Just before New Madrid, MO, Mile 898 on Lower Mississippi – November 15, 2012
The signs first appeared in the Twin Cities, simple black numbers on white squares that hung below each navigation light.
854.8, 810.2, 701.3.
I passed a few of them before I realized they were mile markers counting down the Upper Mississippi. After that, I saw them everywhere, hundreds of them, holding their signs and telling me just how far I’d come and how far I had to go.
606.1, 539.2, 477.2.
The numbers seemed unreal at first, too big to digest, to think about. Eight-hundred, five-hundred, seven-hundred miles, what did it matter? I tried to ignore them. I called them liars. I glared at them, shivering in the cold with a sore back and tired arms, refusing to believe the number painted on their little white board. But they wouldn’t be ignored and never lied. They stood there and held their signs, deaf to my protests.
402.2, 287.1, 121.9.
Then they began to feel real. Three-hundred miles isn’t too far. I carved away chunks each day. Two-hundred miles left, then one. Mile by mile, stroke by stroke, they gave in, my spirits rising with each diminished sign.
100.9, 54.1, 4.4.
On the point between the Ohio and Mississippi, I stared up at the last beacon. It held its sign high and proud.
“Don’t lie to me,” I said.
“0.8,” it said.
But now, now that I’ve counted down to zero once, the numbers have all reset, winding back up to 953.
“Liars,” I say, joking now, knowing they tell the truth.
I’ve played this game before and I’ll whittle them down again.
946.6, 926.6, 911.5.