Out of the Frying Pan

  Gearing up photo: J. Wilcox
   The cleaning service threw us out at ten to eight. Earlier than we'd figured, and I had to throw my bags onto the bike with double speed. I always seemed to be the last one to leave. Juniper and I dragged the morning out as best we could, getting coffee and things around town. Still, the departure was there, real and tangible. We'd be setting off in opposite lines: her to Reno, where she'd meet the long-haul greyhound to Canada, and me, first east to Colorado, and then up to South Dakota.

   I had signed a new contract to work in the Black Hills, out and away from everything and everyone. She drove behind me on that good highway 95 till we reached the searing split of the interstate. I fueled up and said goodbye in the parking lot of the Love's gas station. She asked if I'd leave first, so I set into the bike and kicked on the engine. She watched me as I rolled out towards the interstate ramp. I could see her as I went, red-faced and holding her elbows tightly together as she leaned against the work truck. She grew small in my side mirrors, and then she was gone.

   The interstate opened in front of me. It was tremendously long. You could almost see it stretching all the way to Tennessee. Somehow it seemed foreign this time, unpredictable. It seemed to be taking me somewhere I didn't want to go. I rode along, trying not to overheat the bike in the intensity of the midmorning sun. I was feeling heavy, and I knew that I was still dragging all the memories of the season with me. They hung about my handlebars and tires, clamoring like chains along the ground. It was slow progress, and I was exhausted before I even reached Flagstaff.

   I'd planned on going much further, usually the first day out is the easiest. Your body is fresh and you are invigorated with the road. It was different this time. I'd half-expected it. Leaving so much warmth and the feeling of family I'd come to know in the desert made the road seem cold and frightening. The bike cut out on me twice as I neared the San Francisco mountains. It happened both times when I was pulling off the highway and losing power, just like the vapor locks I had on those wind-whipped rides in Texas, months ago.

   I stopped around five at a no-name roadside motel, needing pause. For the first time since setting out on this trip I felt truly lost in America. I bought two cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon from the gas station and drank them as I hung over the second floor railing. I watched the red and white lights of the traffic rush by until I felt sleepy enough for bed.

   Some days the road is magnificent. It is bright and fresh, full of everything you expected. Then, there are nights like these, and it is a demon. Tonight, I could hear it howling. I went to my room and shut the door, pushing the deadbolt tight.

San Fran Mountains outside Flagstaff. They erupted in forest fire the day after I left

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