Location: marengo, il, United States

Saturday, May 14, 2005

A Rare Canadian Visitor

I rekindle the fire before dawn. Three cups of instant coffee brace my spirits for the day, and at first light, I set out once again. That check should be arriving soon, so rather than dawdle along the way, I pump hard and begin to make pretty good time.

According to the map, I have covered over half the distance to Corpus today, and I get to a small state park on the outskirts of a coastal village by nightfall. It feels strange to have the whole site to myself, but at least the close proximity to civilization seems wise.

I wish I had sweet butter to go along with my oatmeal. I need to buy salt too. But after forcing down a warmed bowl of the tasteless mush, I bed down on the sand with the sounds of the Gulf of Mexico splashing softly on a near-by beach. A strong off-shore breeze forces me to arrange the bag just so, with my toes taking the brunt, and the powerful wind helps to lull me into a deep and restful slumber.

Then at some point before dawn, my eyes open. I am both alert and curious. Something in the cold air feels different, so I raise up to look around. Rhythmic waves close by still surge and hiss, but I discover the thing that disturbed me is the wind -- it must have stopped blowing at some point, and now a silence lays over my moon-lit camp.

Satisfied, I snuggle back down inside my warmed cocoon and go back to sleep.

I wake up next at daylight, and my whole body feels miserably cramped and cold. The wind has returned again, but this time it howls from out of the north. My sleeping bag is snapping noisily around me, and the thing is puffed up like a balloon, filling with brutal blasts of frigid air. For a few groggy minutes I try pulling the opening tight around my head, but it’s useless against the onslaught so I give it up.

By the time I roll up the bag, both hands go numb, and it’s a struggle just to tie the thing onto the back of the bike. I hurriedly fumble through my pack next, searching for a jacket, and I also take out a pair of socks that I can use for mittens.

When I reach the road, I find out that I can only go in one direction, due to the astounding force of the wind, but at least it’s blowing in the direction I need to travel. And as soon as I swing onto the seat, I begin sailing along at a most incredible speed.

Several miles further down the highway is a coffee shop I recall passing on the way up, but by the time I reach the warm refuge, my whole face feels frozen and both eyes are burning; I can barely mutter a hello as I take a seat at the counter.

Rather than take a chance on cracking a tooth by drinking the steaming coffee I order right away, I decide to wrap both hands around the cup and wait for my body to stop shaking.

Later on, and half-way through a third cup, I overhear one man who drawls to another about an Alberta clipper that blew in from Canada during the night.

“It’s going to be down around eighteen degrees around here for pert near a whole damned week, the radio was just saying.”

I twist on my stool to look behind me. The plate glass windows are completely steamed over on the inside and being jarred by strong gusts. The waitress comes by to refill my cup again.

“What time do ya’ll close?”

“At ten every night, honey. This is a small town, you know.”

I have to do something, but I can wait for my toes to feel better before going out in that ordeal again.

After a couple of hours my brain begins to thaw, so I ask,

“Say, where is the closest church around here?”

She points over her shoulder and tells me the way, and I take the socks out of my pocket after buttoning up my lightweight jacket to the collar, and then head out the front door. It’s a struggle to ride the four blocks, but at least I have confidence in where I am heading.

Inside, a secretary gives my pair of socks the eye.

“Is there anyway you can put me up for a few days?”

And I briefly try to explain my situation.

“I’m terribly sorry, sir, but we have no facilities for doing that here.”

It’s apparent the woman didn’t ride a bike to work today, by the way she is dressed and by the blithe look on her face.

I get a sudden thought that matches the frightening weather outside.

“Well, where’s the police station in this town?”

Minutes later I speak to a sergeant who looks warm and cozy behind his desk.

“You guys want to put me in a spare cell till this blows over?”

The man is a cop, so he asks me back,

“Did you commit a crime or something?”

I nod toward the howling coming from the other side of the door.

“Not yet, but I am thinking seriously of doing something rash, and real soon too.”

He gives me a set of narrow eyes also.

“You might try the Red Cross down the street. Maybe they can help.”

Thirty minutes later I have a motel room. It takes almost as long to warm my feet as I stand and soak up a hot shower.

The fierce front dies out at the end of three days, and so I emerge from the safety and warmth of this cheap motel, my life spared by a small cash allotment provided by some stranger who really cared.

The forty-degree weather now feels bearable and almost pleasant, but I wear my jacket as I ride out of town, just in case.



Anonymous Ned said...

I am well acquainted with Alberta Clippers. Brrr... Great tale, Harry!

11:18 AM  
Blogger Harry said...

It might be hard for some to believe that palm trees can sport horizontal icicles, Ned.

11:45 AM  
Blogger Gone Away said...

I dunno, Harry; us greenhorns, we'll believe anything. ;)

Great story, really getting into it. Keep 'em coming!

2:54 PM  
Blogger Harry said...

Just you wait, Gone. One of these winters you'll step outside the front door, and when all the hairs in your nose suddenly freeze up and after you loose your breath to the howling wind, you'll rethink this whole relocation thing and start thinking of Florida.


3:02 PM  
Blogger Stranger Ken said...

You're a great story-teller, Harry. When I read you, I think of Steinbeck and Kerouac, or maybe Kerouac and Steinbeck. Either way, that's good company to keep!

6:06 PM  

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