Saturday, November 24, 2007

Chilled and Warmed on the Moonlit Plains

It's around two in the morning as we start our bike ride, drunk and a little stoned. The fire was warm, and as we move away from it I realize it's freezing, has to be in the twenties. We start up the highway, "We don't have to go far," she says, but soon we decide to keep going. In spite of the cold, it feels good to be out, to be doing something, and I'm surprised to find that it's easier to ride this two wheeled conveyance than it was to walk a few moments ago. We top the first hill and start down, the increase in speed bringing more of a chill, causing my fingers to burn over the handlebars.
We keep going, turning right at the intersection. At this time of the morning there is almost no traffic, only one car so far, but still I listen, waiting for the sound of traffic that doesn't come. We peddle on, taking turns passing each other, the only conversation being, "Shit, it's cold." The tires, designed for dirt, hum softly on the asphalt as she rides the double yellow, right down the middle, making a game of staying between the lines, and I smile in spite of the pain in my hands.
Another right turn, onto a dirt road, and we start climbing back toward the others, toward the fire. My fingers are numb now, I can no longer shift gears and reaching for the brakes takes all the concentration of threading a needle while wearing oven mitts. We stop and climb off our bikes, and I stick my hands in my pockets, and soon decide that numb in preferable to the searing sensation I feel as my frozen digits begin their painful, slow thaw. We walk for a bit, trying to identify constellations and marvelling at the monochrome landscape in the waning gibbous light. It crosses my mind how quickly things change, not just in our lives, but in the life of this country. A mere hundred and thirty years ago this would have been no pleasure ride, the only concerns being cold and a slipped chain. Then, there were reasons to be afraid here.
Before I'm ready, we're back at what's left of the fire. We resuscitate the primeval heart and warm ourselves, staring into the growing flames, somehow resisting the impulse to reach in, to touch them. Near the remains of the next fire we can see drunks passed out on the ground and in the distance coyotes yelp. Her dog alternates between being the protector and needing comfort, and suddenly this could be any fire, in any camp of the last 10,000 years. How very little we have changed.
One of the drunks rouses himself and comes over to our fire. He tries to make conversation and her dog is all bodyguard now, nothing but growls. We give up on the fire and move away, to set up the tent with frozen hands. We finally climb in and crawl, shivering, into our bags. There is distance, but we are close enough, friends sharing each others breath and warming hands. The dog bristles over us as the coyotes grow louder, closer, crying in vain for their mates.

1 comment:

Flesh and Bones said...

"We rode down the road at night, no lights, black road illuminated in full moon, surreal, in the desert. I stood up on my bike, rode the yellow line, staring down it until it disappeared into a point up ahead. Flying downhill, road moving under us by the second. Feeling fast, enchanted in the night, and cold. Fingers felt as if they would break off and shatter. Face burning against the wind. Not even feeling the effort of pedaling, just inertia kept legs circling. Finally we reached the gravel road on the right, white in the wash of moonlight, turned down the road and stopped, blowing on fingers to stop the onset of hypothermia." (excerpt) hehe :-)