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June 19, 1976.

Silt Coos Lagoon

is a good place to begin.

Delivered here, the two of us,

among waxmyrtle,

dune grass and sand.  We pitch

the Gerry Meadow tent, eat corn,

green beans and tuna ramen noodle soup.

It takes time, the backpacker we’d picked up

climbing Monarch Pass on our way west

had said, hiking the ridge of the Rockies,

rhythmic repetition, to rid pollution

from the brain.

Two Gitane bikes lean against a lodgepole pine,

sunlight fades, the moon goes down,

the Pacific Ocean

withdraws along the Oregon coast.

I’m uneasy now at the fire,

speak little to her,

stir embers, gather wood,


maybe afraid.

June 20.

She settles down

after a shaky start,

her first time with panniers

and handlebar bag full.

I have to watch myself,

too much occupied with her

(four people said last winter they would make the trip,

she’s the only one I was sure would never come along,

never ridden a bicycle in her life,

now the only one, the only one I really didn’t want to come).

Hold back, rest, let her pull ahead across the Siuslaw,

up the first climb over the coastal range.

The narrow, corrugated tunnel, shoulder cobbles,

sharp echoes, automobiles,

the first pure test of nerves and heart.

We stop for lunch in Walton,

the log post office-general store is closed.

An old woman sitting outside in a pickup truck says somebody phoned

there was a bomb.

June 21.

Wrong turn in Springfield,

ten miles out of the way,

frustrated back and forth in heavy traffic on Rt 126.

Finally find Camp Creek Road.

Overcast, cool and still,

the McKenzie River running clear cold blue and green.

After sixty days in a conestoga wagon

you’d be of a mind to say you’d come far enough.

The settlements seem removed,

never heard of Draino or Mr Clean.

Her knee begins to hurt

outside Vida.  She’ll never last another day. 

We stop to rest,

then ride on toward Camp Ollalie,

eleven miles the other side

of McKenzie Bridge.

The highway is empty, contained,

damp pockets of dark Douglas fir,

the foothills of the Cascades.

A pair of Kenworth tractors overtake us–

flatbed trailers, a load of 3/4 inch plywood–

bellow, bang and rattle by.

Then silence, dusk,

speed chain travels over sprockets,

high pressure tires,

hubs, wire spokes and stainless steel rims

whirring in the air.

June 22.

She is a woman raised with guilt,

god-fearing, Bible-quoting, quilt-mending mother and dour dad.

To fight her way free she became the wife

of a gambling man, drunk, itinerant stagehand,

bore three children so she wouldn’t have to be alone.

Divorced.  Returned home,

mother and dad didn’t have to say a word,

but did.  She’s a woman who grew ill

whenever she tried to do anything against her parents’ will–

wanted to take her children to Arkansas to visit her mother’s kin,

couldn’t do it, had to turn back, absurd, and try to face them again–

she has never left her kids.

She has chosen me

to change her life.

Sent the two sons and the daughter to their father

so she could cycle across the United States,

a woman whose left knee is killing her,

pinched nerve between her shoulder blades,

only had a few handfuls of peanuts and raisins to eat,

precious little water to drink (an important lesson learned:

when the map shows nothing, assume

nothing’s there) and no encouragement

from me, she

guts out the heat, the twenty-two mile climb

over Santium Pass, the nine mile rush

down the other side–

had to yank the bike four feet to the left to miss

a whitetail deer bolted from the brush–

sitting now quietly at Blue Lake Camp

in smoke near the fire, trying to hide from barking mosquitoes,

nursing pain and mounting pride.

The third day.

The largest metropolis, the steepest pass

behind us.

If you make it through this,

you can make it all the way.

June 23.


It is solid, extends.

Leave the towns, Sisters, Bend,

behind.  A bicycle, the desert.

A vacant twisting tendril of asphalt,

sagebrush, sand and amaranth.  Sunflowers colonize

narrow moisture along the margins of the road.

A crow takes off, middle distance, soars, calls, indifferent

to what you are.  Roadkill,

mangled deer, chipmunks, ground squirrels flattened, stomachs extruded from the mouth, large intestine squirted out the ass,

raw flesh of your flesh,

the laws of physics

the only laws the highway has.

A pale building up ahead,

a wattled fence, chert, a Texaco sign, pickup,

two gasoline pumps, neon in the window

and nothing else.  Millican.

Two women and a man

around a table inside, cowboy hats,

purple-faced, pudgy-fingered fellow, been known to take a drink,

at the counter:  cash register, sardines

in mustard sauce, tuna fish, jerky sticks,

a rack of sunglasses, salted nuts,

canned tomatoes, pork n beans,

fruit cocktail, cooking oil and lard,

Snickers, Heath Cup, stacked tins of jack rabbit milk,

boned breast of meadow lark.

Large glass cooler doors:

Lucky Lager, Blatz, Olympia, Coors,

Dr Pepper, Nesbit, Seven Up and Ginger Ale.

They sit, chew toothpicks, snub out cigarettes in a dish,

drink beer, all the empties

scattered, under the counter,

against the wall, been there all day long,

slow-paced talk among themselves,

a habit, looks like.  No one takes notice when you walk in,

seem to be the first people they’ve seen all week.

You learn the morning winds blow up the draws,

evenings tumble down, rattlesnakes, their nests,

give Stinking Water Creek its name.

No coin changes hand

when you leave, desert light gone fallow.  They

will remain the same

till way past dark.

June 24.

Aggravation, bound up with her.

Her knee, her neck and upper back,

her front derailleur breaks.

Simplex, not worth shit.

I didn’t pack

the tool to try to fix it,

piddle and fiddle, shred the cable,

borrow dikes in Hampton

to replace it, can’t thread the damn thing through

the housing.  Have to stay on the big chainwheel

until we get to Burns.

Then it begins to blow

thirty, forty miles an hour

from the west, high gear

is all you need.

Flat ash-gray opalescent earth, dune and stone,

pure durable light, deep cast shadow, a bowl

of silence hung easy in dry wind,

fifteen miles straight

as fast as you can crank.

We stop at noon in Riley.

A last-chance desert town,

another one-sider, the two structures here–

a filling station and the post office-general store–

appear a mirage after arduous travel.

Maybe the first to bring the news that Nixon has resigned,

I go into the garage for fuel, unleaded gasoline

for the Mountain Sport stove, stand,

taken suddenly aback, greasy kid’s stuff, pimple cream,

top-twenty disco, heat, the din loud enough

to hurt your ears.

We eat at a plank picnic table,

galvanized tin roof, gravel and grass burned bone white.

Neither of us talks.

Swallows ride the currents

trying to reach the nest beneath the eaves,

ducking and veering, seeking a soft spot

in the wind, they fight ahead two or three feet,

buffeted, shouting out each to each,

then thrown back.

A smarter blackbird on the ground


June 25.

We need

a day of rest, recoup

body and soul, repair the bike

in Burns.  There is a cycle shop.

It is closed.  A man tells us we can get parts

at Woolworths– right.

Learn there where hot goods are cleared:

in plastic sacks, stapled mimeograph labels, distributed out of Seattle.  Suntour, Campagnolo, Weinemann, Huret,

front and rear derailleurs, side-pull caliper brakes,

freewheel cluster, bottom bracket,

a leather Ideale saddle, prices are a steal:

four-ninety-five for what costs seventeen

in Wichita.

Wind picks up cold from the north in the afternoon,

portends an evil day tomorrow, the highway turns northeast.

A desolate stretch, Vale a hundred and twelve

miles away.  The time off may be good

for the body, but I’m not too sure about the soul.

We lie within the small green hub of the world,

tent walls and rain fly flapping, contained and trapped.

She says her knee’s not getting any better.  She can’t go on.

Finally.  This is it.

She turns her pale, naked back in the mated ripstop goosedown

sleeping bags.  I listen to the wind bluster about the telephone pole

outside, watch dark light flare and gather

between her shoulders, glisten, run

along the spine into the hollow above the buttocks.

Hang in there.

You’ve come too far to quit.

Apply Deep-Heating Rub.

June 26.

Evening, the valley of the Malheur.

I sit on rocky ground in the shadow of the canyon wall

undercut by the river, hear

katydids, crickets, frogs, a few blackbirds clucking,

green water rushing beyond young willows,

now and then a car.

It looks to be a cure by the laying on of hands:

her knee and neck are healed.

She sits on a log near the bikes,

humming to herself,

writing postcards to her kids.

Two passes before noon.

Stinking Water, forty-eight hundred and forty-eight feet,

a hard, uneven climb, false summits

deceive.  You lean against buoyant exhaustion,

stare down at shifter levers and cable housing,

revolving toe-clipped shoes, corruscating grit,

white line slip, the silhouette of your fists on the handlebar,

rest there till you break on through it to the other side.

Drinking Water, forty-two twelve,

a constant seven percent grade,

the sun is hot, glad

for the rush of blood, the flow

of liquid and breath, the quick

metabolism of chocolate, raisins, peanuts, the heat,

joints and sinew, muscle fiber, balance, rhythm,

leg bone connected to the foot bone, shout and go like hell.

Mass and space swell and warp, mantle rock, hewn out

above the roadbed, looms and folds, the low, flat

gray valley, ribbon of river, ashy green sage

and spruce.  Extension is all there is,

a loose wad of recursive matter,

determined, indifferent, alone.

And mad as a fucking hatter.

Stop to eat lunch beneath enormous cottonwoods

along U.S. 20 in Juntura.  Elation

of the morning ride collapses, spent.

I don’t want to leave

the trees.  Nothing

for fifty-seven miles.

Drink a whole pint of water in less than an hour,

down our entire two-and-a-half quart supply

before we reach a spring

twenty-two miles away.

Then things look up again:

cold water, original, flowing

from the rock, then

three men from Burns

in an old Dodge

offer us beer, then

a woman and a little girl

give us a couple more where we camp,

the road the wilderness too.

June 27.


gathered around the tent

yip-yowling up and down the ridge,

wake us in the night.

Dozens of them from the raucous noise of it.

Then the most terrifying of animal sound:

a human cough.

Back among civilization

out here, a campsite in Marsing, Idaho,

close on the Snake by the highway bridge.

A good haul today:

level land outside Vale, furrow irrigation,

siphon tubes and ditches,

sugar beats, onions, hops, occasional

fields of wheat.  Japanese

give way to Mexicans working the crops

as you approach the junction with U.S. 95.

My spirit sags.

Six hundred miles of desert yet to go.

And my ass is sore.

After a night camped here,

estranged, burnt ocher, dusty pink concrete,

firecrackers, loud laughter and yells,

desolation may look good again.

June 28.

I’m ready to sacrifice

the first-born daughter for a favorable wind–

it’s turned against us,

hot and dry from the southeast.

Stopped at Murphy, the seat

of Owyhee County,

for our mid-morning calories.

No grocery store.

Decided to eat breakfast again

at the Filling Station-Restaurant-Saloon.

Chuck comes in for a road-shortner, jigger of Scotch.

Down on his luck, hell of a life, been riding herd

near Bruneau Hot Springs and one day

the ax just fell. On his way

to Boise now, where, his brother-in-law tells him,

a job is waiting if he can get there before noon.

Takes a liking to me, and to her,

when he hears we’re traveling through by bike.

Thinks we’re hardscrabble too,

goes out to get the wife, waiting in the car,

to meet us. Offers me one of his last three one-dollar bills,

leans over near from his perch,

stage-whisper, glancing back at the others down the bar:

take good care of her,

if you know what I mean.  And winks:

A few good strokes and you pull it out slow

and hold it between her legs on the lips.  Then slip it

back on in. Lord.  No matter how hard it gets

she’ll never leave you in the lurch.

Drinks another shot and they’re off,

belching smoke in their botched

spray-can pink Fairlane Ford.

We down our second beer, eggs

sunny-side up, bacon, biscuits and pan gravy.  The cook

the mayor of the town.

Steep hills,

the broken edge of high, empty table-land

above the Snake,

distant range fires burn

mauve, smoky haze, quick, viscous heat.

A heavy, dumb trance.

Fifteen miles, a house,

close to the road,

to refill water.

We look at each other,

we squint into opaque sky.

She stands indifferent,

a timid containment, obstinacy, leaning on her bike.

We come upon

a single tree, full green,

a shadowed, two-foot deep patch of grass.

Lie down in it.  Sleep.

I don’t want to leave it.

Subcutaneous inflamations, furuncles,

bike-buncles, on my ass.

The left hand numb.

Takes five hours to ride thirty miles. 

The tavern thermometer outside Grandview reads

a hundred and four, early evening,

when we pull in.

First through thirst

beer gets good.

She buys groceries

in town.   I walk across

the old Snake River bridge

down a gravel road too rocky to ride,

to Gary Larson’s place, ask

permission to camp.

We settle by the river in soft dirt.

The wind calms and dies, sunlight thickens,

we can hear things for the first time today:

mating swarms of gnats above bushes along the bank,

redwing blackbirds, blue heron,

the Ferguson tractor on the other side.

Then a high wall of dust across the water

along tall dark-gray cliffs, the floodplain,

tumbling large scattered raindrops, tree branches,

the smooth, deep-running river surface

roils, the tent fly flutters and pops.

It blows over quickly and we strip,

wash each other

at the irrigation boom.

June 29.

A day when

nothing has a name.

Expansion you only later

realize is howling, brutal iridescent light,

high desert sand, range-fire smoke,

pain, the constant churning

of nonsensical words.

Later you know it is your will,

exposed, pounded to a hardened clump

at the ardent center,

anvil for the sun.

Five hours

to pedal twenty-three miles.

We hunker down now in the city park

in Mountain Home

to wait the son of a bitch out.

A band of Great Basin Shoshone,

a man and three women,

approach us where we eat.

He asks for a sandwich,

she refuses– goddammit!

look around you woman,

we ourselves

a split-second away

from absolute reliance.

Give them food.

The man sits down with me.

We eat hard rolls, Virginia ham, Monterey Jack and carrots.

He tells of hunger times,

the cricket stew his grandmothers make,

and laughs.

The wind changes, then dies.

We leave the park late afternoon,

exhausted fires smoldering on all sides across

the slow alluvial rise to the Sawtooth Range,

the asphalt covered by hordes

of strange, four-inch, fat, translucent brown

arthropods, crickets, or the locusts of Brigham Young.

They crunch beneath the tires,

we cringe and pedal on,

they swarm and devour

each other

in our wake.

Start the climb to Tollgate

before dark, the old, twisting stagecoach road,

a deep arroyo along

the dry bed of Rattlesnake Creek.

I stop to piss.  Calm,

nothing moves, the moon

is up.  The summit to the east

still caught in setting sun.  Steep draw

to the right, bedrock tabletop, scree,

tumbled wash, yellow-white

grass and the pungent smell of sage.  Silence.  Now

and then an owl.  Dense lavender,

luminescent gauze of smoke hanging

in the air.  A balm

upon the skin.  I miss

my friends tonight.

June 30.

Man, you don’t know what lonesome is till you go to herding cows.

Come upon over a thousand head about a mile and a half outside  Moonstone.  The wranglers eating lunch, the cattle on their own between the fencerows of Route 68.  No other choice but to work our way through, high and proud in the saddle, whoop and yell– come along boys and listen to my tale.  They trot in rhythm to my singing, every cowboy song I know, hustling black Angus and whiteface Herefords– can tell by your outfit that you are a cowboy, singing loud cowboy songs, a mighty peculiar skinny blue horse you’re riding on though.  I get them jogging along at a pretty good pace, which isn’t all that good, of course, all we can do, rump by pannier, to gain on them.  Now and again a defiant roan, long-yearling, turns a hard, baleful stare, appalled– I know a greenhorn when I see one, the man got no ten gallon hat, god damn his hide, not going to budge another foot– eye to eye with me till panic overwhelms her, or maybe my singing voice, clatters and spins on the pavement, the whole damn crowd thrown into minor turmoil around us, looks like we’ll have to drive the no-count bufords all the way to Boston.  Be hauled before the judge for rustling.  Or find the big auger to collect my drover’s pay.  But up ahead they reach a cattle guard painted across the highway:  stripes hinting at pipes and shadows they cannot navigate. Members of the clan who’ve never seen the real McCoy still know:  do not transgress.  But what to do with a thousand sisters and neutered brothers pushing on blindly from behind.  Confusion.  They wait, mill, nudge and press, bunch and split.  We break on through the breach to the other side.

July 1.

Crater of the moon

day off


sink depressions


ropey pahoehoe

and aa.

Left hand numb

three days now no

longer recovers


middle and ring finger the


weak and listless

insufficient food and



Cold turkey she

sits across from me

Blizzard Mountain

volcanic barrenness

rolling cinder river plain


chilly wind

even feeding chipmunks


the picture

of glowering health.

The rest

weighs heavy

on us both.

July 2.

Soft, supple Italian leather, stubby fingers, state of the art

bicycling gloves way out here in Arco, well worth the three days

budget, thirteen ninety-five.  Too late to prevent the hurt,

but they sure look good upon the hand.

Sixty-seven miles across mostly government land,

U.S. Atomic Energy Commission Reservation, watch out

for rattlers warming at the pavement edge, long drive,

not even a pot to piss in, just dry dirt, sunny weather

and cool trailing wind all the way to Idaho Falls.

She calls her kids.

From start to finish

I had it wrong.

July 3.

Hard, brooding climb out of Idaho Falls

into the Caribou Mountains.

Alpine meadows, short, steep ascents,

sudden runs into the valleys.

Then rise into the Snake River Range,

high above the water now, narrow, rapid,

laughter from rubber rafts fractal in the trees,

the Targhee Forest, into Wyoming.

Fight the mosquitoes off

and pitch our camp.

Tell her to leave,

can’t tell her to leave,

you mouthed vapid winter encouragement

when you were lonely,

deserted by the wife,

when you thought she’d never come.

Why keep it up,

one painful crank, hand and ass, brings on another.

Much easier, you’d think, to pull into a parking lot

of rounded glacial stones by some tumbling snow-melt

creek, log tavern, kick the Gitane into the blackberry

brambles, swagger in, supple, lean and muscled,

motley, fill the cool dark inside up, call

for beer and chips.  Drink.  River guides,

hawk-feathered, reptile-banded hats, talking low

at the bar.  Sit and watch a shaft of sun swing west

to east across the pine table top, catch in salt crystals,

thick, wet amber mug, carbon dioxide bubbles, froth, free

of association.  Your own damn solitary self–

then hitch a ride in the sag wagon to the nearest bus stop home.

She goads me.

A car swerves by and some asshole throws a Lucky Lager can

clattering past.  Their tire blows two hundred yards ahead.

I pedal on by and grin.

Fourth of July.

You know this scene,

wrote it yourself

a few months ago:

the pumpkin roller rodeo,

a clanging bell,

the brahma bull– spinning,

slinging dust and clods, gossamer

Fibonacci spirals of saliva–

wants the world undone.

The bullrider’s hand is caught–

the hondo knot won’t let go–

he’s flopping loose like a rag dummy,


You willed this death.

But this is Jackson Hole,

the bicentennial,

TVs in hotel and ice cream parlor windows,

pallid wind-blown

stars and stripes, Walter Cronkite,

national distance in the voice,

all teary-eyed,

this is the largest bunch of folk

ever to gather in this town,

a good time, god damn, fire

bottle rockets through the bars, flush cherry bombs,

eat until the barbecue, buffalo roast,

elk stew, cole slaw and deep-fat fried potatoes

run out, until the spirits are gone,

accountants keeping check on what’s consumed, dance,

sing, beat each other with fists and tire irons and laugh:

it’s overweening arrogance

makes you think you give this mad mother universe


July 5.

The Frenchmen getting mighty horny

when they saw these mountains.

I hardly notice, behind me, Sodom and Gomorrah, can’t look back,

we make our assault from Moran Junction

on the continental divide:  Togwotee Pass, 9,658 feet.

It’s hot, the grade not bad, but the asphalt sinks beneath

the tires, a relentless pull, the will and brain also turn

quickly to tarpit goo.  Five women

pedal by where we eat beside the road.

We catch them at Togwotee Lodge,

nine mile from the top.

Two elderly caretakers hold down the fort until

new owners arrive from Sapporo.

A somnolent easy confusion overcomes me among barelegged women,

all of us suspended in this large dark cool wood-paneled room,

a sweating cauldron of lemonade, whispers almost, uncertain, my tongue

forms unprovoked nonsense from the thin air (we set out on the Florida coast, wandered through Death Valley desert )  I stutter, start, finally

fall silent, content to never move again from this happy dissolution.

I do learn from the tallest of the women about the ulnar nerve:  runs

down behind the internal condyle of the humerus, the funnybone nerve,

supplies the flexor carpi ulnaris, half the flexor profundus digitorum

and most of the muscles of the inner digit and the hand.  Pressure

from the handlebar knocks it out.  I was unprepared for all this

by the books on long distance cycling I had read.

Make it over the pass about 5:30.  Rounding a long flat curve

among stunted pinyon, I see the woman knew all about the ulnar nerve

sifting through rubble in the ditch.  I stop, she’s lost her wallet:

sailing down the eastern slope, fifty miles an hour, overcome by lust

for rootbeer float, she pulled the pouch one-handed from the handlebar bag to count if she had the correct change, couldn’t remember Wyoming

sales tax, dropped it skittering along the highway for a hundred yards.

She and I, alone on the divide, take up the search.

I look out across the low meadow at the arc of road

to contemplate the descent, the projected path

of a leather coin purse, see, ninety feet

away, what anybody ever heard of Bullwinkle recognizes

as a moose.  I whisper:  elk.

And he will not be snuck up upon.

Even stranger in the failing mountain light:

we find the purse.

Climb back on our bikes.

It’s all downhill from here,

more or less, to the Mississippi–

or is it the Gulf of Mexico.

July 6.

The ex-husband, it seems,

liable to be arrested soon,

some gambling rap, leave the kids

alone in the apartment.  She says.

She says, sitting by the pop cooler,

she’ll not go back

even then, they’ll get by, her

sisters or mother and dad

take care of them awhile.

lost-wallet woman again today in Dubois–  I’d stopped

to get sponges to wrap the handlebars and stuff in the gloves–

standing by the watermelons, quart carton of chocolate

milk resting on her hip.  She said that we should ride together

a ways.  She’s long and she’s tall, a good day, the slight headwind

when we turn south on U.S. 287 overcome by the downhill

run, clear, hot sun, high gear.  Could pick up the pace,

ninety strokes

a minute, leave everybody else

miles behind.

I look at her sitting by the pop cooler

in Hruska’s Rock Shop, sipping Cream Soda

comes with our $2.00 hay meadow campsite.

Calm.  It’s obvious her mind

has been boggled.  Consider

the narrow life, waiting, the restricted house,

alone, dinner dishes, the two boys, the girl

asleep in the back bedrooms.

The world

looked the same

no matter how many years

ahead she thought.

Now this vast

unbordered sky strewn with

distant convection thunderstorms,

enormous red rock jutting from

rumpled valley floors, now

she doesn’t even know each morning

where she’ll spend the night.

She lies awake sometimes

huddled inside fragile ripstop, listens to

howling all around

an unimagined wilderness.

Tool of the devil, instigator

of this revolutionary

summer, like it

or not,

who am I

to say she can’t go on.

We stroll

down the long hill

swatting mosquitoes–

pierce right through

your jeans, love,

drunk on, Deepwoods Off–

to the tent to

get our towels.

Hruska says there’s all

the hot water

we can use.

July 7.

Hell of a climb into Sweetwater,

thirty-two miles long and hot,

a steady low-gear rhythm change the way you think.

Lay over in Jeffrey City, maybe fifty bikes,

buckets and bags loaded, lined along the general store wall.

A dusty front bouncing tumbleweeds blows through.

At four o’clock we head on to Muddy Gap.

When I turn south toward Lamont

the wind has died, a prong-horned antelope

grazing in the ditch.  I stop,

stalk to within ten yards, the sun at my back

slant across sagebrush plateau,

watch her eat:  the light

caught fallow in her coat, her concentration

intense, the white-ribbed grass,

whether I stand there and see or not.

The Lamont Cafe red neon,

sign larger than the town.

White sandy soil and an empty, narrow asphalt

ribbon across the evening.

A large, ancient, inert barkeep, stolid frown, says nothing– his

sullen notion to place beer, crackers and cheese

where we happen to sit– inexplicably lurches to the door

when we ask where we might pitch our tent.

Follow across the tarmac past the pumps

to the edge of starry night.  He

raises both arms to the distance, silent, turns

slowly a full three hundred and sixty degrees.

July 8.

Crisis of some kind last night.  I keep

probing it, can’t leave it alone, like bikebuncles on the ass,

the other side of pain in the hands, her and me.  I finally hit

upon the kids– maybe not so good to leave them so long for the first

time, alone, with their worthless father.  I’d done it for sure, she

burst out crying, ripstop too small to contain anguish, anger,

guilt– not for leaving them, for leaving without guilt– she’ll quit

the bike, catch the next thing smoking out of here, but not for home,

somewhere else, San Francisco, Oskaloosa, Katmandu.

I tell her (silence wouldn’t do) don’t be ridiculous, if you don’t

go home, keep on down the highway.

The next public transportation

not till Kansas City anyway.  Asshole

that I am, it’s not the kids.

It’s that everybody thinks

we are together– and

of course

they’re right.

A hot and gusty wind before noon, my Gitane

blows over in front of a grocery store in Rawlins, bent

a pedal shaft, the only shade for a nap beneath the Interstate-80 bridge

at the Walcott exit.  Fitful dreams full of rumbling

eighteen wheelers overhead and dust.  By early evening

an exhausted, dusky gray-blue desolation,

and we’re out of water.   Hanna, dull shimmering purple array,

spectral structure among low mountains two miles off

the road.  A lethal distance if we decide

to go and nothing’s there.  We push on

nineteen miles to Medicine Bow.  All day

she’s been grim and determined, hunched

over handlebars like she’s hounded by demons–

the only thing behind her in this effete isolation

is me.

July 9.

Day-off doldrums.

She called her kids.

Told them she’ll come home

on August first.

Maybe now I can let it rest.

Awake from fitful sleep,

the hot tent, the city park,

the air is still

after thundershowers stir

along the foothills of the Medicine Bow Range

to the southeast.

Children’s voices scatter

somewhere among the houses,

the maintenance man

is mowing the football field,

a German shepard pup chews

whatever he can grasp.

A desultory

lust I refuse

to expend on her.

July 10.

Coasting uphill

the climb from Tie Siding

to the border lands


wintry south wind

purly rain comes round

to the northwest

and blows

the front away.

The dream of movement

body floating as the mind


photon quanta sodium ions

H20 and oxygen

over two miles


across the top of the world. 

Cache la Poudra watershed

granite, gravity

refracted light

Mount Ethel, Little Bald,

Lone Tree, Lookout

mountains, remnant clouds



impinge upon this compact bundle

1400 cubic centimeters

caged in bone.

July 11.

Out of the Colorado Rocky Mountains last evening,

through Fort Collins, dusk, dark tall poplars along

the section lines, alfalfa fields, onto the plains.  What

I’d been waiting for:  southwest winds, forty miles an hour,

blow us all the way to the Mississippi River, never

even have to turn a crank.

I was two-thirds right:

forty miles an hour, south.

But east, not west.  Head wind. 

An offended


We rest now on State Highway 14 in Buckingham,

a ghost town, in the shade

and wind shadow of a run-down shed.

I hurt.  Seems today all

I’ve ever been doing,

brittle white prairie,

brome and prickly pear, no tree

to lie under, no bar

for beer, the Pawnee Grassland

slowly rises, domed, tending

to the east, compels

you to go on, the journey

a test to see how much pain

you can endure.

She pulls me up,

ties a bandanna over her red, chapped face,

and we ride on nine more miles,

like those crazy

fuckers scaling

Everest, keep on

even when the fingers and

toes freeze off,

to Raymer.

Everything (a one-room grocery) is closed

but the Apco station.   Nothing between here

and Sterling, thirty-five miles away.  We buy

Heath bars, cheese and peanut butter crackers, potato chips,

throw together what noodles,

jerky, Cup-a-Soup we’ve got left,

pretty thin stew.   Could read

the road map right through it.

Sit by the tent and listen

to dry wind toss native elm in the park, the buffalo grass

uncut, iron pickets, five houses

on three sides, Victorian,

American Homestead, old farmer couple

in a porch swing sipping iced tea, a man

walks a shepherd dog.  A few degrees of coolness

along sandy streets beneath

an oblique sun, dust,

kicked up 30,000 feet, flows and floats,

and catches light.

July 12.


Not like it used to be–

no hardluck Okies, run-down

International, fourteen foot header barge,

baling-wired together, red Dodge

pickup billowing oil smoke, no

twelve foot house trailer, quick-witted

woman turning out fried chicken,

scalloped potatoes and apple pie

on a two-burner propane stove, no

defiant skinner, khaki shirt

cut off at the shoulders, glaring through

chaff and oat dust at the immediate sun,

monotonous gasoline percussion, reel slats,

sicklebar, auger, drive belt, speed chain,

slip clutch rattle, bang and whine,

singing improvised harvesting ballads.

They got twenty-four foot headers now, operator

enclosed in steel and Plexiglas

cubicles, a slick 72 degrees, muffled,

cupped in by a stereo headset,

CB radio communications,

the Kenworth tractor trailer,

45 foot hoppers waiting to unload,

keeping up

on the futures trade.

And I hurt.

Kong-approaching-Tokyo-from-the-south syndrome:

what kills Kong makes Godzilla strong.  Hunch forward to ease

the load on the butt, the weight thrown onto the arms.

The Gitane pitches and lunges in the wind,

back and forth, hand and ass.

Stop at a laundromat outside Sterling,

the Pizza Hut salad bar and beer.  Buy

more sponges for gloves and handlebars,

ask the clerk for the best damn baby-bottom

antifungal, antibacterial diaper rash ointment

she’s got.  Gives me Desitin.

Drop drawers out on the highway for an application–

flat as a snooker table, no place to hide–

what looked like a truck coming on from the east

turns out to be a Winnebago camper full of girl scouts.

Almost capsizes going by, the sudden shift

of passengers to the port side.  Can hear

them giggling half a mile on down the road.

The eastern slope.  Dry gray-green sage, prickly pear and yucca,

prairie swells and ebbs, unruly ocean, shimmers viscous sun and dust.

Can hear it, drawn out from the cramped visual bubble beneath

the bill of my hat, a momentary lucid awareness:  absolute loneliness

the palpable essence of the world.  I let out a primal scream.

Every gear shift, every saddle-twisting surge of wind.

Top of the lungs.  Whipped to nothingness, indifferent

ground squirrels, chipmunks in the ditches

whistle and scamper for cover as I pass.  Fall in

behind her, pulled along in her draft.

Dumb, dull bonding.  Spokes, rims, tires rolling inches apart,

orange panniers, fastening strap flapping in unstable air, her

buttock raised in the saddle, backs of her thighs, shank

muscles, calves glistening sun-bleached hair, sweat, constant

turning of the crank.

July 13.

A small, rural park, green iron hand pump

at the well, aquifer water.  Sunlight lingers at the rim

of the prairie, the wind, residual

brain chemicals oxidize a central calm.

This could go on


We are on the road by 6:45,

a quart of milk and fruit tarts in Holyoke,

thirty miles away, by 9:15.  Could

rack up record distance, but what’s the rush,

this is Nebraska now at harvest time.

10:30, beef jerky, peanuts and raisins

just past the state line, a redwood table set

among enormous cottonwoods,

the only humans for a hundred miles.

The Imperial City Park by 1:00 p.m., a pint of blueberries

and a half-gallon of French vanilla ice cream (your duty

to eat everything you can lay your numb hands on,

over 6,000 calories a day) sleep

on our towels beneath the hackberry trees.

The last ten miles to Enders

the road gets bumpy, the sky dark

in the northwest, cumulus nimbus.

We pitch the tent

beside the reservoir.  No wind yet,

the elevator back in town

caught up in swirling billows of dust

illuminated against the deep blue storm.

It crosses the highway just as we try to light the stove.

Thundershowers pass to either side,

the Gerry Meadow snaps and shivers,

it blows a solid hour.  Then

a little rain.  Then calm.

I hunker naked by the lake

after we eat, sun just gone down, a broken

spectrum scattered within the clouds,

lightning along the horizon.

Redwing blackbirds and grackles prepare

for evening, hurried flight low across choppy water.

Thin silence marbles

bird calls and words spoken

from the last boats putting in

the otherside of weeping willow trees.

July 14.



Bill’s Bike Shop.

Her rear derailleur has given out,

spring in the tension cage broke, still

able to shift, but the chain hangs slack

from the small chainwheel and freewheel cluster.  Nice

to stop and talk to people, stop

in the little towns, viable now

as we come east, Wauneta, Palisade, Culberton,

Indianola, stop

and look out across

the plains.

July 15.

A black dog

watches over us all night

in front of the tent.

Barks at everything

that gets too close.

Dark in the morning.  Milk

and bananas in Holbrook, hole up

in the park pagoda until the storm

blows over.  Lightning and thunder, but no rain.

We head on through Arapahoe, the sky in the north closing in

again, purple and green, wind quickens, goes cold.

It begins to rain at the junction with 136.  We turn

south toward Edison, blown along the leading edge, turbulence

boundry, two lane blacktop, stronger surges toss and twist

soybeans, corn in the fields, hear it, see it – water

crashes down on leaves, grasses, sunflowers

flattened rippling along the ditches, thunderclaps, air rushes

through fencerows and highlines, tumbles low

rolling hills, wet black humus, loam– the precise loneliness

contained within uncertain weather.  Easy,

separate, undisturbed vehicle,

ecstasy within the quiet caul.

The road winds into town, precipitation splattering

through the trees above the pavement.  A defunct bank building,

the front wall long gone, a stack of prairie hay inside.  We

lie on top of the bales and sleep.  A little girl across the street,

painted on a weathered, wooden screen door, a slice of Rainbo

Bread, beckons come for sustenance

when the weather clears.

She says her brother-in-law’s brother lives near Naponee.

Hot baths in a lion-clawed tub, home-butchered beef.

We ride along the Republican, mottled sun,

sycamore and cottonwood, still, deep green,

dusty river surface tension, a boat dock, tavern,

air full of floating seeds, gnats and damselflies.

Men and women sit inside

at round tables, drink beer from tapered glasses,

play dominoes, shoot nine-ball at the dark

far end of the room.

We ride gravel roads cut through washes, along low hilltops,

farm houses, barns, coops and silos across the shallow watershed,

twelve miles, and not a brother-in-law to be found.

Sun gone down by the time we wheel back to the highway.

It’s dark when we reach Bloomington town square.  Empty,

the only lumination the bar.

Bathe in cold pump water,

sardines and soda crackers for our meal.

July 16.

Harry Obitz

is the man to see

in Red Cloud.

Used to play golf

with Ike, has some stories

to tell.  That’s what

Bill Smith, the postmaster

in Franklin, says.

The grain elevator appears

miles away, maybe six,

lean into the wind and take out for it.

Count section lines,

one, two, the elevator

still maybe six miles off,

three, four and still no closer, five,

some sense of bearing down–

eight, nine miles, the Rural Water District tank,

railroad tracks across the road, houses at

the last reaches of the town.

Then roses and petunias, mowed

fescue and maple trees, children playing in the yards.

Humidity rises when you come in

from grasslands, terraced wheatstubble fields

all around.

This is the place

where Willa Cather lived.

July 17.

Rolling thunder, easy rain early in the morning, then sun.

We wait for the ex-husband, maybe one step ahead of the law,

to arrive with the kids.  I oil the chains, brake and derailleur cables, adjust the calipers.  Climb an old cottonwood to read

set theory, strong southeast wind rattles the leaves, all color–

the grass, her puttering below to get the camp in order– faded

except red-headed woodpecker moving tree to tree.

Everybody pulls in late afternoon.  Barbecue pork chops, drink beer,

a raucous reunion, peculiar family gathering when you stop to think

about it.  The sons sleep in the Gerry Meadow, she’s with the daughter

in the old VW tent the father brought along.  I lie

by the picnic table, first time

in open air, amazed how many luminous stars

are hovering close around to see.

July 18.

She combs the children’s hair.  They go

easily, excited at her ride, then hug each other, cry.

The ex-husband paws dirt with the paint-splattered toe of his boot, waiting at the driver’s door.  She stands

by the water pump at the well,

that hang-dog look we’ve known her by

no longer there.

We make it on to Hebron.

NO CAMPING posted in the park.

End up in town to ask

at the Thayer County Jail.

The jailer, tall man, dressed in black,

lint adhering to bulky shoulders,

block-faced, soothing bass voice, tells us

how to reach the fair grounds.  We

pitch the tent.  He pulls up

in a government car to take us back

to jail

for showers

in the women’s cell.

The front aluminum I-pole of the Gerry Meadow is snapped

when we get back, fly and tent body sagging useless

from the rear guylines and pole.  Grim assessment,

get to work with my Swiss Army knife whittling a dowel

from an oak branch, a pin to splint the hollow metal tube, wrap it

with electrician’s tape.  Notice

about an eight-year-old boy lying mighty low

at the Airstream trailer old dad has parked

across the grounds.

July 19.

Southwest wind, the push

we need.  I’m maybe on the mend–

picked up my Lederhosen the other day

at the Franklin P.O., sent by the estranged wife

from Cincinnati,

got the buncles on the run.

A man standing in front of Bob’s Upholstery Shop in Fairbury

calls out for me to stop for coffee.  Maybe Bob himself.  I don’t

do coffee, but any excuse, my role now to talk

along the way.  He’s got

the cup already poured by the time

I’ve hove about.  I sip and tell the standard

stories– miles per day, temperature,

the cargo list.  He looks on amazed

I do not wear a watch.

Unscheduled, the only duty is to go.

Turns back to his upholstery knife,

trace envy turned grudging contentment:

somebody in this life is out there, liminal

and on the loose.

July 20.

The floodplain is wide, reveals

geologic history for the Middle Branch

of the Big Nemaha, the flat, fertile fields

around the hill

where Salem sits.

Almost medieval, wood and stone

storefronts, tin awnings, benches

both sides of brick, parabola-humped Main.

Isolation made of altitude,

inadvertent discovery

along the detour of Highway 73–

U.S. 75 and now Route 8–

where you turn up winding blacktop

to the town.

Sit and talk with farmers.  They chew tobacco,

remove Cargill caps to wipe away the sweat,

speak metaphor built for hard times

and close grubbing in the earth.

Stories hung in idleness,

sun-saturated haze above

row crops, the river and the road.

Then they yawn, stretch and say

they gotta go.

Climb up into cabs

of four-wheel-drive

articulated John Deere diesel tractors,

switch on Mr Cool, strap the stereo headset

over the ears and pull

folded twelve-bottom plows

on out of town.

Enter Missouri

across the Missouri River trestlework bridge

the other side of Rulo.  State Highway 111 dug

from the flanks of river bluffs

at the floodplain’s edge,

thick, tall, green corn,

black river-bottom soil,

water vapor chokes the air.

We stop in Forest City

for the night.  Brick warehouses

constructed within a few years of one another

along exposed limestone strata, boarded up now, empty

storefronts decay.  A man

in the beer joint tells us

the place prospered once,

river port, commerce, trading center,

money to invest, develop, build, until

one morning they all woke up

and the river was


The city park is by the railroad tracks,

wrought iron gate and fences rotting,

overgrown, encroaching river life,

moisture heavy in the air.

I step on a warren setting up the tent.  Kill

a baby rabbit.  Others scatter in the dark.  Darkness

swelters, mosquitoes wait

their chances.  The only thing

that moves is the ground

when freight trains rumble by.

July 21.

Thirty-five years old

today.  And nobody in the world

knows where I am

but her.  Sitting cross-legged

by the cannon in the side yard

of the Dekalb County Courthouse

in Maysville, Missouri, eating

sauerkraut and kippers.

Rising compulsion to get somewhere–

tonight to Cameron and my aunt and uncle’s farm,

then Bloomington, Indiana, friend Jim, then Boston.

Rumpled hills, low overcast, everything is wet.  Constant shifting,

the big chainwheel warped, rip-rup, rip-rup against

the sides of the front derailleur cage, the ride

a means to a meaningless end.

July 22.

We have our separate rooms

upstairs.  Aunt, uncle, cousins

sleep below sprawled on couches, air mattresses

spread before the television.  Ice tea glasses,

popcorn bowls, empty bottles of beer, late night

Olympics, weather and the news.

Heat lightning flashes at the windows, discharges

through billowing lace curtain weave, scatters

outside leaf and branch across

the papered walls.  She comes to me.  Remembers

the training rides in Kansas–

back when I’d first showed up

from Cincinnati,

a broken marriage– how

harsh I seemed, distant,

driving her, heat and cold, wind,

sand roads and highways.  Disabused

her of all pastoral notions of this passage.

Ask her how it’s been on the open road, she says

much worse than that.

July 23.

D-9 Cat

works the fallow forty acres

above the house,

yellow on the black earth,

pushing dirt, a terrace

to form the waterflow.

July 24.

Uncle Leo passes his dill pickles around,

last year’s batch–

that’s it!  he says.

And we all agree.

July 25.

Croquet balls, Chinese Checker

marbles, Missouri,

Oklahoma homestead, all the outbuildings, sisters,

brothers, cousins, sons and daughters,

dust storm and greenbug infestation,

that year and this–

Aunt Lois looks on and says

it’s all just one big wad

of home-churned butter.

July 26.

It’s repetition does it–

the Bedouin, camels

on a high desert trade route,

gunnysacks of salt,

makes mint tea thick with sugar

at the end of the day.

Ritual.  We’re on the road again, the highway,

the town, people along the way,

our mutual loneliness and longing

all part of an exotic strangeness.

Lay out the tent,

unfurl sleeping bags,

gather water, put the stove together, arrange

the nested aluminum bowls,

the clipped spoons, forks and knives

from the plastic sheath.

A physical cycle far beyond

any small act of will, burst well beyond

the grasp of words.

Outside Chillicothe on old 36, WPA concrete

humped and heaved with the hills.  Get my front wheel

in a crack, slung from the saddle– the broken collarbone, finally

I can quit!– hit the ground and roll.  A few abrasions

on the left knee, the Gitane’s left pedal

bent a little more.  When she comes upon me,

still lying on my back on the pavement, numb

hands folded across the chest, she tells

how it had looked

and laughs.

July 27.

The triple-trailer truck is outlawed

in Iowa, over-the-road-long-distance haulers

on the northern route drop down to U.S. 36.

We have to fight our way east against extreme excitement,

engines bellow diesel smoke, oil, highway dust, expended

rubber tread.  They give you

your crumbling six inches

along the outer edge,

Consolidated Freight, Navaho Express, some over sixty feet long,

it’s up to you to hold.

Stay collected, contained, astral calm, focus fixed

on tandem duels, shoulder high,

your convex reflection

from chrome-plated hubs

bouncing, banging by a foot away.

two lane stretch, a North American Van Lines coming west,

Co-op gasoline tanker wants to pass him dead ahead,

eleven hundred feet per second, the same twelve-inch leeway,

hunch low, hang on tight and watch it come, airhorn,

left front tire, the sudden explosion of displaced air.

By the end of the day

you’re ready to rest.

July 28.

Cross the Mississippi River

on the Hannibal bridge.

West wind

and Illinois.

A little tepid water

and some shade.

What more do you want

in life–

besides a hand with feeling,

and an ass with none.

July 29.

The plate-glass window

overlooks the Auburn town square,

the pavilion, sidewalks and hawthorn trees.

A long, narrow taproom,

pressed tin ceiling, fans, twisted brass-wire bar stools,

dark wood paneling and booths.

The waitress is tall and lean,

her bangs bleached blond.

She brings hamburgers, deep-fat fried russet potatoes,

crosscut dills, sliced Vidalia onions, iceberg lettuce, Big Boy tomatoes

and Colby cheese.

July 30.

The world is contained.  Silent,

linear, heavy, hazy, green and warm.

A narrow, moving strip of concrete,

rhythmic thumping over expansion joints,

eight-foot Dekalb corn planted right up to the pavement,

monoculture, miles go by, time, like this.

Then chaos:  two-and-a-half ton Yellow Line ahead,

pneumatic horn behind, cattletruck Ford, all of us converging at

the same skinny place, black Labrador from the cornfield,

Chevy honks, banty roosters flap across, Cadillac

runs an on-coming Packard clean off the highway, dog

barks and snaps at my front wheel

a dozen more yards.  Then stops

at the limits of his terrain.  Goes quiet.

He recedes with the rest,

the empty stretch of expended county road.

That’s the Route 16 traffic update for the day.

July 31.

She dawdles at her daily chores,

stares at the hissing blue unleaded-gas-stove flame

heating water for oatmeal and Ovaltine.

Watch her pack the panniers, each item

in its ordered place, the sum

total of our physical culture,

damp nylon, cotton, leather, eiderdown

and wool.  She examines the green plastic measuring cup

in her finger tips, how the flatware fits,

the aluminum bowls one into the other,

slowly, zips and unzips the tent door flap listening to the sound.

Her next-to-the-last day on the road.

I want to hug her, if such a gesture

would not mislead, give her to think

I’m not such an asshole (buncled)

to ride with after all.

Demented strangers on the road increase, they drive by

slowly, hang out the windows, pound the sides of the car,

growling, gurgling, sticking out their tongues.

We drop down to U.S. 40 into Indiana,

pass the limestone Vigo County Courthouse in Terre Haute,

go south on Fruitridge Avenue

then east to the KOA.

She pedals on,

inexorable miles, this moment

burst onto the next, each

roadway brick, concrete slab,

blacktop heave of the highway.

August 1.

We sit, friend Jim, she and I, in an empty bar and grill

by the Bloomington bus station, late afternoon.

We found a bicycle box, removed

her pedals, saddle, twisted the handlebars,

packed it panniers and all and sealed it up with strapping tape.

She has her clothes in a Colombian gunny coffee sack

from friend Jim’s shop, the ticket

back to Kansas between us by the salt and pepper mill.

She is angry, tears gathered on her lower eyelids:  Never

should have come, what good

to ride this damn far to have you

make me leave, you told me in Wyoming,

come this far and quit!  I sit there in the corner,

contemplate her long bus trip home,

resist the urge to say I didn’t say that you should stop,

call the kids, pay phone beside the toilet,

tell them you’re not coming.

Friend Jim beams, he loves this kind of thing,

throws his hands out on the table top:

Not bad though, you’ll have to admit,

for someone just a year ago

never had her thighs around the top tube of a ten-speed

in her life.  What’s Boston got for destination we don’t have

in Indiana.  Taps and stuffs his briar pipe, glances quick

at me and licks his broken tooth:  Nice of him to take you along. 

She looks up from her beer glass

cradled between her hands.  Seems to grin and snaps:

I took my own damn self.

Outside the Greyhound bus pulls in.

© philip kimball 2009