Day 30: Beautiful American Family

by James

I woke up in Mark’s basement in a king-size bed. I remember feeling immediate distress at the idea of leaving that bed.

Mike walked in the door and said, “better get up. It’s going to be a hard day.”


“Headwinds. Both our rear tires are flat.”

I propped myself up and looked around. Light from the open door streamed into the otherwise dim room. That kind of light always gets me up.

I brushed teeth, dropped contacts in, and put the bike clothes on. I found Mike and Mark in the front yard with the bikes splayed out in the grass.

We found our respective leaks and patched them while Leanna ran out the door to go off to a medical certification class. After the flats were treated, the three of us went back inside for some cereal and a long, hard look at the weather report for the day.

Mike and Mark poured over wind maps while I enjoyed a cup of coffee. The good sleep, pleasant company, and hot coffee made me feel new. We relaxed at Mark’s kitchen table for a while, savoring the last few minutes of a morning spent indoors.

We thanked, waved, left, and were pedaling west of Wichita before too long.

By the fields
Outskirts of Wichita.

A few miles down Maple Avenue, the road had been blocked off and, beyond the orange and white traffic signs, was completely demolished. Clods of uneven dirt were in place of pavement.

We didn’t feel like turning around, so we walked our bikes onto the side of the road and then through the wreckage. Large machines drove around us. We walked ten feet in front of some foreman and a lackey who were talking, but they didn’t acknowledge us.

We cleared the construction area and made around ten miles down 54. We watched the dark pastel colors in the sky to the northwest. Every now and again we caught veins of lightening running through the big clouds. I kept my eye on the faraway storm while I pedaled. I wondered about the little cluster of farmhouses below that angry sky.

By then we had a nice tailwind boosting us through the plains. We were cruising. Before then, I had thought that a good tailwind made you feel as though you are biking through a vacuum, simply compensating for the air you move in front of you for a zero-sum. Then, I realized that a serious tailwind can actually be felt propelling you forwards, which is slightly scary but undoubtedly awesome.

The sky above us got darker. That made me kind of giddy.

Looming storm
I snapped some scarier photos, but somehow in my upload process they were lost.

Since the wind, our tailwind, was blowing southwest, it was a reasonable assumption that the storm was moving our way. We heard thunder and traces of rain began to fall around us. The wind got more and more fierce.

The daylight had nearly vanished now and we were left alone with the highway and the trucks and the looming clouds above us.

Ahead of us, we could see a large volume of dust being picked up by the wind and moved from farmland into the middle of the road. I wondered about tornado warnings but managed to stay giddy. Cold gusts hit us, which was refreshing but threatening.

A mile later, we came to a concrete overpass. The wind was really roaring now and the tunneling of the overpass made the effect even more dramatic. We stopped on the shoulder under the overpass and I had to hold my bike in place to keep it from moving forward.

I ripped open Food Bag 2 and ate a reconstituted Snickers in around 20 seconds after throwing Mike one.

We talked about our concern with the weather. We checked the forecast: no tornado warnings, but a few for severe thunderstorms. We briefly considered taking shelter in a ditch under the overpass, but then decided that this was the tailwind of our lives1 and that the skies to the west looked clear. Mike donned his rain-jacket but I figured hell with it after stashing the camera in a pannier. We mounted the saddles and tore pavement in the mid-twenties of MPH.

After pockets of rain, skies cleared up and we somehow came out of the storm with the tailwind intact. We rode that sucker all the way to lunch. On the way to the McDonald’s, we spotted a beautiful earth-sheltered house that was built into the side of a hill.

Into town
Out of the storm, into town.

We ate the typical value-menu slew for lunch. In between bites, I looked at a few of the local girls with a little lasciviousness but mostly just out of curiosity. We called our CouchSurfing host for the night, Gene, and told him we were around 30 miles outside of town and would be in around 6PM.

We rode a weakened but still considerable tailwind into Pratt and admired the small town. The streets of its downtown were undergoing an upgrade from brick to pavement, so we wheeled along the sidewalk and caught sight of things like coffeeshops and a movie theater. I liked Pratt instantly: it made me feel nostalgic for the small-town America I’d never experienced but had seen in movies.

Downtown Pratt
Pratt: straight out of a Stephen King flick.

We pulled up to the Messick house, just a few blocks from downtown. Gene, Megan, and some of the kids were standing out front and greeted us as we rode in. We got hearty handshakes from each, then Gene’s friend Nick walked up and introduced himself.

The Messick property actually has three small houses on the grounds clustered very closely together. Gene, Megan, and the kids live in one, Nick lives in the other, and the third is used as storage. Mike and I, after being charmed by the folks and the town, were drawn immediately to the possibility of fixing the place up and calling it home for a while2.

Each house is almost a miniature, but they’re all very cosy. The Messick house proper, especially, is well decorated and efficiently organized.

The Messick estate
The two rear houses.

Within half an hour, we were drinking beer and grilling chicken. Gene, Megan, Mike, Nick, and I stood outside in the pre-storm weather talking and drinking and grilling. I looked at the portion of downtown I could see from their property.

Nick and Gene met in the navy and have been close friends ever since. Gene is originally from Texas, and met Megan while stationed in Washington state, where Megan grew up3. We learned all of this while watching in awe as the grill remained on fire even after we’d disconnected the propane tank.

Gene, Nick, and Megan.
Fuel efficiency
Miracle #2 (Miracle #1 being that we didn't get shot in Memphis)

Rain had been sprinkling and finally the chicken finished, so we grabbed the tray of cooked meat and brought it inside.

Many beers and a lot of eating followed.

At one point in the night, standing in the doorway of the kitchen, I told Gene that he had a young, beautiful American family. Gene and Megan demonstrated to me a way of life that I hadn’t seen before. They’re a young couple with a cool house in a storybook town and they go at child-rearing with an incredible, casual energy that seems available only to those in their twenties. Their family is their life’s work, and it shows.

Both Gene and Megan hold down jobs, though they’ve rigged the schedule so that the kids are never alone. Should the kids ever need care, Nick is at home fifteen feet away. Gene works as an inventory manager at Walmart4.

Their kids are all well-behaved and very sharp. Kierra made two pictures for Mike and me after answering a few math questions. She said she loves math, which of course made suckers out of the both of us.

The beer-drinking went on until about 1AM and, after more than a few profanity-inspiring rounds of MarioKart, Mike and I collapsed on neighboring couches.

Night in Pratt
Night in Pratt.

  1. however short

  2. pipe dream

  3. very coincidentally, Megan is from Everett, WA, the same town Mary Jean Jordan is from, and Gene, like John Jordan, was in the navy when the couple met. Wild, huh?

  4. and loves the profit-sharing scheme that Walmart features for its employees — maybe one of the reasons the company is such a success?

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