The landscape is changing yet again. It’s strange. Just a week ago we were in high arid blast furnace plains and prairies, constantly searching for our next drop of water. During that period we each carried at least 4 liters of water, and still ran out every few hours. It was the days of Spotted Horse, WY (population 2) and Faith, SD. It was the days of scanning the horizon for trees.
There is a stretch of road east of Belle Fourche, SD that is so desolate and unpopulated, we rode straight out for most of the day before encountering water or food. The locals advised us the rattlesnacks like to sun themselves on the road. “Just pick your feet up when you roll past.”
Now, there are convenience stores every few miles, pharmacies, grocery stores, pizza shops, and more. Yesterday we stopped at a Target for the sheer delight of wandering around an ocean of consumer goods in air conditioning an hour. The boys went to the electronics section and played XBox.
And curiously we’re eating less. A few weeks ago we would roll in somewhere and devastate plates of nachos, hamburgers, pizzas, sodas, ice cream. We didn’t discriminate, we would lay waste to anything edible. The appetite is still there, but we’re not quite as ravenous.
Right now the homing beacon is getting stronger. We’re in eastern Wisconsin (the roads are simply wonderful – long, languid stretches of paved country roads) preparing to board a ferry across Lake Michigan. The kids have been looking forward to this for days. We get to travel about 65 miles across the lake without pedaling at all. The ferry takes a little more than 4 hours. Four glorious hours of moving along at 15mph without touching a pedal.
We swear like sailors. Nothing is beyond our reproach. We curse the wind, the road, the cars, the heat, the food, our bikes, even each other. You might be mildly shocked to enter one of our conversations as we ride for hours among the back country roads of Wisconsin and Minnesota. We color our expressions and descriptions with all sorts of creative invectives. Hobbit and I have been having rap battles. For the uninitiated, a rap battle is a rhyme in which the goal is to creatively insult the other as much as possible, in rap fashion.
When the boys started swearing, probably back on the hot, interminable roads of Yakima valley in Washington state, it didn’t really seem inappropriate. It felt like they were just expressing their own piece of mind in a safe environment. I was reminded of recent studies that suggest people who swear more often tend to be more honest than those who don’t.
The group can turn it off quickly when we enter social envonrinments, and be polite and thoughtful when we interact with the many people who wonder what in the world we’re doing. But once we enter the safe confines of rural roads, the language gets increasingly colorful. Recently I’ve tried to goad Annie into cursing. Almost. I think maybe we got her to say “Damn!”
This notion of small, tightly connected small groups, traveling together led me to this MIT study of astronauts navigating the psychological aspects of working together. According to their research, the social dynamics of small groups in isolated environments is characterized by three stages. In the first stage of the journey participants find social similarities. Stage two they find common dislikes and share their mutual displeasure, and in stage three they find a common unifying vision.
Our unifying vision is to share this tremendous experience together, and yet also the joy of ending at home with friends and family.