Saturday, February 4, 2012

Surviving the Autocalypse, Episode II

AGRO Date 844.

Another gorgeous morning, with high wispy clouds from the leading edge of a tired cold front shredding the light blue sky with bloody royal purples fading to the faintest pinks. The high pressure cell rang the doorbell an hour before dawn with a tent-shuddering wind that made me wonder if I'd checked the trees above for widow-makers. My two-person tent would not protect me much from a half-ton of dead pine tree parts.

By the time I finished making breakfast -- instant pancakes, coffee, and some leftovers from last night's corned beef hash -- the wind was blowing steadily out of the north. I considered staying another day in my camp by the quiet field, but I barely had enough pancake mix for another meal. It's not a good idea to get low on supplies in the Autocalypse.

Besides, I still had a job to do, and promises to keep.

Once I broke camp and loaded everything up, I got back on the interstate and trudged into the wind. It's days like this when you regret the amount of wind that bags and a trailer catch, and appreciate a triple crank. You hug the edge of the road whenever trees or a hill give you any protection, and sigh sadly when you round a corner and see the road going straight through a flat empty field.

Just after noon, I saw the first farmer headed south with produce to sell. He and his son, who looked to be about 10 years old, were driving a Mennonite wagon pulled by a mule. They weren't Mennonites themselves, of course -- the kid's Caterpillar cap made it easy to figure that out.

As you would expect, the Amish and Mennonites had no trouble adapting to a world without gasoline or diesel fuel. In fact, their numbers had grown thanks to an almost complete end of attrition from grown children heading off to the wicked world. More than that, however, the past years had seen a serious influx of "converts of convenience" into these communities. Their rise in numbers had allowed the creation of a cottage industry -- no pun intended -- that made wagons and butter churns to sell to "outlanders." These places also made pretty good bicycles, and could repair them, too.

The farmer and I approached one another warily. There are plenty of highwaymen and marauders on the roads in the Autocalypse, which is why so few of us venture past our immediate communities. We chatted briefly, and I traded him two "C" cell batteries for a half-dozen apples and a bunch of carrots. He was just going another few miles with his produce, and I told him the highway was good there. I asked about the town where I was headed, and his look changed. "Yeah, most folks there are okay. Watch out for that Miller family, though."

Figures. John Miller was who I was looking for.

We wished each other a good ride and went our opposite ways. I ate a couple of the apples to get some energy, but it was slow going as the day wore on. Still five miles from my turn off of the interstate, I camped by a small creek. This gave me a chance to take a bath and do some laundry, hanging my clothes in the breeze in hope that my biking shorts would be dry in the morning. I tested the water and found that it was okay to drink, so I filled my empty bottles and set a pot boiling over my little camp stove. Half of the carrots went into that, along with my last two potatoes and strips of salt-cured beef. It was not the best stew that I've ever had, but it worked.

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