The van door flung open to the elements. A warm wind rustled the trees. It felt... almost tropical. Like morning on an island. My head hurt. Possibly from the whiskey that had finally brought me a merciful three hours of sleep. But definitely from the fight I'd gotten into that night. Fisticuffs and shouting. Wrestling on the ground. My tender right hand the evidence. Along with my tender cheekbone. The one that brought on a wave of nausea and made cracking noises when I pushed at it too hard. Who did I fight? Memories of some ugly fucker. Sad, uneven eyes. Exaggerated, cartoonish features. Long in limb and twisted in spine. Belligerent and frothing. Wild and flailing.
Splashing water on my face...I saw him in the mirror.
I need help.
I was at a state park outside of Tulsa. A lake. Muddy brown water tossed into swells by the wind.
I made coffee and sat in the door of my van. Let the warmth blow in. Took in the sky. Bright blue with pink and white clouds. A good sky.
And I did what I do... Stared into space and let my brain go where it does. Watched Oklahoma unfold. Its history. Its people. Its ghosts. Its gravity.
A melodrama of bodies and conflicts far removed from the RV's at my back. This confused feeling of sympathy and sadness at the evolution our wandering ethos has taken. Frontier spirit gone awry. Every inane comfort of home dragged with us wherever we go. Sprawling houses on wheels with showers and toilets and carpet and pets and patio furniture. Cats staring hungrily from the doors of their prisons on wheels. Golfcarts and mobility chairs dragged along to enable our bodily decline. Decline brought on not from the tax of scrapping and scraping and living with some desperate frenzy. The frenzy that I feel every day...
But a decline...of effort. Succumbing to the inertia of content. Defeated by our own tendency toward sloth.
Native people displaced and eradicated from the region so that corpulent white Christians who don't even believe their own lies can drive a motor boat on the water. Like Jesus.
With a long sigh, I pulled my shit together and set off to find some breakfast in town... and ultimately keep moving.
|Van-ity. Get it? |
While there is undoubtedly a heart buried somewhere beneath the blanket of trees that covers the eastern side of the country. Hidden and dense. One that beats and beckons with wood and green.
It's not mine.
Mine...is somewhere dry and sparse. Exposed and and vulnerable. Red in rock and coarse in temperament.
I've felt its pulse since I first saw those rocks...saw that sky...however long ago. Something inside me beating in time.
That I live so very far away...is a source of much angst.
But then...what fucking isn't for me?
I'd spent the last two nights in Palo Duro Canyon. Soaking up the sun and sky... and riding everything I could, multiple times. It's a good trail system. A mixture of fun and flat. Fast, and challenging. Rocky climbs to the canyon rim. I saw rattlesnakes. Big horn sheep. Tarantulas. Descending one trail, a roadrunner leapt out of a bush behind me, bounded off my helmet and up onto a rock ledge ahead. It was...amazing.
If I could have... I'd have stayed in the Canyon longer. Stayed with the stars and the moon. With the red rocks. The ones I'd set off in search of in the first place. The ones I'd driven 2400 miles for. At least partly. There were other reasons I was out here. But they're complicated. Hard to qualify.
But then...what fucking isn't for me?
When I travel in my van... rarely is my evening still. Rarely do I get to watch the sunset from my settled camp. Rarely do I get to sit by a fire and watch the stars come out...as much as I always promise myself that I will. More often than not, that's when I'm moving. Having spent the day doing whatever it was I wanted to do... riding bikes, wading in water, basking in sun, sitting and watching the ghosts... Once the sun sets... I set off. Driving past evening, into the night. Pulling into my next destination in the dark. Often late. With time to lock up the knives, and drink however much bourbon is required to finally sleep. And as much as I may lament missing a lazy dusk... sitting and reading (something about seafaring, hopefully).... Waking up somewhere new is enlivening in ways I can't describe. Opening the curtains to find out where I am. Wake up to this...
|Though if I'm at Switchgrass and Lake Wilson in Kansas, I will likely always try to find this spot.|
From rainy Bentonville, I'd driven north... chasing the sun. In that way that I do.
Once... long ago, traveling in Washington State... we picked up some hikers trying to get back to their car. Throwing their bags in the back, we drove them toward wherever they were parked. Winding through lush green hills, we talked about the beauty of the region, and I casually mentioned my love for sunshine and were I to live here, the potentially hard time I might have with the seeming preponderance of cloudy days in the region. One of the hikers, a woman likely about my current age...fit and pretty... said something along the lines of "Well...that's what happens when your sunlight comes from outside rather than inside."
"Fuck you" I said.
I didn't, really. But I wanted to.
Whatever she thought she meant, she was still right. There's no sun inside of me. There's no dawning and dappling light shining from within. No pleasant warmth.
Just split atoms. A blast furnace. A supernova. Maybe even a black hole. Deadly heat and radiation. Crushing gravity.
That's not something you let shine.
So yeah... I shield the outside from my inside... and chase my external sun instead. All the time.
|Hey Tulsa...You Ok.|
get it? because...OK?
As I headed into Kansas... toward Wilson Lake and Switchgrass... and the cloud cover dissipated into the blue I needed, I detoured from the pavement and drove into Emporia on gravel roads. I stopped in and had a beer with fellow heathen, Kristi Mohn of Dirty Kanza at Mulready's Pub. Tim was headed to Lawrence to play a show with his band. And while I considered driving that way... an extra hour in the wrong direction after all of the driving I was already doing was hard to swallow, as badly as I wanted to see them play. After getting a tour of Kristi and Tim's soon-to-open cycling and lifestyle store, I walked over to Radius brewing for a beer and the best fucking Mac and Cheese I have ever fucking had.
I'd considered boon-docking in the van behind Mulready's. Riding Dirty gravel the next day. But I went ahead and drove to Switchgrass. Pulling into a deserted campground at midnight. Somehow into the same spot I'd pulled into late one night last year. The best spot, incidentally.
That night, I froze. Every blanket and sheet and towel I had piled on top of me. Sure, I could have put on clothes, but that was more effort.
In the morning, I sipped my coffee... watched the sky change... and thought about the land. I like Kansas. Particularly this region. I thought about the way places have their own...power. Pull. Magic. I thought about native Americans and what this place must have meant to them when they first found it. The cliffs and bluffs. Rolling hills in a predominantly flat area. I thought about the pull of water. I thought about how I totally fucked up in my Dirt Rag article when I talked about the region...and said "limestone" when I meant "sandstone."
Finally.... I got riding.
Taking a thorn less than a half-mile in, I turned around and ran back to the van. Yeah, I had tubes, but if I'd already hit one thorn, I was going to hit others. Wilson lake isn't like the rest of Kansas. It's practically high desert. There's cactus and wild artichoke. And like in Oklahoma... these fuckers.
|Hey Oklahoma... Fuck you!|
|Grade A android blud.|
|Me and all my friends.|
|Is my face swollen and bruised? Or distorted by the camera?|
Could be either?
|Oh man! Another sweet van pic!|
I rode all day. From the moment the sun melted the clouds and peaked over the canyon wall...to the moment it fell below it. And afterward, sitting in door of the van...drinking a beer and ignoring the flies... along with the lovely ache in my legs, I could still feel that warmth inside. I missed people. And wished they were there. But even with the ache of absence, I was happy. The blast furnace at an easy burn.
At least for the moment.
In a day or two it would quicken its pulse and try to consume me.
But then...what the fuck doesn't?