Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Cycling with heat. Feeling variously bad, good and blessed.

Maybe it's dietary. Maybe it's the heat. Maybe I'm just not strong sometimes.

I set out from Ben's house in Berea, and my legs weren't exactly the powerful pistons I'd expected after a day of non-cycling. Maybe it's the heat. I was dripping sweat everywhere by 9am, and the sun enveloped me with a brutal omnipresence. The only fun I had was on the few shaded descents. The good news for me is that Berea is a separating point between the steep hills and coal trucks of eastern Kentucky, and the rolling open hills of western Kentucky. When you're talking turkey about Kentucky, you need to differentiate between east and west. They're completely different places.

I made it to a restaurant in Burgin, KY, and had a cheeseburger and fries. Maybe it's dietary. I should probably be eating better food and more of it. My meal was free because the cook dropped my ticket behind a counter, and my burger didn't come out until people who came in after me were already eating. I drank a pitcher of Coke. Jeff walked in looking like he was coming off the slide at a water park. I was happy to sit in the air conditioning and watch him eat.

On to Harrodsburg. There was another six mile stretch before a big air conditioned public library. Sounds great. I was revived enough to be ready.

I rode off into the heat feeling like a funny kind of great. I zipped to the library feeling like a beat up donkey on a spit - countenance mitigated by an asymmetrical smile. Half of an authentic grin. I was getting away with something - like when the police ask questions and you don't leak a syllable. Justice. I felt like a confident piece of toast in a toaster. Alive and well in western Kentucky. Tell your mom I'm doin' fine! I asked for directions to the public library as I stood almost inside of its book return. I entered the air conditioning smiling like the elected king of the dirty-prom.

I sat in the library catching up on business. Jeff was there soon. Then, out the window, I saw loaded bicycles and yellow jerseys. They walked in and went between the stacks of books. I didn't have my glasses on, and had to confirm with Jeff - Yes! It was Adam and Megan! I went over to catch up and see if there were any notes to compare.

A few minutes into hushed conversation, a young and proper looking woman with straight red hair and glasses walked over. "Is one of you Chris?" she asked. Feeling famous as hell, I beamed "that's me!" just within an acceptable library volume. She introduced herself as Alicia, the person who had invited me to stay in her home about 15 miles away in the next town. She was dropping off a book, and saw touring bicycles peppering all of the entrances. She's great. She invited everyone! This was quite good.

In the spirit of being a social ambassador, I packed up my junk, filled my water bottles, and raced to Mackville.  When there's a friendly destination at the day's end, I'm like a moth to a light bulb. Suddenly motivated and erratic. I did what I do when I feel good late in the day. I tied my shirt onto the handlebars and mashed the pedals. I wove my way down the rural road, and shifted just right to scientifically maximize efficiency on the hills. I was chased by yet more dogs, but I have a new approach: "Come on, buddy! You can do it!" I cheer for them as soon as they bolt from the porch. There's usually no malice in the chase, but sometimes they're more intimidating and determined. Now I go faster and root on their ambitions. Then they get a boo hoo when they can't make it. Poor little slow dog! I felt light and strong, and I crossed the distance between towns in an hour flat.

The first thing I did was take a shower. I was pouring sweat like a bucket of it had been dumped over my head. I showered and felt great. I talked to Alicia for an hour or so while she prepared dinner. She has a nice tidy house. Her husband is the pastor of one of Mackville's five or so churches. It seems like there's a church for every two houses. Though this seems implausible, there actually is a Methodist church with a congregation averaging eight attendees.

Alicia asked if I have a blog. "Jeff has a great blog!" I offered in a somewhat verbally evasive manner - sheepish about my content in such innocent and pristine surroundings. Her husband and kids are away at their grandparents. It would just be her and the group of cyclists. She hosts a lot of people. She admits that she will approach people with loaded touring bicycles and try to see if they need food or shelter. Of course they do: all of them. Growing up with a father who was an Army chaplain, she moved about every three years. She's relatively open minded for the small town, and many people are aghast that she would invite strangers into her home. But she seems to love it.

Food was on the table, and Jeff was showered. Alicia said a nice grace, and we began eating a delicious and welcome meal. There were cookies, too. I also had some orange juice. I could eat everything in the world.

Adam and Megan made it a little bit later. They showered and ate before we gathered clothing for a group laundry load. We were invited to sleep inside, and not asked to leave in the morning when Alicia woke up for work. This is it. This is a real twist on the American dream. People like this should be the ones we aspire to be. Not because she's a Christian, but because she is a wonderful person who loves to help others.

It hasn't escaped my notice, however, that some of the people most ready to host traveling cyclists are also Christians first. From Matt in Manassas to Will in Charlottesville, to the string of churches offering hospitality along the route. You don't have to pray or get baptized - they just seem to smile and offer lodging. No catch, nothing to fear. I don't know what to call myself, but I think "incredibly ambiguously spiritual" comes close. I have a personal code that keeps me in my own good graces. I'm skeptical and alienated by most organized religion I see. But I know what it's like to feel blessed.

Monday, May 30, 2011

A Rest Day Offering Little Respite.

Waking up was brutal. Boy am I glad I ain't got no job. The phone alarms began at 5:30am, because some folks had work two hours away. I was in a crowded bed, and when the alarm sounded it felt like I'd just laid down my head. I picked up someone's phone and could not figure out how to shut off the alarm. It shouldn't have taken much science, but my brain had no electricity.

Work was cancelled for Ben because another guy couldn't make it. The girls still had to check on chickens and do a few hours of farm-ish and greenhouse labor at the college. Me personally? My rest day was full of activity.

I got the exact right couchsurfing host. Ben is good to talk to, low key and active. He knows plenty of interesting people, and that's how I got to meet them too. We went on a short hike and later went to see a waterfall. A group of four of us packed in Eagle's car and drove to Jackson County. (It was Eagle's rented cabin last night, and his real name is Eagle.)

The waterfall is a known swimming hole, but not known for being busy. Being Memorial Day, the spot was packed with kids from Berea College. You're not supposed to jump off the falls, but that activity was in full effect. On the drive up, I thought I'd give it a try, but as soon as we walked across the top of the rock formation to reach the path leading below, I knew I was out. Nope - didn't feel like taking that leap. Plus, you have to land in a certain spot to make sure your legs don't break. Nope - not down for anything anymore.

Really, my day only had about an hour of down time, when Ben and family went to pick up a bicycle for his younger brother. I sat in the kitchen with my guidebook and computer trying to figure out where the hell I might be sleeping in the upcoming days. There's some good stuff in Missouri and Kansas - a lot of free camping at city parks - but until then I might need to make some cowboy maneuvers to camp for free. Either related to this, but most probably not, I had anxiety. The big picture blurred the immediate one, or maybe the other way around. I sat at the table feeling small and alone. I sent out a couple emails through the Warmshowers list. I was more than pleased a few hours later when I was invited to stay at a home the perfect distance from Berea.

Hungry. Ben and I went to town to split a pizza. It was delicious, and we were most of the way though when Jeff walked in. Ben had some work to do, so I sat with Jeff to compare notes. He was welcome to - and took advantage of - camping in Ben's backyard. While Ben worked a few hours, Jeff and I went back to his house to discuss a little touring and logistics, and talk to Ben's mom.

Later, a group went to dinner at Kate's, which nicely rounded off an extremely long day. We sat around on the floor eating the food that she had prepared, and we talked. I was asked what my trail name is. I was just thinking about this. I told them I was just Chris, but if I needed to have a trail name I would offer up "Sassy Larry." Well, you can't give yourself the trail name - it needs to be given to you. I didn't know this, but it makes the entire practice seem less macho-goofy-escapist. The subject changed, but a few minutes later, my trail name came to light. Party Socks. If I ever need to introduce myself using a fake trail name, Party Socks is it. I actually like it, which I guess is probably requisite. It's a good name from several angles, but for now I'm still just Chris.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Down for anything. Berea is Kentucky at it's best.

I started the day with oats and coffee. I think that's what it takes to feel great and start riding. There are too many variables to be sure. Correlation is not causation, but I have a feeling I've found my power-breakfast. Further experimentation probably couldn't hurt. My alcohol stove is great.

The morning became warm, and I decided to listen to some percussive gritty vocals casually bouncing up to a crying soprano. I put some Sizzla through my headphones. As I cranked quickly through miles of rolling shady roads, I understood just what he was talking about. Jah, love, marijuana, and peace. He's right. That's all we need. Everything was roses. All of my senses were filled beautifully - the planets were all in line. Then I missed a turn.

I missed a turn at a crucial point, and rode right over a mountain before I knew that something was definitely wrong. Backtracking took me down a few rungs. I said 'fuck' literally hundreds of times as sweat poured into my eyes. Why? Why does this only seem to happen when I have an inviting destination and I want to meet someone by a certain time? It seems to be the case.

I got back on track, and proceeded to grind out the remaining distance unhappily. I finally convinced myself to quit being a pussy, because I was even starting to annoy myself. I arrived in Berea beat up and shell-shocked enough to amuse Jeff, who was sitting in the air conditioned coffee shop looking distinctly calm and gathered. It didn't look like he needed to beat anybody up to get there.

My Couchsurfing guy, Ben, was already hanging out in the coffee shop. I introduced myself, and pretty soon we were on bicycles heading for his home. That's when the page turned, and everything started looking up.

There was a party at an intentional community called "Egret's Cove," where Ben is building an earth bag house. One of the community residents just had a book about leaves published, and the gathering was a celebration. I got to see the earth bag house, which is much nicer than it sounds. It looks like a huge concrete igloo. There's plenty of space, it's well insulated, and it's incredibly sturdy. I saw a frame and straw bale house as well, and it's similarly unique and impressive. A large Army tent made another home, and as communities go, this is the best I've seen. Everyone is living well within their means. Finding an easy sustainable way of living is the focus. Plus, they're in the woods - but on the outskirts of an absolutely wonderful town. The reservoir - a big lake - is across the street. That's where we went boating.

Ben, me, Ben's girlfriend Saxon, and her friend Kate all took some boats out for a cruise around the clean water of the reservoir. Poke boats. They're kayak-like. Maybe they're just kayaks. In any case, paddling around was more fun than expected. And swimming felt great. I was starving, but I figured I could go a little longer without passing out. Science says so.

Then there was a plan agreed upon. We'd eat, leave, and go to a party two hours away. The activity level was impressive. I was tired, but I'm also determined to be DFA. I'm borrowing this acronym, but I'm using it to it's full intent and potential. I'm down for anything. Bring it.

We ate delicious food from tables full of potluck options. We got in Saxon's car. We got camping gear. We got on the road.

It wasn't a large gathering, but never do I mind. There was some Maker's Mark being passed around in a hot tub, and everyone ended up naked. If I'm not naked in some water at least a few times every summer, then I know that something needs to be adjusted. Eventually, I introduced Quizmo, which quickly devolved into nonsense and silliness. Which is basically the whole point of the game. I got a side spot on the commodious bed, and slept well for what felt like about 45 seconds.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Dry counties and more touring cyclists.

I woke up, broke camp, and pooped next to a tree. I found a pile of ancient Budweiser and Pepsi cans with the antiquated pull-tab method and thin pie-shaped drinking hole. I haven't seen these cans and labels since I was a kid horsing around in the bushes by the Red Clay Creek.

Today started rough. As it turns out, my camping spot wasn't quite as level as it looked. It was close enough to allow apathy, but I've gotten more sleep before. Many times on this trip, I've missed my simple bivy sack. The setup could not be easier, and repositioning is a cinch, even when you're inside the bag. More experience with my tent will reveal whether the added space is a true boon, or an unnecessary luxury. When stealth is a factor, it can be an encumbrance. When heat and bugs are a factor, I would prefer the tent - that night hasn't happened yet. I hope I'm not carrying a full-sized tent for purely hypothetical situations. I try to keep it in perspective: minor mental gear quibbles like this are normal and ignorable.

I started out on some tough hills, and bought a styrofoam cup of shitty coffee as soon as I could. I got a shitty pack of tiny donuts as though that might mitigate the situation. I passed up a 24oz can of Colt 45 Lemonade Blast - a choice I would later live to regret. Dry fucking counties. I should have accepted the extra weight - a small percentage increase in total. It was cheap, too. I'm dumb, but technically it tends to work out okay anyway.

After I got moving, the day was better. I managed to scrape the rust off my legs and overcome the outcome of my stifled sleep. I got around to cruising, and eventually a level of happy confidence trickled into my bloodstream. It was at this time I found Ken and Wayne. I was spinning up a long arduous incline, warming up my legs and fighting over switchbacks. The words in my guidebook: "beware of false summits." I saw bicycles with bags up ahead, and I was gaining very quickly. Something was afoot. It was them - they were walking up the hill.

Ken and Wayne are recently retired 60-something dudes. I cruised alongside asking the requisite questions: where from? / where to? / how here? / what next? You don't have to dig deep into your philosophy bag to stir up a chat with other people who are crossing the same country. They seemed amiable enough, so I hopped off my Hoopty and started walking along. After the next bout of walking began, I bid adieu - we agreed that we would be meeting later at the same free legitimate camping spot behind a church in Booneville.

Booneville, Kentucky. Home of Daniel Boone days. Home of a Dollar General, and not home to any beer. This town was dry without the wit. What they did have was live music, and I aimed to learn more when the sun got a little bit lower.

The accommodations behind the church were simple. A porta-john, a cold shower, a covered picnic table. There was a larger cement slab covered with a roof as well. It was perfect. With that setup, and a small sign welcoming cyclists, you can rejoice. Little town, little place to camp - let me at it.

I revealed that I've been a bicycle mechanic, and Ken was having shifting issues. Since I couldn't just sell him another bicycle, as the best mechanics do, I had to try to fix it. There was friction in the housing causing unpredictable shifting, and it was acting like the derailer hanger might be a little bent. I did what I could with Boeshild and a multi tool. I got it much better, but no bicycle in America will ever be as good as my Hoopty. The Hoop's got class.

I stripped my luggage off the Hoopty and went to see what live music sounds like. I met the guys up at the cafe and ordered cake and coffee. Ken put it on his bill as a thanks for making his shifting better, and I wished I had a new stainless cable to throw into the deal.

The music was bluegrass. Guitar, mandolin, banjo, squawking. This was some rural stuff happening here. Lots of old folks with handheld fans. When they felt the urge, they would stand and tap lazily with special clogging shoes. It wasn't tap dancing - it was clicking around with what are called clogging shoes. Nobody showed much gusto. It was a hot tired romp that hovered around being in time with the music. This was something I didn't know existed. It could be a scene from a movie. There wasn't much emotion in the room, but there were several rows of folding chairs, all full. If I was shown a photograph of this scene and asked to guess the year, I couldn't do it accurately within fifty years.

I made my exit when I got a call from a potential Couchsurfing host in Berea. Yes, I could stay! Yes, two days is fine... and there would be 1-2 parties if I wanted to attend. Did I? Did I! If the pavilion wasn't enough, certainly now I had cause to celebrate.

Then there were six. When I got back to camp, I met Adam and Megan who are riding the same route, having started in New York. I greeted them happily and got straight to the business of talking a lot. Then I adjusted Adam's brakes, told them how awesome bicycles are, and jawed around about bicycles until the sun was definitely no longer hot. The pavilion had a good number of us camping out, and we settled to bed for a cool misty evening.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Fisty slips me some beers. Dire warnings and awesome consequences.

Coffee and oats. I woke up in the gymnasium, and my day started right. Coffee, oats, and I feel good. My bags are a little lighter, and my gear-pile is less bulky and more refined. I sent some stuff, swapped some stuff, and ate some stuff. I'm more streamlined. I feel great on the rolling hills, and okay on the long steep ones. After a long steep ascent, when I get to the crest, my breathing and heart-rate are back to baseline in thirty seconds. It sounds like bragging, but it feels like humble relief. The alternative would be unfortunate difficulty.

My guidebook warns about two things in Kentucky: trucks and dogs. Kentucky's best dogs introduced themselves to me this morning. I rolled out into a long steep climb. Halfway up a mountain, I was chased by a small band of skeletal dogs. Five runty to medium-sized ones, baring teeth and showing many rows of ribs through ratty matted fur. The little one clamped onto my right pannier, but was unsuccessful at pulling me backwards. It was a steep climb, so I wasn't exactly going fast enough to outrun anything. I swerved pointlessly and spun the pedals faster. They gave up a little higher up the mountain. Then I picked up a big stick. It was all day with screaming, dirty, starving dogs. Some tied up; some keeping their own schedule. I tell you, I can get enough.

Steep long hills cut narrow swaths through the mountains. These passes are light on traffic, but tough on legs. The route also includes wider roads with rolling hills: this is where the coal trucks roam. Sometimes a convoy, sometimes a lone bullet. They growl toward you in the oncoming lane, and it looks like a scene from Maximum Overdrive. They come jerkily around sharp bends belching smoke and spitting a fine mist of coal dust. If I wasn't already used to sharing the road, I'd be shitting parakeets right now.

Eastern Kentucky is the jake-braking capital of the USA. The dirt and din of this region inspire awe.

Today was a summary of long distance bicycle shenanigans: sometimes it rains, sometimes not. Sometimes it's hot, sometimes it's cold. My mood changes on a constant basis. I vacillate between jubilation and an obscenely translated despair many times daily.

I got an ice cream, and the sun was past its zenith. I soon arrived in the un-impressive town of Hindman. I took a left onto the main street, where I saw some yellow bags attached to a bicycle. Jeff! We compared notes. We were looking around and we had the same lead on a friendly place to camp. We poked around a bit, and then I called a guy about a tent.

I was told that passers-through were allowed to pitch a tent at the historical society. In reality, however, passers-through are made to call an old man for a jawing from a jackass. The real story is that there is a big tent set up M*A*S*H*-style. It has three rooms, and you can rent one for $25 per night. Then a creepy guy will bring you a potato, and later - apparently - some brandy. I wondered if he would stroke your hair gently as you drift off to sleep. I told him the price was out of my range, and the molly-coddle sales pitch evaporated. Dire warnings rained down! Hindman has a vagrancy law! (I pictured him dialing the sheriff on a second line). You can't camp at the park! You can go to the town of Hazard down the road, but that might not be safe! Then he told me a girl was killed in the park in Hazard. They cut off her head and put it on the picnic table, he explained. They threw her body in the river. I thanked him for this information and terminated the call. Jeff and I exchanged a number of chuckles, but we still needed to camp. There was plenty of sunlight, so getting the fuck past Hindman was the clear choice.

I wanted to split from Jeff to find a secret spot outside of town. Strength doesn't come in numbers when you're making hidden camps. As it turned out, we kept finding the same pace, and soon just started riding together through the beautiful landscape and ideal outdoor conditions. I told Jeff that my plan was to find beer, or ride until 7pm, whichever came first - then find a secret spot.

Let me tell you about "dry counties." Apparently Kentucky - the whiskey capital of being drunk - has counties where you can't buy alcohol anywhere. That floors me. That flips me upside-down.

"Awww, hell yeah! Are you kidding me?" Not more than ten minutes later, I was being offered Bud Light from the driver of a MacGyver jeep. He flagged us down, and I agreed to take a couple cold ones. Take them for the team. Team me.

This literally happened no more than a mile from the proud town of Fisty, KY.

Jeff and I split ways down the road a piece, and agreed to meet at the same legitimate camping location the next day. Within a mile, I found my secret spot.

There are plenty of trees in this part of Kentucky, but the steep grades make stealth camping somewhat of a challenge. The sides of the road are lined with vertical rock face and inclines too steep to roll a bicycle. I found an opening where it was steep, but manageable. I wrestled, lifted, and forced my bicycle up and out of view. My feet slipped in the leafy soil, and the climbing was a major challenge. I left the bicycle and continued up the hill to scout. I quickly found a thin stream tricking down the hill, about the width of my shoe at its current capacity. The stream soon led to a flat area that looked like it might enjoy a tent. It was a slight process, but I knew this was my camp.

I climbed down, grabbing thin trees as I stepped and slid through the rich loose soil. I removed my luggage from my Hoopty ATB and carried it to the stream. I returned to the bicycle, and forced it up with me to the stream - fighting branches and sometimes dragging with measured violence. I leapfrogged my gear to the flat spot, and I was set up by 7:21pm.

It's 7:21pm. In my left hand I am holding a still-cold bottle of Bud Light. I am sipping at a pace of 24oz per three hours. In my right hand I am holding a Kindle. I'm reading the hilarious antidotes of prison librarian in Boston. I am sitting on my new air mattress inside a globe of mosquito netting. I have a tub of hummus and a bag with two bagels. These are waiting until 8pm, because sometimes a man needs to keep a schedule. I have half a Clif Bar and a bottle of water. All of this needs only one word: content.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Exciting cycling. My future husband orders coffee.

Jeff scooted out early, and I woke up a bit later to a full array of services. After my morning reunion with fresh air, I began to avail myself of several. Coffee and microwaves made the cut. I left feeling good.

I ran into Those Girls today. There are a couple girls riding recumbents across the country, and I've seen that they've signed several guestbooks as "Those Girls." Now I know their real names, too. They're taking it easy, so today I caught up. I saw Jeff talking with them at a gas station, so I swooped around and introduced myself. What a beautiful day! What great riding! We stood around and talked about riding, hiking, and general travel. I tried to help diagnose a basic cable issue on one of the recumbents. ("Replace cable.") I also offered advice on crankset choice, and gave them my email address. Totally rad.

I rode for a short while with Jeff. Then boom. I was going down a little on-ramp to a road. A car was coming so I shifted my weight back and hit my front brake hard. Braking from the hood of an STI shifter doesn't transfer that much power, so he side-swiped me, rolled around, and hit the pavement. Basic blood, scrapes and whatnot. I sat around feeling bad for awhile, but then thought it would be best if I just pushed on and gave him some space.

It was his first crash. (Really?) I guess so. I wished it was Nat who side swiped me and fell over. There would be no hard feelings. He would have just poured gasoline on it and rubbed in some dirt. I've dumped bicycles a few times, and no matter what, sometimes it just happens. To Jeff's credit, he didn't mention it much again, and now he's more or less alright.

Now I'm in Kentucky! I rolled into Kentucky in the early afternoon, and it was as beautiful as could be. Then the coal trucks stormed in and made their presence apparent. Then the rain clouds began to glide into view. I paused on the porch of a store, but quickly had a change of plans. I got up and stomped it. I was about 15 miles from the end of the day, and long ascents be damned... I got there quick.

I love people. Not all of them, but I usually give them the benefit of the doubt. Cornbread and warm beans? I'm sitting in a gymnasium having just eaten that. I'm in another church-related free hostel situation. I was intimidated by her t-shirt, and thankful when she didn't try to make Jesus ignite me. She brought me dinner and we had a nice chat.

I like pumping out the miles earlier in the day so I can arrive at my destination and have enough time to horse around with camp chores and relaxation. If there's anyone to meet or talk to, they will present themselves at about dinner time or after work. I was glad to be here to welcome them and thank them for welcoming me. I'm showered and I've been made to feel at home.

I love people. No - not everyone. The good lord knows he's crafted some duds, but I'm not riding my bicycle across the country so I can do the old peer and sneer. I'm not riding aroud for the ol' gawk and squawk. I'm riding so I can meet a man with deep blue penetrating eyes. "Do you have anything muddy?" A man in Damascus asked this of the nice old lady behind the counter at the coffee shop. She looked nervous and confused. "A light muddy cup?" He ventured, blurring reality by another brush stroke. (This man is asking for caffiene, woman!)

He had the best beard I've seen. He looked me right in the face as we talked about bicycles. We might as well have been talking about Oreo cookies for as much as we understood each other. "There's always a higher meaning to these kinds of trips," he opined. "Yeah... definitely," I agreed simply; nodding slowly.

I wanted to run my fingers through his beard. All whiskers were equally long, and it must have taken years of carelessness. There was no cheating - never any undercutting of the low neck hairs. The beard pointed forward at an angle and had the shape of a voluminous upsidedown gnome hat. I wanted to run my fingers through and see if I could find a silver dollar. If I did this, he would have looked me calmly in the face. Silently, his expression would show complete indifference. Or deep understanding. It would be impossible to tell which. A minute later he was stumbling through a coffee order with a confused woman who was approacing a low level of terror at his unprecidented questions. "How much for an espresso?" Two dollars and ten cents. "How about for a whole cup?" The woman tried to figure this out by holding up a cup and pointing to random hypothetical fill lines on the side. Somehow she got to about nine dollars. To her immense relief, he settled on a small regular drip coffee. I didn't propose to this man on the spot. I didn't get his number either, but if I had to venture a guess, I'd wager a confident "7."

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Inchworms ain't got no jobs.

What a beautiful day! I didn't have to dig too deep to start loving life on today's ride.

I got up at the crack of 7:05am, and was a little surprised to be rising earlier than a lot of the others. There's only so much sleeping in you can do when you're so intimitaly aware of the sun's position in the sky. It feels great to zip yourself out and get a breath of fresh air. I did that. It felt great.

I packed down and did the slow roll to the coffee shop in town. While there, I availed myself of all possible services. Add to that a cinnamon bun, and you get an accurate picture of the next few hours.

Then I did the thing that I wasn't sure I'd do - I went next door, picked up the compact hiking air mattress, put it on the counter and handed them my debit card. Mine. Boom. I sliced up some cardboard with my knife, and made a tight little box for my foam Z-Rest pad. Before leaving town, I shipped it home from the post office. I am a happy, happy man.

The day was perfect. A little hot if you want to complain, but my heart didn't feel it. The hills were rolling, and I spun over them easily. I got a nice rhythm - up and down, and then I stopped to eat fried chicken in the shade. I drank a Coke, and life just kept being alright.

Then the last ten miles hit. Page 59 was clipped on my handlebars, and it said there was a four-mile climb that rose 1,500 feet. Now I have a better understanding of what something like that looks like. I dropped to the granny and cranked slowly up and up for a little less than an hour. I hit switchback after switchback inching up the side of the mountain. In true mountain terms it wasn't much of a mountain, but don't tell that to my penguins. All I wanted to do was avoid completely bogging down, and I did it. I was drenched in sweat, squirting water on my face, and starting to get the chills - but I made it to the top.

I let out a couple elated whoops and sat on a big boulder in the shade for almost an hour. I stripped off my completely drenched shirt and hung it on a thin tree branch to dry out in the breeze. I ate an orange. All-in-all it was one of the best hours I can remember. I played with an inchworm, randomly changing his direction a couple times. He ain't got no job, I thought. Definitely doesn't.

I was a little torn up from the climb, but I wasn't going much further, and most of it was a screaming fast descent. Approaching forty miles an hour on a bicycle is... fun. I got to today's destination a little after 4pm. I'm staying at a United Methodist Church Hostel which is more of a pavilion with a church kitchen next to it stocked with free food. America isn't letting me down too hard right now. Yup. This'll do.

Jeff pulled in while I was reading my Kindle on a porch swing. I put my tent in the pavilion; he opted for a spot in front of the first pew.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Damascus Virginia is your new house.

I woke up in the park and let Jeff get a head start again. I'm not a big fan of pace-matching. I don't mind slugging it out alone.

I started the day riding off into a headwind. I can't explain what the appeal of riding a bicycle so much is. I can't say I'd even necessarily recommend it. I guess I like it. I like it sometimes. It sure is a lot of work though. It's a challenge, which is good. It's nice to get somewhere and loaf around, that's cool. I like to be a fly on the wall and observe my surroundings, that's chill. You gotta do something, and this is not office work. I guess I'm down with that. These trips certainly have their moments. Great, great moments! - but sometimes you need to dig deep.

Hills, headwinds and a nice blast of cold hard rain. I made it through all that and into a goofy little store with warm Gatorade, dim lights, and deer heads on the wall. I was starving, so I bought some junk food and put it inside of my body. I laid my riding shirt flat on the concrete to dry in the sun. The sun was out now, and it seemed like a different day. I flipped the shirt a few times, and sat around gawking in a general manner.

Some yellow Ortliebs came into view: Jeff caught up! We talked some more and compared more notes. He's taking an absolute shitload of nice pictures. I'm taking some pictures, but I can't figure out how to work the SD drive on my netbook with the Ubuntu setup. I've got bigger fish to fry, so I might be home before I post up my ugly photos. If I get the ones that Jeff took while I was basically looking at the same stuff, then maybe I can post some. Basically: this shit looks pretty, and some of it could bend your eyes. Look at some Ansel Adams - I'm looking at that stuff with some goofball towns in-betwixt.

We set off together for the final ten miles to Damascus Virginia. It was the best ten mile stretch I've seen on this entire trip so far. A gentle climb with many switchbacks followed by a long agreeable descent into a beautiful town.

Today's destination was "The Place." It's a church-operated hostel for Appalachian Trail hikers and TransAm cyclists ONLY. It's $5 per day. No dogs! NO Alcohol! (You can't tell me what to do. I'm a drinking dog, and I'm sleeping on your lawn.)

Damascus is the best town I've seen in a long time. It's small, green, and surrounded by wooded peaks and lively rivers. It's inhabited by dirty outdoorsy people who are drifting, grinning and limping. The AT and the TransAm bicycle route intersect here. Half of the businesses in town are are outfitters or bicycle stores. The rest sell coffee and pizza.

Jeff and I entered "The Place," and immediately got the feeling that bicyclists are pansies compared to hikers. We get mini-markets, delis, cafes, electricity... every day. These guys carry gear and food on their back and have very limited social interaction. I'd love to go awhile without 'sharing the road' with trucks and cars, but compared with hiking, I have the easier of the two jobs. These people coming off the trail are a little further along in the composting cycle. The thick socks drying on the porch told me a story.

What gives? Everybody seems to have a fake hiker-name. To me it seems very white-bread American. I don't see what wearing North Face gear and walking around in the trees has to do with shedding your identity. Everyone on the AT is named Cave Dog, Honey Toes, or Sassy Larry. The name "Chris" is decidedly pedestrian, but I'll keep wearing it.

A note about anxiety. i has it. A trip like this seems like a good time to quit drinking. Maybe on paper. I get to a place, and a lot of times I feel off-center. If I gave it a week, I might settle (maybe.) But it's easier to take a 24oz anxiety pill. I fixed myself a 'secret soda' from the Chevron, and pushed down the "other" button on the plastic lid of my cup as joke to myself. And I smiled.

To the credit of god, the earth itself, and the trail hikers, I met some cool people. I lent out my laptop to the community. I brewed up some instant coffee for the guy who didn't get to the store in time. I had a good conversation about hiking, bicycling, and MMA fighting. I had a good conversation about life in general before getting in one last pee and retiring to my tent.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Managing (to have) finances; Sleeping in a park.

I woke up at Thad's and had cereal/juice/coffee. Guidebook-wise, I was already part way into the next section, so I hoped for an easier day. But as I mentioned, there's hills in these parts. For the record, I still do a lot of muttered cussing when I see a steep climb. Where there's an uphill, there's a downhill - the uphill lasts a lot longer, and the descents seem to disappear in seconds. I'm a human wind-up toy, and the reward vs. effort is sometimes difficult to justify. At the end of the day, it's nice to get somewhere that you can just sit and be for awhile. So far, it still feels worth it. At times, I'll even say that's an understatement. There's ups and downs both emotional and physical. I was happy to coast the last couple miles into Wytheville Virginia.

Thadeus Lee said I would be allowed to camp in the Wytheville town park for free, so I set out to find it and learn more.

I tracked down some information at the Visitor's Center, and then sat outside on their rocking chairs for a few hours charging electronics and reading The Grapes of Wrath. I always enjoy availing myself of all possible services.

Then it was time to coast back down a steep hill and find the park. At one of the main intersections, I spotted some yellow Ortlieb panniers coming the other way. It was Jeff again! We pulled over and compared notes. Then we agreed to eat sandwiches.

The price looked right, but the portions came out all wrong. I wish I had a micrometer, because I suspect the slice of turkey was eligible for several sad awards.

Then we found the park and I got a major morale boost. Wytheville has a beautiful town park. There is a pavilion with electricity and WiFi, and the scenery boasts a large rolling grassy area bisected by a stream with clear clean (enough) water. This'll do, I thought. This'll do.

I fired up my camp stove, and it was a reminder that I have to do that more often. Prepared food is not only expensive, but usually doesn't get right to the point of what my body actually needs to keep riding a heavy-assed bicycle all over the place. I cooked up some spiral noodles with shallots and diced tomatoes. I added a little taco seasoning, and it wasn't Emeril, but it fit the bill perfectly. Some day I'll learn to cook more often. Some day soon, I hope.

A talkative local girl with a pit bull clued me in on where people might be drinking pints of beer. She seemed alright to talk to, so a few hours later I was off to see. The bar was just me, five good-ol'-boys, and a somber birthday girl. I sat down, ordered a 'pine'a-Bud,' and had it set down on a cocktail napkin just as an old Genesis track played. All at once, and it struck me like a slap of reality. If you've known me for a long time, then you know that I've known some Genesis. The moment struck me as classic, and if it was also 7:21, then my face would have melted right off on the bar. The bill looked like junk. It's time to cut out the bars and cut in the pasta.

On a positive note, I have slightly more money in the bank than I thought I would be leaving with in the first place. That's a great thing. Maybe I can keep it going.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Troutville to Radford: Swooping and smiling.

The other guy, Jeff, left 20 minutes before me in the morning. I rolled out at about 7am. I packed my provisions, and cruised out. I rode 40 miles on friendly roads before breakfast, and at no point did I feel dead. I was able to swoop into the hills, and mercifully it was manageable. I get some gusto on the downhill, and apply the inertia to the following climb - shift just right and keep spinning, and you'll make it to the top without bogging down - ready to go again. And again, and again, and again...

I made it to the city limits of Christiansburg, and up steepest climb I've seen. Not super long, but almost impossibly steep. I had to ride catawampus, left to right to lessen the grade and not tip backwards. I made it to the top and hooted and cussed. Praise God for Victory! Sweat poured from my chin. Then I fell asleep on a bench for half an hour.

When I came to, I changed some clothes and entered the bar. I sat on the corner stool and built a fort out of laptops, Bud Light, and cheap menu items. I was in business. I spent hours.

I crawled outside feeling sassy, with the sun still bright and abrasive. My guidebook mentioned a nearby camping spot that no longer has tent sites, and maybe never had friendly employees. It also looked like garbage. Fortunately, I had a contingency plan. This morning, Jeff gave me a business card for "Lee's Place" in the next town. The Lee family regularly hosts TransAm cyclists at their home in Radford. This is a well-known place on this trail. I called him, and was invited to come right over.

I put some Hella on my iPod and enjoyed some spirited cranking. I burned off a lot of beer on the fast fifteen miles there, turning the bar tab into superfluous waste as I quickly sobered up.

I was given the royal treatment. Many people have stayed at Lee's Place, but tonight I was the only traveler. I was offered a spare room, and was happy to take it. The man of the house is Thad. His son, Sam, was playing drums when I arrived. I can chat about bicycles, or drums, or even travel trailers to an extent.

Conversation wasn't hard to find. I was treated to Mexican food at a restaurant and told I would not be allowed to pay. We left the restaurant, and stepped into a heavy blowing rain. Once again, I dodged a downpour and went to bed feeling lucky.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Troutville Virginia knows how to do it up, bitch!

Mountains are for strong people. When I walk into a Wal-Mart, I'm superhero-fit. It gives confidence, but that's not the measure. Nay - for the mountains you need actual legs. I've been fighting along with smelly penguin carcasses, and the offended pavement has been screaming back. You will know failure when you drop to the granny gear on an imperceptible climb.

But I got there! I made it to the town park in Troutville, Virginia. My 1996-published guidebook told me that you can camp here. The sign on the gate literally said "No Bicycles" on the list of "No's" - to say nothing of the quasi-homeless jerkoffs who are riding them.

As I read the sign looking for a loophole, a lady pulling a trash cart beamed at me - "Hello!" Of course this brings a big smile to my face. When a hello is beamed like this, the world knows no malice. "Are you going to spend the night?" Jesus. I'm on Mars. "Well I thought I might - is that ok?" It's funny how I start to talk like a local wherever I am. A couple times I've said something in such a phony drawl I wanted to kick myself in the dick.

Doesn't matter! I was given royal treatment. I was shown where to set up my gear, and I even signed a guestbook. A guestbook for a town park. I was told that hot showers were available at the fire station across the street - and within 20 minutes, I had availed myself of that strange and awkward service.

I went down the block to buy some canned tomatoes to cook some of the weighty food out of my luggage. No need, apparently. There was a surprise party for a cancer survivor in the pavillion next to my tent. A kind young boy brought me a plate of food and a soda. The mother of the man who went through chemo brought me a dessert. Again, I'm blessed.

A 28-year-old touring cyclist rolled in a few minutes later. God even provided someone to talk to.

Friday, May 20, 2011

I loaded up my Hoopty ATB...

My welcome has been worn out. Maybe. Even if it hasn't, it's gotten close enough. My welcome has taken a look over the edge of the precipice. "So you're riding out tomorrow?" she asked. "Yup," I said.

I had a good time, and I drank a lot, and had some fun times with a girl who's pretty fun. But let's get real. Kentucky alone is a ten-day ride. I have quite a few days of riding left in Virginia. There are mountains to fuck around with. As I pedal along, I can see my fat-roll bouncing gently below my manly chest. I need stronger legs, and a dirtier body. I look forward to kicking my way out of these mountains.

I loaded up my Hoopty ATB.

I gave a hug and a smile, and rolled my goofy bicycle across some grass and down off a curb. In the first mile I was humming and smiling and talking to myself. I was cussing silly praises and looking at my knifed-out guidebook pages clamped to the handlebars. This is a bicycle trip. It's funny to forget about riding while you're in the middle of it. I feel healthy, young, and boisterous.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

I'm basically a philanthropist.

I'm still in the same place. Haven't moved. Stuck. All the roommates where I'm staying either moved out or are out of the country. That's a good deal if you're renting one room and getting the whole place to yourself. I'm happy to take up some space here for a little bit. I do what I can. In that respect, I'm basically a philanthropist. The corner of the kitchen looks like a touring bike threw up in it.

I made tacos. I'm not a good chef, but I can mix stuff with rice and put it in a flour tortilla. I can also help try to kill a bottle of vodka. I'm falling into a rhythm. I can almost put together a sort of itinerary.

I know I ought to hit the road. This has devolved into a people-trip with some annoying bicycle riding thrown in. But when I look at the weather report and see some kind of rain every single day, it doesn't inspire me to load up my bicycle again. "You know I'm going to stay here for a week." I mentioned this casually between shots and tacos. She claims that she did already know this. Good. I don't feel like I'm wearing out my welcome yet, so I can hover around town in my party socks until I get the inspiration to see what the rest of the country looks like. Soon enough. Sharing a bed has been nice, but it's time to get back into the woods.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Endearing Kitsch and Discounted Margaritas.

Like I said, this day started with Waffle House. It's not that I like the food, but something about Waffle House compells me to go. Again and again. It's the endearing kitsch.

I didn't do much today. I'm still wasting time. I'm waiting for my muscles to magically get stronger on their own so I don't have to put in all that boring effort to get strong the traditional way. My ankles feel pretty ok, and I'm looking forward to shutting my trap about my stupid ankles.

The fun in town? It's discounted margarita day at the Mexican restaurant. Yup. That'll do.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

This here was one hell of a day.

Wow. This here was one hell of a day.

I woke up in the town of Vesuvius, where Miss Gertie herself fixed me breakfast while we chatted. I got on the road in the wrong direction, and put in a definite ten miles to nowhere. I thought I fixed my course, but 25 miles later I found out that I was at least 30 miles from where I wanted to be. My plan for the day was a quick 18 miles total, and disappointing doesn't quite sell how this felt. All this occurred in a driving rain with sore muscles and lots of climbing. I was not a happy camper.

I made it to a main road that went straight to my destination, and stuck out my thumb. This was supposed to be an easy day, and I was keen to glean any residual rest I could manage. An old blue pickup pulled to the shoulder, and don't let anyone ever tell you hitchhiking isn't easy. So far - in my experience, anyway - it's always worked just fine.

An old guy named Marion pulled over his truck, and I chucked my bicycle and my sopping wet gear into the muddy bed. It sure simplified the final 25 miles, and Marion even treated me to McDonalds. He was a big talker, and clearly an all-around good guy. Lived in the area all his life and never much reckoned he'd care to travel. I do. He dropped me off at Wal-Mart outside of town and wished me luck. We shook on it to seal the deal.

I had a place set up to stay, and I was looking forward to drying out some gear. And the girl I'm staying with looked pretty good on the internet. I was thinking it would be much nicer to be there instead of riding a bicycle in cold rain with my directions turning to pulp. My situation was drastically improved in the early afternoon hours.

Within an hour I was showered and wearing some clothes that were passably dry. I was also drinking a shot of proffered vodka, and that gave me a big smile. I put on my party socks to celebrate. The shot was a pre-game to going out to one of the two bars in town for a couple pitchers. We got back to the house where I played iPod DJ amidst several more shots. Back out to the other bar this time for some lessons in townie culture, and that could be a whole different post. Then home; soon sex. Anyone who's been reading my words for a long time will know it's not for nothing. I'm relieved that I can be a normal dude without the crippling sexual hangups that I suffed for those desperate years in my earlier twenties.

(A note about writing every fucking thing that happens in my life: sometimes it's not easy. Sometimes I take the challenge when I should shut my fucking mouth. Yes, I do miss Tara. I agree with her that it doesn't feel 100% like we're broken up, but we are. Emotional inertia doesn't stop like hitting a brick wall. Has force; takes time. At least I'm not a squirrelly liar of a guy. I say this defensively; without need.)

As I walked to the Waffle House this morning, I played the Discovery EP in some headphones and reflected on the day, and my trip, and my life in general. I'm going to be ok.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Back to Bicycling: Cookie Lady, Blue Ridge Parkway.

I started the morning by making some tacos to go and sending home some books and disused items from my luggage. I said my goodbyes to Will, and I sincerely hope the next chapter in his life after graduation is fulfilling and rewarding. He deserves it.

I was happy to get back on the road, and after three nights of rest in Charlottesville, I didn't feel much pain in the ankle department. I'm finally following my guidebook, Bicycling Coast to Coast, and the directions were easy to follow. I'm finally riding on the official TransAm bicycling route, and I'm happy with the easier directions and a selection of roads which I can trust with confidence.

I cut two pages out of the book with the knife on the Leatherman that Tim gave me, and I clipped the pages to my half-aero-bar unicorn-command-center.

In the middle of a beast of a long steep climb is the tiny town of Afton. Just up the hill is the home of June Curry, the famous Cookie Lady, who has been providing cyclists with refreshments and housing since 1976. I knocked on the door, and she came out to chat and give me a key to the bicycle house, which aside from lodging is a sort of museum. There are hundreds (thousands?) of cards from well-wishers. There are heaps of parephenalia from touring cyclists from the past 35 years. What a sight.

June is getting frail. My guidebook is 15 years out of date, and the photo of June in the book is of an already elderly woman. She suffered a stroke in 2005, but still manages to get around slowly using a cane. Her hearing is on the way out, and I was self conciously aware that I was talking way too fast and not making enough sense. If you're riding by, it's worth a visit. I filled my waterbottles with the hose.

Next was the Blue Ridge Parkway. This is a famous scenic road, and the long climbs beat the hell out of me. The scenery was nice, but when the sky opened up I stopped having so much fun. I was soaked from all directions with sweat and rain as I slugged it out over the long inclines through the mountains. I sighed and muttered, looking forward to the day when I'm stronger and my muscles can catch up to my efforts. These mountains are really working me over.

As I said, my guidebook is 15 years out of date, and the campground at the end of the day no longer exists. I stopped for directions at Gertie's General Store, where I was invited to camp out back. I took them up on the offer, and I was pleased to have a break in the rain to set up my tent - staked out with rain fly and everything. The sky has been dumping rain and throwing down thunderstorms for days, and the rain fly proved necessary.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Charlottesville Continues: horsing around.

I had another low-key rest day. Charlottesville is a nice place once you can stash your gear somewhere and set out on foot for a change. I spent the afternoon reading and drinking coffee. I'm nearly finished with "A Walk In The Woods," and once again I have to point out that this is a wonderful book. If you have the most passing interest in the Appalacian Trail, or even just know what a tent is - this book is for you. I promise you'll think it's worth the effort of getting a copy. I dodged yet more rain at Java Java down on the pedestrian mall.

I've been sleeping in an attic. The attic of the house where these guys live is a great hang-out zone. There are a couple couches, and open windows on either side. The weather has been perfect for sleeping up there, and I was happy to be spending another night.

Later on there was a fun little psychedelic gathering. The third roommate, Ben, had some people over and the attic was transformed into a party room for the small gathering. A black light, a laser machine, a Thievery Coroporation album, and some beer and weed. I had a good time continuing to talk too much. I was happy with the festivities, but didn't want much to do with shooting BB guns out the window or throwing rocks at passing freight train cars. Those days are securely behind me, I'm afraid. I just read some more of my great book.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Couchsurfing success in Charlottesville.

Last night, when everything was getting a little shitty, I called Shelly for a chat. She mentioned Couchsurfing.com, and that closed a loosely connected circuit in my head. It's a shame I can't afford a secretary. I have some seriously loose connections in the cabeza, and too often an obvious hint comes through as an epiphany. Duh, Couchsurfing.com. I've had an account since 2007, and it didn't occur to me that this was a much better way to meet someone with a spare couch and an open mind.

I made up my mind to try to stay in town, because my ankles are shit. My ankles are total shit because I beat them up. To be fully accurate, they're on the verge of feeling okay, but definitely not good enough to trust with confidence on a long ride over the difficult mountains which lay immediately ahead of me. Rest is smart; crushing pedals out of town is hasty and negligent.

I got up this morning and proceeded back to the pedestrian mall to get a coffee and open up my computer. Couchsurfing.com listed 255 potential hosts in Charlottesville proper. Yikes - what was I doing not consulting this resource? I contacted a few promising prospects, and within a couple hours was heading to a house where I was welcome to stay "however long."

Will is an amiable couchsurfing host, and I am proud to be his first actual guest. Actually, there are several guys living in this house, and they all go to the University of Virginia. Actually, Will just graduated a day earlier, so this is an exciting time for him.

I am a lone traveler, but a reasonably social person when it's time. When I don't talk to people much for awhile, I seem to make up for lost time when the opportunity arises. I was happy to talk a whole lot, and I tried not to make it one-sided. It was surprising how much we knew about each other in about ten minutes. Will and his roommate, Hunter, are obviously good people. I seems like that's par for the course with couchsurfing hosts... by it's very nature it acts as it's own filter. How great is that?

I killed a billion hours today happily walking without my bicycle and all of it's associated encumbrances. I bought a book and read it for hours. By the end of the day, I'd read half the book. It's a great book: A Walk In the Woods by Bill Bryson. This guy is an author. This is must-read material. Yes - I did laugh out loud, and quite a bit. It's about hiking the Appalachian Trail. It's loosely based on subject matter that overlaps with the spirit and nature of the weird adventure I'm involved in. It's a great book.

The highlight of my day was walking in a group of four around the UVA campus. The chemistry building was open, and in the midnight hours we watched the movie "Speed Racer" on the projector screen in a large lecture hall. Hunter got some snacks with the remaining credits on his student card. It was a beautiful campus, and the word serendipity keeps ringing in my head.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Charlottesville / Remember: it always works out.

Last night I found good camping. I decided against the Family Dollar location because I didn't like the idea of some addled junkie tripping over my tent. It looked like I might have found that sort of a place. I raced another ten miles down the road, and pushed my bicycle into the trees beside a horse farm. It was clearly marked that I wasn't invited, but the light was getting dim and I was confident that I wouldn't be seen. The house seemed about a mile down the driveway.

I drank about 20 fluid ounces out of my 40 available ones, and read some more Steinbeck in my tent. I didn't read far before I put out my light and laid back to enjoy the sound of insects from the safety of my bubble of netting. I enjoyed the dimming light and felt comfortable in my wooded surroundings. This night ended well.

I woke up feeling rested and alert at 6am. I broke camp and got to sneaking out of the woods. The road was busy enough to make me cuss, but happily I was closer to Charlottesville than I thought.

Country ham! Yes, that sounds better than the normal stuff. I had some flat salty slabs of that along with the rest of breakfast. I was fully damp from sweat and a misty morning, but otherwise feeling good. I soon reached the downtown pedestrian mall in Charlottesville, where the sky continued to threaten rain.

Two idiots who turned out to be unfortunate and bigoted smoked me up beside the library. (I have some green hair and a malt liquor patch on my shorts, so they knew I was their type.) At first they seemed friendly, but I was let down when they decided to eagerly confide their prejudices to me. Drugs can be such a chore. I decided to watch a movie, and that gave me plenty of time to lose the low-grade high which I would have smartly declined if not for my endlessly curious nature.

The rest of the day was a waiting game. I had a line on a place to stay, and I was hoping it would pan out. I looked to the sky and hoped it wouldn't open up, and I kept checking my phone for a text. As it got later, I decided that I would need to make a move. If a couch could not be confirmed, I would have to hit the road and secure a place to hide a tent. I was anxious, and it seemed that all aspects of my situation were putting me ill at ease. I knew that drinking lots of beer would help, but I didn't seem to have the desire to implement that simple fix.

The call came through, and I met some wonderful hosts. I was welcomed into their home in time to miss the rain, and I had yet another comfortable place with good people. There are enough truly goodhearted people in the world to make me feel better about the sad human specimens who I met earlier. These were some of the good people. I was happy to meet them, and cancel out my doubts.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Malnourished slugfest.

Fuggit. Today was tough as hell. The day started out with an 18 mile stretch of too many trucks and not enough shoulder. I was happy that Nick and Lael gifted me a reflective construction vest. I think I can notice a difference in how vehicles treat me when I'm wearing it. I'll take whatever I can get.

The trip is what you make it in most cases, so I can only blame myself for a lot of today's difficulties. I was tired, and I ran out of water. No water = no cooking. I needed a rest. I wanted to stop at about 40 miles, but in spite of directions and GPS, I got fairly lost and added about 10-15 miles to the route.

I didn't find water until 60 miles or so, and I was feeling worn out. I didn't eat very well, because I'm not very smart. I had a sub and a Clif Bar today, and now I'm sitting in Subway drinking a Coke and wishing I had a better place to sleep. It's 7pm on the dot, and I've already covered over 80 miles - much further than I was planning, and I don't want to go overboard and hurt myself. I'm already feeling like less than a normal human, and not in the good way, either.

On the upside, I'm close to Charlottesville. Charlottesville is on Adventure Cycling's TransAm trail, and I will be following that all the way to Oregon, god willing. I am hoping to meet people, and take my time. I have a guidebook that breaks the trip down into manageable sections of about 40-60 miles per day. I'm ready to start using the book and go into putt-putt tourist mode.

I'm writing this paragraph in the present tense. I'm going to decide between sleeping in the crunkest clearing that's sort of used as a trash dump behind a Family Dollar, or bust it even further down the road, hoping for something better. I technically feel good enough to continue, but I'm also used to beating myself up until I'm delirious and in pain. It's something I need to quit doing.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

On to Manassas, VA; Yet another friendly host.

My ankles still felt sort of messed up, but it was time to hit the road. Yesterday, I contacted a potential host, Matt, in Manassas Virgina, and that should be 25-30 miles. Not too bad! I emailed, and he called back within an hour or so to let me know I was welcome to stay on his couch. Awesome! I'm too blessed.

At 7:21pm I was sitting in a booth at the Philadelphia Tavern in downtown Manassas. There were four of us at the table enjoying burgers and wings - today's special. I housed several happy hour beers, and was a bit surprised when Matt picked up the check. No complaints - I would do the same. I would like to note that so far I have spent exactly $1.49 on this trip.

When I stood up to use the john, the Tori Amos song Cornflake Girl was playing on the juke box. I always take notice of this song because Jawbox covered it and made it a hidden track on one of their CDs. And I love it.

Matt invited me on a bicycle ride, and in spite of questionable ankles, I didn't decline. I was feeling good enough, and hoping the pain would simply go away. I have reason to think this. I read a book about a unicycling minister once, and his ankle pain went away naturally on his cross country trip. Nat also experienced disappearing ankle pain on our '07 tour. So maybe it will just go away, and I won't die.

We rode out to the airport and talked about bicycles. He's into Rivendell, and he's starting to work on bicycles. He has an interest in the right stuff. He can appreciate the details of my setup, and seemed genuinely excited to see my bicycle and mentally dissect the component choices. I think he will create something similar - an older pre-suspension mountain bicycle or hybrid set up for camping and goofing around. He wants to ride the C&O Canal path, and I can't recommend that ride highly enough.

We watched a movie called Bikecar, and now that I know about it, I can't recommend that highly enough either. A professional snowboarder built a funny pedal-powered car, and him and some friends rode it to all kinds of mountains to snowboard. That's the spirit. That's the right idea.

Matt was a funny dude, and we had plenty to talk about. I slept well on the couch. Once again, warmshowers.org proves itself to be a great tool for the touring cyclist.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Ankles, Electronics / Chili Dogs, Cheeseburgers

This is a day off. We all went to the Vienna Inn for chili dogs, and I could barely get one foot in front of the other in the parking lot. I gave my achillies tendons the business yesterday. It wasn't smart, and now they're sqawking at me. I hinted gently that I might be interested in staying, and I was made to feel welcome for another day.

I messed with my netbook and tried to get familiar with it. I've had this little computer for awhile, but for most of that time it's only job was to play music at the bicycle shop. Today I got cooking. The netbook uses the Ubuntu operating system, and though it's easy, it's not exactly like the Windows XP I'm used to.

It took some time to make it operate more like my big laptop at home. I figured out how to finagle some 3rd party voodoo to save map code text generated by Google Maps, and save that so it can be planted on my GPS. To my surprise, it actually worked purdy good.

At 7:21pm, I was sitting outside with a beer and our whole group was enjoying delicious cheeseburgers. I tried to keep and eye on filling my pint glass too many times. I didn't want to become a floppy-wristed democrat. I am a silly, silly person at heart. Experience has taught me when to mix it with some stoicism. I never mind a difference of opinion, but sometimes I don't want to squawk out every single one I have. That is where more beer will never help.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Onward to Virginia! Family Unites; I Enjoy Meatloaf.

I rode out of Annapolis and set my sights on Doug and Shev's house in Vienna Virginia. Older cousins or family of sorts. Six miles down the road, and my achillies tendons started screaming. I had a destination, so I kept going. And going, and going.

I rode through Washington DC, and the commuter path into downtown couldn't be more inviting. I rode past some nicely rendered graffiti, and had some nice industrial views. The path was smooth, and my heart begain to sing. I rode through Bunker Hill. I rode along the mall. I rode past the Washington Monument and paused to look up. I rode past the Lincoln Memorial and across the river. Then a convoluted series of paths made my ankles start to scream louder and louder as the grades became steep.

I finally got to Vienna, and everything was ok. First thing I did was jump in the pool. My skin was scorched and the water felt great.

Doug is some sort of cousin. I don't know my own family tree so well. Doug is a connector in my family, to use verbage from the book The Tipping Point. He has everyone's email address and phone number, and his house is where the family reunions are held for my mother's side of the family. We aren't the closest family tie, but it was easy to call him because I could assume I would be welcome. I was. There was other family there, and when I sat at the table outside I was the sixth person. I was the only one under 70, which made for an interesting contrast, but no matter.

There was beer on tap, and wine being had as well. A plate of cheese, crackers, and pepperoni sat on the table under an electronic retractable awning. Amidst the usual talk about pills and pains (the "organ recital" as Doug calls it), I got some bits of stories about my family that I'd never known. These folks all knew my grandparents who passed away before I was born. I learned a couple details about how my grandparents met, and a couple details about my parents when they first met and when they married. I don't know this stuff. I have no source to hear about this stuff. It's not that I'm not interested, I just don't have occasion to hear these things, and I'm glad for the rare opportunity.

We went out to dinner. At 7:21pm, I was eating meatloaf. As a guest, everything is paid for, and I am enjoying the top possible hospitality.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

A Lazy Day in Annapolis, Culminating in Self Doubt.

I have a Kindle with me and I'm reading The Grapes of Wrath. Kindles are great, but they won't outmode shared paperbacks just yet. This book is great so far. I've read most Steinbeck, but haven't gotten to this obvious title yet. I was saving it till... now I guess.

Today was not full of action. It was more of a recovery day, and I literally took the time to watch Platoon on VHS.

I'm a little nervous about the long ride which lies ahead of me. I'm just getting started, and I'm prone to anxiety. Sometimes I can blame it on palpitations brought on by coffee, and I think coffee was half responsible this time.

I get nervous about what lies ahead on the trip. I'll have burnt skin and aching muscles. I've built up the romance in my head until my expectations are at a rolling boil. If my experience falls short of magical, then what? I don't want life to be as straightforward and disappointing as it looks sometimes. I don't want to come to the conclusion that I should get a steady job, chase money, and buy a house. I don't want to find out that I can't cook up my own magic.

I'm getting back on the road tomorrow. Maybe I should be staying longer, but I have all these maps and all these bags to strap onto my bicycle. It's time to keep exploring. Annapolis made for a great weekend.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Fours and Futures: a beautiful day in Annapolis

It couldn't be a more beautiful day. No small change in detail could make this weather even the slightest bit better. Nick and Lael and I rode around on an errand run, and my bicycle feels nimble and as light as a feather without the copious amount of gear and electronics I've been schlepping around. We cruised around Annapolis; friction shifting, platform pedals, leather saddles. We cruised easily with confidence, and this is what everyone who doesn't ride bicycles is missing. I couldn't live without these times.

We stopped by Parole Liquors for some Four Loko and a nasty 40oz beer. Uh huh. Lael had to work, but me an Nick made it to the woods later overlooking the water. We had our first meeting about the component business we're going to start. We discussed a couple designs that don't exist, but should. The ideas have a niche market, and we're both confident of success if the components can be made affordably and to a high standard. More about that shit later.

We had our extremely important meeting about this future endevor while drinking Four from a mug until the mosquitos got word. Then we exited the park and dropped in on Lael at work. She's a server. She served us lots of beer and a gourmet pizza while we sat on a patio getting further and further goosed. Nick's friend from VO joined us, and I told him how much he was wrong about properly adjusting an AW hub. Then we cruised back to the apartment, and I took a sideways detour into some gravel and split my palm open a little.

It was a rad night. I listened to some of the new tunes on my iPod, and so far I'm impressed. I stayed up until 4am when Lael finally got back into the house. Then I slept.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Bananna Pancakes to Bicycle Business

I woke up early on the couch in Baltimore. Me and my hosts kinda hit it off, and I know their cat liked me. It's strange to think how we could be friends, but if we were neighbors we might not know each others names. In a city, you often don't know your neighbors in spite of similarities and shared interests. You're lucky to get a name. But these girls got up early to put butter in a pan. We talked some more and shared a plate of pancakes before I loaded up my gear and hit the road.

Baltimore is a beautiful town. As per suggestion, I went up on the big hill overlooking the city and the harbor. Then I descended to the harbor and looked at it all from another angle.

I felt good to get started, but the bottom fell out of feeling good after a few miles. By the time I arrived in Annapolis, I could feel the pain.

My good friend Nick is more of a bicycle dude than anyone else who I know. Our specific bicycle interests overlap thoroughly, and the casual enthusiast will have to take my word that it's a little uncanny to find such a dude. He's been dating Lael for awhile, and all three of us spent a lot of time together in Key West.

Now Nick is living over toward the east here in Annapolis. He got a job at Velo Orange, and that's where I met him directly when I got into town. I got a tour of the place, and I got to see a spiffy new cassette hub design from Taiwan. I got to see a new fork for their Polyvalent bicycle that is raked much prettier than the last one. It wasn't a busy day, and we stood around as a bunch of color swatches were flipped through. They seemed to be leaning toward a boring gray. I didn't bother to mention my preference for a hot pink, or a gold sparkle. I just admitted I was color blind.

My bicycle was leaned on the side of the building, and it doesn't look like a rich man's ride. It's as cheap as can be, and it's on the small side. I was a bit sheepish about it, but I know that it is my ideal machine. It's tough to convince some people that cheap old bicycles can be comfortable and useful, and usually I don't bother to try.

I'm staying here for the weekend, and I'm happy to be among friends. I haven't seen Lael since Key West, and she's too good to miss for that long.

I stayed up late with Nick and another guy from VO. The bicycle talk was thick, but everyone was fluent in the language, and it seems like the subject never dies.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Oh, The Mentality!

Bicycle touring all by yourself can begin with a special sort of mental torture. Know that and be ready for it. I did, and I was. 

Around mile 40, I wasn't sure if my legs could get me through the day. I missed Tara, and I started to question myself. Why is it that I strive to put myself in these difficult situations? Is it textbook masochism, or a forgetful stupidity? My grand romanticisms play me like a marionette.

I laid on my back beside a tiny white shack in Maryland that said it was a church. I looked up at the clouds and put an arm over my eyes when the sun shined through. A crusty layer of salt had formed on my arms and face. My eyelids were salty, and to touch them was to risk getting salt in my eyeballs. 

I need to grow up. I need water; I need food. I have food, but first I need more water or I can't eat it. I'm at half a bottle, and that ain't right.

I've heard many accounts of solo bicycle tours through friends and acquaintances. A good portion of solo trips devolve into a level of insanity. Let me give you a quick synopsis of my personal history with this game.

In 2005, I was much less experienced. With everything. I thought it would be a great idea to go on a cross country bicycle tour. I was right, but I made a classic major mistake. I overloaded my Mongoose Crossway 450 hybrid to the point that I could barely lift it. I had no idea how lonely and disheveled I would feel after my first day of riding. I called in a reconnaissance team before the sun went down. My parents and Shelly pulled me out of Amish country a couple hours later.

Later that year, I began a solo tour down the Atlantic coast. On the first night, I drank Steele Reserve and ate a can of luke warm beans in the woods behind a church. The next day I arrived in Rehoboth Delaware where I called Shelly and bawled my eyes out. So lonely. I took a bus home, and couldn't have been happier to drink beer and watch live music that night.

In 2007, I planned a trip well in advance. Nat took time off to join in on the ride, and the trip had some great moments and memories. We rode for about a month, going from Philadelphia to Montreal, and spending plenty of time in Burlington Vermont. Nat's bicycle was stolen and it was time for me to continue alone. We'd already talked about contingencies, and this was in the playbook. Solo bicycle travel was always what I wanted to do, but I didn't have a track record of success.

We parted ways the next day. Nat invited me out to lunch, but my heart was beating heavily and all I could think about was getting out of town. It was as though I thought I could outrun an anxiety attack if I pedaled fast enough. 

I bought the best bivy sack that I could find (GoreTex and everything), and I mailed our tent back home. Then the scramble began. I ended up doing back-to-back century rides, even after getting food poisoning during the second day. I ended up delirious and malnourished before deciding that Val D'or Quebec was far enough. I took a bus home, and still have yet to see Nemaska. I considered this trip a success. I rode for at least a week or two alone, and knew that with this experience I could only do better the next time. I still wanted there to be a next time.

I remember my next tour as a happy success. I traveled north again with the loose goal of reaching Nemaska. It is well documented on this same blog. I rode my favorite bicycle, my Diamondback Outlook. It's not a bicycle which touring experts recommend, but I wanted to ride the one that makes me happy. I rode long distance on inexpensive equipment, and I had a grand time. I met the best people, saw the best scenery, and I think about it all the time. I could have been more disciplined about nourishment and booze-intake, but the adventure can't be replicated and I am still proud of the undertaking.

Now I am ready for a new adventure. I'm riding the Diamondback again, and I'm ready to capture the beautiful moments that we miss in our daily stagnant lifestyles. I know these trips can be bonkers to get started. I know there will be times when I feel beat up and abused by sun, weather, traffic and soreness. I'm at peace with it. We'll see where I get, and what it looks like when I'm there.

If you're planning a trip, don't don't be ashamed if you end up lonely and bawling on a cell phone, or have an anxiety attack over a broken spoke. We're humans, and these trips have high emotional stakes for some of us. You need to cross through the adversity to get to the sweet parts. Take it slow. Don't rush. Remember to eat properly.

Back to the church. Back to today. I was laying on my back feeling lonely and overwhelmed. The morning started cold, and the winds were strong and gusty. I cussed and strained as I dragged myself up hill after hill moving at a walking pace. I was out of shape, and the rolling hills were beating me up. I was glad to just be sore with no sharp pains.

I sat up in the grass and drank some more water. I threw a leg over my bicycle and continued.

My destination was Baltimore. As beat up as I felt, I was only halfway there. I crawled along and ticked off the miles. I had a bag of food, and once I refilled my water bottles at a Royal Farms, I began to open aluminum foil packets and bring out the goods. I packed two small tacos with rice, beans, and some roast beef. I brought hot sauce, and I made sure to use it. Miles later, I had a tough PBJ that I made four days ago. Delicious. My wonderful mother snuck in a couple ham and cheese sandwiches made on dinner rolls. These by far were the best thing in the food bag. I bought a 24oz Coke to go along, and that brought my total daily expenditure to exactly $1.49.


Baltimore! Mi amor! To see the name of the city in bold colorful print was a welcome sight. It was on an underpass as I entered the city limits. I did it. I thought I might snap a muscle first, but I made it, and I actually felt pretty good. 80 miles was a tough ride, but I had that in me and more.

I made it to my host's home just as she was about to leave. She races sailboats in the inner harbor, and I was welcome to hang out and watch. A dinner shindig was included, so I wasn't about to pass up the opportunity. While she raced, I helped set up for the Cinco-de-Mayo-themed after party. There were legit make-your-own tacos, and the margaritas had real live alcohol. I had a few of those, and a couple Modelo's for good measure. Serendipity is one of my favorite words. Having good people to stay with at the beginning of a trip is a fantastic way to start.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Day 4 (if you can call it that)

I've been sleeping out in my van. It's parked in the driveway at my parents house. I have a nice bed out there, and I feel at home sleeping there. I feel like I am sleeping in my home. Truly.

I woke up this morning to rain tapping on the roof. It was soothing, but I hoped it would soon stop. Ten o'clock came, and the gentle rain continued to fall. The temperature was in the 50's. I had a decision to make.

Fortunately, I think my host in Baltimore is going to be a good find. She quickly emailed me back and said that the next day would be fine. In fact, there might be dinner because she has a boat thing going on. I'll certainly know more about that tomorrow.

How did I find a host? I'll answer that. There is an established international network of touring cyclists. People sign up at the website warmshowers.org and offer to host people who are traveling through their area. If you are familiar with couchsurfing.com, it's like that - except it's a little bit tighter knit because it's just touring cyclists. I emailed 4 people in Baltimore through the website, and my host was the first to respond. She's very quick with the email. I dare you to tell me how technology isn't great.

I went out for wings and beers with family. It was just the Harnes. Just the original four of us.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Ha ha! I'm not going anywhere. Day 3?

I didn't feel like going anywhere, so I didn't. Rest is smart enough, and technically I have forever to take this trip. All of my ties are thoroughly severed with Philadelphia. I decided last night that I wasn't ready to continue. Then I stayed up until 3am watching an American Experience series on my laptop.

Today was full of more preparation. I printed out more sheets of directions. I secured a place to sleep tomorrow night (if my legs can get me all the way to Baltimore), and I ate cheeseburgers with my parents.

Boy do I ever procrastinate. This last minute preparation is like the bicycle touring version of cramming for a test. I never studied for tests; I passed high school with a loafy 2.0 GPA. Hopefully I can successfully loaf across America too.

Back to bicycle touring. What's the point? Hopefully I can start to answer that tomorrow. I have a long day planned. If 47 miles hurt on Sunday, then I hope 77 miles feels alright tomorrow. After that? Short days and some rest are on the "schedule."

Monday, May 2, 2011

Flying Signs or Going Cheap

To "fly a sign" is to write on cardboard with a marker asking for something. Booze, money, food, etc. It can be as simple as the classic "anything helps." I thought about it trying it. I've hung out with people who travel and write on cardboard, and they've all seemed like good people. If you really need money, then hold up a sign. Nobody owes you money, but some people will be happy to hand over their change. Some people will give you $20. Two people I was hanging out with in Grand Forks said they'd been handed a $100 bill outside of the Target. That's fine with me. We all ate great food around a campfire.

I'm probably not flying any signs, even though I'm fine with it and believe it's my right if I want to. I have a great selection of gear for this trip, and over $3600 in my bank account. I have an efficient alcohol stove, so I can cook cheaply. I have two Northface garments, and my mom bought me the second one today. I'm not a dude who needs to be flying signs. Maybe if I get sassy, I'll make a sign that asks "Can I have a beer?" If it works out then great, but it's harmless quasi-passable humor. It would be an interesting experiment in any case.

Fuck it. I don't know what I'm doing. But at a minimum, I'm going to to visit some people, meet some people, ride around, and cook something. I will definitely sleep somewhere. I will probably make something and fix something. I will probably cuss a lot, but rejoice at times throughout each day. 

Today, though, I just loafed around. I did some map-work and preparation. I made a list of contacts for people willing to host touring cyclist along my route. I printed sheets out of my mom's printer, hoping that some of them might give me the strong confidence that I wish I had. 

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Bicycle Trip 2011: Day 1. I hit the road.

It all started out with getting up late. I can't put this in the proper amount of detail right now. Tara and I are parting ways, and loading my bicycle and kissing her goodbye was... difficult.

The bicycle was overloaded, so I cussed and whined about it. The moment was emotional with a nod to anxiety. I cussed and figured out where to stuff extra stuff that I didn't feel like bringing. The extra stuff will accompany me to Kennett Square, but no further. Once there I will re-pack and leave some stuff behind at my parents house, which is a substantial stashing ground for me and also for my sister.

I pulled away, and literally did not look back. Official goodbyes are one of the surreal parts in life. You can glance backward, but you've seen what's there. It's ok. I'll see a new version of all of it again.

The bicycle was heavy, but my spirits were high. I followed some fairly reasonable Google Maps bicycle direction printouts. I'm not in top form, and the bicycle was heavy. Hills became a burden later in the ride. I almost walked at one point.

I made it to Kennett just after mile 47, and managed to make it to bed without drinking. That wasn't the plan. I fully intended to do it up like usual, but my body didn't want it. My mind wanted booze with a lazy curiosity, but I let the moment pass.