things: that he is hopeless, helpless and harmless."
The cyclist is a nomadic hermit, craving only movement and forward progress. Even a riding companion becomes mere scenery for long stretches as each rider draws inward into his thoughts as mile after mile fades into memory. His hopelessness rests in the sense that he is doing something unnatural within our society, drifting when the norms tell us to settle down; he is helpless insomuch as he cannot be cured of his nomadic nature; and he is harmless, more interested in his machine and the miles ahead than any social interaction either benign or malignant. It is difficult to classify any one group of people with one distinction... but by and large, this distinction held true for the two of us riding together on this trip through western Wyoming.
My head wrapped in these thoughts, about the fundamental changes I was undergoing simply by turning one foot in front of the other repeatedly, had made me drift my focus away from the road ahead. I was on autopilot, coasting along at twenty miles an hour, when I was snapped suddenly back to reality by Zeke pulling off into a parking lot. We had reached Daniel, and it was time for a rest.
We pulled the bicycles into a shady spot and sat down on a hilly patch of grass. Zeke went inside the store first as I lit an American Spirit from the pack I'd brought along for the ride. Tendrils of smoke curled around my head as Wiley went off to mark a tree a few feet away. I stared southward... Highway 191 veered off eastward, while our route down Highway 189 stretched out before me toward Big Piney and Marbleton and points beyond. The cigarette burned down, a long chunk of ash jutting off the end. I tapped it off into the grass and took another drag. Drawing from the water bottle in my left hand, I take a deep, unadulterated breath. One last pull from the tobacco, the remnant tattered into the sod as I watched Zeke exit the store and head my direction.
I rose up to go get myself something to drink. It was late afternoon; we would be stopping for dinner soon enough, so I settled only for a Gatorade and a Red Bull. The can of taurine-laced energy drink went down first, an initial sip and two swigs before the container was drained. I tossed the can into a garbage receptacle outside the entryway and popped the top off the electrolyte-rich fluids. Zeke already had his helmet strapped back on his skull and was adjusting back into his saddle; Wiley stared back at me from his buggy.
I saddled back up myself, clicking into the left pedal and pushing off with my right, and zipped ahead into the lead position as we embarked down the right fork, chasing the autumn sun south toward Utah. The sun was making its final arc toward the foothills in the distance, its amber radiance lighting our way. We cruised for several miles before our stomachs got the better of us and we started scouting for a suitable place to veer off and set up our mobile kitchen for dinner.
Zeke spotted the turnout first, an unmarked path off into what looked like some sort of park land. He called out the spot to me from his position behind. I looked back, checking for cars I knew would not be there, before tracing a wide turn off the pavement and onto the packed dirt. We wandered back on the trail until the path wrapped into a roundabout. Off to the right was a clearing amongst several tall evergreens. We stepped off our bikes and pushed our way back into position. Unpacking the gear, our kitchen was soon set up for business.
Bike tour cuisine is often an exercise in futility. The paradox of the cyclist is simple: he needs large quantities of food to survive on his path; yet the very nature of self-sustained touring makes it difficult to ever have quantities of food at its optimum freshness to gain maximum nutritional benefit from what gets consumed. Myself and my riding companion, both trained chefs, did everything possible to make food which was interesting enough to make each stop worthwhile.
Zeke started with a dried vegetable soup base, pouring it with the requisite water into our small pot and starting up the stove underneath. I twisted up something to smoke, lighting the end and taking a long drag before passing the parcel to Zeke. He inhaled once, then a second time, holding the fumes in deeply before exhaling and resuming his preparation. Pulling a knife from the frame bag on his bike, he set about chopping beef jerky into smaller pieces before tossing them in the pot. Half of a second soup mix packet, this one a potato-based soup to help thicken the makeshift stew, was added into the pot as well.
We started to feel the buzz of the smoke as it passed through our respiratory systems. The stew simmered on a low heat, slowly softening the meat. Zeke grabbed a bottle of Cholula, adding a liberal splash into the pot for a little extra spiciness. As we sat there, the sky lit up in a dazzling spread of hues, from the richest regal purples to the deepest fiery oranges, as the earth reached that point in its rotation when we would fall into darkness. Before we ate, Zeke and I retrieved our headlamps from their respective pockets and affixed them to our helmets.
Prepared properly for nightfall, Zeke dished out the stew. Wiley, having been fed already when we arrived at that evening's dining room, curled up near Zeke as we tucked into the grub. The meat was still stringy, but at times like these fuel is fuel -- the spiciness masked textural oddities enough to choke back every last bite of the concoction. I scraped at the remnants with my blunted spoon, the handle sheared off to the shortest-possible length to reduce every gram of weight possible from the load. Then, with a squirt from the water bottle and a stir with the finger, the mug is cleaned and returned to its rightful position back in its pannier along with the utensil.
I flip on the LED headlamp, a blue patina of light cast every direction I turn my head. Zeke does the same. We also flip on several sets of blinking rear lights. A cyclist, when traveling at night, can never be too illuminated. Even on such oft-deserted stretches of road as we were covering, one can never take too many precautions. There are far too many horror stories of cyclists getting taken from this planet by motorists -- and intoxication is rarely the mitigating factor in the accidents occurring. Visibility is the most precious thing possible when a smaller vehicle is traveling the same thoroughfares as larger, faster machines. So we light up, an unidentified rolling convoy coursing toward an unknown point. We had no plans where we would sleep that night, only that we were still riding strong and thus there was no need to let something like nightfall stunt our progress.
The road shot upward, but in the dark I simply pushed harder on the pedals and kept my cadence high. Behind, I paid little attention to the fact that I was building a gap on Zeke and Wiley with every stroke. I was riding like a man possessed, churning up the tarmac and paying little heed to the fact that the road was climbing at something nearing a five-percent grade. A few minutes later, though, I started hearing a faint shout on the breeze. I turned around to see the dissipating glimmer of Zeke's lights as the distance between us widened. I shifted into a lower gear and started slacking my pace, rapidly reducing my momentum in half.
I kept my forward progress going, though. It is never fun to have to restart from a dead stop on a slope. Soon, though, Zeke was barreling up on my rear and shouting for me to pick my pace back up. I shifted a gear below the one I had been pushing before, the one below that gap-widening gear, and settled into a slightly-slower cadence. Zeke held my wheel this time, and we continued our smooth progression forward into the night.
We covered another ten miles in the darkness. There was a Forest Service road showing on our Wyoming map, but in the darkness and at our sustained pace we missed the turn completely. By then the stars had come out and Wiley was starting to stand up anxiously in the trailer. I started to survey for any place to pull over and sleep. Zeke pulled alongside me. We started talking, and decided that we'd take whatever we could get. We crested the hill and pulled off to the side of the road. There was a lush bed of grass, a hill rising up toward a fence.
So we slept in the ditch. We put our rain covers on each pannier before nestling the bikes down into the longer grasses, doing our best to disguise them from passersby before tossing a brown tarp over the whole pile. Fatigued, muscles burning warm with the memory of many miles, we crawled into our sleeping bags and pointed our feet down the slope. The entire span of the star chart overhead glistened brilliantly as we caught a few fleeting hours of sleep before starting all over again...