I had a four-hour drive ahead of me when I left my driveway in east-central Wisconsin, so I left early. This time of year, the sun rises before I do on a Saturday morning, so it was already bright as I motored down the two-lane county roads, headed for the interstate. This is spring at it’s pinnacle. Every tree is in full leaf, the sky is clear and magnificently blue, and wildflowers abound: purple, yellow, white, pink, orange. Lilacs are ubiquitous and blossoming with much gusto. Every yard, ditch, fence-line, and farm house was adorned with lilacs of some various tint. Birds sang, dove, and swooped, flashing through patches of sunlight and shadow. Every color was as vibrant as it could possible be in real life. Everything was as alive as can be, filled with vigor, and far removed from any whisper of future decline.
I passed though a small town, and turned onto the interstate, heading south. The big four-lane divided highway had not quite the charm of the county roads. Although it passed through some beautiful country, the view from the interstate was diminished by the frequent presence of mangled road-kill, billboards, and rumbling semis. On the more mundane stretches of road, I had to remind myself to be patient, and not allow my eagerness to arrive at my destination to detract from the process of getting there. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed the drive. I enjoy taking note of the place names as I pass various points of interest or cross over rivers and other highways headed to who knows where. I enjoy tuning into local radio stations, as I invariable hit upon something unexpected among the preponderance of typical.
As I neared the endpoint on my journey, the geography began to fold in upon itself. I was routed off the main thoroughfare and back onto rustic backroads which undulated and coiled. I was in one of the most beautiful parts of the midwest at the most beautiful time of the year. The hills and contours of the land, the lushness of the farm fields and forests, the super-saturated colors of the swaths of phlox, the unexpected emergence of sinuous rivers, and the remoteness of it all lends it a dreamlike quality in retrospect. In recollection, the scene takes on a surreal aspect, as if it were a distorted, fevered drift from reality.
The heat was like that of a fever. It was the kind of heat that envelopes you instantly in sweat, and that sweat (combined with a dose or two of bug spray) became a layer that I wore throughout the weekend: a substance similar to the protective slime layer that a fish carries on it surface, protecting it from the harsh elements.
My favorite part of traveling is the exploration of new places – even if it’s just to see what’s over that next hill, or around that next bend. I brought a bike with me. There is no better tool for exploring than a bicycle. In fact, I believe the invention of the bicycle is the summit of mankind’s achievement. Few human contrivances are more efficient, cost-effective, and as fun as a bike. Since childhood, the bike was my ticket to autonomy – a way to travel quickly without the cumbersome responsibilities and expenses of a car – and bicycling proved to be an ideal means for exploring the local environs of that particular neck of the woods.
After a day of exploring and some redneck-style socializing (drinking beer, eating hamburgers, and shooting off fireworks), the air cooled, a brilliant nearly-full moon rose, and I settled into my tent for the night. I love my tent. It’s small, it’s simple, it’s barebones. But it’s a great place to be after a day spent enduring bugs and heat and exerting oneself. It’s a little dome of fabric, that is too short for me to stand in. But it’s easy to put up and take down. It has reliably kept the rain off of me for many years and many camping trips. It has been to the Grand Canyon, the California coast, the Massachusetts coast, and many places in between. It offers quiet and solitude when I need it, and even in an unfamiliar place it feels like home. I slept soundly in the cool night air.
I woke to a thin dawn light, and the singing of more birds than I think I have ever heard at one time. Amid all the chaos of bird voices, I could only identify one call – that of a mourning dove, singing low and soulful amid the babel. It was a great way to get up in the morning – slow, easy, and natural, without the dread of a stressful, hectic workday ahead. Alas, that time is near at hand, and I have to go to sleep and brace myself against the expected alarm clamor to come in just a few short hours.