Slide into the faded booth closest to the counter. You’ve ordered the #6 Combo: Sesame Chicken (fried rice) and a side of steamed broccoli. As you wait for your takeout, rest your eyes softly on the faded waterfall mural on the opposite wall, the blue water now tinged grey with grease and window light. Gaze to your right and observe a vending machine, filled with plastic capsules each with a primary colored seal, little toys stuffed inside. Place each of your thoughts into those plastic capsules and assign it a toy companion. A bouncey ball that smlls like lemon. A thin hot pink friendship bracelet. A eraser shaped like a teddy bear. Remember the sound of clunking change and the metal crank turning. Hear your name shouted in the empty room. Your order is up. Nod and grab the paper bag and feel the weight of the #6 Combo in your left hand. Rustle your hand into the bag and using your index finger and thumb, snatch the corner of a cream cheese wonton sweating in the wax paper packet and take a quick bite as you walk through the door. The doorbell chimes, now open your eyes.
MIDNIGHT: pumpkin head says time for bed. half a bottle of lukewarm Andre next to a backyard fire was ill advised. And the fallen tallboy soldiers that followed.
3:21 AM: thirst shakes awake and water chugs don’t turn off the monkey mind as the sticky heat anxiety loop begins.
3:33 AM: bedside magic 8 ball consultation. Ask again later.
3:54 AM: thumb bass guitar blindly
4:10 AM: frustrate myself into a costume change of my best dress and a white blazer. I want perspective change. I stand on the bed. Extraordinarily sweaty, I remove them in five minutes.
4:45 AM: gunshots. Two. thirty seconds apart
5:23 AM: shadow puppets from the sunrise light
5:29 AM: 7 rotations of a Fiona Apple song
5:42 AM: sirens blare
The sun’s gonna shine no matter what I do. Might as well ride.
I slid on a maroon t-shirt, branded with another stale sweat, and a pair of padded bike shorts. A cool breeze touched my toes as I wandered the bedroom and decided to add a pilled wool sweater on top.
6 AM: two wheel hit the greenway and my strokes are hard and I feel frustration pour out onto my pumping knees. Squirrels dart across the path narrowly avoiding the front rim and a few bunnies almost become splatter with similar twitches.
6:35 AM: By the time the trail turns into soft dirt past Hopkins and the trees fold inward, I encounter women slung with hydration belts and in bright lycra and they are padding out the miles, steady. Their slack arms bounced and their steps were so soft. Two young deer were meandering down the path and clunked over to the dewy edges once they heard the crisp ring of my dollar handlebar bell.
A hawk dove for the crown of my head as I cycled through a short clearing and a robin’s wing was clipped by my spokes as she dove for cover. At the end of the dirt trail is a paved section then craggy sidewalks and large intersections and windy suburban roads. I stop and turn right back around into the lush green tunnel that I popped out of. No sense going any further.
7:40 AM: Slung U lock through my frame and bounded into the Depot, a coffee shop oasis. Plastic bottle of orange juice was drained in seconds outside as I was observed by spandex grey hairs and a speaker blared some oldie favorites to placate this gaggle of grumps. “Why doooo foools fall in loooooove”. There were a few bites of banana bread but they crumbled instantly and shellacked my tongue with syrup. Back on it.
7:45 AM: Looped around Lake of the Isles and Big Ol’ Calhoun, punctuated by a pedal kiss from a last minute curb jump due to an indecisive rider blocking the crosswalk with her bike while trying to decide left or right.
8 AM: Pit stop at home to swap from heavy backpack to bright pink fanny pack. Threw some sport juice powder into a baggie, filled the water bottle and strapped the U lock to the top tube of my frame then the smell catches my nostrils. Cat shit in the middle of the rug again! Plastic baggie sweep then away! AWAY.
8:20 AM: Zipped south on Portland Avenue without not a car in sight. Minnehaha creek trail was abnormally clear of baby strollers and slow cruisers and I zipped through the bends and winked at the bronze bunny statue and considered a pit stop at Bakers Wife but oh no no, St. Paul calls.
9:00 AM: A nod and a wave towards the falls and I push towards the trail entrance which flows along the Mississippi on a tall edge and bumpy pavement. The trees provide a cool channel to bike though and I spy familiar etches in the white rock and sand patches that are a soft tread for a few feet. At the foot of the fort I brace my body at the bottom of the big hill and remember the time I had to charge a pack (gaggle? scream?) of turkeys of the trail, wondering if I had the nerve to boot one if need be. The hill was enough and a dozen strokes in I dismount and grab the handlebars and power walk up the stupid thing because I am stubborn deep down in my genetic pool and I feel like if I just mosey up this thing that’s letting the hill win. It is at this point that the 38 miles start to settle into my bones a bit.
9:55 AM: Past the hill is a bit of ugly trail but soon stretched the expanse of the Mendota Bridge. I want to have words for this that isn’t just an ugly cliche but I don’t . It is expansive and beautiful and that’s all I have to say about that.
10:17 AM: Slinked up the Big Rivers Trail to the Sibley Memorial Trail and another stretch bound to the Mississippi and the sandstone cliffs. This part of the ride is quiet, even in the typical ruckus that exists between my two ears. St. Paul begins to pull into view and the buildings are almost majestic and the sky always pitches a perfect blue around the concrete and bridges and it is not because of her looks that the city is the overlooked dame at the dance. She has the manners of a braying donkey. BUT WHAT A LOOKER. The manicured park at Upper Landing is completely empty and the only water fountain has such a lousy dribble that it only fills my bottle ⅓ of the way, due to awkward angling of spout and plastic tube. The temperatures are climbing and this is more than disheartening. I give it a few taps to mix the sport powder and consequently spill some of it on my front.
10:45 AM: Downtown St. Paul is pretty vacant. Another big dumb hill to climb. I didn’t jog up this one but a slow steady slog, a promise to myself not to give up, especially not in front of the bleak fucking expanse of the Minnesota History Center. Summit Avenue was packed with a summer festival and I ended up sucking smog behind a rental school bus that was ferrying people a few blocks from their parked cars to another parking lot. I was grateful to hit the river again and slink up towards campus and past the stadium onto the transitway which is nothing but a straight hot shot of concrete. It’s fast but it’s meager. I throttled down Como Avenue past the park dotted with families lugging coolers and holding tiny hands as they leaped in the grass.
11:48 AM : Loops around Lake Como are punctuated by tree root concrete bumps that flare pain into my knees and sightings of the classic carousel. I have a secret soft spot for carousels because they are just nonsense and noise and queer horses and zebras in gaudy paint. Love love love. I remember a date on this carousel and watching a white haired man on bench clutching close a stuffed polar bear. I was in love love love.
The curves around Como get me twisted and my phone loses its last bit of juice, sucked dry by the GPS tracking app. Screen is black at. 65.86 miles. I slipped into mental arithmetic and street map memories and spread fingers on an imaginary map to measure the miles. But I needed to find my way back to Minneapolis and St. Paul doesn’t just let you leave. I find a few strangers in a front yard and they direct me back towards campus, although they seem unsure. One is wearing a tight jersey and seems to understand as I gesture about being a bit loopy and point to the plastic wrapper from the banana bread in my bag. This is the first moment that I recognize the heat.
Thank them in sputters and bike until I hit the fairgrounds, which is a salvation and a curse. It’s a ten minute wait for the signal to cross Snelling, a river of full throttling cars. The empty streets are confusing and the occasional slow cruising minivan doesn’t inspire confidence. I’m fucking vulnerable and I end up around giant trucks and the smell of shit and horses horses horses and keep cruising next to a chain link fence hoping for an opening. I question the cruelty of the barbed wire that laced up top and wondered if I could just fling frame and all over it so I could escape. I wasn’t making sense.
I found a break just in time before I became fully delusional. I pushed into the direct sun of the transit way and though Dinkytown on it’s stealth lil’ greenway, bumping over railroad tracks and swerving around utility vehicles and then up through 5th Street NE, a route I have tread after nights spent buried in the shadowy corners of the 331. I could cycle through with shut eyes I know it so well. Avoided those rim cracking potholes on Lowry and held steady against gas pedal heavy traffic.
12:45 PM Pilsner and pee break at Fair State. Barkeep becomes my only cheerleader and watches my fanny pack. He also tells me the time. Fifteen minutes is all it takes for me to empty bladder and pint glass and to top off the water bottle and get back on it.
In front of a Mediterranean restaurant on Central, a team of men were stretching out a large white tent for the reverent and hungry masses that would fill them each night during the coming moon. A tell tale sign that Ramadan would begin the following sundown.
Back to the Mississippi and the frumpy familiarity of the Plymouth Bridge. By the time I hooked up to the Cedar Lake Trail I was on my daily commute route and in autopilot through those five miles. No memories of the second loop around the Lakes, just the wincing of my right knee from any bump or jolt. Swooped past home on Portland Avenue after slowing moving through a packed Greenway and the last six miles was persistence. Chanting the mantra EASY PEASY LEMON SQUEEZY EASY PEASY LEMON SQUEEZY
I was waiting for a wave of relief or accomplishment to hit me when I dodged minivans and rolled into the 30 minute line outside of Sea Salt. I struggled with my U lock and my legs were stiff with stagid blood and squeezing for any moisture they could find in a tendon nook or any organ that didn’t need it vital. I was indifferent about my order and was imagining a nice beer. Just a nice beer so I could go lie down. On an ice pack. And to be rubbed from tip to tip by large hands.
I remember four tacos heaped high with all sorts of chewy sea creatures. I remember chewing in time with Bootylicious, trying to swivel hips and sip beer and chew chew chew without compromising my tongue.
2:30 PM. Approximately.
Imagine each of your thoughts as fat pigs. Identify them with notches in their ears or hot iron brands on their right flank. See them roam off in the morning after the gate has been left wide open. They are eating half rotten walnuts and precious stores of truffle mushrooms and the fresh laundry. They are hiding amongst mossy banks and behind mounds of hay. Put on your boots and grab a green switch and walk out to find them, gently tapping them on their muddy sides until the huff and rumble forward. Don’t forget to secure the latch this time.