July 10 – Day 48
THIS JOURNEY IS UNFOLDING in a completely new time continuum, one where days are measured one pedal rotation after another, one moment after another. In the life I left behind, lack of time dominated my existence. For many years, I have begun each day from a negative position, already losing a race, as time—or the lack of it—sucked me into its swirling vortex. Time Deficit Syndrome (if such an ailment has been yet named), leads a person to the edge of a precarious precipice, where he or she is constantly teetering, always fearful of falling. But as I pedal, I have moved away from that precipice into a world where time is in abundant supply, and my existence is being replenished by this precious nectar.
Since departing St. Augustine on May 21st, this new sense of time has become my constant companion, and its vastly slower cadence has reshaped my view of the world around me. From my perch atop the Surly, I have had long hours in which to contemplate my internal and external realities. This prolonged exercise has provided new insights about myself and, more importantly, has opened my awareness to a more vibrant and interactive world.
I have always taken the longer path to understanding—a late bloomer, if you will. But in this summer of 2010, approximately one month shy of my 55th birthday, the meditative act of pedaling 1500 miles of America brings me to a place where I can discern the secret meaning of an old wooden sign and experience the limits of the true nature of reality.
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After making my way from Vernon to Goodlett, Texas, a distance of approximately 40 miles, I glance at my odometer and notice it just turned 1500 miles. As a reward for this milestone, I tell myself I will finally stop in the small town of Chilicothe at the quaint store that has always captured my attention the many times I’ve driven past from Florida to New Mexico. Now, I glide the Surly to a halt in a shady spot by a large, primitive, wooden chair outside the roadside store. Adjacent to a young pecan grove, right in the middle of town, the building displays wildflowers in planters and has a huge metal Texas Star and a trove of farm implements adorning its walls.
I head inside seeking food. A pleasant woman with coiffed platinum hair and flawless skin sells me an apricot scone, then tells me to ride a bit farther, to the L&N Grocery Store, for incredibly good chicken salad sandwiches and sweet tea. Sounds excellent. But first, I settle in the old chair and enjoy the shade of the long front porch for a while, devouring the best scone I have ever eaten—embedded with fresh apricots and chopped pecans, it’s drizzled with a sugary glaze that creates an electric jolt at the end of my tongue. I sit and watch other customers come and go and count the number of semi-trucks passing by—and finally find myself contemplating an old wooden road sign that reads, DANG GOOD CANDY, in faded, red-painted letters.
Savoring the last of my scone, I ponder these words. It seems this place is known for its buttery pecan pralines—still, somehow, I interpret the sign as a message. Is this God’s way of proffering a meaning that is hidden to everyone but me? My first impulse is to scoff at the plausibility of such an occurrence, to throw it aside because it seems too “way out” and doesn’t fit the prescribed view of an orderly and scientific world. But as I sit at my roadside resting place in Chilicothe, Texas, I feel I have to consider the message and the synchronicity which has placed me here in this moment.
Since 1990, I have traversed Highway 287 at least a dozen times. In all the trips I’ve made across Texas, I’ve always wanted to stop at this location. What held me back? Why have I not stopped to enjoy the shade of this lovely portal, eat one of the platinum lady’s wonderful scones, and stare at DANG GOOD CANDY? Perhaps I was waiting for the right moment—and the right moment is today. As I read these three simple words, I hear a voice in the back of my mind thanking me for making this wild journey, for challenging my normal abilities, for getting out of my restrictive comfort zone. DANG GOOD CANDY is a message; it’s a unique way of expressing how sweet it is to rise above that which has prevented me from moving forward. From this point on, the voice tells me, my life will never be the same. I will not be able to return to the domination of negative time nor to the consciousness which has kept me from achieving my own destiny.
I start to regain normal awareness and notice a woman with “Texas size” brown hair, wearing a red, white, and blue pant suit and toting a bag of Christmas ornaments. She’s staring right at me. We lock eyes for a moment, and I try my best to look casual—although I feel certain a sweat-covered, long-haired, spandex-adorned cyclist must seem out of place in her well-pressed, powdery, Junior-League world. I must look like a perfect idiot sitting here, mouth agape, with the awestruck look of a man who is either in the midst of a spiritual epiphany or some wild, drug-induced haze. But how do you say, “Pardon me, I was just listening to a message from God”?
We both are caught in the awkwardness of the moment, and I look at the Surly while she stumbles a bit, climbs into her Suburban, and quickly closes the door. As she drives away, I chuckle to myself at our two worlds colliding: she, a planner, with her trove of Christmas ornaments purchased in the heat of July—and me, the Surly carrying all that’s necessary to sustain my life, my world just opened to show me the pearl in the moment.
Fifteen minutes later, I stand in front of an elderly woman, who occupies her small booth inside L&N Grocery, on the west side of Chilicote. She wears a flowery blue apron that looks a lot like the one my grandmother, Nema, wore when I was a small boy. As I look over the menu, she prepares several sandwiches for a local man who appears to be a rancher. When my turn comes, I order a chicken salad sandwich, grab a Coke on ice from the soda fountain, and take a seat at a small table near the bread aisle, still pondering the revelation of my previous stop.
My life has always been a quest along the ragged edge that separates what I know is around me from what I hope is there. In the past, I have been troubled over the choices I must make to reconcile these two worlds. It occurs to me that whatever my new life will become, I will have to make a stand deeper into the new territory that I’ve found on this journey. To continue dancing along the dividing line that separates one existence from another is counter-productive, and, as riding my bike has taught me, will make my system a discordant mess.
The chicken salad is delicious, just as the platinum lady said it would be. It is so good I go back to ask for another. But the old woman is gone. In fact, everyone in the store is gone, and I am the only person there. I holler out to see if they are in the back, but when, after a few moments, no one appears, a funny feeling comes over me—and I want to check the map to see if Chilicothe, Texas, really exists at all.