With the Adventure Cycling Route Map spread out before me, I says to Emerson, I says "Emer, we need to be in Phoenix by Friday." Emer does not question his father, for I am God to him. Many a child might have asked "Why Father, when you took four days to do this stretch last year, do we have to do it in three this year? Why Father? Why?" But Emer is not many children. His faith in his father reaches Stevie Wonder proportions.
The day before, I had purchased the second book from the top of the stack and solemnly handed it to my son. "You are fairly bright, son." I said, "But it is not enough. Ray Charles once said to me, 'Get off my piano! And get away from the tip jar! I see what you're trying to do!' I've kept the secret of Ray Charles' fakery my whole life - well, until now." Emer's eyes were closed as he listened to me. His deep breathing and lolling head indicated a state of maximum informational absorption. I carried on:
"But I digress, son. I'm not even sure why I brought up Ray. Or bought you the book. It's pretty heavy. The point is, your total faith in your father is completely justified. Rarely do I misjudge. So today we're going to double our usual mileage." Emer's silence was that of the penitent before the priest - nothing unhealthy, just a kind of grovelling submissiveness appropriate to many uneven power relationships.
We actually had to be in Phoenix by Friday because Suzanne, our Warmshowers host, had the complete nerve to tell us that Saturday was unavailable - like she had some kind of life outside of hosting heroic, inclined-toward-mooching cyclists! Why, if she were my daughter...
The above photo was taken as the sun set on Interstate 10, with about 20 miles to go before the next exit. It had been a long day. Somewhere in the planning process of my "double-mileage day", I hadn't factored our being on the Interstate for the last stretch, the stretch that, had I stepped outside of magical-thinking, I would have acknowledged would almost certainly be ridden in the dark.
By the time Emer snapped the sunset picture, I had descended into a kind of fatalistic stupidity. Cycling in the dark on a quiet country road can be kind of exhilarating. Cycling in the dark on Interstates, with almost constant 18-wheeler traffic, is also exhilarating, in the way that setting your hair on fire and letting it burn for two hours before extinguishing the fire can be described as exhilarating (I used to have a lot of hair).
I once descended Mt. Mitchell, a road biker's climbing mecca in North Carolina, in the dark with my buddy Jeff. It was November. We were underdressed, and hypothermia kept giving us speed wobbles as we plunged down the windy, state forest road. Jeff only had his prescription sunglasses. We had no headlights, but I had a tiny blinking red light on the back of my helmet, so I got to be caboose. Pickup trucks only picked us up at the last second. There were many, many blind curves, and many, many close encounters with understandably irritated drivers.
That was stupid. And dangerous. But I'm not sure it compares to cycling along the Interstate for a couple of hours at night. Because we were climbing a long mountain pass, there was a wonderfully nightmarish, slow-motion quality to the ride. Instead of "I think I can, I think I can...", I chanted "I think I'm dead, I think I'm dead..."
Picture it in your minds: you see these two tiny, blinking red lights on the Interstate and, as you zoom by and perceive the source, you turn to your husband and say "Those two have a death wish. What a couple of idiots." And you'd be right - well, not the death-wish part.
Many trucks felt inclined to express an opinion on the wisdom of our actions by way of their air horns. I thanked them graciously, but I'm not sure they heard me. Emer, at an age when risk-taking behaviour is an adventure, and immortality taken for granted, hummed along happily behind me, unperturbed.
When at last we got off the Interstate, the relief was rather special (to celebrate, Emer dove into the ocean and snapped a picture of a La-Z-Boy on the floor of the sea bed - the only Titanic souvenir overlooked by James Cameron). We were now cycling down a quiet country road in the dark, and it was exhilarating, but our hair wasn't on fire. When we were breaking down camp the next morning (below), Emer looked at me, his unerring father, with quiet devotion, and said "What's for breakfast?"