Here at sea level, the sun is so bright if feels dark down here. It’s not Arizona hot, it’s a hotness that exists as neither a liquid or a solid. It’s a hotness that mixes and mingles with the oozing sweat from your pores forming a sticky film that makes it impossible to sleep through the night.
In Cannon Beach, Oregon, it was the ice crystals on the beach and the constant hum of our propane heater working so hard to keep us warm. In Eureka, it was the rain and the power outages, and the hiking on trails that had turned into rivers. At the Lost Coast it was the loose sand. In Los Angeles, it was the 20 mile minimum to every destination with the only bike route along an endless cement aqueduct. In Tucson it was the dryness. In Flagstaff, it was the elevation. In Asheville, it was the hills that tore up the backs of our calves from our our new hobbies of hiking and trail running, and the climb to the top of Mount Mitchell on our bikes.
Why did the chicken cross the road? I honestly do not know.
My father in law had given us fair warning about the humidity. We blazed across the Mississippi into a new time zone that was suddenly three hours earlier than the West Coast. We realized that even if we slept in, we would always be the early bird. Now, near the Atlantic, the heat pours down on us and slow motion seems almost too fast.
Because I have a circulatory disorder that causes my fingers to turn white when it’s cold, I would much rather be hot. I tend to like the challenge of overcoming my fear of death by suffocation and allowing the sweat to drip into my eyes without batting a lash. I enjoy the focus and concentration and the practice of allowing things that no longer serve me to pass. I enjoy the feel of my skin, exposed and softened by the humidity.
In Lumberton, North Carolina, a city nearly washed away last year by Hurricane Matthew, there was an electric buzz that turned off and on again in the trees. Was it the coming of the 17 year cicada? Or was it just one of those giant crickets like the one we found holed up under our table after a rain storm?
Bugs swarmed down on me while I did yoga in front of our Airstream, biting me right through my clothing. I would definitely be skipping Shavasana (corpse pose) on that day of practice. Stillness would just bring more pain, and I was at my limit of pushing away suffering.
Also, dead snakes were smashed flat forever locked in “S” shapes along the cracked hot asphalt, still littered with toppled grasses and uprooted trees from the floods the previous season.
The per capita income in Lumberton, NC is $15,504. 26% of the population lives below the poverty line. The rest are barely scraping by, save for the indulgence of fresh fried chicken from the local convenience store with a line out the door. The Lumber river, which flows haphazardly through Lumberton because it has to in order to survive, is swampy and stagnant at places, including behind our RV park, a cesspool for biodiversity and overall ooze. But cute turtles.
We are nearly six months in on our planned one year journey, near the middle, a place where and we can’t see the curb on either side of the road. There is no safe haven. We could get hit by a car.
The flea market in Lumberton, like the mossy river that surrounds it, appears to be filled with various items rescued from the hurricane; a bleak attempt just to survive. Crumpled packs of toilet paper, dusty bottles of shampoo, a collection of used baby strollers sitting under the shade of a large tree. All dreams and hope for the future are lost somewhere in the bog, or swept away by the flood. I bought a large jar of home pickled Jalepenos from a lovely couple for $2, a fair price given the local clientel, but with such low margins marking a resort to desperate measures.
The only brewery in the area was in nearby Fayetteville, and as we pulled into the full parking lot, we again confirmed our theory that a microbrewery is the ultimate hub for a community. Located near Fort Bragg, the largest military base in the world, the patrons were mixed cliches of tidy haircuts (preparing to fight), barbed wire tattoos (enduring pain), and pregnant or recently pregnant wives (hope for the future). Reflecting the instability of the surrounding area, so too was the beer, marked with off flavors likely caused by yeast under stress.
But what mattered most was the people in the room. This was a place to gather and bond, to forget that we have built up a show of military force to protect a country that is thriving on the edge of falling apart. To forget the very real fact that another hurricane could strike any day.
Luckily, we had our sights set on the Atlantic, and our next stop was Wilmington, North Carolina.
It was so important that we dip our feet into the Atlantic. We hopped on our bikes and headed down what seemed to be a fair route, only a few miles. The road outside of our RV park was brutal, so we ducked into a side route down a dirt road named “Old Plantation Road” where I imagined large white houses with tall pillars out front, people sitting on their porches sipping sweet tea and waving to us as we rode by.
Instead while walking my bike around a large puddle I slipped and fell into the swampy ooze with a stench so putrid I wanted to surrender. Immediately, I squeezed every ounce of water from my water bottles to wash off my legs and feet and got back on my bike. No turning back. Eventually, we were out of the gravel and back on the road, this one not as aggressive. On our final stretch my husband John caught a glimpse of blue on the horizon but was then confronted by a security guard in a crisp white shirt walking out of his booth. Standing between us and wet toes in the Atlantic was a private island. Apparently, on that day, to get out of purgatory, we would have to pay.
Yesterday, John’s bike frame cracked near the rear wheel. He was planning to start a three day bike tour today, but as they say near the water, “that ship has sailed.” It will take longer to make it to the other side of the road without a bike and the asphalt gets hot in the summertime.
I thought purgatory was supposed to be like it was in the show Lost. More like Hawaii and less like hell.
And I was happy to remember a thought uttered by my YouTube yogi Sadie Nardini, “You don’t have to like it for it to be transformative. Think about spinach.”