By Rod Jones. More of Rod’s writing can be read at www.thewesternwind.com.
He sat alone in a small café in Henderson, Kentucky. From his viewpoint, the muddy waters of the Ohio River lay quiet, without a barge in sight. The coffee in front of him had gone lukewarm, and the half-eaten western omelet remained untouched.
After that week in January when everything changed, the only logical step was to leave.
In the two and half years since he left Indiana, Wes had experienced more change than he had in his first 32 years combined. On bike lanes and backroads, he’d traveled to every state in the continental United States looking for the answer to his void. His only companion on the road, his laptop, provided a way for him to speak to the interested world by posting random musings about his adventure. Fame came to him through his travel blog, upandrunning.com, depicting a man wandering for what some might consider a meager living. It even landed him an interview with Matt Lauer on The Today Show.
Throughout the first year and half, Wes believed he was doing something original, heroic even. Instead of just lying in front of TV or trying to find a parking place at Wal-Mart, he took part in an epic adventure, fully funded by the some 10,000 readers he had accumulated. Lately however, the satisfaction of contributing to the literary world faded away with each new blog post.
For the past 10 or so states, a nagging sense of despair nipped at his peddling heels. Wes hoped inspiration might appear. It never did. By the Indiana state line, his only motivation was to finish.
“Want a refill on that coffee sweetheart?” the waitress said to Wes.
He took his eyes off the hypnotic flow of the river and shook his head no. Wes took out his memo pad and gnawed pencil and wrote, Thank you, just the check please.
Wes suffered from apraxia, a rare brain disorder where he lost the ability to speak. His mind and strength remained strong, but his mouth and tongue somehow forgot how to form sounds beyond a mumble.
The illness came out of nowhere. One morning Wes woke up in his small house, located in the Indianapolis suburb of Beech Grove. The doctors–there were several–later explained to him that he had suffered an acute epileptic seizure in the neural connectors of his brain. It meant that he would no longer talk.
Losing the power to speak did not stop him from ending things with his fiancée Suzanna, nor did it take away his ability to shout at himself within the confines of his own mind since that day. Whether it was the frustration of his predicament, or the monotony of life, Wes decided the only answer to his problem was to take an escape route via his bicycle.
Wes laid down a ten dollar bill and moved his right hand over it in a slashing motion, signaling that no change would be needed.
Outside the June morning air was already too hot.
His route today, the second to last one, took him across the Ohio River into Evansville, Indiana and hopefully all the way up to Bloomington before night. Wes set up a quick self-photo with his digital camera in front of the diner for a later blog post that night, and then pedaled north to his home state.
As he started the decent down the two lane bridge, he could see a couple of news reporters and cameramen getting ready to capture his moment for the 5 o’clock news. He expected them, as they had been tracking his progress for a while now.
Behind them sat the last person he thought he would see on his return home, Suzanna on the hood of her VW Jetta. She held a piece of poster board that read, “Welcome back.”
After some rushed interviews, with Wes using a dry erase board stored in one of the bags on his bike, the news crew packed up, congratulated him, and headed back to their respective offices. Suzanna waited patiently through all of it.
“You lost weight,” she opened with.
45 pounds, Wes scribbled on the small board.
They both stood there in the bright sunlight for what seemed like hours, thinking about all the time both before and in-between that led to this moment. Suzanna thought of some memory in the past, and a smile widened across her face.
“I know this is not easy,” she said. “It isn’t that easy for me either, but I thought you deserved a proper welcome from someone you know.”
Thank you Wes wrote and held it up. He quickly erased it with the back of his hand, and put down the only question he could think, How have you been?
“Forget about all of those common questions,” she said with a quick wave of her hand. “We have work to do.”
Work? he wrote with a huge question mark.
“I have talked with a team of speech language pathologists up at IU about you,” she said referencing their alma mater, where the two of them met 10 years before. “They think there might be a new surgery that may be able to allow you to speak again. And, just to let you know, I kicked up your PR machine into full gear. Once you can speak again, there are about million magazines and book publishers who want to buy your story.”
She smirked, the same smile he had thought about often while riding out in the middle of nowhere.
I will meet you there he wrote on the board. After showing her the message he held out one finger, indicating wait a second. His next message read, I still want to finish this last day of riding.
“Okay,” she said. “Do you think you can make it to Bloomington tonight?”
Wes shook his head affirmatively. He then pulled out the camera once again, and took a picture of Suzanna with her sign.
“Okay, I have you booked for room at the bed and breakfast just off the campus on Dunn Street. Shouldn’t be hard to find.” And with that, she hopped back in her car and headed north.
Wes rested in the emergency lane for another minute, and then slowly pushed himself back on to his seat. He looked out over the browning cornfield to his right. He kicked off and began to pedal, trying his best to come up with what to say on his blog later that night.