Lessons from Mark Twain - The woman who sat on the toilet too long (and other odd American tales) - CycleBlaze

October 22, 2013

Lessons from Mark Twain

Muscatine: the sunrises may also have been splendid, said Mark Twain
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AN ENGAGING bloke, Mark Twain. A cyclist, too, which warms my heart still more. And a man of dry humour. He worked for a while on a newspaper in Muscatine, which is a city on the Mississippi. He liked being there and marvelled at its sunsets, writing about them. And ending his piece with: "The sunrises are also said to be exceedingly fine. I do not know."

It may have been at Muscatine that Twain was told repeatedly to get the facts in the first sentence. That's good newspaper lore but Twain managed to parody it with a story starting "Dead. That's what he was when they picked him off the bar room floor."

And in telling you all that, I have fallen into the same trap. I am in the third paragraph of the second page and I still haven't told you what this is all about. So, by way of rectification...

Around the end of April or the start of May, I will be one of those people wandering the streets of Washington, the American capital, walking slowly, stopping unpredictably, asking foolish questions and generally getting in the way. I will be a tourist.

And then after a couple of days I'll set off, I hope, along the path beside the Chesapeake and Ohio canal, north-west at first to escape the Appalachians and then in roughly a straight line to San Francisco. What happens after that, nobody yet knows. Certainly, I don't.

I like being in America. I could move there tomorrow if it were just for the people. But, just as you might like coming here to France but wouldn't want to be here for good, so there are enough things about America that put me off, too. But I do like being there, because I like people and Americans, at least for the first 10 minutes, seem prepared to see if they'll like me. Then they make excuses and wander off.

Karen: convinced I'm too foolish to wander the desert alone
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When Steph and I rode the Northern Tier route three years ago, there were places on the map that had a significance beyond their status. Muscatine was where we'd reach the Mississippi; Minot was, well, nothing much but somehow a landmark; and so it went on. This time there seem so many more. All these places I've heard of and can imagine but which I've never seen: Cumberland, St Louis, Pueblo, Monument Valley, Bryce Canyon, Sacramento, Joy Santee's house...

For half the time, I'll ride alone. Then across the Kansas plains just before Pueblo will come Karen Cook. She thinks I am too simple-minded to cross the deserts alone. She will lead me metaphorically hand in hand through I don't know where. Her idea of a route to the Pacific involves a lot of places I can't find on the map. We will have to carry survival supplies for a week and the volume of water you get in an iceberg. She insists I will like it.

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