Thursday, July 13, 2006

Day 53: 49 miles, Jul 10

This was, without a doubt, my most remarkable day so far. No, that's not a baby alien I'm holding. Read on....

To begin with, I awoke in the motel to a thunderstorm. A real gully-washer, as my Mom says. The rain and lightning were too intense to ride in, so I took a slow breakfast and tried to wait it out. Well, after waiting an hour and half, all it would do was stop to start again. I just had to put on my big boy britches and get out there.

I was soaked before leaving the city limits of Marshfield, but at least being wet was cooling! Fortunately, the morning brought me many cyclists: Bill from Savannah, and Mo and Katie from Austin. They were all westbounders, and I chatted with each. We encouraged each other, and that definitely makes the ride easier.

The day's main event began, however, when I spotted a small beige object in the road about 25 miles from Marshfield. I see all sorts of debris in the road, so I just steered clear of it, thinking it was a chunk of tree wood washed up from the hard rain. As I passed, however, the grapefruit-sized chunk uttered a sound.

"Rrrroooooowwwwwgh," it said.

"Holy @#$% what IS that?!" I said out loud and circled around to get a closer look. Folks, I'm not lying when I say that, though I've seen newborn kittens before, I honestly wasn't sure that this wasn't some strange Missouri critter, certainly when viewed through foggy and rain-bespeckled sunglasses. Well, deciding I should investigate, I pulled off the road, with some difficulty since it was still raining quite hard, and got the bicycle settled, again with some difficulty. A 70 pound bicycle is sometimes weird to balance.

By the time I was ready walk over to what I was now sure a soaked kitten, my heart sank to discover that there were three cars coming. The first of them was a semi truck. With only a few seconds to react, I knew I couldn't risk making a dash for the creature. The road conditions were too dangerous, and the truck could have an accident. I decided to just wave my arms violently and point at the cat. Pretty futile, I know, but what else was I supposed to do? I felt helpless, and I quickly realized with horror that I had very possibly done the wrong thing. See, the cat was in the center of the lane where, presumably, it would pass between the wheels of a vehicle, and I had just caused the truck to swerve about two feet into the oncoming lane.

You know how it feels when you think you're about to witness something horrible and that you should just turn away and wait for it to be over but you somehow can't avert your eyes? That's how it was. I watched, through the crack of my fingers, as five tons of steel and rubber hurtled towards eight ounces of fur and fleas.

Miraculously, kitty went right between the tires of all three vehicles! The draft from the truck caused the poor, wet thing to roll over a few times, but it escaped OK. I went to the road, picked it up, carried it back to the shoulder and promptly burst into tears.

I had saved the life of another creature. I've ever done that before, and the sudden realization that the cat's life was totally owed to me was overwhelming. Anyone who knows me knows I don't really go for cats -- I'm allergic to them, in fact, but certainly I couldn't have acted any other way.

Once I collected myself (put on a new pair of big boy britches) I knocked on a few doors. No one answered, and the cat seemed OK for now. I had initially thought that it was injured because it couldn't walk, but I then remembered that newborn kittens can't walk. That's probably what saved this animal -- it couldn't move more quickly than a slow crawl from its lucky position in the center of the lane. The little furball's eyes were barely open.

It dawned on me that I was stuck with this cat, at least until the next town, so I wrapped it in my only towel, and put it in my rear left pannier on top of my tent, closed it (it was still raining hard, and took it for a ride! Hartville was very close, less than a mile, and I'd figure something out there.

As I parked at the Conoco in Hartville, my bag was talking to me.

"Mmmmreeooow. Mrow. Rrreooow."

I peeked inside to make sure kitty was OK, and it clung to my fingers each time I reached in. It was lonely and cold. The lady at the gas station said there was no vet or animal shelter nearby but pointed me towards city hall across the street, suggesting that they take care of local feral animals. As I stood, moments later, dripping on the carpet of city hall, explaining my situation ("I'm on a cross-country bicycle ride, so I can't really take the cat with me..."), the receptionist seemed not to know what to do. Go figure! I asked for a phone book and called the nearest vet, 15 miles away. The vet reluctantly said they'd take the cat and that I should get some goat's milk and a dropper to feed it. Kittens need nourishment every two hours.

Next stops: grocery store and pharmacy. Coming to the grocery store checkout in soaking wet cycling clothes and carrying a can of goat's milk, the cashier said, "Will that be all for you, then?" The humor of the situation suddenly struck me, so I replied that "Yes, but it's actually not for me. It's for a kitten I have in my bicycle bag. Would you like to have a cat?" She said "no" but that Wanda at the Lollipop Diner might take another cat. She has over twenty already.

My hopes for the cat's future brightened as I anticipated meeting the town ailurophile, Wonderful Wanda. The Lollipop is a new venture, decorated with Elvis memorabilia and oldies tunes, a good place for lunch out of the rain at the very least, I thought. I introduced myself. "Wanda, my name is Oliver, and I hear you're a cat person."

She nodded, a little suspiciously. "Well, I have someone you'd like to meet. Would you follow me outside?" A curious customer and another on the wait staff, Janine, followed as well. I produced the bedraggled and mewling kit, and told my story to the little audience. The customer, a local man, remarked that perhaps the mother panicked while crossing the road and dropped her package there. Wanda agreed to take the cat, and explained that there was a large feral cat problem in the area, and that she has taken it upon herself to care for as many as she can afford. She mentioned that she spent over $2000 last year getting the herd spayed and neutered and reassured me that this cat would have a good home.

Relieved, I sat down and ate my burger.


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