By Laura Madeline Wiseman
Before we even dip our tires into the river, you want to lose our fuel—turkey jerky bent, bruised landslide of apples, squishing ooze of apricots, perforated plastic of mixed nuts, damp salt packets, tub of sports drink. I’d lose SPF, sunglasses, socks, morning jacket, map, phone—who needs to call, ET phone home. Houston? This is HAL—my heavy sandal clips, your malodorous shoes. You want us to eat it or throw it away. I want to find the homeless in the next town and donate it all. Either way, we still get to go. With bikes, tool kit, and spare tubes, we lose vocation and identification to find the alien purr of road, pre-dawn departure under a galaxy of stars, a caravan of travelers—Jedis, Yoda backpacks, men in capes who fly. I say, Just don’t lose me. You say, Not a chance.
When you lead or take your turn in the wind, I watch your calves, upside-down hearts flexing. They’re big, broad, made for the wheel’s revolution. They’re tanned, as if the sun were a mother cat and she had licked them wet and ready for a littermate tumble. Your calves’ shape is consistent year round—shorts on weekends, jeans at the office, boxers as you climb into bed—firm and brawny, polished newel posts of the staircase, marble acorns on the mantle, the belly of crystal vases bending and catching morning light. Midwinter your middle is as soft as cookie dough, upper arms round like scoops of ice cream, tush as sweet as country store cinnamon rolls. Midsummer your body is carved flesh of college boys. Mid-ride, tanned, a body now burning all fat, your bones begin to show, the chiseled planes of your face, your eyes shadowed by the brim of your visor, but I still watch your calves, animal, speed, charging the road.
They never take us there. They park us on the shoulder, the gravel road, or beside others to make us wait. They lay us in the grass, smash our frame in blue stem, tiger lily, strife, and super weed. Sometimes we can see inside—straight green rows, stalks as wide as their wrists reach out from the ground anchored by roots like veins, leaves ridged like tongues, like humongous grass blades and they the spitting grasshopper, this the urban lawn. We hear the piddle, grunt, sigh. We watch their friends lift cameras to catch their helmeted crowns among tassels and green ears. We listen to the catcalls, That’s the men’s restroom, to a lone women who retorts as she squats eight rows back, Not today, or from another, Gotta go, girlie? as she wiggles her ass. We would laugh if we could from where we lean in a rut, not a fly, mosquito, or bumble burbling. The only noise is from the corn, those of us going twenty-five miles an hour, those of us standing still.
Highway, town drag, scenic route, back road—this map they will fold inside their pannier, saddle bag, or jersey pocket to follow what’s been well-planned—black tongue, concrete path, limestone trail. This route has been repaved and re-tarred, had its rumbles and potholes marked in red. The new road paint will let racers hustle and let everyone else take their time, keeping right, looking for the next SAG. We will move them at their speed, their conversations half-caught in passing—like the burble of a family’s tandem uphill climb, the son who will ask his dad, He was being a good sport because he didn’t complain, right? and the panting dad will respond, Yes, because he didn’t complain—who the good sport he already disappearing around a curve. Or the octogenarian with the personalized license plate, 86 and doing it for kicks, or the co-eds and bros, the teams and multi-generational families, the couples and solo, will go fast or slow, workout or coast. On another week of the summer, most of them head off alone, in pairs or groups, cross a bridge lit with lights, descend magnificent hills with speed, trusting the sunset and their bodies on those other open roads. But this is the week for which they’ve all trained, the parade and festival of it, this will be their caravan of a moving city, how they arrive ready for us to keep them on the map.
They begin the drive from city to town to a wiggle of river. Every few miles they stop for selfies—getting gas, stopping for more groceries, us on the hitch, crossing the state line, beside a Le Mars signas they hold up their extraterrestrial mascot. We’re thankful we’re not green, big-eyed, stuffy, or Martian. We’re ready to join our alien tribe, the place we’ll outnumber. They’re trained and ready. We’re built for it. Tonight, someone will marker VIRGIN down their calves, someone will giggle as they ogle the merchandise van, take to their first porta pottie out of painful need. In town, we ride wheel to bumper. He asks, Where? to where she thinks they could set up tent and picnic dinner of fruit, meat, and cheese. Maybe over there? she says for a place near a creek with a sycamore, a bloom of flowers she calls sweet pea. The first town, she says pointing to the open view. He wants to keep us locked to the hitch above their bumper, whirling through the night sky. She wants to lean us, polished frame to tree bark. You win, he says, talking morning start time and miles of the following day. As they set up their blue tent, let the breeze swirl through the open door, we whisper amongst ourselves under the welkin of stars. We’ve got the best seat in the house, the planet, the galaxy. Fireworks shower the opening night with gold.
About the author
Laura Madeline Wiseman’s recent books are An Apparently Impossible Adventure, Leaves of Absence, and Drink, winner of the 2016 Independent Publisher Bronze Book Award. Intimates and Fools, with artist Sally Brown Deskins, is an Honor Book for the 2015 Nebraska Book Award. Her essay on long-distance cycling, "Seven Cities of Good," is an honorable mention for the Pacific Literary Review's 2015 Creative Nonfiction Award. She teaches at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
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