The comedy and banjo-pickin' antics of Billy Connoly provided the morning soundtrack as I wound back and forth along the rain-slicked highway, enjoying the fresh air and the colorful procession of farmlands and homesteads. It was interesting to see the land in such heavy direct use, with equipment scattered around and piles of firewood, hay, fenceposts, bricks, dirt, engine parts... On most days I would see animals and people roving around them, but not today, with the sky brewing up a thunderstorm.
Check this barn out. I wonder which way the wind usually blows around here?
One of the stranger things I saw was a nondescript house with a gigantic wire cage built in the driveway. At the foot of the driveway stood a large sign on a pole, advertising "The Great Cats Of Indiana". I stopped the bike and stared for a while, and saw movement near the top of the cage. There was a black panther up there, glaring at me and pacing furiously back and forth in a tight figure-eight pattern. I could tell he was just itching to claw out of there and tackle my bicycling ass to the ground, and make a quick lunch out of my face.
Closer inspection of the sign showed that the land was a sanctuary, a rescue operation for large cats that had been smuggled illegally into the country by private citizens with shit for brains. Perhaps the money gained from exhibiting them compensated for the avalanche of meat they required - and the danger of keeping them alive.
I rode on, pensive. A mild rain began to fall around me, and I felt glad that I'd checked the weather report back in the hotel room and put on my raingear ahead of time. The fields were already wet from last night, and getting wetter.
In the afternoon I got a message from Erika:
"There is a line of severe thunderstorms coming your direction. Your area is also under a tornado watch."
Totally badass. Time for some weather.
I turned north for a while, working my way past another of those reeking factory farms bursting with psychotic chickens, then past a cheerful bunch of highway workers trimming a cantankerous tree over the side of the road. I raised my candy bar in greeting and a big dude in a jumpsuit and waved back with his gloved hand and a lot of teeth. The clouds got thicker and then appeared to run out of room on top of themselves and began piling under each other instead, creating a wall of mist blowing in from the west across the farmlands. Whatever was going to happen, it would happen soon, and in quantity.
I saw this totally awesome piece of hardware just as the rain grew stronger:
Five minutes later I turned west, and felt the wind once again at my back. I had just enough time to shut off the Billy Connoly (he was singing some inane pop song about not wanting his photograph taken) and switch to some lively piano music, and then the storm came down like a wall. I was hammered by fat raindrops. A puddle formed in the fold of my raincoat, above my stomach. The roadway became the surface of a lake.
"Whooo!" I said, to no one in particular.
Then I began to feel shotgun-blasts of hail, rebounding off my helmet. I could feel it pummeling my arms. I looked down and saw a mound of it growing in the puddle on my jacket, and swiped it off with one hand. The hailstones grew as large as cherry pits, many of them larger, and cratered and full of air bubbles like some kind of exotic candy. I chomped on a few and they were quite refreshing.
"HAH!" I said, at the weather.
The wind was still pushing at my back so I didn't have to pedal much to be carried along at the same speed. Since the rain was being blown just as fast, I got to see it writhe slowly around me on the pavement as the turbulence evolved. I drifted into a small town, stopping cautiously at the intersections to avoid the drivers that were half-blinded by their defrosting windshields. Thunder cracked and cascaded around in the sky above. Lightning struck in the forest to the north, but never got closer than a few miles.
This was awesome. I pedaled away in this happy situation for about half an hour, then the rain died down. The clouds un-stacked themselves, and opened up above me, though they never actually let the blue sky appear. The sonorous thunder lingered for another hour.
I stopped and made a recording of a bit of it, for your thunderfication:
11-14-11 3:18pm : Thunder
After a while the clouds tore themselves apart, just in time for the sun to start lighting them up from below.
I amused myself with a creepy BBC Radio 4 production called "The House At World's End", by Stephen Sheridan, then started the new Terry Pratchett novel, "Snuff". The sun went down. Ghostly deer bounded across the road, between forests. A few yappy dogs pursued me and I waved them away. I drifted into another small town, this one barely large enough to have a name, and wandered into the local eatery, a big square building divided into a warren of multi-purpose booths, counters, dividers, and storage rooms, plus one big table.
For two bucks you could get biscuits and gravy. For 35 bucks you could use the tanning bed in the back, for the rest of the year.
I took off my layers and piled them on the table, hoping to dry them off a bit in the warm air of the restaurant. The entire staff was one woman in her late teens. She took my order and then walked behind various dividers, fixing my mountain of cheap food. As I was eating, groups of teenagers wandered in to patronize the soda fountain, filling up different containers and gossiping with each other. It was like hanging out in the kitchen of a long-running television sitcom. I wouldn't have been surprised to see The Fonz wander in and flirt with the cashier.
There was a lot of food, but it wasn't very good. I boxed the leftovers and purchased a few more snax, then reapplied my layers of clothing and got back on the road. I rode east on a long flat highway through scattered forest, then turned north and entered a landscape of hills and fog. Through this I zig-zagged north and east towards North Manchester, and the Bed and Breakfast I'd called earlier in the day.
"Snuff" was turning out to be a really good book. I took my time on the roads, enjoying the eerie silhouettes of the barns and houses, the winding branches of the winter trees, and the gigantic steel electric towers looming overhead, all enfolded by waves of pale mist that turned my headlight beam into a solid object and felt wonderful in my lungs.
The ride was lovely but I got to the resort very late. Twenty minutes after hauling my bags up to the cluttered bedroom on the second floor, I was asleep, with the wind howling in the eaves.