Road to Nowhere Journal
Raphael Evanoff

2/5- A Journey on Foot (Less than dramatic exodus).

Friday was a mildly overcast, somewhat warm day, which was not all that unlike the Friday preceding it. By the time I packed up my materials and exited the Art Building, I already knew where I wanted to be. I was, however, much less clear on how I was going to get there, or how difficult it might be. In my mind, I was very intent on leaving the confines of Iowa City, but my body, that day, wasn't feeling too keen on the idea of walking a couple of miles (for all I knew) to some place that I'd have to turn around and walk right back from. I had no idea how large or small this city is, and my idea of what sights lay beyond was sketchy. After a bit of contemplation, I realized that I would have to keep going until I could look back and not see any Iowa City. The lure of reaching the vast open space of the fields that I pictured in my mind seemed worth the effort, and besides, I felt a little bit of exercise and some fresh air could only do me some good.

As to the getting there?. . . it became a kind of play by feel thing. My last class was over and I immediately began heading in the direction of South, on the west side of the Iowa River. In retrospect it was probably the worst decision I made that day. I think any other way would've been quicker, or at least would have been a more aesthetically pleasing route.

In this age of super-sonic flights, bullet trains, and rocket cars (well, maybe not yet), travel by foot seems exceptionally slow, and is to be avoided whenever possible. I wasn't completing this journey on foot to fulfill a romantic notion of traveling to the countryside on foot; it was pretty much my only option--walk or stay home. Still, I wanted to go somewhere, even with my means of travel simplified to the most primitive form of transportation. The first lesson that I learned was that there is a reason behind the historic and modern use of the horse, camel, sled dog, elephant, bicycle, automobile, etc. Walking is slow.

I passed all the familiar sites in my small college world with ease. I noted all the places familiar to me, from the water rushing over the generator at the power plant, to the greasy food served at the Dairy Queen, until I eventually reached the Hungry Hobo. This pretty much marked the spot where Iowa City became foreign to me. "How silly," I thought, that this watermark was none other than the Hungry Hobo.

The cityscape unfolding in front of me appeared to be becoming more industrial, which I disparagingly equated with more city-like. "Perhaps the other side of the river will hold more promise," the eternal optimist inside reasoned. I decided to cross to the east side of the river, which would also give me a good opportunity to gauge the distance that I still had to go.

What I saw both surprised and disappointed me. There were buildings stretching off into the distance, and no signs of Iowa City giving up. I may have been a little too optimistic in hoping that after the HyVee, a corn field would pop up out of nowhere, but I had had no idea that this small city expanded for the distance that I saw it did. However, I was ready for the walk--what disappointed me was that I would have to forego walking along the river for walking along Gilbert Street.

The sky had by this point became an unfriendly grey, torn by a hazy, bright region beyond which the sun glared. I had a fleeting worry that I would be unable to reach wherever I was going as I made my way past the animal control center. In the fenced area behind this building stood a single, medium sized, brown dog. We stared at each other as I passed by.

I gained momentum with each step, and in no time I was walking past the HyVee. Following it was a railroad line which seemed to be some important demarcation, for beyond the tracks rose a dusky wooded ridge. I realized that what existed on the other side of the landscape was a complete mystery to me, and just like that I was intrigued, encouraged to push farther simply for the purpose of discovery.

Finally, I reached the point where the sidewalk ended and I sidled onto the dirt strip at the edge of the road. Traffic had become increasingly sparse until finally there was a grand, fat silence which was only occasionally interrupted by a car barreling down the highway. The silence was almost frightening to me, a city dweller, because there was really no sound at all to be heard. The atmosphere eerily begged the question, "If Raphe falls in the middle of nowhere and nobody is around to hear
him. . ."

All of the cars that blew by appeared and sounded as if they were in a hurry to get somewhere, while I had already resigned myself to the fact that I wasn't going to get anywhere fast. Their noise reverberated in my head with the wrathful hellfire of terrible demons vomiting out a frightful roar as they toar down the open road.

Near this spot, where the sidewalk ended, I noticed a plaque at the foot of a dusty drive that led back to an ancient house and barn. The sign read: "Site of the first farm in Johnson County."

"Well, shit," I grinned to myself, "if I take nothing else from this walk, this could almost make it worthwhile." I don't know why I thought it was so important or special; maybe I felt like I had witnessed a bit of local history. Perhaps I was simply looking to validate my walk. Either way, I suppose I now have bragging rights when it comes to talking about the early settlements of Johnson County, Iowa.

On I kept walking. I passed a little league field and a plastic pipe distributor. A school bus stopped in front of me and disposed of a grade school Iowa youth. It sped off into the distance (the bus, not the kid) and I realized that I did not need to walk any further. There was nowhere to go from there. I had wished to find the vast expanse that is Iowa and I was there.

In my brief time in this state, I have notice that Iowa is a state full of starers. No doubt, I was quite a sight to behold that day. I basically looked like a poor, inept college boy who had made a horribly wrong turn on his way to physics. I was in my student-type clothes, walking down this road in my white tennis shoes, toting a backpack. Sure enough, I got my share of odd, concerned looks by drivers. It didn't bother me though; I'm sure the intentions were good.

As I was contemplating this observation, I passed a quarry of some sort, a rusty old pick-up truck creeping by alongside me. It was on a dirt road, running parallel to the one that I was walking. The goofy-looking driver stared at me with a perverse, spine-tingling grin, rotating his head as not to miss any moment of staring at me as he drove by.

The "boy, you gots a purty mouth" look scared me a bit (though I'm not suggesting in any way that I think Iowa is inhabited by frightening West Virginian mountain hillbillies) and I was running out of steam. It was time to turn around--there was no place to sit, no place to meditate. It was a trip of perpetual motion.

Not more than ten steps after turning back, the sun came out for the first time that whole day. My shadow exploded across the blacktop. It was a good sign in my book.

Although a little weary, I wasn't really tired at all. In fact, the walk back was much more pleasant than the walk out. The exercise had cleared my mind of the constant inane chatter that typically occupies it around the clock; it felt cleaned and fresh, and I floated back into town. Before I went home, I stopped in HyVee to get some goods, and passed through some over-ordinary middle class neighborhood. It was filled with winding roads with finales of cul-de-sacs and dead ends, making me worry that I would get lost and have to sleep there, in some milky-breathed child's top bunk.

But I was on top of my game. My navigational skills directed me out of the confusing, irrationally-planned neighborhood of beige boxes to the place where S. Dodge Street begins. Since no one else was available, I patted myself on the back. It was all right, where I wanted to be. Which, I guess, is always a good thing.

photograph of bicycle rack
by S. Balsley