Mike was packing up, loading his bike with his four water bottles, one day’s worth of food, a change of clothes, a small tent and sleeping mat, flip flops, and sunscreen.
We had spent lots of time together since he arrived two nights prior here at the alpaca farm and eco-spirituality center where I’m WWOOFing while traveling Round America with a Duck. He had helped me put the chickens to bed and take the alpacas out to the range and feed them.
He had done tons of other things around the farm as well. Built benches. Climbed a huge ladder to open the windows in the octagonal straw bale building (after telling me he was experiencing a bit of vertigo recently, unbeknownst to the Sisters of Dominican Peace who run this operation). Repaired the high-tunnel hoop house’s door.
We chatted a lot. I knew he was traveling from New Mexico to Wisconsin or so. About 50 or 60 miles a day — 600 already in the last two weeks. I knew he intended to be gone for about two months. I knew his son was posting Mike’s handwritten journal entries on a blog. I knew he was mistaken for a homeless man a few days ago and someone left him food outside his tent. I knew he did a similar long-distance trip (from Minneapolis to New York) in 1977, and he was now 67 years old. That he recently retired from his job as a hydrologist working to find suitable sites for nuclear waste disposal and evaluating aquifer health. That he was a veteran of war, having served in the U.S Air Force. That he never stopped riding his bike throughout the years.
I knew he liked to sing while riding his bike on endless open roads, sometimes songs from a family music tape to which he and his kids used to listen like Dinah Don’t You Blow Your Horn. Sometimes ear worms he picked up from some stop along the way, like the time he couldn’t get Tra La La Boom Dee Aye out of his mind. Sometimes Paul Simon’s timeless lament on the American experience, which he sang for me on the open dirt road in front of our farm right before departing. (You can view that short video on TikTok or Instagram @RoundAmericaWithADuck.)
I asked him, as I ask everyone, if he had hope. His answer shook me, not from shock but from recognition of its truth.
“It’s too late, you know.” he said, referring to the world’s sixth great extinction, currently underway. He said that even if all emissions stopped today, it’s still too late.
“I know,” I replied, sadly. “But hope? There’s always hope, right? Or if not hope, what gives you peace? “
He believes in reincarnation, he told me, and that he would come back in some form someday.
“There’s no escaping the wheel,” he said. And then he rode away.
What I didn’t know? When I tapped in to see what he wrote about Heartland Farm (nice things), I noticed at the top of his blog that he titled his journey The End of Life As We Know It Midwest Tour.
Truth? I’m a little worried about Mike.
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There’s always some hope Mike!
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