Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Crashing in Austin

Silence and weak gray light filled Doc's house in the morning, when I woke.  This fit my mood well.  Over the past week, I had been growing more and more uncomfortable with Austin as our final destination.  For Adam it was a perfect ending spot - he has family, friends and fond memories there.  I wanted to keep going.  I had no particular love for Austin, and I didn't look forward to sitting around for a week, living with strangers, until it was time to pick up the U-haul that Adam had committed himself to and drive back to Raleigh.

It had all come to a head the previous evening.  Just before we reached Doc's house, I told Adam that I wanted to keep going after we hit Austin.  He would have to stay for his family's U-haul, but I wanted to press as far as I could, and might Adam pick me up with the truck 8 days later on his way home, if he was willing?

I feared that this would upset Adam; it was, after all, his trip to begin with and I attached myself.  I felt bad about abandoning him in Austin, and I didn't know if he would want to come out of the way as he drove home to pick me up in Georgia or however far I made it.

Adam was more receptive of the idea than I could have hoped.  He enthusiastically supported my striking out alone, assuring me he would be quite fine flying solo in Austin.  I was somewhat apprehinsive of all the time alone, but it felt better to push as far east as possible.  I loved life on the road and wasn't ready to stop, then or ever.

I called Karen that evening to let her know my plans, excited at the prospect of my continuing journey.  This idea got an acutely hostile reaction.  Long silences were broken by short statements, mostly repeating the same things.  Karen forbade me to go on without Adam, and I refused to say that I wouldn't.  The conversation ended coldly and we hung up.

Now in the weak light before dawn, I crept to the kitchen and attempted to make coffee as quietly as I could in a strange kitchen with my normal pre-coffee morning grace (non-existant).  The attempt was partially successful, and I took my coffee out back and sat beside the Seebek's pool.

The conversation with Karen sat heavily on my mind as I sat by the cold water of the pool.  Should I continue? How angry would Karen be?  Could I pretend to be in Austin while actually continuing to ride?  That would make blogging awkward, to say the least.  Our premature retirement from the road had been bothering me for days, and just when I thought it was all going to work out, here it was back in my face, along with a heathly dose of resentment for my wife.

I determined to look on the bright side of things, and enjoy what time we had left of our trip.  The day was cool, and the wind appeared to be calm.  I was still the only person up at the Seebek household, and I was congratulating myself on my apparently successful stealth efforts when June walked up the driveway back from her morning walk.  She had been up well before me, as had Adam, writing in his room.  The only person whose sleep I protected with my creeping about was half blind and 3/4 deaf Doc.

Before long, June had the smell of waffles drifting through the house, and we all sat down for a breakfast together before we left.  They were vegan waffles, as is the entirety of the Seebek's diet.  Thus it was with some trepidation that I approached the table, but my fears were soon alleviated.  June is famous (according to Doc) for making delicious vegan food at her church, and the waffles were evidence why.  No one would ever confuse them with waffles full of eggs, white flower and butter, but they were excellent in their own right.  The real Vermont maple syrup that Doc had stockpiled in his garage helped a great bit.

After climbing Doc's windmill to scout our route for the day, we headed north from the Seebek's house, south of San Marcos.  A short day of riding would take us through the small college town of San Marcos and into Austin and our final destination.   I was in a brooding mood as we pedaled out of Doc's neighborhood and onto the highway.

Between San Marcos and Austin is an ever-shrinking strip of rural land, and we got our last glimpses of small herds of longhorn cattle as we pushed northward.  The road became thick with giant trucks hauling loads to and from the numerous concrete plants in this limestone rich region.  They were loud, fast and huge, but for the most part they gave us plenty of room on the narrow two-lane roads and we were able to enjoy the scenery.

Disturbingly quickly, urban development replaced our pastoral surroundings.  First we passed residential subdivisions carved unceremoniously out of green pasture land.  The road widened to four lanes and we started seeing gas stations, high schools and strip malls.  Residential and retail development had almost completely taken over when a sudden squall drenched us and we passed one more little ranch beside the road.  Partially wooded, with a clear stream running from a small pond, a for sale sign sat beside it's ornate gates.  Adam wondered aloud at the possiblity of convincing his father to make the purchase with him.

Crossing under one of the many interstate highways ringing Austin, the clouds broke and steam rose from the pitch black asphalt.  On the northern horizon, downtown Austin was briefly visible, it's tall office buildings stabbing into the angry sky, sunlight breaking through the dark roiling clouds and glinting off the glass covered surfaces.  A hard, forbidding view, I thought.

For the rest of the day, we experienced the worst kind of riding.  Multi-lane, high traffic conditions, where all of your attention must be focused on maintaining position and being aware of all the morons that make up the world's drivers.  Stoplights not timed for slow vehicles rob your momentum at the bottom of hills, and drivers love to cut you off, only to stop in traffic immediately after, causing you to brake abruptly. 

As we approached downtown on Congress Ave, conditions improved slightly.  The last few miles were downhill, and as retail increased on the sides of the road, traffic slowed down and we were traveling nearly the same speed as the cars around us.  At last our view of the horizon opened up again as we came near the bridge over the Colorado River.  Downtown Austin was laid out before us, the shining golden statue of The Goddess of Liberty tall above the Capitol Building directly in front of us.  Unabashed tourists that we are, we stopped a passing hipster and had the reluctant young man take our picture with the skyline in the back ground. 

A short few blocks through downtown brought us right to the grounds of the Capitol Building, thick with tour groups and herds of children in matching t-shirts on field trip excursions.  We spent the better part of an hour sightseeing, gawking at the buildings and getting in the way of traffic.  Checking the time, we decided it was time to be on our way to make it to our host's house before evening, and we mounted our bicycles for the very last leg of our journey.

It was horrible.  For those of you from the Triangle area, imagine biking down Capital Blvd at rush hour.  Horrible traffic, angry drivers, small lanes, multi-lane roads and large hills were the prominent features.  My memory of this stretch is a blur of roaring engines, gaudy signs, and strip mall after strip mall, one indistinguishable from the next.  

My already sour mood worsened.  I hated the traffic.  I hated the road.  I was angry with Adam for locking himself into the U-haul.  I was angry with Karen for forbidding me to head on alone.  I was angry at the stupid hills for not being flat.

In any endevaour, attitude is crucial to performance, and as my attitude darkened, my body began to fail.  My shoulders hurt, my butt hurt, I was tired, my legs began to cramp.  I had climbed the Rockies, cresting the continental divide with burning legs and scorched lungs, but with a smile on my face.  In the suburban hills of Austin, I finally broke. Like an evil feedback loop, my thoughts and my environment fed each other and I spiraled downward as we trudged on.

I was sick of it.  It was all over and I wasn't ready to be done. I was being forced to quit halfway through, and now I had to sit here in Austin for a week while Adam visited old friends and toured the sights of his childhood.  I hated the thought of it and I grew sullen and bitter.  It had only been a few hours since we arrived, and I already hated Austin.