Wednesday May 21, 2014, 40 miles (65 km) – Total so far: 194 miles (312 km)
The morning air is thick with humidity. The fuzzy haze filters the sunlight as I pack up my gear. Thicker grey stratus clouds frame the western horizon. You can see the air this morning – the sunlight reflects off droplets of vapor floating in the sky. The moisture is everywhere, in the sky and the soil, in the wide, full-banked rivers and the lush green tree leaves. It is almost extravagant. It’s as if nature is showing off just what it can do with adequate rainfall and transpiration that doesn’t immediately evaporate. Where I live, the only time you can see the air is when there is a wildfire, and the sky hangs about in wisps, curls and choking layers of particulate pollution.
To start the day, we ride across the wide, western floodplain of the Illinois River. I try to imagine this wide channel 10,000 years ago as it carried water off the melting glaciers. Soon enough, we enter second-growth forest as we follow a winding road up a rushing creek to the river bluff. We ride onto the plains above through fields of sprouting corn and soybeans. Again today, the high points of the landscape sprout wind farms, too.
The crew and I ride County Highway 6/2 all the way to the road to Castleton. We find ourselves again in hilly terrain, ascending and descending creek and river drainages. Cattle and tall, bright green pasture replace corn and soy on steeper slopes and poorer soils. Eventually we descend into Modena, a collection of homes and farms lying along a small river bottom, before climbing back into ever more fields of young corn. We are riding into the wind, and my wounded butt requires a constant shifting on the seat to remain somewhat comfortable, but it is a fantastic day to be alive and riding a bike.
Familiarity pulls me backward as I ride forward. It is a distant and primal feeling. The deep green trees, the long green grasses and weeds, the creeks full of brown water and slippery flat rock bottoms, and the angle of the sun shining across the freshly sprouting short-stalked corn call to me. They say, “Home. Home. This is home”. It is not. It has not been for 20 years. But childhood memories rise up from within my brain and hang about as I cross this landscape. Is this how a salmon feels when they cross vast distances to return ‘home’ to spawn? It’s as if my brain holds these memories in a special place and then hurls them outward whenever I visit the Midwest. The familiarity feels far away with time but fresh in memory. I was imprinted as a child, and no matter how far I roam or where I call home, there will always be a recognition in my head that I once knew a place like this in a way only curious, sponge-like young brains can absorb.
I purchase food, drinks and a tube of antibiotic cream and then find a well-kept park on the west side of town. We relax on the lush green grass under the deep, full shade of a maple tree. The 90 degree heat and high humidity envelope us with that thick, nearly visible air, and we spend the afternoon staying off my angry, raw ass. Another great day done.