As I lay there in the morning heat, cocooned in my sleeping bag, eyes too tired to open, something about my body felt strange. It wasn't my joints; they felt just fine considering they'd spent a considerable amount of time riding through rain. It wasn't my muscles, which after a 70-mile day felt recharged and ready to rock. It wasn't anything on the inside of my body at all, no, it was the outside. My lips felt puffy and swollen and my face felt like it was covered in wax. What the hell was going on?
Confused and concerned, I got out of my tent as quickly as possible and ran up to the bathroom to look in a mirror. I looked a little greasy, but my lips looked normal sized. Overall, I looked like I'd just woken up, and that's about it. I washed my face a few times and I could still feel the thick, viscous oil working its way up out of my pores. The best I could figure was that the Southern heat and humidity were acting as a supercharged banya, and all the toxins were working their way out of my pores. It was gross.
After a few face washings, I gave up on feeling clean. I was beginning to think I was going to need rubbing alcohol or turpentine to get the wax off, and since I had neither, I was going to stop thinking about it. I had plenty of other things to think about, most important being packing up and taking off.
While cooking some breakfast noodles, the campground hosts dropped by with their guard lion, Rocco. Rocco was a fierce looking beast with a mighty mane surrounding his majestic face. Rocco was not an actual lion, but a well groomed Pomeranian with a Serengeti influenced hairdo. Cuter than an armadillo, that one was.
What wasn't cute was what shot out of the water spigot when I went to fill my platypus bag. All of the little camp sites had a water pump, and when I raised the handle on mine, the stream of water shot a spider the size of a quarter (and its meal) into my water bag. I dumped it out, rinsed, and refilled my bag. While filling, I wondered if my face issues were the result of a late night spider bite. That could explain wax face, right? Sure, that's a thing.
It wasn't raining, but there were clouds in the sky. After the day prior's downpour, I was really hoping they were just shade clouds and not rain clouds. I had a long day ahead of me, at over 95 miles until I would reach the Gunter Hill ACOE outside of Montgomery, and I would have liked to spend it fairly dry. I'd already had all the rashes and blisters I could handle.
A few hours into the ride, the clouds were all but gone, leaving the scorching, late-summer sun. I'd take the mid-90s over rain. Today, at least. Maybe I'd be able to sweat out the rest of those waxy toxins. Maybe I'd end up with the flawless skin of a supermodel. Maybe I'd end up on the cover of GQ with the headline "Deep South Skin Reconstruction". Maybe.
I was snapped from my daydreams, quiet literally, but the twang of a spoke. Staring down at my front wheel, I noticed a slight hop as it rolled down the asphalt. Dang it. I pulled off onto a dirt road knowing what needed to be done. For all the trees I'd ride through on crumbling back roads, there wasn't one to be found along the highway while I pulled off my wheel to replace the broken spoke. While I dripped sweat standing in the sun, I was thankful to be carrying spare spokes as I had no idea when I'd be rolling past a bike shop again. A little sweat now was much better than a wheel collapse later.
The cloudless day slowly turned into a crystal clear evening. I'd mostly been riding on side roads since Selma, and now was in the middle of nowhere again, this time with the Alabama River not too far north of me, lending a bit of coolness to the air. Fortunately for me, this middle of nowhere also had much better Department of Transportation (MONDOT), with paved roads the whole way. Also, I loved what the Parks and Rec team had done to create such a peaceful ambience. The use of explosive lightning storms in the distant northwest to enhance the calm of the clear, still sky directly above? Brilliant.
|MON Electric Co.|
It was in the middle of this late night stretch that I experienced an unexpected existential panic that would usually be reserved for the moments just before falling asleep. What was I doing out here? I was 35 years old, living off of dwindling savings, and spending my time riding a bicycle through rural Alabama. What was I thinking? What was next? Did I even have a plan? I mean, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland were obviously next, but what was after that? What was even the point of being out here in this part of the country, especially when I enjoyed other places so much more? I could've been up in Alaska or stayed out in Moab. What about this made any sense?
But then I looked up and saw hundreds of stars and dozens of constellations. Cassiopeia, the Big Dipper, probably Orion somewhere behind the tree line, low to the horizon. I liked all of those stars and their named formations. That's why I was out here. I liked stars and I liked riding my bicycle under them and I liked riding my bicycle in new places while under the stars and there was going to be plenty of time to not do that when I got back to Philly. I told myself that I needed to be mindful of the moment. That worrying about the future was a waste of a perfectly good present that should be enjoyed. Besides, if I really needed something to worry about, there were still a lot of miles to ride and camps to set up and break down before I reached the real world. All sorts of things could go wrong before I even got home! I could get attacked by a pack of dogs, get leprosy from an armadillo, shot at by some Good Ol' Boy that doesn't like my skin tight shorts. Or get struck by lightning. There was always lightning. If anything, those worries were more pressing than those of an intangibly distant future, no matter how close that future felt.
Keeping with the ACOE trend, I reached camp around 11pm to find the whole place sound asleep. Maybe they weren't actually asleep. Maybe everyone was just laying in their little RV beds worrying about the future. They should have come out to see the stars. Stars know how to make people feel better.