February 22, 2018 - Olivia Round shared this guest post with the Adventure Cycling blog.
It was another hot October day in Kansas. I was pedaling along a quiet country road, with only the occasional car or straggly patch of roadside sunflowers to keep me company. Kansas marked the halfway point on this bicycle tour, which would eventually take me 5,000 miles from Oregon to Florida. When a grasshopper suddenly leapt into my shirt, I squeaked and fished it out. I couldn’t help laughing as I threw the leggy creature over my shoulder. The place where it had tap-danced on my sternum tickled.
I thought nothing of the insect’s intrusion until I pulled into a gas station to refuel. With my heart set on a package of chocolate cookies, I approached the door only to have a young woman stop me. She was curious about my fully loaded bicycle. “I saw some other people on bikes yesterday,” she explained. In Kansas, our bright spandex and heavily laden panniers stuck out like sore thumbs. The woman was full of questions.
My focus flicked from her friendly face to the door she was blocking. I was distracted by dreams of chocolate cookies, but the words came easily. I’d been fielding these same questions for over two months now. “Yes, I’m traveling alone ... I started in Oregon ... Oh, a couple months ago ... It is a long way ... Yes, I do get scared sometimes. But it’s so worth it.” While my mouth did the talking, I pondered whether I wanted the cookies to be chocolate or just have chocolate chips in them. Maybe both: double chocolate chip.
Then came the scream. My eyes snapped back to my new acquaintance, just in time to see her swat at a tiny fly that had landed on her shoulder. “Ew, BUG!” she shrieked. The fly made a quick departure. The woman shook her head, as if to rid herself of a nightmare, took a shuddering breath, and continued with her interrogation.
For a moment, I forgot all about chocolate cookies. I stared at the woman, but was no longer listening. My mind replayed the scene: the screech, the indignant swat, the assertion of her personal space against the fly. Maybe I used to be like that. I couldn’t remember.
Since the beginning of this bike tour, bugs and I bothered each other with impunity. Spiders wandered into my tent and were thrown back out, ants were shaken from my panniers, mosquitos sucked at me before getting slapped, and grasshoppers dove into my clothing. The idea of screaming with outrage every time a grasshopper landed on me was so far from my current reality that it seemed laughable.
I pondered the situation afterwards as I sat languidly on the curb, munching my hard-earned chocolate chip cookie in the sunshine. For a girl who’d grown up in the wet, dark, somewhat-claustrophobic old growth forests and steep mountains of Southeastern Alaska, Kansas was as foreign to me as an alien planet. I was pedaling across a vast land so flat, it felt like crossing an ocean rather than the Sunflower State. And this bizarre landscape came complete with tiny alien lifeforms.
“Isn’t it marvelous that grasshoppers don’t suck your blood?” I’d written in my journal the night before. “I’d be dead days ago if they did.” It was the truth. All day, every day, I was barraged by grasshoppers. The whole state seemed to be infested. It was especially noticeable when I rode past fields of corn, which in Kansas felt like most of the time. As my bicycle passed by the crops, grasshoppers would shower me like rice being thrown at a bride. They sailed into my path, hitting my face or running into my helmet with tiny smacking sounds.
I even got bugs in my teeth. Not grasshoppers, thank goodness, but tiny gnats sometimes flew into my gaping, oblivious maw. I’d come to realize just how often my mouth was hanging open by how many of these gnats I was swallowing. Granted, I could’ve reduced the number of ingested insects by keeping my mouth closed, but it was too difficult. Between panting from exertion and grinning at the sheer beauty of this adventure, I couldn’t keep my lips together for long.
I glanced down at the empty package of cookies, and sighed. Having a daily dose of gnats was probably good for my carb-heavy diet. These little specks of raw, local protein added some flavor to the flatness of Kansas.
Editor’s Note: Olivia posted to our guest blog last year too. In case you missed it, here’s that link: It Ain’t So Bad Being Vulnerable
Olivia Round is a writer and cyclist who is currently writing a memoir about her cross-country bike tour. For more information, and to read her interviews with other female bicyclists, visit her website at OliviaRound.org
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