Day 58: Carbondale, IL to Murphysboro, IL - Between the Ends of America - CycleBlaze

June 9, 2011

Day 58: Carbondale, IL to Murphysboro, IL

The ridiculous heat and humidity have dominated my life the past few days. I wake up hours earlier than I want to. I feel pressed to ride faster, because I know the hot weather is on its way as the sun inches up into the sky behind me. I stop less for the same reason. When I need to take breaks I sit around grumpy, partly because the sweaty riding drains me, and partly because I know that soon enough I have to leave the cool and wonderful air conditioning behind and return to the furnace, where my clothes turn wet and a dirty, sweaty, watery mixture constantly runs stinging into my eyes. I focus so much on the heat that I don't give enough attention to the people and the world around me. The weather becomes the introduction, the body, and the conclusion of my story.

I've almost always been able to outrun the cold. With enough layers and effort I can keep it at bay and get where I want to be. There's no equivalent for dealing with the heat. It's an opponent I can't beat, and for one morning I give up the fight. I sleep in, I relax, and I don't leave the motel room until the last possible moment.

Stay classy, Carbondale.
Heart 0 Comment 0

I battle the wide, one-way streets of Carbondale and ride to a shop called The Bike Surgeon. It takes five minutes to re-true the front wheel, but I spend 20 more hanging out with Evan and Kris, the two mechanics. We talk about bikes, living in Seattle and Portland, the bike shop business, and whether or not Carbondale is really as awful as it seems on the surface. Kris hopes to move to Seattle after he graduates next year, but says that he's grown to love living here, and that he really likes the laid-back pace of life in this part of the country—although he agrees that most of the city, the part that stretches away from campus, is very unappealing.

Heart 0 Comment 0
Heart 0 Comment 0
Heart 0 Comment 0

I leave the shop with the bike and my mind feeling better. I hole up in a coffee shop and vegetarian cafe located in the city's historic district, right next to the two railroad lines that run through the center of town. The building is old and beautiful and full of soul, with huge plate glass windows that let me sit in air-conditioned comfort and watch the world outside roast. The red polka-dotted tablecloths contrast with the hardwood floors and the bright orange walls that stand covered with locally-made artwork. Long and round aluminum ducts run along each side of the ceiling, wrapped in red cloth in such a way that they look like shiny, silvery candy canes. I eat cookies, drink lemonade, write, think, and slowly build back up the reserve of mental strength I need to keep pushing on to St. Louis and beyond.

Heart 0 Comment 0
Heart 1 Comment 0

Carbondale turns quieter and more attractive closer to campus. I ride through the grounds of Southern Illinois University in the early evening, past low-rising brick and concrete buildings that all look like they were built in the 1960s and 1970s. With school out for the summer it's a relaxed, almost empty, clean, inoffensive place. A mile out of town I'm back in the country. The temperature still pushes over 90 degrees, but riding in the shade across gently rolling terrain makes it reasonable. The roads run rough with bumps, potholes, cracks, and small ridges from decades of freezing winters and scorching summers.

Heart 0 Comment 0

A short, easy ride brings me to Murphysboro. I stop in front of the home of Tabitha and Eliot, Warm Showers hosts letting me camp in their yard for the night. I walk up the creaking front porch steps and knock on the screen door, which sends the dog into into a fit of barking. No one answers at first, so I set to work on piecing together the tent while old men in wheelchairs across the street try to make sense of the weird stranger on the overloaded bicycle.

Tabitha and Eliot have three young kids—Verity, Temperance, and Alacrity—all between the ages of four months and three years, all of whom are beautiful. Someone older and wiser than me once wrote that living with one child is like having a demanding but mostly reasonable roommate who really likes spending time with you until she goes to bed early, whereas having two or more children is like living in a circus where all the performers are deaf. Tonight I see that theory in action. Tabitha has to pull the chairs off the top of the dining room table so that we can sit down. If she leaves them on the ground, the two older kids will climb up them and try to swing from the chandelier. The next hour becomes a blur of screaming, crying, things being knocked off tables and high chairs or thrown across the room, and the yelling of words and sounds that I can't understand. The kids eat spaghetti for dinner. Some of the food makes it into their mouths, but most falls on the floor or ends up in an orange-red mixture of sauce and spit spread all over cheeks, noses, foreheads, and other parts of their half-naked bodies. Someone dumps a bowl of noodles and sauce in the adjacent bedroom, so the dog is let out of his crate and sent in to clean up the mess. It never stops, not even for five seconds. It's absolute madness.

It sounds strange, but I'm happy to be there. As an only child it's a look into a life I've never known, but one that's typical for so many families in the towns and cities I've traveled through over the past eight weeks. Tabitha and Eliot feel the same way. With three kids and a home to manage, they can't cross the country by bike themselves, but they can live vicariously through the stories and experiences of the travelers who pass through their doors.

I climb into the tent and work up a sweat simply by inflating the air mattress. I lay my head down, close my eyes, and listen to the symphony of barking dogs. Bass booms from the cars that pass with the windows down and the music turned way up. Mosquitoes pop and then sizzle to death as they fly into the bug zapper hanging outside one of the houses across the street.

Today's ride: 16 miles (26 km)
Total: 2,941 miles (4,733 km)

Rate this entry's writing Heart 2
Comment on this entry Comment 0