Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Tired is reasonable; I am tired. Cold is reasonable; I am cold. I am also wet and miserable. I have no right to be miserable. This ride is a privilege. I am one of the fortunate. So smile, Old Man, smile as you ride into Harrisonburg.
I last an hour on the Parkway. Thin drizzle mists my safety spectacles. I take a left down to the foothills and ride a further hour before pulling in at a gas station. A woman serving coffee directs me to an upright heating unit. I wear wet-suit gloves under leather gloves. I put both pairs on top of the heater. I unzip my bomber jacket, press my chest against the heater and sip coffee. I am in a small town. Asking the woman serving coffee which town seems impolite. A weather man on TV points to bands of downpour sweeping south from the Great Lakes. The rain won't hit till late evening. I could find a motel. Or I could ride a further couple of hours. Riding gets me closer to the end, to my daughter. I ride.
This is Virginia horse country. Route 42 crosses a land of hills and lush pastures, white farm houses, white stables and white fences. Goshen and Staunton are red brick. Drizzle turns to light rain. Trees drip. I drip.


There are those who believe me brave in undertaking this journey. I judge myself stupid. To exchange the warmth of the diner for the heights of the Blue Ridge Parkway – definitely stupid. I wish to write that the Parkway was beautiful. Perhaps. If so, I was soon too cold to notice. Low grey cloud enveloped the mountains a hundred feet above the road. A lone black turkey cock scuttled across the tar in search of a new winter overcoat. I rode with my left hand under my backside. The right hand froze.


I am being mothered by the waitress in the diner. The waitress is medium young and blond. She has a genetic advantage in remaining slim or avoids fried cat fish in crisp batter accompanied by equally yummy fries. The servings are vast. Outriders escape. Add tomato ketchup and my plate is soon encircled by a scarlet-spattered war zone.
The lunchtime crowd packs the diner and double doors keep the heat in. The waitress helped pry me out of my bomber jacket and I have shed a couple of jerseys. Warmth seeps through the remaining layers. My hands stop trembling. I feel good. I ponder on the politeness of people here, their friendliness. And I ponder at their lack of curiosity. Or does questioning a traveler breach etiquette? Are people nervous of what opinions they might encounter, nervous of betraying their own opinions, nervous of disagreement?
It is very different south of the Rio Grande. South of the Rio Grande, I would be in a discussion. The discussion would begin with the standard interrogation. How old? Where have I been? How does my wife feel at my being away? What do my children think? Which country did I like best?
We would drift into accounts of the economy and on into local politics and, inevitably, someone would denounce President Bush as ignorant, arrogant and stupid - and denounce the United States as racist.
In the Appalachians, I have met only one Afro-American. That was yesterday, the up-market dealer in up-market Bonds, the driver of a 4x4 Lexus. Or was he an FBI agent or a lawyer with the IRS – or a holidaying hit-man? Or chaufeur for his ill-dressed Caucasian American companion?
I have no idea.
People south of the Rio Grande are close kin culturally to Europeans. They are familiar to me. A few minutes talk and I can write a reasonably accurate summary of their place in society.
Our sharing of language with the United States provokes a delusion of commonality. Dig a little deeper and we are very different. The United States is unknown territory...


A publishing disaster delayed my posting the completion of this journey. The journey was planned to end close to publication date. My publishers declared bankruptcy. Harper Collins have cherry-picked the corpse. I have agreed a new contract with Harper Collins (though, if a cherry, I must be over-ripe). OLD MAN ON A BIKE will be published September 1 and I reappeared in public last Saturday to give a presentation at the annual UK meet for bikers organized by Horizon Unlimited.
The presentation lasted an hour. Listeners expected highlights of a ride from Mexico to Tierra del Fuego followed by a question and answer session. I short changed the audience. One hour and my account had reached Panama.
Those frustrated might buy the book.
Meanwhile I will tidy up my notes and post the final week of the journey.