Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Some Candy on the Landscape

Like gravity, the horizon line in Kansas is constant. It’s almost completely unburdened by object or event. Time becomes more and more static the longer you spend on the plains, moving at a speed that seems to acknowledge distance more than cover it. It becomes easier to mark time by what’s not happening as opposed to what is, and this becomes a lovely blurry way to see the day unfold. Breakfast through this terrain is easy to eat on the bike: carrots, instant oatmeal in a coffee cup, almonds, bananas.
So what structures there are on the horizon draw simple and ominous auras around themselves. They seem to bring news of what it means to stand.

Grain silos rise up like Emerald City on the horizon, one after the other, announcing the existence of each miniscule gathering of people into a town, incorporated or not, and not all of which have readily available running water.
That’s excepting the oil derricks, pumping lasciviously away at the ground forever. Big steel sexual reminder of an awaiting reality. Gilles Deleuze rescues breakfast: “reality and the renunciations it inspires within us only populate the margins….”
Just as cycling is a sort of renunciation, camping is a sort of renunciation, taking water and nothing else from a gas station is a sort of renunciation, and I have some sort of cupcake up my sleeve with respect to ideas about reality. And while I let them sift around, I populate the margins of the road. As do the cleanly dead and mysteriously placed:

Corn doesn’t cover the horizon. It is the horizon. It’s a depressing and interesting thing to see the serene, sordid source of high fructose corn syrup and ethanol stretched all around you. All I can think is vastness, ignorance, and plenty – here it all is, and I don’t know anything about it. I don’t know how corn is farmed, how it makes its way into half of everything you see in a grocery store. In this way I feel fully complicit as a citizen of this country.
Ashbery loves to talk about the horizon. So do I. I think of his words a lot while I’m riding. One passage from Flow Chart seems particularly applicable to the experience of entering Colorado from Kansas, experiencing the plains while thinking about the mountains up ahead:
"But I'm getting ahead of my story, we're talking about how you, a wanderer, like it, and how to escape. Oh my dear, I've tried that. But if it interests you you can browse through this catalog and, who knows, perhaps come up with a solution that will apply to your complicated case, just conceivably, or perhaps you know someone better informed in the higher echelons where the view is distant and severe, the ground blue as steel."

Monday, June 27, 2011


Four cyclists are cooking down a back road at 1/3 the speed allowed on a highway. A deer jumps out in front of the head rider. She swerves to avoid the impact. The deer gets smashed by an oncoming truck and flies through the air - "like a helicopter blade" - and finds John. John is hit by a dead, airborne deer that's spinning like gravity doesn't exist.. His frame breaks and his bike causes a pileup. He flies away down a gravel embankment and the deer follows suit, ending up piled against a tree, dead for about 9 seconds already, blood everywhere. John is largely unhurt but not sure if he's alive or dead. It was a high-speed airborne ballet of a violent unwilling hug between two mammals. Imagine.

That's the story I heard from this guy:

who travels by bike around Alabama. He's John.

A little while later, I found Amos. Amos the Amish man. He and his wife Anna and their eight ruggedly gorgeous children were relaxing on the day of the Sabbath. They gave their produce away for free. Amos showed me his farm, his horse-powered, treadmill-like vegetable washer, and his land. His prodigious beard indicated the land; gestured towards the horses, turned back to regard me. I've never felt so lazy. I felt as though I were made of salt, and not just any salt. The salt that God replaced the body of Lot's wife with - that salt. The salt of weakness, distraction, and disobedience. Amos was showing me nothing but strong Amish courtesy, but still. His eight children regarded me, his wife smiled broadly, spoke Dutch to the air. The whole scene was fairly exploding with fertility and clean beauty. Everyone, including me, was barefoot.

I listened to him talk about moderation, the virtues of not frantically or mindlessly moving forward with the pace of the modern world, and ate a cucumber straight out of the earth. Crisp and buttery like a piece of green bread. I thought - what country is this?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Just a Guest

Like a papaya inside of a used condom, like a phone thrown off a bridge, like a headless kitten on the side of a road in Missouri, like the presence of God inside a coffin, like a glass of milk picked up by the wind, like a teenager masturbating in a McDonald's bathroom, like the very best moments of involvement and participation that are free from evaluation and judgement, and thus anxiety; I sit on my bike and realize that I am just a guest. I luxuriate dumbly amongst the looted storefront of my own thoughts.

On a trip like this, when you're truly just a guest at every turn, nothing is more important than gratitude and humility. It's the perfect time to try to look at all sides - and to take no side. It's almost like being free from context. In fact, I think that one of the few ways one can be wise is if one remembers to exist from time to time without context. This whole riding a bicycle 4,000 miles thing is a great opportunity to do that. From a contextless place, it's so easy to let kindness flow, to be humble. And when someone says, hey motherfucker, get off the street (which has only happened once! O youth of Kansas), somehow it's not personal, it's not you that's getting burned. It was just some confrontational slang he's yet to shed from his tooth. It involved me completely in my desire to flip the little fucker off, but I just created that feeling without contributing it. This trip involves breath, mass, gravity, organs, and sensitivity to difference - not throwing the bird around.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Slow Life With Shared Weather

There's a line from Ashbery's "Flow Chart" that goes like this:
No ape or man stands alone who knows it.
I started this trip totally alone, and I'll be that way again soon. For the past 3 days I've been riding and camping with an awesome couple, Olive and Ben (slowwheeling.tumblr.com). They nicknamed me Bambi, and while riding up a hill I appropriated a friend's phrase to come up with the name Unborn Loneliness Helicpoter for my bike.

Olive is reading The Good Earth. The physical work done in that book is a toil against the earth that over generations turns into a toil with the earth, a symbiosis, and at best, a transcendence. The bike and the road are the only possible backdrop for anything one could feel for the 2-3 months spent on this trip. To name something is "to interpret it lovingly." Well, I miss Kentucky. Eastern Kentucky. I miss those chances to suffer on the climbs, to be able to consciously choose in every stroke to not be tired of it, to be grateful for any sensation that comes (a dance teacher once called pain "information"). Transcendence is also the goal here. There's the annual "transcendence race" in Queens. A few dozen men from all over the world walk around one city block for over 1,000 miles. It takes months and months, and every day they change directions - "There is no goal. It doesn't exist. It's just your mind playing a trick on you."

Anyway, you can expend effort until you don't feel much alone. Loneliness is, maybe, too often a weakness we express due to fear of feeling something worse. People are, after all, "shit-shows of fear."*

Details boil off. Details boil off, and you don't have to deal with the hum of other people's distant rationed whims. Just your own fear, and other people resplendent in their passing oddness, and you in yours.

*Amanda Nadelberg.

Saturday, June 11, 2011


Bobcats watching silently from the woods, psychotic backroads attack dogs, nonstop roadkill carnage, Daniel Boone's legend echoing through the hollers, more fast food wrappers and beer cans than plants on the roadside, mountain lions, elk, near-vertical hills, and hurtling coal trucks - Kentucky by bicycle is a jungle, beautiful and obscene.