Saturday, November 11, 2017

Bicycling North In 2008: Some Parts I Should Have Wrote Down [sic]

I was remembering a bicycle trip from 2008. The parts I wrote down are the parts I forgot. It's been almost ten years now. My memories have better frames. This was my first tour riding alone. The parts that stick with me are the ones written here.

I was 25, and the photo of me in the driveway is audacity. A clean kid in a pink tie dye. Mom took a picture of me, and we all pretended I was ready to go.

I slept at Nat's house in Philadelphia. I pulled my knee on the way there. I ate shrooms and stayed for two days.

On Nat's advice I got a knee brace, and that worked fine to get me to Rahway, New Jersey. The sun was going down and I didn't know where to sleep. I found a bushy sphere of a tree to hide under, but I didn't get any sleep. I was next to a river and a train. The mud on the riverbank had the smell and consistency of shit. An equal distance on the other side of me was a road. There was a bus stop right there. A cop pulled someone over, and his lights lit up the the twig-like branches as I laid on my back under the tree.

The knee brace chafed my leg worse than the original problem, so I took it off the next day and didn't have much trouble after that. I was following the East Coast Greenway, or what it was at that time, which was unchecked cue sheets that seemed to lead in circles. By the time I got to Worcester Massachusetts, I was thoroughly done with those sheets. I switched to directions from an outdated book about cycling the Atlantic coast.

It was the middle of summer and I wore socks that looked like sleeves cut off a wool sweater. I wore them every day, and I mashed the soles into felt. When I got back to Philadelphia I ate more shrooms and talked to Mark. I couldn't tell if I was just tripping. But Mark confirmed what I thought. My feet looked like something off a cadaver. Right trip; wrong socks.

I stayed with my friend Dylan in Worcester. I stayed with my friend Nick in Beverly, Mass.

The book was outdated but better than the untested ECG cue sheets. I had an invitation to stay with someone who worked for the Greenway - a route planner who worked in the office. I was frustrated with the directions and felt awkward on the subject. I tempered what I said to be polite to the Cause. We went for a beer. I saw his reaction when I got a second pint. He was the type for one.

I told the worker from the East Coast Greenway that I was "impervious to disaster" when the subject of safety came up. He repeated this back to make sure. He found great humor in this statement, especially after drinking a beer. I understood, but I meant it. I was in my element. I drank on benches and slept in parks. I fell in love with something every other day.

Bar Harbor found me eating a bagel and drinking half whisky half coke. I had my sleeping bag drying and a man with a mandolin played old hobo train songs. He had a radical sunburn and a beautiful voice. I washed coffee grounds off deli meat I found in the trash.

A young man asked me if I knew where to get weed. I said I didn't, but keep me in mind if you find it. We got to talking and I found out he had just gotten married. I met his wife. They invited me to stay at their rented cabin. They were even younger than me and they'd been friends forever. We stayed up until dawn drinking a handle of rum.

I met Ravi in Waldo Maine. I asked for directions and he invited me in. I am a safe person but I didn't look safe. He should have sent me on my way. I declined his hospitality because I saw he had a tiny daughter who only recently learned how to walk. Earlier in the year I was exploding cans of Steel Reserve on wall behind a movie theater. He should not have invited me in.

I got the sense he wanted me there more than I wanted to stay. I accepted his hospitality, though I knew this meant abstaining from the cold sweaty bottles clanking in the tops of my bags.

Ravi introduced me to his wife and his daughter. He fed me an omelette and fresh pineapple. We got a sense of each other, and I liked him very much. I showered and slept in a bed. The blanket had an enormous amount of loft, because Maine. I woke up at 5:30am when Ravi brought me a steaming mug of tea. "Don't get up" he whispered. He was leaving for work, and wanted to bid me goodbye.

His wife had washed and folded my clothes. She and I sat civilized and chatted over breakfast, as their daughter toddled adorably about.

I rode to Bangor and found nothing. A man wearing a garment spoke to me outside the library. I treated him like a human, and we discussed the universe. My stance was and always will be that almost every human thinks they know a lot more than they do. I am a believer in our ignorance. God may well be, but who are we to know it? We got a sense of each other, and I liked him very much.

Tired of Maine, I took a Greyhound to Montreal. I rode up the mountain in the early hours, and tried to get sleep on a bench. The morning air was chilly, but when the sun rose properly I absorbed it. By evening I was in a drum circle. The 40's in Canada are cheap fortified Labatt. I got a quarter of a palm of weed from a Jamaican guy for five bucks. I was prepared to enter the woods.

The next morning I rose and cycled. I felt my way clumsily toward the P'tit Train du Nord. The crushed limestone cyclepath leads north for days of riding. The path connects scenic villages and towns. It would be bucolic, weather permitting, but gray skies and low temperatures seemed always afoot.

I was caught in rain and under-prepared. Inexperienced. Nothing ever quite got dry after this.

When the P'tit Train ends, you are left beside a highway. You can ride on the shoulder for two or three days. My next plan was to get up to Val D'or. I remembered what it was like last time I rode on this shoulder, so I opted for a thumb instead. First I got drunk on something mid-proof and strawberry. I had a ride almost instantly then.

A long tanker truck took the shoulder. I hadn't been fishing for truckers, but one got caught in my net. He helped me hoist my bicycle onto a hook meant for a fat hose on the front of the tank. Premium. We were on our way, and I would cut miserable miles out of my trip.

The trucker was a polite and clean man. He was a native English speaker. He was thin, with a neatly trimmed beard. He struck me as a bit of a nerd, actually, but I like the sense I got of him very much. I hadn't been sleeping or eating properly, and now after nearly a month it began to catch up. The bed in the cab was offered to me, because I was falling asleep sitting up.

The trucker woke me up when we arrived at a small hotel where he intended to spend the night. I had drooled on his pillow. I had slept like the dead. He put his hand on my shoulder and shook me gently. He waited patiently a moment as I remembered where I was. It was nighttime now. It was time for me to continue.

During daylight he had mentioned his wife and family. Now at night, he looked in my eyes. He paused too long as I looked in his. He wanted to protect me, but that wasn't everything. He wanted to kiss me but he wouldn't risk it. I made the same calculation, but it was risky. He helped me get my wheels back on the ground. We shook hands and said goodbye with both of our hearts beating quickly. We both pretended not to feel horribly alone. One last look, and he exhaled; uneven and deeply. I regret letting go of his hand.

I camped out a few miles up the road behind a billboard. The air was a mist of dew. My pillow was a damp jacket. I pulled my damp sleeping bag as high as it would go. I awoke early in the morning and found slugs in my shoes. I made a note to keep them with me in the bivy from now on.

I rode toward Val D'or beneath persistent gray skies. A man gave me a ride when I wasn't even asking. His old Town and Country minivan had the wood-style sides. He dropped me off at the community center for Indians. He brought me inside. He was important there in some capacity. He assured the folks behind the desk that it was ok that I was white. He helped me log in as a guest on an old computer with a CRT monitor. I didn't remember asking for any of his assistance, even back from when he gave me the ride. But I didn't want to let him down, so I checked my email - all bullshit - and I thanked him very much for his help.

I tried to dry my bag out in the lobby of the library. I draped it over a railing and began to fall asleep in a chair. This offended one worker who huffed at me in French, until another man strode up and told him to fuck off. The second man was maybe slightly more important, and he told me in English to stay as long as I wanted. I could have kissed him, but our relationship was purely professional.

I found a giant coke-dealing Cree Indian at the bar. I accidentally sat near him, and he took me under his arm. He was plastered while the sun still had purchase in the sky. He took me into the street and put his arm on me once again. Then he looked up and gestured broadly to the sky. "I... hhhave....... EV - ER - Y... THIIIIIIIING!" I was not convinced. He bought me more beer and invited me to play pool. He was scary, and he looked at me as though I had no choice. He went to take a piss, so I chugged the beer, and rolled elsewhere by bicycle at once.

My loose plan was to go to Nemaska. A Cree Indian village to the north. There would be no services for many days, so I would need plenty of supplies to get there. My bag was still wet, and I was drunk, and I began having doubts about how impervious I was.

Many pints later, as the sun was setting slowly past 10pm, I raced north to find somewhere to sleep. The spot I selected seemed fine at first, until a cloud of mosquitoes stormed in. In the waning light, wide awake, sweaty, with a damp bag draped over me, I inched deeper into the musty bivy to get further from the screen flap - where millions and millions of mosquitoes stood menacingly and buzzed.

Fuck. This. Shit.

I unzipped the flap, grabbed my sleep shit under one arm, and had it strapped to my bicycle in ten seconds flat. I took a running leap onto the pedals and raced back to town. An hour later, I heard acoustic Pink Floyd coming out of a bar, and went in for a few more pints. A Quebecois cover band played all of Dark Side of the Moon.

I woke up in my bivy sack on the edge of town. My bicycle was next to me where I'd crashed it in a pit of sand. A lady was walking her dog, and the sun was bright, and I decided to get a bus ticket home.

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