Hitching A Ride

This is an excerpt from an unedited and unpublished novel that will likely be published this winter. I hope you enjoy.

I peddled east out of Olean and stopped at a grocery. I bought a small can of corned beef, a couple of packages of Twinkies, a can of assorted nuts, and a half pound of bacon. I turned northeast and soon found a woods and camped about fifty yards from the road.

The next morning was foggy. I fried the bacon and sliced potatoes over a fire and had a magnificent breakfast. I cleaned up the campsite and pointed the bike north. In a couple of hours the fog lifted along with it the fear of being hit by a car.

The weather was incredibly pleasant and warm, not at all what was expected. There was no frost to this point, but knew it was coming. It was prepared for. There was little thought of home. There had to be turmoil and anger - perhaps some tears. I had tears. My emotions were many and did not know whether they were tears of sadness or determination. I peddled on straining the inclines and coasting down with speed and exhilaration that dried the tears.

A young lady (older than I) in a red Renault pulled beside me. “You going to Alfred?” she said through a rolled down window.

“Yeah,” I said as peddled along side.

“Do you want a lift?” she said.

“Sure,” I said and stopped.

She stopped the car and got out. “Can you tie it to the back?”

“I think so,” I said and lifted the bike on to the back bumper and secured it with rope.

We got in the car. The back seat was packed with clothing, household items and a plant. She was tall with black hair and horned rim glasses. She was dressed in slacks and a blouse and looked as though she was in her twenties.

“Mary Kaplan,” she said as she put the car in gear and drove away.

“Steve Barnett,” I said.

“Where ya from Steve?”

“Ohio,” I said, “How about you?”

“Buffalo,” she said. “This is my last year at Alfred.”

“You a freshman,” she asked.

The question stumbled me at first. I was thinking freshman in high school and it occurred she must have meant college. “I hope I didn’t give you the wrong impression. I’m not going to college at Alfred. I just happened to know there’s a college there. I’m just passing through.”

“Oh,” she said and hesitated.

“If you want me to get out that’s okay,” I said.

“No, no that’s okay. I just assumed,” she said. “Where are you headed?”

“Maine,” I said.

“You have family there?”

“No, just want to live there,” I said.

“Why a bicycle?” she said.

“I thought it would be the best way to see the country,” I said.

“How’s it going so far?” She asked

“Good,” I said. “New York is beautiful - not what I expected.”

“How so?” she asked.

“I didn’t expect so many hills. It’s hard to do on a bike,” I said. “What are you taking in college?”

“Astronomy,” she said.

“That’s interesting,” I said admiringly.

“Yes it is,” she said smugly.

“Are you going to go to college someday?” She asked.

“Perhaps,” I said.

“That usually means no,” she said.

“If I say perhaps it means perhaps,” I said.

“What are your interest?” She asked.

“I’m interested in everything,” I said.

“Can you narrow that down?” She said. “That means you have no interest. You’ll be like a steel ball in a pinball machine, bumping from one thing to another with no direction in your life."

“As an example you’re interested in everything in the universe, right?” I said.

“Right,” she said.

“The universe is vastly and infinitely larger than the earth, right?” I said.

“Right,” she said.

“I’m interested only in what is on earth,” I said. “That makes it vastly and infinitely more narrow than your interest.” I smiled.