I left Chicago at about six o'clock in the morning. Most of the night was spent at the bus station waiting for the Greyhound with Walker and collecting such gems as "I GOT THE WAR IN MY BRAIN" and "My name's Dave...I fuck around the Greyhound. It's what I do man. Want some hash? I bet you'd like Wicker Park" from the local street folks.
With traffic starting to pick up, I had started out as the horizon first began to glow it's weak blue, cruising through the chilly twilight of early morning south into the Illinois countryside. I was clenching my jaw alot to keep my teeth from chattering. I kept wondering in my head if the enamel would break, but the headache from my cramping jaw came first.
Half an hour down the road I stopped for gas. Warming up for a bit, I decided that something had to be done about the cold or I would never make it to a camping place. I cinched a zip tie tight around each wrist to keep the wind from blowing up my jacket and wrapped my towel around my throat like a scarf. Still too dark to ride with my helmet's visor down, so I'd just have to come to terms with the cold on my face.
An hour or two later, I pulled into a state park, pulled the bike into the woods, and slept behind some bushes out of view of the main road. I slept there until early afternoon...the roar of tractors in the adjacent field coaxing me out of sleep. I decided from here that I would push straight through and make the best time to Houston as possible.
It would help if the bike would start, however.
$88 for a new battery only a month ago in Nashville, TN and now it's flat again. I have no idea whats wrong with it, but sitting in the dust of some state park in Illinois, this seemed like a less than ideal time to try and figure it out. I got a jump from a rusted out El Camino, driven by a good ol' boy a few sites over. His arms were sleeved, and tattoos crept up towards his ears underneath a white, collared shirt. I traded my pocketknife for the favor so that he could peel potatoes...the handle had broken a few states back and was now held together with nothing but electrical tape. It wouldnt close anymore, so I had to wrap it in paper and keep it behind my belt, rolled up in the back of my pants. I always had a vague fear that I would lean back to hard and stab myself in the spine...I felt good about passing it on.
For days I drove this way...half in the day, half in the frozen night. Every 150 miles I would stop for gas and recline on the bike with a copy of Aesop's Fables waiting for someone else to pull in for me to jump off of. Sometimes I would wait hours...sometimes minutes.
It was in Missouri that I noticed how the interstate was bowing out to the east...making a long, gentle curve out and back again to the west. A state road, highway 67, seemed to connect the north and south points of the bow. I knew it would be slower going riding a state highway this late at night, but figured I could do with the saved mileage and pulled off.
Somewhere around Festus, I noticed a sign glowing orange in the distance, flashing out the monotony of it's single message:
"ROAD CLOSED. WATER OVER BRIDGE. DANGER. DO NOT ENTER. ROAD CLOSED."
I coasted to a stop next to the roadblock and cursed under my breath. I was at least 30 miles down and I doubted there was any easy way back to the interstate from here, save turning around and going back the way I came. I would lose an hour. And my campsite was somewhere down this highway...Id lose an hour and a place to sleep. It was cold too, and there was a light drizzle. I wasnt in any mood for this.
After simple annoyance, the first thought to cross my mind was simply: "Water over bridge? I wonder how much water..."
Weighing the options in my head for a moment, I decided there was only one acceptable course of action. I dropped the clutch and slid in between the construction barrels blocking off the road, slowly coasting up to the water's edge. The road was covered. There was no doubt about that...but it didnt seem too deep. Maybe a few inches? Things always get deeper in the middle...I know that...but here it didnt look bad at all. Victory goes to the daring, I decide, as I slide the clutch back out again and begin to split the water ahead of me.
The yellow centerline is only a few feet away...I can see it in my headlight now. It makes a pretty good gauge of the water's depth, at least much better than the black asphalt. Plus I figure itll be a good indicator if the bridge is actually washed out...if the lines stop, hopefully I can climb up on my brakes fast enough.
About 30' later, I round a bend and see the steel skeleton of the bridge rising up out of the water on either side in the feeble glow of my single headlight. The mosquitos are thick...my helmet seems like it's full of them, and occasionally I get the feeling that my nose is too. I swat at my face a few times and shake my head. There are branches and bits of trash floating across the bridge...slowly...like the great ships of some smaller civilization. The water is deeper here, but still slow. I push on, occasionally bumping over a piece of deadwood.
On the other side of the bridge, the water abruptly stops. Back on dry ground, I celebrate. The whole stretch was only a half a mile, maybe...far shorter than the 5-6 miles I had worked myself up for in my head. No trouble at all...and I saved myself an hour. I was home free now. Missouri DOT - 0, Kenneth - 1.
I gunned the engine in my excitement and elatedly roared through the first layer of the barricade blocking off the other side of the bridge. It was just traffic cones...on the other side, a layer of barrels again. I found two barrels that were a little further separated than the others and lined myself up, rolling even harder on the throttle as I went. About 4' away from the barrels, I noticed something surprising in my headlight.
A motherfucking rope. Between the barrels.
I had never ridden through a rope on a motorcycle before, and honestly found myself fairly baffled. Should I hang on tight with both hands and hope that the weight catches me across the chest and pulls me to a slow and graceful stop? Should I lean forward, put my helmet against the tank, and slap at the rope with my left hand, while I keep the right clutched in a deathgrip? What if the rope is taut? It definitely wont slap far then, and Ill hit it with only one hand on the bar...I'm pretty sure that would be bad.
The Emergency Motorcycle Riding Through a Rope Action Plan wound its way through committee as I looked on full of dumb apprehension. As the final votes were being tallied, I was saved the effort of an actual plan by the snap of rope against the front forks of the bike. Reduced to mere reaction, I clung to the bars as tight as I could and pulled myself low.
For a second, nothing happened.
For a second, just the whir of the rope sliding along in the perfect darkness.
I had expected instant calamity...barrels full of water jerking me off the bike as though I'd hit a brick wall. The rope really being made of steel...it ripping my apart as it caught in my chest...sliding up under the chin of my helmet and tearing my head free. The silence was disconcerting.
Maybe the rope was just laid on top of the barrels?
The stillness was shattered by the low, deep "THUNG" of the rope stretching taut. Apparently though it was passed through the handles of the middle barrels, it was most definitely tied off to the barrels on the end. This was a depressing, but not entirely unforeseen development.
Since I had decided to cross on the right side, there were only two barrels on my right, but at least 7 on my left. Barrels which were swiftly picked up by the end barrels and drug behind me as I continued screeching forward, my brakes pulled all the way in and tires sliding.
With a jerk, my bars pulled all the way to the left and I got my first taste of unassisted human flight.
The stars were pretty that night, I noticed, laying on my back in the middle of the road. The sky was almost perfectly clear now, after the rain passed. And my leg hurt. I heard the engine stall off somewhere behind me...that's nice, I thought. I dont want it to keep running with the bike on it's side...
A minute or two passes and I decide that I would really like to be able to get up. Not now, of course, but sometime in the future. In fact, I would really not like to be found like this at all. I tilted my head to one side and picked out the headlight of the bike, laying on its side. The bars were choked around with rope, barrels strung along behind it, disappearing into the dark. That was kinda like bowling, I thought to myself. Granted the strike was easier to get with the barrels tied together with rope...but it also hurt alot more. It all evens out.
This was going to be hard to explain. Barrels, bike with rope wrapped around it, then strange homeless looking man laying on the pavement bleeding. Really, there was no question as to what happened out here tonight. I really needed to be able to get up.
I stretched and pulled myself to my feet. Left leg wasnt bending much, but it was definitely ok with staying straight. Hobbled to the bike, and hunched down...pressed my ass against the side of the seat and grabbed a handlebar with my right hand and slowly squatted it upright, kicking the stand down with my heel.
I pulled my leg over and pressed in the starter...after a brief struggle, the engine caught. With a hasty look in either direction, I decided it may be time to call it quits for the night.