ALABAMA TO ONTARIO, PART II
The trip is more than half over as the day arrives on which I turn back towards home.
At a little after noon, I rode into Kenora. I had planned to ride on to
Vancouver but hadn't promised myself. I said I would see after I got to
I could go on,
but when I dread to face the plains of Kentucky and Tennessee again, the
plains of Manitoba, Alberta and, on the way back, Kansas, seem doubly dreadful.
I could go on,
but each day I get a little less out of the journey. It is better to turn
back while it is still enjoyable.
And so to close
with one of my pokes at romanticism: And so the poor, lone lad, with tears
in his eyes for the distant mountains he would not see, turned his bike
around to head for his native land and his own sweet home.
- Longbow, 59 miles, June 25.
DAY: Yesterday as I rode into Kenora, I heard a squeak-crank,
squeak-crank, squeak-crank behind me. In a minute, a small boy, no older
than nine, pedaled by me, with his dangling shoe laces trying to get caught
in his bike's sprocket. The bike was a dilapidated, old 26-incher with
extra wide tires and its fenders all but eaten through. He must have felt
proud to beat me, not realizing that he was 1,800 miles fresher than I
For the night,
I camped on a bend in the old highway, a few yards from and higher than
the new road. As I cooked my food, the clouds turned a blue as deep a ink
but without a trace of black. In the night, it rained, but the rain is
a bit of a bore here. Usually, it is less trouble to get wet than to try
to find a shelter for the few minutes it rains.
In the morning,
I met two Canadians from Ottawa, thumbing their way back home by way of
Chicago (they liked it there). They have been traveling all summer long
without any money, having to sleep once in a police station as a result.
Since I have reached Canada, I have met boys by the dozens, thumbing their
way to Toronto or Vancouver, half of them working along the way. It is the
modern way to travel.
Today I really
flew down the highway. I have been fighting the wind for so long I forgot
it was there. I thought I must be lazy to travel so slow. For that reason,
the wind is my greatest enemy. If I take a long time to climb a mountain,
I can see what I've done, but the wind will make me kill myself and make
me blame myself for being lazy at the same time.
Longbow - Nester
Falls, 66 miles, June 26.
I only had to ride a few miles this morning and the great woods were behind
me. From now on, I will be traveling through comparatively small woods
and forests. At three o'clock, I rode into Fort Frances, changed my last
Canadian money for American, and rode across the wood bridge that separates
Goodbye riding hundreds of miles through wilderness. Goodbye chicken at
45 cents a pound [expensive] and pound and a half loaves for a quarter
[cheap]. Goodbye Canadian accents, labels in French, and square nickels
[exaggeration]. Goodbye Soo, Wawa, Marathon, Schreibner, Vermillion Bay,
and Kenora. Someday again, I promise!
And now that I'm
back in the states, do things seem different? Not much. Sault Ste. Marie
seemed so different because it was a mixing place (and not a melting pot)
for nations. The rest of Canada was not so strange. Perhaps the change
I notice the most is the roadside. In Canada, the houses were well off
the road and seldom seen. Here in the states, it is the woods that are
well off the road, and houses and fields occupy my view.
Tomorrow, I turn
south. Soon I will be reaching the Mississippi which I will follow on down.
It has been a joke that going south is going "downhill all the way." Although
my wheels aren't as sensitive to slope as rolling water, once I cross the
watershed line, it will be true.
Nester Falls -
International Falls, Minnesota, 67 miles, June 27.
This morning as I was riding, a redwing blackbird came and hovered about
12 feet over my head. A little while later another came and did the same
thing, flying from one side to the other about five feet behind me and
singing. Finally, several miles later, a whole flock of blackbirds buzzed
me. The same thing has happened twice with other kinds of birds in Canada.
Near Jacksonville, I've seen mockingbirds dive-bomb dogs' tails, I presume
to got hair for nesting materials. Could they be after my hair?
Birds were not
my only escorts thought. All day long I have been chased by a swarm of
flies. I made good time because of them, for if I stopped or even slowed
down, they were all over me. Last night, when I camped, they also bothered
me, but they were all that bothered me, and even though they annoy just
as much as the mosquitoes, I suppose they are a lot better.
Once I stopped
at Big Fork River. Along the edge of the red-brown water were flying dozens
of blue, green, and yellow dragonflies with black tipped wings. The Big
Fork is the last river I'll cross that empties into the Arctic. The next
empties into the Gulf of Mexico; it is the Mississippi.
- Effie, 71 miles, June 27.
Last night, because of the heat and mosquitoes, I gave up sleeping and
decided to ride. Most people who think the night dark never leave the twilight
of electric lights. I rode with my light out, using the light of the setting
moon to see by. I could see clearly the trees along the road, fences, side
roads, houses, fields, signs, and once some cows.
I could even make
out some of the colors -- the blue of the sky (it is rarely completely
black), the green of the trees, and the blue-gray of the road. I didn't
see the actual colors, of course, but the corresponding shades of gray
-- the way a color-blind man sees colors. My bike, having an enamel paint,
came out differently. It should have looked blue but instead looked gold.
After I rode about
five miles, the fog began to fill the valleys, and it grew colder. I was
now so tired that I stopped and immediately fell asleep, oblivious of the
Today I crossed
one of the continental divides. I have read Mark Twain exclaiming over
the difference of an inch to a drop of water in the Rockies, going to the
Pacific one way and to the Caribbean another. But where is any break greater
than here? Water from one side of the hill flows eventually into the Mississippi
and from there over a thousand miles to the sea. Water on the other side
of the hill flows eventually into the Big Fork River, the Rainy River,
the Lake of the Woods, and some thousands of lakes before it reaches one
of the many rivers emptying into Hudson's Bay, a trip taking years in the
lakes' slow currents. North is downhill to the sub-arctic and south is
downhill to the tropics. And I guess that little of the original water
reaches the Caribbean and almost none the Arctic.
Effie - Grand Rapids,
47 miles, June 29.
A potato chip man asked me while I was eating my breakfast if my tires
hadn't worn out traveling so far. It was the usual question, and I answered
the usual way by pointing to my front tire, which is in good condition,
and saying no. But after he left, I looked at the back tire. The tread
is all but worn away. I had gone 3,000 miles on the front tire and only
1,600 on the back, and yet the second shows all the wear. My explanation
is that my back tire carries all the weight of my pannier bags and most
of my weight, and was doing all the pushing, fifty miles of which was over
sand and gravel, and thus wore quicker. All my front wheel does is steer.
This morning before
six, I had found a lake with a beach. The temperature is getting hot enough
to require shorts, and so I changed into them and went swimming. It is
the first water I've had a chance to swim in since Lake Superior. The sun
began to rise as I stood in the water, turning it to a pale red. And the
wind from the shore sent small waves towards me, giving each little wave
its own set of fingerprints by ruffling it.
Later I took a
nap by the Mississippi. Yesterday, in Grand Rapids, the river was as large
as the Coosa and already being polluted by a pulp mill. Where I rested,
it was as big as the Tennessee River and was already acquiring its own
particular muddy color.
Grand Rapids -
Millelac, 63 miles, June 30.
Again the mosquitoes sent me out into the road in the middle of the night.
They are quite sneaky, waiting until I'm sweating under my hot covers before
finding their ways through any gaps in my defenses.
But the night is
lovely to ride in. A motorist can't see at all, being blinded by the car's
lights and the glare of reflections off of its windshield. I rode along
the shore of Mille Lac Lake and would gaze out over the blue of its waters
into the lights of some other shore. I only rode three miles and stopped
and went to sleep on the very edge of the lake, with the wind blowing hard
and driving large waves into shore.
In the afternoon,
I accepted my first ride from a car, but not from laziness. I was riding
down the highway, and the bumps felt worse and worse. I stopped to see
what was wrong and found my rear tire flat. I'm a slow mechanic, and so
it took me an hour and a half to remove the tube and begin to patch it.
[It was not just the problem of being a slow mechanic; the panniers had
not been made for rapid removal and had to be emptied and then untied at
several places. The wheels were bolted on (lacked quick releases), and
the fender braces used the same bolts.] But the necessary tube of cement
had dried up -- without ever having been used. What is the sense of having
a repair kit if it doesn't last as long as the tire?
I now have a very
good reason to be glad that I didn't go on to Vancouver. My tire had developed
a crack between Port Arthur and Kenora, and this was one of my unmentioned
reasons for turning south. [The problem was that 27-inch tires were rare
at that time; I wasn't sure if I could get a replacement if I went on to
Winnipeg; all the Canadian bikes that I'd seen used 26-inch tires.]
As I was pushing
the bike down the road, trying to get to the next town, a man stopped and
gave me a ride the three miles.
In town, I found
some cement and patched the tube. Now, I have to reach Minneapolis, over
50 miles away, before the shops close tomorrow. To do so, I am going down
to a park near here to sleep for an hour or so. Then, I will get up and
ride until I'm too tired to go any farther.
Millelac - Princetown,
60 miles, July 1.
I'm now sitting on a rock that is part of the ruins of what was once a
flour mill in Hastings, Minnesota. The mill was built in the 1850's and
burned down in the 1890's. The stone walls tower around me, and I can see
the grooves where the wood planking must have been. It's not surprising
that the walls are still standing; they are better than a foot and a half
thick. The mortar in them has set so long that it looks like rock. A short
distance below me is a creek that trickles its way between limestone ledges.
I can hear some kids shouting downstream. It's just beginning to turn dark.
Yesterday I said
I was going to try to make up the time I lost getting my flat tire fixed
by riding at night. I did just that. At eleven I woke up and pushed my
way out onto the highway.
I have spoken of
the magic of riding at night, but last night most of the magic was gone.
The weekend traffic rushing northward made me keep my light on, and the
glare of their lights, especially since many never bothered with their
low beams, kept my eyes unadjusted to the dark. But I rode twenty miles
in three hours and found a flat area near the road and curled up and went
In the morning,
I rode into Minneapolis, got a new tire, and rode on. [The hole in
my tire was not the usual flat but was a rim cut. As I rode into Minneapolis,
I noticed that the patch I had made in the tire had made a small balloon
that was nearly big enough to hit the fender brace.] Many people
find big cities fascinating, but the only good I see in them is to keep
people out of the countryside.
Princetown - Hastings,
60 miles, July 2.
Lake Pepin, the signs say, was formed by the glacial Mississippi as it
was partially dammed by sediments from the Chippewa River. Today, I have
been riding with this lake on the one side and some curious hills on the
other. I saw the first of these at Red Wing, and I knew then that it must
have been formed by the Mississippi.
The hill was about
400 feet high, rising steeply from the bottom for about two thirds of that
distance and then becoming steep yellow cliffs which looked as though they
had been etched by some engineer. The sides were here covered with trees,
here with grass, and here bare. The top seemed the very place for a castle,
in fact, seemed to lack something because no castle was there.
I ran into whole ridges of these hills, which line both sides of the Mississippi.
Together they remind me of pictures I have seen of Austria. But I kept
wondering, "What caused these hills?" Then I saw a reference to the glacial
Mississippi, and my memory and imagination supplied the rest.
and the northernmost part of the US covered with ice, the ice extending
down over the Great Lakes and into Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Illinois.
Picture the thousands of lakes of these states being scooped out by the
great ice mass. Picture the overflow of water rushing down the Mississippi
Valley. And picture a huge glacier slowly following the valley south, cutting
it deeper and carving the sides of the hills as it pushes its way between
There was a Mississippi!
Hastings - Winona,
82 miles, July 3.
I'm sitting on a hill above the Mississippi. Below, moving upstream, is
a tug boat, painted white and built to resemble the old river boats, pushing
its load of barges. Over me rises a yellow cliff on the higher part of
the hill. I'm in Wisconsin now, and gazing at the river, I'm looking west.
The sun is setting in a hazy sky. As I write my head nods forward, and
my fingers loosen their grip on the pen.
Last night I awoke
at one, with the air still misty from a recent storm. I folded my tent
and my blankets in the semi-darkness, packed my bags and started at two
down the traffic-less road.
I was still in
Minnesota then and was following what has been called the second most scenic
route in the US -- the section of the Great River Road from Hastings to
I don't think that
the route is quite that pretty, but it is lovelier than most of the roads
I've traveled, and certainly it is better than miles and miles of corn
I described the
hills as being spectacular, and yet in the moonless night, they were but
a ghostly background. The things that seemed real were the small fields
and short stretches of woods near me, the changes in the road as it passed
beneath me and the slight sounds my bike and my body made as I rode --
the grind of the tires on pavement, the click-click-click of the gears,
and the rubbing sound of my legs against the saddle -- sounds I never noticed
in the day time.
Winona - Lynxville,
Wisconsin, 87 miles, July 4.
The air seemed tinted with goldfinches as I rode along today. They are
quite striking with their brilliant yellow bodies and black wings. My road
finally ran away from the river, and I rode through farm country. The corn
in the fields was one shade of green, and the grass on the slopes another.
It made me wonder
how I got my prejudice against riding through farming areas. I finally
decided that it was my insecurity about finding a place to camp, which
I since have lost, that gave it to me. Of course, the farms of Indiana
were not the best place to enjoy the county: the roads ran as straight
as rulers, the fences came right up to the roads, and the fields were all
freshly plowed and lifeless. I prefer farm country with a little woods
mixed in, and not flat fields as far as the eye can see.
At noon I was stopped
by the rain and took shelter in a garage. The owner asked me if Alabama
wasn't where the chiggers are bad. His question made me suspicious as he
was the second person to ask. Later I felt an itching in my socks, and
sure enough, there were chigger bites. The people here must be curious
because they just recently started getting chiggers. Now, if someone asks
me if we have them, I can say, "No worse than you do here." Anyway, better
a dozen good old Southern chiggers than a thousand Yankee mosquitoes.
Today I have been
getting wolf whistles. Although I am quite proud of my legs for having
pedaled 2,500 miles, they aren't that good. The people here aren't yet
used to shorts. I have seen, not counting kids, only half a dozen people
wearing them. In Canada, nobody wears them.
Everybody was sympathetic
with me as I left Dubuque this night. The could see me getting caught in
the rain. But I was ready for the rain, and even though I have camped out
in the open [my tarp tent had to be hung from ropes attached to trees],
I'll stay dry by wrapping my tent around me.
Lynxville - Dubuque,
Iowa, 87 miles, July 5.
DAY: Well, I finally got interviewed by a reporter. I rode
into Maquoqueta, Iowa, at 8:30 this morning, having gone 30 miles from
Dubuque. I stopped in front of a bakery, pushed my bike onto the curb,
and leaned it against a parking meter. Then I went inside, bought a loaf
of bread, and came back outside and sat down on the curb.
As I was sitting
there, eating and writing, a man came by and asked me where I was from
and where I was going. I told him, and he said, "That's a long ways," and
went on. A few minutes later, a man from the bakery came out and offered
me a doughnut, and asked the same thing. Then he left.
Next, a young and
pretty woman, I would say in her thirties, with a white apron on, came
out and asked me about my trip. She asked me if I wanted some cookies,
and I said yes, and she went inside. When she came out, she had two bags
full and a carton of milk in her hands. so I went inside the bakery to
have a glass of milk.
Inside, I was surrounded.
"Did you really go to Canada?" "Where are you going now?" One of the girls
was just starting college and rode a bicycle some, and she wanted to know
how hard it was.
One of the ladies
was a reporter from the local newspaper, and she said she wanted to get
my picture before I left. I looked down at my clothes and said, "You do?"
and everyone laughed. The first woman and the girl who sometimes rode a
bike moved away and let her ask me questions and jot down notes. "Now where
did you say you went to?" "Kenora?" "How do you spell that?" "How long
did it take you?" "And where are you going now?"
When she finished,
we all went outside. I had my picture taken, the girl took down my address
and promised to send me a copy of the paper when it came out, I packed
my cookies, and everyone said goodbye.
Someday, I would
like to interview a reporter. How long have you been in this field? What
questions do you generally ask people? Do they ever mind all those questions?
Dubuque - Davenport,
113 miles, July 6.
This morning when I awoke, the clouds in the eastern sky were a jeweler's
red velvet background for a brilliant Venus. As I watched, the red became
lighter and the blue of the sky mixed with it and dissolved it, and the
diamond slowly lost its sparkle.
For the last few
days, I have been trying to beat my own record at distance per day. I'm
on my way to St. Louis where I can stop and rest awhile at my sister's.
The distance to St. Louis from Dubuque, which I left yesterday morning,
is 360 miles, and I am trying to make it in three days. But I have covered
113 miles both days, so I'm fairly certain I can make it.
a hundred miles a day gives me little time to anything except eat, sleep,
write, and ride. It means that I spend more of the day pedaling than doing
anything else. It means that I'm too tired to enjoy the countryside.
Then why ride so
far so fast? I have all the time I need. Why should I make it hard for
The answer is that
I'm riding that much in a day because it is hard. I don't want an
easy trip. It would have been cheaper to have gone to Canada by bus, but
what would I have gained?
If I wear myself
out, if I exhaust myself, I will recover. If I take it easy, I may never
recover. To make myself suffer is to make it easy for me; to make it easy
for me is to make me suffer.
Davenport - Canton,
Missouri, 113 miles, July 7.
This evening I have finished my journey as far as St. Louis. I started
at four in the morning and rode till ten in the evening to get here. l
covered 130 miles today.
To go to Canada,
I traveled 1,070 miles in 15 days: Across Canada, through Sault Ste. Marie
to Kenora to Fort Francis, I covered 975 miles in 16 days. To get to St.
Louis from there, I went 925 miles in 11 days.
On my trip, I have
crossed the Tennessee, the Cumberland, the Ohio, the Nipigon, the Rainy,
the Mississippi, the Des Moines, and the Missouri rivers.
I have passed through
Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Michigan, Ontario, Minnesota, Wisconsin,
Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri.
I encountered a
fox, a raccoon, a woodchuck, rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, two deer, three
moose, two bears, a beaver, a muskrat, and a few dozen species of birds.
I have been bitten
by mosquitoes, blackflies, horse flies, blue flies, and chiggers.
I have met people
of German, Italian, French, Spanish, Finnish, and Indian origins who still
use their native languages every day.
I have been passed
by a hundred thousand cars, and I have passed a hundred pedestrians.
These are all interesting
facts, but they don't mean anything. My 42 days of traveling can't be translated
into statistics or explained in a summary. The meaning of them is burned
into me as by a brand and will mark my mind for the rest of my life as
surely as this birthmark on my arm marks my body.
Canton - St. Louis,
130 miles, July 8.
IN ST. LOUIS:
[While in St. Louis for a week, I continued to write about cycling-related
The other day,
my brother-in-law, his family, and I went by car to see Johnson's Shut-Ins,
one of the sights of the type I have been careful to avoid. The shut-ins
consist of a formation of rhyolite that passes across a stream bed. The
stream couldn't wear through the rhyolite as quickly as through the surrounding
rock and so it had to cut channels along any available faults to continue
flowing. As a result, the stream now flows through half a dozen canals
in the rock formation.
The shut-ins would
have been a nice place to visit if it hadn't been named a scenic spot;
it had, so there were hundreds, if not thousands, of people everywhere.
Because of the cars, dust floated through the air or settled on the tree
leaves, turning them brown.
my trip, I have had to get up at daybreak, ride most of the day with only
short stops, take care of my affairs, find time to eat along the way, finally
stop late in the afternoon, cook my dinner in spite of a plague of insects,
and go to sleep while it is still light.
I asked myself
many times while riding, "What is the one thing I'm learning from this?"
And the answer was always -- discipline. With a tenth of the energy that
kept me going every day, I could accomplish everything that I had tried
and failed to do.
I said to myself
that this trip would change me and make a different person out of me. But
now that I've stopped to rest at my sister's for some days before continuing
on, I see that it is not necessarily true.
I find that I am
not only wasting minutes and hours, but days. My goal is to make each moment
significant in some way. I may be doing something that I need to do, or
I may be gazing out the window, but unless I am doing what I need to do
as effectively and efficiently as I can, and unless I am seeing something
through that window, my time is wasted. Being lazy means not only not working
but not enjoying as well.
temperature here has stayed over 100 for the last five days now and over
90 for the last three weeks. Whenever I exert much, my body runs with sweat,
and my clothes look as if they had been splashed with water. When I sit
down to rest, I make the couch wet, and as I write, my hands are damp and
leave spots and stains on the paper. When I get a drink of water, it's
warm and sometimes even feels hot. At night, I am soaked in my bed.
Everyone who has
an air conditioner is running it constantly, and those who don't have them
are thinking of buying. One person told us that she had been running her
air conditioner all morning and had never lowered the temperature below
The use of so many
air-conditioners has overloaded the power system. and so the electric company
is cutting off power, first in one suburb, then in another. So far, 350,000
people have been without power at one time or another. This was the only
alternative to a massive power failure as in New York.
The hospitals in
the city are overcrowded with people seeking treatment from heat exhaustion,
and some people are even dying.
oldest nephew Joey is six years old, four feet tall, weighs 47 pounds,
and has just finished kindergarten. His daddy taught him how to ride a
bicycle at the same time I was traveling through Indiana.
Since I have come
to St. Louis, Joey and I have been riding together around the subdivision,
him leading and me following on the outside, where I can give instructions.
He looks cute pedaling in front of me, with his little body swaying back
and forth on his twenty-inch bike as he rides. So far he has reached the
fabulous speed of 20 miles per hour.
Because he's had
little experience outside of riding in the backyard or down the street
with his daddy running beside him, he's learned a lot these past few days.
He can now steer well, turn without falling, keep on the road and in his
own lane, stop without being told for stop signs, and get started on a
In order to train
him better, I decided to take him on a short tour. We started down Sulphur
Springs Road at two in the afternoon. It was a nicely wooded route, although
I think Joey was too busy pedaling and steering to notice. I tried to show
him how to pedal on the front part of his feet and how to rush a hill,
but he had to push his bike up many of them nonetheless. We tried to make
it as far as the Merrimack River, but I could see Joey was beginning to
get tired, and we came back.
I know quite a
few bike riders who are afraid to travel out of their neighborhood because
they feel they can't pedal very far. I cite my nephew as an example of
what a bike rider can do. Although he weighs less than 50 pounds and has
been riding for only a month, we went seven miles in an hour and a half
[total time from start to finish, not riding time].
think I should say something about the place of the bicycle on the road.
I find that most of the drivers who give me trouble either are afraid to
pass or feel that bikes don't belong on the highway.
The worst incident
that I've had with a car occurred on the old section of road between Jacksonville
and Anniston a year ago. The traffic was unfortunately heavy, and I was
hurrying to Jacksonville at 25 miles an hour. A car came up behind me,
and I gave the driver as much room to pass as I could. For a few moments,
he was afraid to do so, but when he finally did, he tried to lecture me
while driving alongside at 25 miles an hour.
I stayed on the
road then as I stay on it now when a car passes, and for a good reason.
My tires are an inch and a quarter wide and are inflated to 65 pounds.
If I hit a curb over half an inch high or ride into sand or gravel, I lose
control. In Canada once, I was looking the other way, went off of the road
(I always ride close to the edge), and started a skid that lasted some
eighty feet, during any part of which any car coming behind could have
The driver coming
from Anniston did not know it at the time, but he was gradually forcing
me off of the curb onto gravel where I would certainly wreck.
The real reason
he was angry at my being on the highway was not because I was "blocking
his way," since I never slow down anybody more than half a minute, but
because I was riding a bicycle.
Most bike riders
are kids, who ride on either side of the road, cut in front of cars, and
generally ignore traffic laws. I ride one foot from the edge of the road
and obey all traffic laws. In town, I often take the middle of my lane,
but this is to keep cars from cutting in front of me or squeezing me off
The law backs up
my claim to my foot of highway. Bicycles are recognized as highway vehicles
in every state and every country that I know of.
As far as passing
a bike, the rule is simple -- slow down, and pass. I have had large trucks
pass me both ways at once on a road as narrow as the one from Jacksonville
to Anniston. Any driver should be able to pass me if he is willing to slow
This morning, I re-began my journey at nine. As I left my sister's, I looked
back with my arm raised while she and her children waved goodbye from the
carport. It was nice to have been able to stop and rest for a while. but
it was just as nice to be starting out again.
I was surprised
as I rode that the going was so easy. In my first five hours, I covered
50 miles. When I had started out fresh at the very beginning of the trip,
I was not in as good of condition. Later, when I was in condition, I was
no longer fresh. Now I am both, and the miles have flown behind me.
I'm now in Illinois,
having crossed the Mississippi for the sixth and last time and am on my
way to Cairo. Between me and there is one of the most forested sections
of the state, which I have barely entered.
Right now I'm in
one of the first patches of woods that I've seen. On one side of me are
two highways, on the other is a field. My bike is parked for the night,
and I have eaten my dinner. The sun is on its way towards setting, and
the crickets have begun to fiddle in the little woods where I'm camping.
The quail on the ground near me are somewhat nervous, perhaps having detected
my presence, and some doves have flown off that had been cooing above me.
Perhaps I am not in a great forest, but if Hamlet could be happy in his
nutshell, how can I be disappointed with this?
St. Louis - Chester,
Illinois, 67 miles, July 16.
I am writing en a dock that juts over Horseshoe Lake, about 11 miles above
Cairo. Yesterday I left St. Louis and tomorrow I will be in Tennessee.
My hands are stained
with blackberry juice, and my mouth probably is too. In Canada, I longed
to find some berries to eat, but the first I saw ripe were in Missouri.
The berry season had never made it any farther north.
The lake is green
with water plants and is covered with duckweed. Trees rise out of the water
everywhere, as close together as in a woods, and one gets the untrue impression
that the area was only recently flooded. My feet are resting on one of
the many half-submerged boats here, covered with green, and filled with
floating garbage, dead insects, and waterlogged leaves. Every now and then,
I hear a slap as fish splash into the air. Inches above the water zigzag
dozens of dragonflies and, from high in the air, swoop down white-bodied,
The sky is turning
blue after a stormy day, and it promises to be a fair night.
Chester - Cairo,
75 miles, July 17.
Today I left Illinois, passed through Kentucky and into Tennessee. When
I left Illinois, I parted from my two best traveling companions.
One was the Mississippi
River, which I had met as a stream in Minnesota, crossed three times as
it grew larger, crossed over and followed through Wisconsin, crossed over
into Iowa, and crossed over from Missouri to Illinois, and saw for the
last time as I traveled into Kentucky. The other companion was the Great
River Road, which I followed off and on from 13 miles outside of Kenora
to within sight of my sister's house in St. Louis, and on to Cairo, a distance
of 1200 miles!
Almost every day
someone asks me if I'm not lonely or if I don't need someone to ride with
me. But how could I ever be lonely, having such comrades as the Mississippi
and the River Road traveling with me?
Cairo - Fulton,
Tennessee, 65 miles, July 18.
I've been away from home long enough so that things I once never noticed
now seem strange as I come back.
Riding down the
road, I every now and then see people wave or shout hello to me. Usually,
I just turn and stare at them. When I first started north, I said hi to
everyone, but all I got back was a look. I was well into Canada before
I learned not to say hello. It's said that Yankees aren't as friendly,
but I don't think this is so. I feel that they just don't have our habit
of greeting everyone.
Then the countryside
is no longer the same. From Iowa down, it was covered with acres and acres
of crops, with perhaps a few trees tucked between fields. Here in Tennessee,
it's much like it is in our section of Alabama, with the farms smaller
and little woods everywhere.
But it's in those
woods that I notice the greatest change. In the one I'm in now there is
not a tree, shrub, or plant that does not look familiar. The only plant
that's missing which I see at home is the pine tress, and I saw some of
those for the first time yesterday. In a woods where I stopped yesterday,
I noticed that the sounds of the birds were the same too.
Fulton - Henderson,
79 miles, July 19.
As I rode Highway 45 into Mississippi this morning, it became rougher and
bumpier. Into Corinth, then out on 72, I hated the roads.
Then I entered
long sections of woods that came right up to the road, and began to feel
that it was the best road I'd been on in several days. As I entered Tishomingo
County, I saw a sign saying that the county had 222,000 acres of woodland.
A very good county indeed!
When I came to
a town called Iuka (pronounced Aye-yuka), I stopped at the springs for
a drink. The spring water is supposed to have won a prize at the St. Louis
exposition in 1904. As I was drinking there, some boys surrounded me and
began asking me questions as to where I was going and so forth. I answered
them clearly but they were too excited to listen and would immediate repeat
a distorted version of what I said. A very hard earned drink of water!
[I very often avoided having to answer a lot of questions by just giving
the next town as my destination and the last town as my starting point.]
Henderson - Barton,
Alabama, 79 miles, July 20.
Today I started from 100 miles the other side of Florence and went to miles
this side of Decatur. I'm anxious to get home.
Now that I'm back
in my home state, I should say, according to tradition, that every thing
was nice but home is better. But I can't say that. Among the states I went
through, Michigan is the most beautiful by far. And Canada -- with its
miles of evergreens and circling hawks - is a land beyond compare. And
yet Alabama does not fare so badly. The section of it I know best near
Jacksonville has more charm than anything I've seen from Tennessee to Indiana
and Minnesota to back home.
And Alabama has
many places which bring memories to me that are worth all the grandeur
in the world -- places I played as a boy or places where I went to dream
some beautiful nonsense.
No, Alabama, you
are not the brightest star in the sky, but you need not be ashamed as you
make many of your 49 sisters look dim.
Barton - Florette,
84 miles, July 21.
In the morning, I started on my way at five o'clock. Today, I was going
home, and I was excited. The hills had never seemed so high before, but
I climbed them all and finally rode into my driveway at ten.
An adventure like
mine sounds like an extraordinary feat, but it was not. All I had to do
was to pedal a little. Thoreau says that if we are chosen town clerk this
summer we cannot go to Terra del Fuego. Perhaps it was merely my luck that
I was not chosen that I could go. But maybe it was more my determination
not to be chosen that gave me my freedom.
The whole world
is right outside the front door. We don't need to have money or methods
to see it. I rode a bike, but I could have walked. Even if I had no legs,
I could sit outside and see, hear, or feel. The idea is not to get as far
away from home as possible. How many people I have met that traveled a
thousand miles to ignore the world they overlooked at home! The idea is
to find something that has meaning to you.
A great adventure
can be traveling to Canada by the use of your own muscles and swimming
in Lake Superior. Or it can be watching an ant climb a blade of grass.
All we need is the desire to see it.
Barton - Florette,
84 miles, July 21.
NOTE: During the next two days, I rode 50 and 78 miles, hardly worn
out from the trip. This photograph was taken of me for the Anniston Star
when I stopped by on that second day, July 24, 1966. Notice that I don't
seem to be worn out; I was very seldom even tired on the trip, although
I was bored or sleepy at different times.
I assumed that I would be making many more long trips quite soon,
and I did make a number of short trips in 1967 and 1968, but my next attempt
at a long trip did not come until 1971.