5:30 AM

After a short holiday along the Missouri/Arkansas border line, where Mother Nature flirted with hundred degree temperatures for three or four days, it’s actually kind of chilly this morning. I’m on the road by 5.30 and I must have acclimated to the heat because at 60 degrees it seems like there is a bite in the air. A month ago I would have thought this balmy! I pedal at a quick cadence, not just to get out of town and into the countryside, but also to warm my arms and legs. What a wuss I’ve become in just a few days!

Along the south end of Missouri Street, the pavement has been removed clear down to the foundation of the road in preparation for a fresh layer of tarmac. For the moment, it has become a bone jarring obstacle course of craters and bumps and boulder-sized chunks of gravel. 291 is clear and I dodge around the canyons of debris and shoot across the highway and onto an outer road; the experience on the south side is only slightly less teeth rattling.

The outer road gained and a railroad bridge crossed, I am quickly enjoying a gentle downhill coast. My shadow is cast on the embankment to my right and the hills of rural Missouri beckon, farmland spreads out before my eyes.

Perhaps it’s only natural, but I feel so much stronger and more energetic as a morning rider than an afternoon cyclist, when the day has beaten me nearly senseless.

Passing along an abandoned railroad depot, the last of the early morning humidity lifts noticeably and the temperature rises slightly. Morning mists are gone and the sun sits about ten degrees above the horizon, and only now am I passed by the very first car of the morning. In half a mile I will reach my first stop – not because I’m tired, but because there are plump mulberries to be picked and consumed.

It’s Tuesday morning, the first weekday of my summer break from teaching and I’ve seen only one other cyclist. I find myself these past four weeks or so pedaling, for the most part, in one single gear. The chain spins around my 48t big chainring and is nestled on the third cog from the left in the rear, a — what? Twenty-three tooth cog? Twenty-one? I don’t know for sure and make a mental note to check that later on. I wonder to myself how many gear-inches I’m pulling, what is this magical 48/21 combination that has felt so right over the past month. Especially this morning, it feels comfortable and leisurely — but not doggy.

About five minutes into yesterday’s ride the battery in my Garmin died. So I’m riding this morning without a direction or destination in mind, no record of time or sense of speed: that feels just about right. If someone were to pull alongside me right this moment and ask me how fast I was traveling, I’d have to respond, “Comfortably.”

Turning east, I ride directly into the sun for many miles. The hills, the vegetation and growth around me, and the occasional farm building — they are all dark silhouettes, except for a rather unearthly glow around the edges. Foxtails and puffy dandelions are translucent; the long, tall blades of whatever sort of grass grows beside the road: they, too, display a wondrously vibrant neon green translucence. Turning a corner, I see wildflowers, an electric periwinkle blue.

The road mirrors a bend in the Missouri River and as I emerge from the shadow of tall bluffs, I’m hit by the warmth of air, baked on low in the oven of the young day’s sun. The fields on either side of me are freshly furrowed and beans sprout four, six — seven inches in height. Immediately south of me, the trestles of a train track runs parallel to my pathway. Normally I might have already been passed by a train but I’ve somehow timed things so as to have thus far missed the lumbering mass of steel.

As if on some silent cue, a train rumbles up from the west and disappears into hazy sunlight and a field of corn.

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