By now the chill has worked its way deep into my bones. I look down to my right and see the frost piled up in firm heaps on the side of the road, taunting me. My body remembers when I ran away at ten years old and ended up with my first case of mild hypothermia. I can feel the shivers fighting to work their way in from the tops of my thighs up into my belly. I pass a service station, the sign tells me it’s 38 degrees fahrenheit. I’m traveling at 63 miles per hour and every bit of me feels exposed. I went in search of adventure and I’m wondering if this counts, or if maybe I dared the elements too much and should have stayed wrapped up in the rented bed fifty miles behind me. To distract my mind from the cold and the rain that has started to splatter against my goggles I start to sing loudly to no one in particular. . .
“I seen a peanut stand, heard a rubber band
I seen a needle that winked its eye
But I be done seen ’bout ev’rything
When I see a elephant fly”
It works for a few chords and I can’t help but laugh to myself and think that this is just about the greatest thing I can imagine right now. I feel alive. I’m tired and I’m cold and I’m grumpy and I’m alive. It’s exactly this kind of experience I’ve relished since I was a kid. The bouts with hypothermia, the mild frostbite that turned my fingers and toes a waxy white and the subsequent pain of them coming back to life, the primal fear I felt in my gut while climbing the mast to recover an antennae in gale force winds in the Gulf of Alaska, the searing sun blisters during a rafting trip in Idaho, the pain that reminds me that I am, in fact, alive, and every bit an animal. I am a masochist and nature is my dominator. I serve myself up on a platter and beg for more every time.
The rain turns to a messy mix of frozen slop and needles thrown down from heaven. My nose is the only part of me that isn’t covered and I am now permanently wincing. I’m also smiling. I know I’ve only got about thirty miles to go now before I get to call it a day. I turn my heated grips up one more notch and roll on a little more throttle. I can see the snow accumulating in the hills above me and beyond them a break in the clouds. An ambulance pulls onto the road just ahead of me and struggles to build momentum. The draft of displaced energy coming off the back of the awkward box tries to pitch me to one side and then the other. I hold tight and stiffen my core while allowing my hips to sway and dip to compensate. It feels like dancing. Maybe a little like fucking. I flash my high beam and a quick one finger salute at them after I downshift and adjust for the sudden drop in speed. You see me now, don’t you, I smile.
The oncoming traffic begins to thicken and I know that means I’m getting closer to a hot cup of coffee and another rented bed for the night. I laugh to myself again and continue singing . . .
“I saw a baseball bat
And I just laughed
Til’ I thought I’d die
But I’d be done seen
When I see a elephant flyyyyyy”
See you down the road.
*Lyrics from the song “When I See an Elephant Fly” as featured in Disney’s Dumbo.