Day 10: I’ll be Gone 600 Miles Before the Day is Done

“I’ll be gone
600 miles before the day is done”

The adapted songtext comes to mind when I make an early start at day-break having estimated the homestretch to base in Bloomington Indiana. Doable? We’ll see. Depends on weather and endurance of man & machine. Precisely 12 hours later, MS has covered 625 miles, the equivalent of 1000 kilometers. The R66 expedition lasted about 3200 miles, about 5000 kilometers. Day 10: a grand closing riding day which ends with a warm homecoming to Clary & friends and a few cold ones for cooling down. It takes me at least one hour to retransform from part-machine to 100% human.

The morning is cool, the Indiana corridor just slightly threatened by passing thunderstorms. Many of the motel rooms, I notice getting up, have cars in front of them from the same organization. In big capitals it reads: NCRI, in small print: National Catastrophe Rescue Intervention. These are the people cleaning up the flooded towns, they will have to make these motel rooms their homes for quite a while to come. A goodmorning warning of things that may come my way, today. (And of course, even in these flooded parts of the country the rains stay only in the plains, even here, the planes stay dry.)

The farewell to the backroads is a biker’s paradise. The eastern-most part of old two-lane highway 54 before it heads north and Missouri 7 South wind their ways through the hills of the Ozarks. I am happy to leave the straight lines from the plains. Here again are the friendly, cosy cafe’s; people are softer, less rugged. There is a noticeable relationship between character of environment and of the people living in it.

The fast lane on these two-lane country roads is the lane the oncoming traffic is using, too. Sanity must prevail at all times, especially when you want to get to a far away destination today.

No reasonable way around interstates, now. I have memorized the numbers to get through the St. Louis craziness of 8 lane highways, by-passes, intersections, signs to Chicago Illinois, Memphis Tennessee and Indianapolis Indiana. The winning series is 44 – 55 – 70. Little do I know, taking on the traffic beehive with confidence, that I will be a loser first before winning at the end.

I44 comes first. It is a replay in reverse of the first R66 day. I see R66 I was on, recognize the names of towns which I now know are often mainly ghost towns; which you can’t tell from the interstate, from there you’d think they are regular places people live in – they used to. Historic Route66 Road Signs invite me to seek refuge on R66 going east now. I resist, my mission today is to go all the way. Not out of necessity, but because I like the riding challenge; somewhat comparable to walking up with a friend to the top of the 14.000 foot Mount Yale Colorado a few weeks ago simply because it is there and we happend to be there, too. I don’t have to be on R66 physically anymore, I do carry R66 within me anywhere.

The St. Louis Arch. Approaching it now from the West, I see the East right through it. The Gateway out – to the life I left 10 days ago on a personal quest to find out how I want that life to be from now on.

Yes, I55 is where it should be, and so is I70 due East. Indianapolis 220 miles, the sign reads, I take it as about the same distance to Bloomington. It is early afternoon, relax, I will make it to Bloomigton before dusk & dark. Dusk & dark are curfew times for riding – that is asking for trouble.

The Twilight Zone. I am right in the middle of it. What is real and what isn’t, you can’t tell, when you have entered it. The day odometer reads about 100 miles again, time to refuel. MS slows down from 65-70 mph, takes the exit and finds a gas station. For her 91 octane (the highest available) and for me a cold Coke. Talk with the attendant about tornado’s, yes they have them there, too. Back to the road, I leave the gas station premises to return to I70. But: all I70 signs are gone, simply disappeared. I ride around in circles, one street, the other: where has I70 gone? Slight panic: what in the world has happened? Where am I? There, blue interstate signs give me the choice: I55 North or I55 South. I55? I just came from I70! A young man in army-like uniform, too large a hat which is customery for military people in this country, government car, clean, friendly. Reliable. “I70, man you are way off, you have to go back all the way to St. Louis”. I get my map, he points at a little dot, a nothing-town. I am on my way to Chicago.

My first reaction is to kill the messenger. He is kidding me, “But I just came from I70 to get gas, 10 minutes ago”, my poor effort to convince him he is wrong and to change reality my way. I don’t know what he thought of me, he remains calm, just tells me: you will have to go back about 35 miles. Adding: “There is a lot of road construction going on down there, man, you’re in for some time”.

The options are: take backroads going East and rejoin I70 somewhere up East. Or bite the bullet and retrace the miles to St. Louis. That is what I do, and MS thinks it is a great idea. Before I know we are doing 75 mph plus, the speed limit is 65. I don’t want to take it out on MS and I need no more cop stories. A comfortable 70 will do.

The unsettling Twilight Zone awareness about it is that I cannot reconstruct at all what medium transported me in just a blink of an eye from the I70 I was on to way up I55 with the gas station as time gate.

Was a guardian angel responsible for this mystical event? I70 in the far distance seems to end in the darkest blue clouds I have seen on the trip. First the system appears to be hanging in there waiting for me; then it moves a bit South. All opposite traffic has their headlights on; that is the surest sign, I have learned, that weather trouble is waiting. Normally, few cars in this country have their headlines on during the day; but if all do: get prepared. I do. Raingear on. Just half an hour of rain, nothing to complain about given some of the other days I have had. The extra Twilight Zones miles and time saved me from having the battle the very heart of a really bad storm.

Entering rain always follows the same pattern: first you smell it coming, then you see the wet road approaching and then your vision gets troubled by the waters from heaven and from cars you pass or are passing you. Turning your head right and left to clear the helmet helps a bit, wiping with a glove does, too. The world, nevertheless, is multiplied by sometimes confusing reflections in the many waterdrops that always remain.

Cruising down I70 creates a state of meditation. A constant 65-70 mph, MS clearly having gained power and speed, a minimal inward move of the right hand sends her off quickly overtaking tucks and cars with G-force that push me back against the backpack tied across the saddlebags. Meditating means reflecting on what was, projecting what might be.

What took place. The many road hazards which I was lucky to overcome and could have ended in disaster. For example, near a very small town of a few houses which prides itself – so the sign says – on being the “Phaesant Capital of the World”. Somewhere in Texas or Oklahoma. No reason to believe this is a capital of anything. Then, a few miles down: sure enough. Pheasants of the road shoulders, big ones. One dummy decides to cross the road precisely when MS comes riding by at about 55-60 mph. I settle in, put on extra gas, grab the handles firmly, this big bird will be smashed to smithereens, I will have to clean blood and feathers from MS, the extra gyro-forces will keep me upright. MS turns out to have another defense system. The forward thrust of air in front of her. It sends the bird right up into the air, wings flapping helplessly, no use in the wirhling winds. By instinct, I lift my right leg, feathers and fabric meet, brush, pass. In the rear miror I see the bird, it looks like it may live happily ever after. If it learned a lesson, that is.

Then, what will be. The unavoidable issue comes up like bright daylight: what to do with MS, now that I will leave for Holland in a week? A question that has been with me all the time, but now needs answering. The emotional impulse is: keep her for later encores. The rational argument is: sell her to a triple lover with a high TLC inclination.

Yes, I have a plan for a next time. The Cross over America, to borrow a phrase from the historians re the colonization of Africa. R66 is East-West. But old highway 41 is North-South. Coming from Chicago, it passes just west of Bloomington (so an easy pick-up) on its way through the intriguing Southern states, inching by Gainesville Florida (where Bloomington friends have a house), down the Gulf coast, across the Everglades and then over the chain of Keys to Key West – from where I remember from a long time ago the Hemingway look-alikes on the street and the applauding of the sunset by onlookers at the docks each evening. And 41 is my lucky number.

Ratio brings back a conversation with a waitress in Somewhere City. Late thirties, I guess, very slim. Her appearance is a mixture of an Amish woman and a catholic nun. An Italian retaurant in what must have been a very large showroom: just one big open space with very high ceilings and no lights at all. Her mother, serving me as well, hears my accent and brings a second Coke without ice (the first one with ice she brought 2 minutes ago and I still have to start on.) She explains: “My daughter dates a foreign fellow and I know foreigners don’t want ice in their drinks”. The daughter. “I am dating a Frenchman”. We talk. She is dating him now for 8 years. He doesn’t live here, he works for a foreign company, Alfa-Laval. Sends him to New England, other places, he is in France now. How often do you see each other, I ask. Without hesitation, the answer comes: “Maybe once a year, twice if we are lucky. Maybe he will one time ask me to marry him, I will probably say ‘yes’”.

I don’t think MS deserves such a fate. She proved herself, she was born to ride. How can I mothball such a beautifull machine for at least a year? At 27 years of age, she now has just over 12.000 miles; about 4000 with me by the time I leave in a week. She needs the road, she needs someone to take her there.

So triple lovers, if you are interested in taking care of my MS. Let me know. This fair lady will only go at a fair price as proof that her new partner knows how to properly appreciate her. She presented her credentials over the past 10 days.

The curtain. Looking at her, she seems to tell me that she will be happy to wait for me in her quiet spot of her own in the garage of Bloomington friends – anticipating to share 41 with a person she changed forever.

Harold – “Ride to Write”.

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