Monday, October 8, 2007

The Wall

We ran forever on the first day, our feet pounding the equatorial super-highway that split the Earth like a concrete ribbon. We started in Singapore, her and I, and broke west. The sky was open, gray, devoid of color. Beneath it, the highway stretches wide and out, filling the rest of our vision.

In the beginning, the crowds roared for us, chanting our names, holding banners. As we digest the miles, there is less passion, fewer people. They still cheer, though they do it from their homes, from shanties or lean-tos pushed up against the highway's walls like discarded driftwood. Lorry drivers honk their horns when they pass, giving us the thumbs up or shouts of encouragement.

I can feel the sweat soaking through my hair and shirt, lying heavy on my temples. It itches but I refuse to scratch, knowing that scratching will only make it worse.

My wife smiles at me in shared misery. The hair on the back of her neck is damp, and her ponytail sways free to the rhythm of each step. We spoke for the first couple of hours, but the conversation dried out, as civilization dwindled, as we focused on pushing out the miles, our shoes drinking in the pavement.

Seventy miles in, we make camp, resting our backs against one of the bridge's giant suspenders as we swallowed rough bites of cured meat and distilled water. The super-highway is not like most roads or bridges. Supported by the sky, it spans continents. The suspenders climb beyond the top of the world, beyond the eye's ability to see. Outside the atmosphere, invisible to us, counter-weight stations anchor each line.

We start out the next day, our bodies still sore.

We have 27,973 miles to go.

We hope to finish in 13 months.

We run a thousand feet above the South China Sea for the next six days, and eventually see land again. Borneo has grown in the past few generations. Where once it was an idle locale of dense jungles and empty beaches, it now looks like everything else, like a neon circuit board writ gigantic. We ignore its exit signs and push on, past the Celebes. The Pacific Ocean looms below us, an empty wasteland of harsh salt water. The highway is narrower here, just wide enough to handle six cars, side by side.

Out here there are fewer people, fewer travelers, fewer lorries, fewer cars. We see them rarely now, one every handful of hours. Each day looks the same, though rest stops punctuate the highway every 500 miles. We see them only once a week.

"Can we stop?" One of us asks 27 days in. "Maybe walk a few miles?" We glance at each other between each long stride. We can both feel the wall; that place, physically, where we can produce no more.

We both shake our heads in unison. We have another 26,153 miles to go.

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