A familiar face
returns in the night; sign of
Every turn onto the next road, and each town I passed through, was a discovery. With few exceptions, such as when I finally arrived in Minneapolis at the end of my first week on the road, this trip was only defined by experiences in new places. So on my return, when I straddled the saddle once again and started taking the Mississippi River Trail north after my train ride to the Twin Cities, the fact that I remembered these bits of trail felt quite strange. Its familiarity was new.
The fact that I recognized Minneapolis didn’t surprise me very much. The strangeness of knowing my surroundings first occurred to me when I recognized a bush next to an intersection where I snuck off to take a piss on the way down. That was just a couple weeks ago, a short while before I arrived at Indeed Brewery, where I met my friend Andy at the beginning of my first break from the road on my month-long adventure. There was something significant here, and I was now reliving it in reverse.
For the first time, I knew where I was going to be staying the night, up to and including what the place looked like. After 60 miles on the road, I approached Warner Park, a small county park with a beach on Lake Warner about 15 miles southeast of St. Cloud. Clouds were darkening overhead and the forecast was for thunderstorms later in the evening, so I rushed to make it to the park before the rain started. It felt similar to the last time I went to the park, when I was riding in the dark on a cool night, unsure of where this alleged park was that I heard about but anxious to get there so I could eat and warm up. I made it long before the rain started. But since it was only 5 p.m., I wondered how I would occupy my time for the rest of the evening. Mostly I just wished that everyone there would leave so I could go skinny dipping.
Over the last few days, I was texting the woman I had met in Little Falls: the farmer who fed me home-made pickles while I read excerpts of her erotic romance novel. After our previous night together, we kept in touch, and I asked her if she would be interested in meeting again on the way back. She was, in fact, so I did my best to keep her updated on when I would be in town. Especially since I was back in Minnesota, and was only another day away from arriving in Little Falls, we spent much of the day texting one another while I rode out of the Twin Cities. Almost as a joke, I told her she should pick me up from Warner Park so that I could get there sooner. But as it turned out, she had agreed to be the sober cab for her brother, his wife, and their neighbors, for a night out in St. Cloud. This put her within about 15 miles from me, which meant that getting picked up was a very real possibility. We continued to text as she got ready for the evening. Between being concerned about how everyone would fit in her truck, and the fact that her brother was one of the other people in the truck, she had her reservations about meeting me that night. But we were both anxious about spending the night together again. So after dropping her brother and company off at the restaurant, she drove out of town to pick me up at Warner Park.
I watched a lightening show while I waited, wondering if she would make it before the rain started. The downpour happened minutes before she arrived. I ran out to see her and we waited in the truck for a few minutes, hoping the rain would let up before I spent any amount of time loading the bicycle in the bed of her truck. She was anxious to go though, so despite my attempt to delay going back out into the rain with a kiss, I went out to load up so we could get back to the restaurant.
It was all a little exciting, the last minute plans to meet, especially with other people involved. So she came up with an idea to have a little extra fun: she would walk back into the restaurant first, and just take a seat at the bar while the other four carried on with their evening. A couple minutes later, I would walk in and sit a couple stools away from her, and casually start flirting. And when it was time to leave, she would announce that she was taking me home with her.
So when we arrived, I stayed back and made sure my bike was locked to her truck while she went inside. The restaurant turned out to be a brew pub, so I walked up and looked at the line up of beer they had, and asked for a sample. I settled on one, and gave the woman down the bar a little smile. She coyly smiled back.
“Hi, how’re you tonight?”
“I’m fine. You?” she said.
“Oh, I’m great. Just trying a new beer.”
“What kind is it?”
“A stout. Seemed like a good choice on a rainy day,” I said.
Neither of us were sure whether or not her brother had noticed the casual flirtation at the bar, not even when I moved over to the stool next to her. The joke, though, was that the bartenders were probably impressed by how well I was doing at picking this woman up.
When it was time to leave, I was introduced to everyone. But instead of heading home, and having to deal with the brother and company for only about 15 minutes in the car, the consensus was that we go to another bar further into the city. The ruse was up when they saw my stuff already in the truck, but that didn’t necessarily take away the awkwardness of being crammed into the middle of the front seat between the farmer and her rather large brother as we went further away from everybody’s home.
Fortunately, once to the next bar, my farmer mistress insisted we not sit with everyone else, so we sallied up to the bar while they took a table. This was only the second time we had ever seen each other, so it was already easily in the top ten list of best second dates. The hope was that we weren’t going to be going anywhere else besides home after this, but regardless, the table of riders ordered several rounds of drinks before we left. So on the way north of town back to farm country, the brother passed out shoulder to shoulder with me while his sister drove us all home, dropping the others off, and eventually me back to her bed. Such was our Saturday night.
She was concerned about leaving me at her place while she went to work at the farm the next couple days, fearful she wasn’t playing the expected host. Especially after the last four weeks of lone touring, I reassured her that I was more than capable of keeping myself occupied for a few hours. Her work schedule was sporadic, so we slept in late on Sunday before she made me breakfast and hurried off to the farm to check on the new calves that were born that day. All that she asked was that I not snoop around in her cupboards while she was gone.
In the reliving of my previous night there, one of her goals for the evening was to set up a cheese tray from a local creamery, complete with one of her home-made artisan pickles. The other goal, was pie. She was the proud steward of her grandmother’s apple pie recipe, so that and a pumpkin pie would also be on the bill of fare that evening. We still needed ice cream though, so that was my job. Somehow, we came up with the idea that it would be funny if I went to the store in character, so she put my hair in a small ponytail on top of my head, a premature manbun, and I took her truck to the convenience store where I wandered about with a swagger, half-squinted eyes, and a drawl your average douchebag would be proud to kind of enunciate. And to complete the character, I bought condoms along with the ice cream.
And the next morning, we had pie for breakfast.
Though I recognized her, and this house, and much of this food, things were different this time around. We both lacked the excitement of the unknown, and acted accordingly. Naturally, this is how relationships progress, but given the circumstances of my adventure, the fact that these couple days were decidedly less adventurous seemed to take away from their allure. Maybe this is why I was having libido problems. Or maybe that was from too much beer. Or maybe I’m just old and tired. Doesn’t matter, there’s never a comforting reason for libido issues.
On Tuesday, she had a Spanish class at Central Lakes College in Brainerd. So she offered to bring me the next 30 miles along my route, sparing me the long stretch of straight highway miles. We woke oddly early compared to the last couple mornings, and I went through all my things, hoping once again that I hadn’t forgotten anything. We picked up some coffee and breakfast pastries at a Little Falls bakery, then left for Brainerd. It was uncomfortable to think that I may never see her in person again, but I had the feeling that we both knew that nothing more would come of our relationship. Our time together had crested, the high water mark on an erotic evening featuring pickles and craft cheese, a crossword puzzle, and the mystery of whether or not I was going to be sleeping in my tent that night. As the waters receded, we saw a weekend of pie and odd run-ins with relatives. And now I was given a ride to Brainerd, the final run-off revealing the delta of our time together. And as I remounted the bike to ride another 100 miles home, I felt just as wet as the analogy due to the heavy mist occasionally interrupted by rain.