The day after the Fourth of July, while the rest of Wisconsin is nursing its holiday hangover, I wake at dawn and rack the panniers and slide onto the saddle of my bike-tank. It's a perfect morning for a ride. The sun is low, skies calm, motorists still in bed. I head west, following the curves of a pine-shaded back road, thinking one thought: I've been here before.
Seven years ago, when my girlfriend Rachel and I began the bike trip on which Going Somewhere is based, we'd left from this very spot, on just this kind of midsummer morning. And now, as I feel the breeze kissing my cheeks and smell gasoline wafting over from the boat launch, I smile, because this is exactly what I'd expected from my Book Tour by Bike: a month-long dose of deep, sweet nostalgia.
I continue down West Buckatabon Road, turn onto County K. I remember all of this: remember riding these roads, smelling this pine tar, gazing meaningfully at this oak, that maple. It's all going according to plan.
But now here I am, riding out of Boulder Junction on a busy, shoulder-less road, when I notice a little black ribbon snaking through the woods to my left. It's a bike path: a beautiful, freshly-paved bike path. Thirty miles into my trip, I've already stumbled into a surprise.
I take to the trail, and for miles and miles I ride, grinning ear-to-ear as the pavement dips and dives through dense forest. I pass families of four and septuagenarians in sweatpants, unsupervised kids and Lycra-clad roadies. All of them wave and smirk at my bags and wish me a good trip. The path soon cozies up to a lakeside park, and I stop for a little snack, which turns into a big snack, which leads to a nap, and by the time I get back on the bike and return to the road and pedal up to the boat landing at North Bass Lake--where Rachel and I had long ago stopped and snacked and done things I'd never before done at a boat landing--I've decided that I'm too well-rested and euphoric to break momentum. So I just give the lake a little nod. And I ride on.
This is how it will be, my first week on the road. I won't stop where I expect to. I'll stop where I want to, where I need to. It'll be like I'm tracing an old Connect the Dots picture--except that now, the dots will be in different places.
One of the dots is in Mercer, Wisconsin. When I was riding with Rachel, I blew right through, but now, I pull up to the library and put on dress clothes (flannel shirt, wrinkled jeans) and, after chatting with Teresa--a librarian with an easy smile, seen-it-all eyes and well-informed opinions on Portland's tattoo scene--I open my book and read to twenty strangers. It's a blast. During Q&A, someone asks me to bring Rudolph up for show-and-tell. I lug him to the podium, and this prompts more questions, and the biker types laugh at my jean shorts, my lack of clipless pedals, my bulky fenders and mudflaps. The reading ends, and most everyone buys my book, and I sign copies, and when the room empties, I go outside and sit on a picnic table and reflect on the reading. I feel confident, competent, ready for whatever awaits.
Momentum, though, is a tricky thing. Because even if I choose the perfect excerpt, and give funny, self-effacing answers to every question, and sell a thousand books, none of this will have any bearing whatsoever on the post-reading ride. And this particular ride? It will be really, really windy.
For thirty miles, I push into rising wind and fading light. I pray, to no one and nothing in particular, that the current will shift. I talk to the wind. I beg. I plead. I make attempts at flattery and, when that doesn't work, I start swearing. None of this, of course, changes anything. The wind just blows. Eventually, I accept it. I put in headphones, and I listen to Miranda July read a gorgeous short story by Janet Frame (who I had never heard of, and who I will now read religiously), and soon enough, I fall into a sort of trance, one that will linger long after the words have ended.
The road I'm on, County Highway FF, is a stunner. Rolling hills and lush trees and beautiful old buildings that I'm tempted to photograph and hashtag as #barnporn (I don't only because I'm pretty sure barn porn is something else entirely). As I ride, I see three wild turkey and two deer and, a hundred yards down a gravel road, a lone bear cub scampering into the trees. I feel a throb in my legs and an ache between my shoulder blades. I smell bog water and wood smoke, hear roaring wind and tires whirring over pavement.
Now I lean back from the bars and try to compare this moment to all the others I've had on this road, this bike. It is and is not familiar. I've definitely been here, but I haven't seen it as I'm seeing it now. The lighting has changed. So has the soundtrack, and the moments that will feature in the montage I'll play in the years to come. On the ride with Rachel, it was that roadside tavern, that rollercoaster straightaway. Now, it's this overhead seaplane, this sun-kissed pavement curving into a blur of oak.
Same picture, different dots.
Just before the sun dips behind the trees, I reach my destination--a lakeside home owned by Dan and Jeanne, two kindred spirits I found on WarmShowers.org. Within five minutes, Dan has given me a towel and shown me to the shower, and by the time I'm finished, he's waiting in the dining room with a plate full of brats and mugs of home-brewed IPA.
Later, I lay in bed, in disbelief. I can't believe that all of this happened in one day. I can't imagine how much more will happen in the twenty-three days to come. I can't wait to find out.