We've seen it, we've smelled it, we've avoided becoming it. Today we're talking roadkill.
Day 33 started early in Farmington, though apparently not early enough — our 7:30am departure felt like it was in the middle of the city's rush hour. But we made it out. And then the first half of our ride, from Farmington to Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park (we could not find an adequate explanation for the park's name), was almost relentlessly gentle and pleasant. Nice, easy riding. Made even better by our morning's trail snack: the leftover bacon from carbonara the night before.
The rest of the ride into Ellington, our stop for the night, was hillier but also damn pretty. We made it to "town" by 2;30, where we stayed in a small building with cots, a shower, and a fridge. There were some leftover beers in the fridge. We'd left a beer in Farmington. High fives for trail karma.
Altogether a good day, but… The roadsides were also just covered in carcasses. It seems the Missouri Department of Transportation's slogan when it comes to roadkill is just, "Feed the vultures." (It kind of seems like the state's political philosophy, too. At least here in southern MO.)
Okay, so — we haven't talked about all the little dead animals we've passed, partially because we don't want this to be a carnival of the grotesque, which any trip across the US (especially in 2020) could easily become. That's just not our ethos, yo. But we've come far enough, and it's so fucking omnipresent. So we're gonna talk about it a bit. Don't worry — no pictures. No, thank you.
But we've seen scores of squished raccoons, weasels, possums, chipmunks, squirrels, skunks, dogs, cats, and rabbits. We've seen snakes, turtles, frogs, lizards, and countless birds of countless colors. We've seen at least one fox, and probably a coyote, and we've passed a solid half-dozen dead deer, one a youth with its sibling standing in the near field trying to figure out what had happened. A few miles before crossing into Missouri, we started passing armadillos. Then they were constant. (Apparently, they jump straight up when surprised — which is bad when a car is passing over you.) We've also seen a lot we just couldn't identify.
It's been a part of this cycling "adventure", to see and to smell all this death. In a car you pass quickly, but we have a few seconds on the approach; we take it all in. We watch the types of animals change with the landscape. We smell the difference between the day-old and the week-old.
It's the unremarked-upon collateral of humans getting place to place. As E.B. White once said, "Everything in life is somewhere else, and you get there in a car." And we love getting there quick.
We stopped today in Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park. We used the restroom, then had lunch at a covered picnic table by the Visitors Center parking lot. Then we went went back up to the center to leave our trash in a bin, and a guy who worked at the park started talking with us. We had the conversation we have 5 times a day, about where we're from, where we're going, etc. And the exchange ended the way these nearly always do: the guy told us to "Be safe." He seemed concerned for us.
What we're doing is undeniably odd: we are putting ourselves in a vulnerable position. We have extricated ourselves from the safety of private property, from the crib of aluminum and sidewall airbags which ferries most folks to and fro. We are exposed.
When you pass a cyclist out on the street, your chief emotion might be annoyance — you have to slow down. You have to be more cautious on someone else's behalf. Someone you don't even know. But when we meet these people and start talking with them, I think there's a moment of empathy, a moment where they imagine themselves out on the street instead of us. And it's not that the idea of cycling scares them so much as that they are already scared. We are afraid to put ourselves out there. We lock our doors, install security systems. All these dudes in all these big ole trucks they don't need — I keep thinking about how scared they are. Even the bikers, these oversized guys with Harleys and leather vests — they're out in the world, so they try to protect themselves with attitude, by emanating don't fuck with me. But we're out there with nothing but a helmet and some blinking lights. When I watch people try to imagine it, it's like I've posed a sour-smelling riddle.
Anyways, when we got to Ellington, we showered, ate, then took a nap. And we were woken up by another cyclist, an older TransAmer heading east. (He road the original Bikecentennial ride back in '76 as a 16-year-old; now he's 60 and doing it again.) We exchanged stories, and he kind of inspired this post in two ways. First, he loves stopping and taking pictures of roadkill. He picks up dead snakes and wraps them around his shoulders. He poses limp birds on his handlebars. He thinks up captions for crushed raccoons. There's a way in which he's really stopping, admiring, and taking in the odds and ends of his trip. There's another way to view it, too.
But then he also told us several stories of the altercations he's had — he's been run off the road a few times. Some guy that day had literally stopped and gotten out of his truck, and apparently they squared off before the guy got back in his truck. There was a general air of exaggeration to the tales, but one thing was certain: this cyclist had pissed off a lot of drivers. Which wasn't surprising: he rides in the middle of the lane, refuses to pull over, to let anyone pass.
People tell us daily to be safe. And we are being safe. We're certainly more conscientious road-fellows than some out there. But the other half of being safe is trust, is counting on the other people to look out, to slow down a little, to make sure you give a rider room. As is constantly the truth, we're all in this together.
Day 33 Stats: Farmington to Ellington, MO, 61.5 miles, 3075' of elevation, some "shut-ins", and load of dead 'dillos.