Bicycle malfunctions, road saviors, Kentucky moonshine skills.

There’s a cycling aphorism much like “when it rains, it pours,” which, if I may paraphrase it goes “When a shifter cable breaks, your day gets really fucked up and all sorts of annoying shit has to happen before you get it fixed.” That’s the short version.

After staying a night in the Daniel Boone Motor Inn in Hazard Kentucky, I was up and out early–earlier than I had been in days–and eager to get some mileage in. November 6th is looming and I still feel far from New York. I am far from New York.

I took a right out of the inn, right up the hill, went to downshift, and hear a metallic pop. I knew immediately what it was: I’d felt the cable start to fray the day before, and was hoping it would last me ’til I got to a bike shop, some 160 miles over the biggest climbs into Virginia.

No such luck. As far as cable breaks, I did about the worst that I could do: If you break a shifter cable, you first hope it is the front derailleur, where it defaults to the easiest chain ring. Mine was the rear, and it immediately popped into the hardest cog. If you do break the rear cable, you at least hope it’s somewhere towards the ends so you still have a lenth of cable that is usable. Mine snapped less than a half inch from the stopper.

I was, as my Dad bluntly put it when I called for suggestions, “screwed.” This wasn’t a suggestion. There was no bike shop in Hazard, and so I went for plan B: Walmart.

Walmart had cables but only for their crap mountain bikes, too big to thread into the housing, so I went for plan C: rethread my old cable backwards and somehow tie it.

After an hour of cursing and carefully easing the wounded cable back through all the housing without fraying it, it came up too short to do anything with.

Plan D involved me going to Walmart, then Lowe’s to find picture hanging wire of roughly the same gauge as a temporary fix. After another half hour of careful threading, I got everything attached correctly, anchored it, and went to try shifting. It snapped immediately.

I had no plan E, until I happened to glance over towards the entrance to Lowe’s and see another touring bicycle miraculously leaning up against the wall. Hoping he had a cable, I went in search.

M– did have a cable, and was more than happy to give it to me, excited that it was going to be put to some use. I’d really lucked out: I’d come across a total of four cyclists on my ride, and this late in the game, this far east, I didn’t expect to see anyone, let alone someone who just happened to stop into Lowe’s in Hazard, Kentucky right when I was having a really serious bike malfunction.

My luck only went as far as the new cable, though, which is to say, too short: An inch and a half too short. A miserable inch and a half.

M– had heard of a trick that involved tying a square knot between the old and the new cable, and after looking up square knot directions, we tried out this hail mary rig: It worked. Not perfect, but enough that I could get to my easy gears.

I apologized probably too many times for delaying him (he had a relatively tight deadline to be in Raleigh, NC in a week), and since we were going the same direction, we road off. It was past 2:30 by the time we’d gotten some food, so there wasn’t much riding time left in the day (a day I’d “started” before 8 that morning).

We got another 25 miles that day, and called over to the town church, which was listed as taking in cyclists for the night. They no longer did, but directed us to a man in town who charged $25 a night for a place in a tent. M– said he couldn’t quite afford it that week, but having ridden alone for so long, and having thus far gotten along with the man, I wasn’t eager to lose a traveling companion so soon, so despite the relatively high price, I offered to cover his stay and he could mail me a check. It seemed he felt the same way, and though at first hesitant, accept the offer.

We rolled through town, up behind the courthouse, and up one hell of a steep drive to a little stone house built steep into a “horseshoe hollow,” essentially a deep, treed canyon.

We were met at the top by the owner, Don, who greeted us with tea flavored overpoweringly like sweetener, apologizing that the ice had already melted.

Don talked to us a bit about the property: it was an amphitheater/aboretum/not for profit society/cat sanctuary. When he said “cat santuary”, I finally looked around and noticed his cats. Dozens of them, all rolling around.

“Oh, look my cats have come out to greet you. They do that. They’re my guard ca–LOUISE!!!” He was shouting at one of the cats, something he would do throughout the night both frequently and abruptly for whatever crime the cats were committing, though it wasn’t often clear that the cats were doing anything at all.

I hate cats, and here we were deep in the woods with a man who described about a dozen different things about his house and was shouting at his small army of cats. I was a little bit skeptical if the $25 was going to be worth it.

He gestured over to the tent, “well, I’ll go get some snacks ready, and y’all can go over–MISTER! MISTER!!!!–and get set up in that tent, it’s where our wedding garden used to be, it’s got three rooms and air mattresses. Get your dirty clothes, and you can come back and shower and I’ll wash ’em–CIRCLES! STOP THAT!–for ya.”

The tent was disgusting. Smelled filthy, one of the air mattresses was deflated, and when M– went to move it discovered a layer of rotting vegetation on the bottom.

“I’m not sleeping on that fucking thing,” he muttered, setting up his tent footprint in a relatively clean section of the main room.

We quickly open the windows and got the hell out of there. This was the beginnings of a bizarre, feline-dominated remake of “Deliverance.”

I hadn’t planned on doing laundry, but since the accommodations were clearly such a rip off, I pettily decided that laundry was in order.

We wandered back over to the main house with our laundry. Don took ’em–I’d thought he’d just show us where the machine was–and introduced us to Elisa, who I assumed, after the mention of the wedding garden was his wife.

Her accent was thick and fast: “Niceta meet ya, I’m Elisa.”

“Nice to meet you, Elisa, I’m Adam.”

“E-lisa. EE-lisa.”

“Oh, sorry.”

“So who’s up for first shower?” Don interjected.

I drew that lottery. The inside of the house was a mess. Don mentioned something about his mother living there as he led me back to the bathroom.

It was disgusting. Filthy, cramped. It reeked of the rotten egg stink of sulphur. The toilet seat was filthy and up on risers, a car air freshener was hanging from a toilet handle.

The shower was an old standalone tub and clearly where the sulphur smell was coming from. The pipes were rusted out, and the stub was stained a hideous orange color. Two moldy bathmats lay abandoned on the floor, a daddy long legs spider with two legs missing was crawling horribly up the side of the tent, trying to get out of the water.

I stood in the bathroom a full five minutes wondering what excuse I could come up with to get out of showering. I thought about wetting my hair in the sink, but one look at that told me I didn’t want to be putting my head anywhere near it.

I spent the next five minutes wondering if we were about to reenact a scene from “Psycho.”

I showered quick, coming out feeling just as dirty.

I came back out and subtly warned M– about the state of the shower. E-Lisa introduced me to her husband Jeff. So she wasn’t married to Don. As the three of them kept on sneaking off using not-so-subtle code to go smoke a joint, M– and I tried to piece Don’s story together: The best we came up with was that he ran this house as not-for-profit in exchange for room and board (land was owned by his father.) His mother had lived there, but had only been visiting that day.

I started to relax after we were served dinner and a few cold beers. Afterwards we went and sat up at the fire with the host and his two friends, joints were passed around, though I stuck to beer, protective of my lungs and having to get up and bicycle the next day.

As the sobriety decreased the size of the stories got bigger. E-Lisa was in fine form, pounding back beers and joints with professional efficiency:

“One tahm we had hurr a cyclist from Australia and he done peed hisself. Right thurr over by the air condishner. Big storm came through and he never seen a storm like that and it pulled up that tree lying thurr and he done peed and thurr was a big puddle on the floor next to the air conditioner and I said Don is that water? and he said, no. That’s a trew story.”

On account of the accent and the fact that she was definitely on the line of drunk to inappropriately shit-faced, I couldn’t quite follow a lot of her stories.

Don chimed in, “If she says it’s a true story–MAGGIE! STOP!–don’t believe her.”

“But that one’s true.”

Another story, some beers later, begun by Don.

“Apparently there is a big problem with gray wolves–CLAIRE!!! KITTEN!!–coming into populated areas–”

“Thass trew. I hurd of one just done the hill hurr at McDonald’s, that wolf came right in the front door and you know what he went straight for? A happy meal.”

“Sure, sure E-Lisa, MISTER!!!”

“That’s a true story.”

Marshmallows were eaten, beers were drunk. M– wandered deep into the woods in search of more wood to put on the fire.

“Watch out fer the ghosts of them Confederates in the graveyard.”

“That’s true–hey! HEY! NO FIGHTING!–there is a Confederate graveyard up there.”

As I helped E-Lisa’s husband, who only perked up to talk about music and the fact that lots of people must get murdered in New York, placed the wood M– gathered around the fire, we heard E-Lisa shout, “watch yer heads,” as she came lurching forward with a can of lighter fluid.

We leaped back as the fire burst upwards, quickly consuming the fuel and dying back down. E-Lisa needed to be cut off.

“Now, usually–Hey! HEY!!–we have some brandy as a nightcap for the cyclists, but since you all were on short notice, all we have is some black berry moonshine,” Don said, pulling out shot glasses and a plastic waterbottle.

“Now, when you take it, you want to breath out yer nose.”

“No, E-Lisa, that’ll really burn.”

“No, you trust me, that’s how, that’s how you know it’s good.”

“Cheers.”

“A toast to the host.”

I down mine in a gulp, it burned, but after years of drinking horrid vodka through college, it wasn’t so bad. I felt it sitting heavy in my body almost immediately.

“Boy, you took that good.”

“Ah, it’s that Irish in me,” I said, pleased that these Kentuckians were impressed by my ability to drink moonshine.

“Ya ahrish? Ya look it. I got some ahrish in me too on ma daddy’s side.”

I looked over. M–, respecting how stoned he was was still holding his shot. E-Lisa was getting worked up over it, I offered to take it for him, happy to have the opportunity to have moonshine and yeah, to show off a bit more.

After that second one I could feel the drunk coming on, and it was late anyway: We wanted to get up and be out on the road by 7:30. As I wondered back to the hellhole of a moldy tent, I reflected that at least the moonshine would make sleeping on that hideous air mattress palatable.

I woke once, to pee, and as I stood on the edge of the cliff, still feeling the effects of the moonshine, my eyes dimmed and the sound cut off in my ears, I stumbled back unsteadily towards the tent, trying not to pee on myself. Finished, nearly fainting, and sat down until I regained enough balance to get back in my sleeping bag.

I was happy nobody saw the moonshine get the better of me.

Stephen Foster state park and the man with too many toys

Trucks pulling into the store woke me: It was late, the time change also meant that it was dark until 7:30 or so, a change I didn’t account for.

I packed up quick, and then sat inside with a cup of coffee, as four or five older men, each more stereotypically country than the last, chatted about what they needed to get done in their yards, who was fixing their car. One man in his eighties was carrying an old spark plug that he was showing around. The burbling Kentucky accent made it hard for me to folllow what was so funny about the spark plug or the rest of the conversation, and after talking a minute with them, I got on my way.

I was tired. The rolling hills continued and as I come up on the 3,000-mile mark my body is aching. My legs have been sore for weeks, sore enough that it hurts to flex them, lactic acid build up from yesterday kept them aching and dragged me down on these hills. My left knee was still a bit tender from however I injured it before St. >ouis. Other reptitive use injuries were starting to crop up: The middle and ring fingers on my right hand were stiff and sore from shifting so much on these rolling hills. I couldn’t find a comfortable a comfortable gear and I couldn’t find a rhythm.

It was an uneventful day, but one that left me longing to be out of this rolling territory. I find I have a three day attention span with a given countryside, getting sick of deserts, alpine forests, rolling hills.

I camped out for the night in Bardstown next to a guy who rolled up with a jeep with a kayak on top, and a trailer that held a big kawasaki scooter and a bicycle. A man with toys, traveling around with nothing better to do. I hoped I didn’t turn into that.

Now that I’m reaching the end of my trip, I’ve started to wonder what readjustment will be like. The rhythm of this life is simple, uncomplicated, which doesn’t mean it should be idealized. It’s just very straight forward, and every day brings new experiences new people, you don’t feel like you’re missing anything, don’t feel panicked by the possible loss of a moment.

My trip-long fight with the stove continued. A few days ago, I ran out of white gas, so I filled it with gasoline. When I rolled into Ferne Clyffe it was dark and I was so tired and hungry that I failed to check if it was on the on or off side of the bottle. The stove wouldn’t stop sputtering, so I kept pumping it up, cooked my dinner, put out the flame. As I was eating dinner, it smelled of gasoline, and I realized that I’d pumped it out that the pressure had forced the rest of my gas sputtering out into a puddle on the ground.

Needing more fuel in Bardstown, I rode into town, and went to add fuel to the bottle. The nozzle sputtered in the bottle, splashing me with gasoline. Cursing, I went to fill the bottle, going past the fill line. I reeked of gasoline. I went to put the rest in the reserve bottle, and as I pulled it out of my bag, it sloshed: I still had white gas.

Back at the campsite, I had to track down the camp attendant and pour the extra guess into a bottle. Finally ready for dinner, I went to go light the stove, pumping it up. Gasoline came pouring out the side, again dripping all over me. After calling the stove owner, a man previously mentioned for his unfinished tattoo, I was missing an O-ring.

Put on the replacement, got it working, and went to bed full, but reeking of gasoline. The stove is idiot-proof, I’m just operating in a zone beyond.

After racist Tuesday, the nicer folk of Kentucky

I awoke early that night–though I was sleeping in an empty firestation, I still needed to pack up my stuff. The night before, I again raced a storm front in to Utica, Kentucky. I’d arrived at the firestation just as it started to pour. I knocked. No one answered. I peered in the windows, saw no one.

I pulled out my map to see if I could find a phone number, and found that they marked the firestation as a half mile up the road I’d just passed. I hopped back on my bike, and in the driving rain struggled that half mile. Nothing was there. I went three quarters of a mile, one mile. Nothing. The rain was being whipped so hard that the large pellets stung. Using my raincoat as a canopy, I called over to the firehouse, asking where I should go. They assured me that it was the one at the intersection, and while no one was there, I should go right in.

Furious and cursing my map to the hells of all religions, I rode back in the rain. My stuff was soaked, and while I slept on the coach in a damp sleeping bag, my tent and sleeping pad dried.

The rain had brought a beautiful, warm morning, though and I rode with pleasure on the windy roads. ABout 20 miles in I stopped for coffee at an old grocery store. It was one of thos e anachronistic places still limping buy in the era of chain stores and mega marts. Outside an older black man with the cloudy blue eyes of cataracts and white stubble on his face greeted me with a nod as he sipped his coffee.

The inside smelled of cat litter and wet basement. The elderly woman at the counter seemed annoyed that I was interrupting her conversation to purchase coffee from her. It was hideous tasting.

I went back outside and sat on the bench next to the man.

“Where you coming from?”

“Los Angeles, sir.”

“That’s a long way.”

“It is.”

“Where you from?”

“New York City.”

“I don’t like big cities. I’da loved to do somethin’ like that when I was young. Too old now.”

We sat in silence.

“You from around here?” I asked, my go-to question for getting people to tell me a bit about themselves.

“Sure, been here all my life. My momma lived over in Owensboro, my Daddy ’round here after they separated. I went and lived with my Daddy and he said, ‘if you gonna eat my food, you’re gonna work. I been working ever since. My Daddy put discipline into me. He’d whoop me, see that’s the problem today. They took Jesus out of the schools and nobody got no respect because they got these laws about whoopin’ your kids. I go over to somebody’s house, and the kid’s go ‘Hi, Sam!’ ‘Hi, Sam!’ No ‘sir,’ no ‘mister.’ No respect.”

“They need to bring Jesus back into schools. There are still some good folk out there, but it’s not like it used to be, used be respect for old folk used to be you just got a car, now there’s all sorts of laws, you just got a car, gas was 25 cents, and nowadays you need inshore-ance. They’re even trying to bring in a law that says old folk can’t drive.”

He paused, and I started to reflect on this being the third person in three days to discuss the end of society, and the second to tie it to cars, but about halfway through that thought he jumped subjects again. I’d gotten more than I bargained for when I decided to ask him about his life.

“In my day, I was a bull, you see. Let me tell you a story. I went one day to Ms. Tammy’s house. She had one of those old stoves. You know, those big iron coal stoves. I was so big I picked it up myself, and put it on the truck. Ms. Tammy was sitting out on her porch, rocking, and she was watching me, and she said:

‘Sam?’

‘Yes Ma’am Ms. Tammy.’

‘You big and strong. But you keep doing that, you going to hurt yourself.’

“See it pays to listen to old folk. I didn’t listen, no I got arthritis, a hernia, never damage, can’t sleep at night. You smoke dope?

“No, sir.” I was making sure to use sir.

“Good. That’ll ruin your life.”

“Yes, sir.”

“You ever here black people sing in church?”

“Yes, sir.”

“They can tear you down, the way they sing. Used to be a woman lived up on the ridge, Mrs. Carson. Mrs. Carson washed for white folk. Had lines all across her yard, and she had a big chair in her living room, and when she used to do her ironing, she used to sing. You could all over the ridge she sang so clear. Her son was a lazy boy. I used to go up and pack the stove for her. One day her son was there, she asked him to pack the stove, he wouldn’t do it, lazy boy. She started to sing. He had to leave. She could tear you down with her singing.”

He paused again, briefly, before veering into how dogs aren’t trained well and how he didn’t like the way he smelled and one memorable incident when a dog poked him in the butt with his nose. He didn’t like cats either, and was thinking about visiting the church down the road, see if the minister their could preach.

Nice man, had a good way of talking, but I needed to ride, so taking advantage of a paused. I thank him for chatting with me, and got on my way.

“Be safe now. There are some idiots out on the road.”

I thanked him again, minding my “sir.”

The rolling hills were relentless, and I found myself exhausted, beat by the repetitiveness of trying to gain as much momentum on the downhill, struggling into the uphill, and then pedaling sloppily until the next downhill.

This slog was interrupted only by chasing dogs, an increasingly common happening. The shouting and the spraying of the waterbottle, which had worked well in Missouri, seemed to have less effect on Kentucky dogs, so it was back to sprinting and if need be, swiping at them with a bottle.

Finally, a long downhill and a long climb, and I rolled into the parking lot of double L grocery, a general store located in the middle of nowhere, where I’d heard there was camping.

I was greeted by the family that owned the place, a couple in their fifties and a teenage daughter. They were extremely friendly, told me to pitch my tent anywhere, and invited me to dinner in such a genuine way that I couldn’t say no.

While the husband and daughter ran an errand, I tried to help the mother prepare dinner in the kitchen (I hate to freeload), but mostly succeeded in just getting in her way and chatting with her.

The conversation steered gently towards politics, and she mentioned her support for Romney, quickly adding that she didn’t want to offend anybody. I assured her that, while likely voting for the other guy, a difference of opinion wasn’t offensive to me. Funny, how are politics and political coverage hinge so much on the insult/take offense/demand apology cycle that even those of us who still want to have a civil political conversation have to spend the first ten minutes making all sorts of qualifiers about how they’re not looking to offend, debase, or insult the other.

One of her points was that Obama was a puppet, not in control, to which I elaborated that Citizens United was a terrible step, but refrained from asking that if Obama was a puppet, how many marionette strings would be attached to Romney in this age of super PACs?

Her most interesting point was that, she was “a christian and that she needed to vote along certain ethical and moral lines.” I took this to mean a position on abortion and possibly same sex marriage, though I can’t be sure. It’s an interesting intersection in our democracy: We live by freedom of religion and for the most part that means not imposing our religious beliefs on others. Yet, none of us would say that we shouldn’t vote for the guy who is most in line with our moral and ethical principles, but, in a deeply religious country, our moral and ethical principles are deeply informed by our religious beliefs. It’s an overlap that I think explains a lot about some of the problems at root in our politics and culture: It allows a two-faced discussion in which we demand and expect freedom of religion, but are also able to advocate for positions and principles entirely informed by our religious beliefs. This isn’t an attack on the religious vote, merely a thorny impasse.

The husband and daughter returned, and after we held hands and grace was said, a hearty dinner. The daughter was smart and funny and clearly someone who was at a maturity level that college would tango nicely with. The family was extremely kind, funny and generous. Worth the stay.

I went to bed early-ish: After looking at the clock in the store, I realized I’d crossed into the eastern time zone. My time zone. I was so happy that I barely cared that this also meant losing an hour of sleep.

I slept well, interrupted only by the manic howling of coyotes, and an owl hooting on the edge of the yard. At one point, I would have happily listened to the sound of an owl, but after a month and a half of camping, it was just another damned animal making spooky sounds and keeping me up at night.

Cowardice and racism in Dixon, Kentucky

The wind was blowing fierce from the south when I left the cabin–it was threatening to rain, and the radar showed a tentacle of storm stretching out east, so I bundled up into my rain gear. Rain gear on a bicycle is an exercise in futility. Even thought it attempts to be “breathable” the fact of the matter is that if you don’t get wet from the rain, you’re going to get soaked in your own sweat eventually, but I guess those minutes in between are worth it, and it at least keeps a cold rain and lashing wind at bay. Those are the real killers.

In my expensive garbage bag suit I headed off to the ferry. As I crested a big hill, a huge black dog with reddish eyes came glaring out at me, trotting my way. I didn’t see him soon enough and it was too late to try and squeeze past him. I slowed down and grabbed my water bottle in case he decided at the last minute he was interested in biting me.

“Don’t worry, he’s real friendly” a woman drawled from the porch in a thick Kentucky accent smoked thick from cigarettes. As she said this another dog, a golden retriever, came walking off the porch.

“Hey, pooch,” I said, unconcerned. The dog came up close enough to sniff my panniers as I soft-pedalled.

Lazily, the woman called from the porch, “That dog, though, she’ll bite your legs.”

“Oh!” I said, instinctively accelerating, though this is the worst thing you can do. The dog didn’t bite, but I had to laugh at her timing.

The wind sprayed river water as I took the ferry over into Kentucky. On the other side, I saw a sign with a horse and buggy on it: Amish country.

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It was a sunday morning, and blustery, so nobody was out. I saw one man jogging up the road towards me.

As I got closer he stopped and picked up a huge stick. What the hell? I thought, I was about to get some weird Kentucky welcome.

He saw me veer out to the middle of the road, and helpfully explain, “This here’s my dawg stick…”

I laughed, happy that this was the first thing I’d ever heard uttered in Kentucky.

By the time I got to Marion, stopping in for some demonically horrible coffee, I was sweating and the sun was out. I took off my rain gear, hoping that nobody got to freaked out by the appearance of a man stripping down to spandex in the middle of town on a Sunday morning. Apparently used to such things, or just not caring, nobody bothered me.

The wind was fierce, but kind enough to blow as a tailwind when it deigned to. I made good time over to Dixon, county sweat for Webster county where I sat on a bench near the courthouse, under a sign commemorating Daniel Webster for being the great statesman who worked with Calhoun and Clay to stave off Civil War.

As I ate, two vans with teenagers passed by from the “Faith Teen Challenge”, an organization devoted to a faith-based solution to the drug epidemic. Across the street was an abandoned gas station and a closed hardware store, a sign for a “no meth” hotline taped to a sign post. A red pick-up pulled up in front of me, idling it’s engine for awhile before the driver cut it. He was an older man, obviously watching me.

I ate my sandwich. No need to get up and pack up just yet.

Finally he got out of his truck.

“Where ya goin?”

“New York”

“Well, shit. That’s a long ride.”

“Sure is,” I said, annoyingly adjusting my speech to his.

“Good goddam way.”

He came and sat down on the bench.

“Son, I wish I was young again, sure. I’m an old man now, close to dyin’. I’d love to be young again. Did a lot of things I regret in ma life”

“What’s one thing you’re proud of?” I asked, not trusting strangers who immediately come up to me to tell me their problems.

“Well, I raised two good boys. I’m proud of that. Wish I’d quit drinkin’, though. Son, stay away from that shit. Hell, I was married 22 years, and she asked me to stop, and I didn’t listen, and she left me. Then I stopped. Wished I’da stopped earlier.”

He paused to spit chewing tobacco with a thick sounding puh, look over to me to see if I was listening.

“Son, it pays to listen to old folk. You listenin’?”

“Yes sir.”

“Stay away from that fuckin’ liquour shit. I used to have one and I’d drink a case. Once in awhile don’t hurt, but it’ll fuck up your life. Stay away from it.”

I nodded. We sat in silence for a minute.

“Societies all gone to hell now. Used to be some nice folk.”

This was the second person in a day that had mentioned the demise of society.

“You know how you can tell somethin’s wrong? I got to wear a sweatbelt, but you gotta school bus full of damned kids and I got to wear one? That’s fucked up.”

“It is.”

“Who gives a shit if I die, I’m an old fuckin’ man, but kids? Hell, thats how you know things ain’t right.

I nodded, though I wasn’t sure this was the ultimate example of the moral and societal imperfections of today’s world.

We sat in silence. I’d finished my sandwich and was folding up my map.

“Stay away from that liqour,” he said again. “Fucked a nigger once…I think.”

He said it clear. I needed to leave. I bridled at this, but didn’t react, unsure of what to say. Thoughts of my ex-girlfriend flashed through my head.What would have happened if we’d been dating and come down here?

Part of my brain laughed joylessly at the idiocy of his statement, a man whose wife divorced him for drinking was so deeply racist that decades on he was ashamed that he’d once slept with a black woman (maybe) that he was confessing it to strangers on a park bench. Some confessional, high-priest in padded shorts.

I needed to leave. That was my primary thought. I held out my hand. “Been good talkin’ to you. I have to go.”

“Alright now, son, you take care.”

I got on my bike, clipped in. Was I going to do it? Was I going to say it?
“SIr, my last girlfriend was black, and I’ll count myself both honored and proud if I marry a black woman who I love.”

I didn’t. I nodded as he waved and rolled around the corner.

“Fuuuuck,” I whispered to myself, glad to have escaped. But anger came to me. I should have said something. I should have told him to fuck off. Or just calmly walked away, given him the cold shoulder. I should have said I’d be proud to marry a black woman. But I didn’t, I’d just brain-stemmed my reaction and gotten away fast.

The rationalization came just as quickly: You’re out of your zone. You don’t know who you were talking to, he could have had a gun, he was trying to pick a fight, you wouldn’t have changed his mind anyway.

I rolled past a fox’s head, roadkill, the head separated and flattened down to a profile, but remarkably intact.

True, I wouldn’t have changed his mind, but I missed an opportunity to let him know that that backwards thinking was in the past that people–or at least people like me–weren’t going to stand for it. Instead I’d put myself with a much bigger group of people who denounce racism, sexism, bigotry when it’s safe and to people they know agree with them. If I didn’t speak up, who would? The buck had just gone further done the line, and it wasn’t the first time: I was left standing awkwardly with a free cinnamon roll after a cafĂ© owner in Colorado had given it to me, saying she didn’t like to “jew” people over day-olds. I said nothing. In New York, a potential landlord had casually let slip, “You know those Jews, how they like their money,” while showing me the living room. That time, like so many other times, I’d heard it clear, acknowledged it, ended the conversation politely and shuffled out, and I’d done it again.

My brother would’ve fought back, instinctively, and I couldn’t do it. My instinct was to run away. I’d even shook his hand–and that was the thing that haunted me, as a familiar desire to reach out and protect my ex came flooding back, the terror that I hadn’t done it, that sinking feeling that I’d failed in some big, irrevocable way to protect a loved one.

I didn’t have to shake his goddamned hand. “It was nice talking to you.”

I rode angrily, hoping that would calm me. I thought about lying to my parents when I told them the story, claiming that I had delivered that parting shot. Instead I told them the truth, and gritted my teeth as I listened to them repeat the rationalizations for why I’d done the right thing.

It’s easy to be moral and ethical when it’s safe. In fact, I don’t call myself moral because it’s never really been tested: I’ve never been hungry, I’ve never had to risk my life to protect the innocent. True morality lies when it is tested, and I’d failed.

I vowed next time would be different, like I had vowed so many times before.

Redneck morning sex and the super secret campground

Waking up in the cold dawn of Ferne Clyffe state park was a reminder of the need to stay focused, stay on schedule: The days are getting steadily shorter and colder, though the weather has held out.

I’d rolled in just at dusk and set up camp in the dark, which meant some extra time was taken re-organizing my bags back to where I could find the things I neeed, and then I was off, south and east before I’d ride along the Ohio River, and finally, take a ferry into Marion, Kentucky, where one could stay at the methodist church in town.

I wouldn’t make it that far.

I’d taken it easy on my knee the day before, or at least as best I could, trying to pull my momentum as far up the steep hills as I could and avoiding grinding a gear or standing up. It was feeling better, though not perfect, and I was making good time.

In Elizabethtown I stopped in a poorly stocked and dimly lit grocery to pick up some snacks. Mercifully, Illinois seemed to have bananas in just about every convenience store, I luxury I didn’t realize I missed until not having a single ‘naner across Kansas and Missouri.

An older man stopped to talk to me, and we chatted about different people who had come through that he’d met, including one guy–famous to me, at least–who was bicycling from Alaska down to Florida. This was the third or fourth person who’d mentioned him.
He gave me his business card, which listed “retired” as his profession, and asked that I send him a photo once I got where I was going. He had a whole wall of them in his house, which would be extremely creepy in just about any other context.

I said I would, and got rolling again: Only ten miles to the ferry and I was eager to cross it. I paused on the narrow, twisty road to call over to the church and leave a message, asking to stay.

There were few cars on the road, and htose that came along were polite enough for the road to straighten out long enough that they could give me a wide berth without risking themselves either. In return for this goodwill, I took to waving them ahead if I saw that it was clear.

A black Avalanche rolled up behind me, slowing down as we came across a curve. I sped up to get to the straight away, and then waved it past. It stayed put. I kept going, and the truck pulled up alongside me, the window rolled down to reveal a beautiful blonde woman and in the drivers seat, a fit man with a shaved head and a thin, graying mustache curving all the way down to his chin.

The woman had the beauty of the mid-west: Pug-nosed, even in her face you could tell she was curvy but fit, big, blonde hair with highlights.

“Where you going?” she asked.

“Today or in general?”

“In general.”

“New York, but over to Marion today.”

“Really! Holy heck! You enjoying yourself?”

“Yep!”

The husband leaned over at this point, and asked, “Can I buy you a beer?”

At this point in my trip, I will go far for a good coffee or a cold beer.

“Yes!”

“Meet me up the road.”

We were only a few miles outside of the town of Cave in Rock, so I figured we’d meet up there. Instead, the truck pulled off and into a little cowpath at the side of the road. I slowed down. I could see the blonde woman beckoning me with one finger. I hesitated for a second, but they don’t call it a siren’s call for nothing.

“This is her dad’s land, and we’re going up to the campsite for a cookout along the river,” the man said, handing me a cold beer out of the console of his truck.

“Thanks,” I said.

“Why don’t you come back with us, have a beer, and then we’ll get you back on the road?”

I looked at my bike, hesitating.

“Leave the bike, its back a ways.”

The wife got out and got in the backseat, so I could sit in the front.

I was wary, but had learned to trust my judgment, and they seemed genuine. As a friend stupidly–or brilliantly–put it, “you just have to make the decision to trust people.”

Besides, I figured, if they were going to kill me or rob me, they wouldn’t give me a beer first. Or if they did, it was mighty courteous.

I got in the truck.

“So,” the husband asked, taking a swig from his beer, “You running from a woman, work, or the law? Or all three?”

“The first two. If I was running from the law, I’d take something faster than a bicycle.”

They laughed loudly. Murderers don’t laugh.

The road was rough, too rough for a bicycle, and wound it’s way through indian burial grounds were he claimed to have found tons of artifacts, and a civil war-era cemetery. During the war, this had been the front, and where the campsite was–the “super secret campsite” as they called it–was one of the main river crossings during the war. Sherman had come right through there on the trail of tears.

“Just last week I found a belt buckle, just sitting out on the ground on that ridge over there.”

We arrived at the campsite, and were met by two old men with big beards and head-to-toe in hunting gear. Their rough outdoor appearance was offset somewhat by the second man’s wife, who was dressed in a high-visibility shirt, in spandex leggings and neon-green walking shoes.

They grabbed a chair, and quizzed me about my trip for awhile. The husband even set up the “if I was running from the law” joke again for me.

While I was chatting with the older woman, Brenda, Mark called me and said, “before you leave, you got to see cave in rock. We like you enough that I’ll take you up there, it’s where bandits on the Ohio River hid what they stole. Then I’ll show you our cabin, and if you want, you can camp out there, or we’ll get you back on the road.”

This seemed like a fair deal, and I had time. His wife elected to stay, and as we got back in the truck, he said, “I’d let you stay in the house, but tonight’s my wife and I’s date night and I plan to get plum freakin’ nasty with her.”

We put my bike in the truck and drove up. I was working on my second beer, while Mark, and noticeably left his at the campsite. His responsible driving only went so far, driving with his knees when he wanted to make a point or show me some other ridge.

“We figured we’d show you some southern Illinois redneck hospitality.”

We parked next to the path to the cave, and as we walked down he asked what I did for a living.

I explained I was unemployed.

“You know you vote for Romney, you’ll have a job.”

I knew not to talk politics, but he seemed a reasonable guy. “Well, Obama’s the reason I have health care, I countered.”

We gently debated politics the whole way through the cave and back to the car, all the way to the cabin and through another round of beer on his porch, which sat on a cliff overlooking the entire river. It was beautiful.

I admitted I was disappointed with Obama, and he complained, “You know democrat or republican what’s really wrong is society. There is something sick about society.”

I didn’t disagree with him.

“I tell you one thing, though, I’m a business owner, and if Romney wins all these small, private businesses will boom.”

Politely, I asked, “Can you explain how, though? I’ve heard that from business people but haven’t seen the specifics and what I’m worried about is Romney’s tax plan, where he says he doesn’t need to give specifics on how his tax plan will work without raising taxes on the middle class.”

“You know, I couldn’t really tell you the specifics.”

He paused and thought about it: “Either way, I think I will do well. I build industrial cabinets and we work with a lot of government contracts, so wherever Obama puts the money, I’ll benefit.”

It wasn’t a slam dunk in terms of debating politics, and I didn’t really expect to change his mind: The way we vote has much less to do with logic and rationality than we think it does, and that goes both ways.

We agreed on a few things, and both of us wanted to quite while we were ahead.

“How about the playoffs?”

“I’m not much of a sports guy. Only sports I do are hunting and martial arts.”

“Oh, my dad’s really into martial arts. How’d you get started?”

“I used to be racist, real prejud-ized, you know I grew up with my grandfather saying things like ‘Kill a mule, get another, fire a nigger, hire another'”

This phrase lacked internal logic, I thought, but demonstrated to me that his grandfather was racist.

“And I was a pretty big guy, but I had the attitude of someone who was 300 pounds. And one night I was visiting my brother at Southern Illinois, and there was this black guy, and I called him a nigger, and he asked me to step outside. And I bled from everywhere you could bleed. He didn’t hit me. He didn’t punch me, but he knew martial arts and just put me on the ground, every time. Next morning, I got up, and I went and found him, and I said ‘You got to teach me how to do that.’ And he said, ‘Ok, but first you need to understand how stupid prejudice is.’ And I started thinking about how stupid of a way that was to think.”

“Hell of a way to learn that lesson.”

“But I thank god I learned it. Thank god. Thank god I’m not prejud-ized any more.”

That honesty, plus the beautiful view, cemented it. I’d had a goal for the day, but the other goal for this trip was to meet people and have a new experience. A backwoods cookout with a bunch of self-described rednecks seemed about as experience-y as I could get.

“If you’ll have me, I think I’ll stay.”

“Cheers, brother. But if you’re gonna stay, you gotta shower, cause you stink.”

“I’m surprised you didn’t say anthing earlier.”

“Usually I do. Let’s get you a towel so we can get back. I can’t have my wife mad at me tonight.”

“I won’t cock block you.”

“Oh, I know you won’t.”

I showered, and we took my bike out the back, and headed back to the super secret campsite.

On the ride back, he asked me about my girlfriend, or ex. I explained that different religions, different ages, different expectations had gotten in the way.

“Let me tell you something, my wife’s a Jehovah’s Witness, I’m not. Different beliefs is just an excuse. Truth is you weren’t right for each other.”

By the time we got back, four or five more pick up trucks had showed. His wife was standing off to the side and came up to the truck.

“Hey, just wanted to let you know, Mark, that there’s a girl her named Tubby, and I don’t like her.”

I looked at my feet, not wanting to seem like I was being nosy.

“She comes around a lot and every time she tells me that she’s my dad’s illegitimate child, and I know she’s not. I don’t like her, my dad doesn’t have any illegitimate children. So don’t be nice.”

“Ok,” the husband said.

“Don’t be nice. Adam?”

I looked up. “Yes?”

“Don’t be nice.”

“Ok.”

“I mean it. Don’t be nice to her.”

I got out of the truck and introduced myself to the group as a stray they’d picked up on the road.

That was enough for them not to worry about me, and I chatted with just about everyone, mostly older people from the area who all shared the land. Even Tubby came up to me, asking about the trip, and I made sure, one eye on the wife, to keep my answers short and clipped.

“I like him,” I saw the wife whispering to her husband.

We headed back to the cabin.

“We like you. You’re staying inside,” the husband said gruffly.

“You sure?

“Listen, my wife’s decided it, so it’s happening.”

“I don’t mind, a place to pitch my tent is more than enough hospitality.”

“No, no. I was just worried about keeping you up with all the noise we going to make.”

“Ah, don’t worry, I’ve slept beside freeways with earplugs in no problem.” I hadn’t, but I’d met a guy who had. After four years of college and two years living in a drafty old building with very vocal neighbors, other people’s orgasms were practically a lullaby to me.

“Me? I’m a freight train,” he said, guffawing at his own, admittedly good joke. So good, in fact, that he would repeat it twice to his wife while we sat, for no particular reason, over a night cap of champagne.

I slept well, with the window open, because as the husband insisted, “You should hear the river at night.”

At five in the morning, I woke to lashing wind and rain, and scurried outside to grab the vital things nont water proofed off my bike, hoping that the couple wouldn’t wake–or be interrupted–and think I was stealing for them or plotting their murder.

I was up again around seven, and wanted to get back on the road. I padded around the kitchen, andd tried to ignore the grunting sounds coming from the bed room.

About 20 minutes later, the wife came out, cracked a diet coke, and insisted she make me breakfast, and the husband followed, insisting that I have a cup of “river coffee” which is just irish coffee that happens to be mixed on the banks of the Ohio river.

The wife went off to church in a green dress, and I said my good byes, glad I’d stayed to experience the super secret campground and some southern Illinois redneck hospitality.

Accidentally attending a funeral on the way to Ferne Clyffe

I left early the next morning, stopping only to mail a bunch of unnecessary crap home–unused electronics, summer socks, and a pair of bike shorts I wore once and gave me saddle sores so bad they lasted across two state lines.

It was annoyingly symbolic of the parent-child relationship. For all four years of college, my mom had sent me home-baked bread once a week, mailing it so fresh that the package often freaked out the postal worker for being warm. The best I could do was send home smelly socks and things I didn’t want.

The relationship with one’s parents is never so transactional. They made the choice to bring you into this world, so only those who regret it look at the relationship with so transactional an angle, but still, my parents have given me just about everything, both material and spiritually, and continue to give far more than I give back. It’s an overwhelming feeling, to feel both so deeply in debt, and also know that their giving is so complete that they don’t see the debt that I owe.

I meant to add a nice note to that effect, but I forgot it, instead just mailing home a roughly anonymous package that would be recognizable only by my residual body odor, which, notably, is identical to my dad’s.

The ride was nice, hilly. I’m in the little Ozarks, which means tons of short, steep little climbs. The road drops you so fast into some of these gullies that seemingly steep roads at the top flatten out into little hills, or conversely, coil up to tower above you. It’s like riding through an M.C. Escher landscape, the perspective changing dramatically, rapidly, dynamically.

Stopped for an ice cream and some good old-fashioned wifi access in Murphysboro, Il. before getting back on the road to Goresville and the state park I was planning on sleeping in.

On the road out of town, I was passed by a funeral procession for a very popular and much-loved man. I know he was popular because there were at least 15 cars in the procession, and I know he was much-loved because each driver was so grieved that they could not bother to even move over an inch and give me some room on the shoulder-less highway.

In the city, driver’s who don’t give me enough space usually earn themselves a hearty middle-finger and one of a few “salty” phrases I like to employ. However, for this trip, I took a cue from a riding buddy, a father of two who, sadly, was cheated by a meth-addicted tattoo artists and left with only half a drawing of a crank on his leg: His gesture of choice is a huge, sarcastic wave that allows the cyclist to blow off some steam without getting into a fight.

I use this and employ a number of other silent-movie effects: shaking my head dramatically, throwing up my arm in anguish, smacking my forehead, glaring with my chin jutted out.

I decided this would likely not be appropriate for a funeral, and fumed silently, but with dignity.

Speaking of outlandish gestures, my stocking up on winter gear in Saint Louis has brought me one critical step closer to my plan to re-start life in NYC as a bicycle-themed performance artist. Next to working on Wall Street, performance art is the most sure-fire way to make yourself solid money, not upper east side money, but inappropriately young wife money.

Leaving St. Louis

After two days around 96 miles, and one day of 86 miles, I needed a day off. My right knee had started to twinge from too much pulling up on the pedals. Too compensate, I’d emphasized pedalling with my left leg, and then suddenly, ten miles into my ride to Saint Louis, it began to hurt so much that I hobbled in, soft-pedaling as much as I coud, and emphasizing the right knee, which, of course, started hurting again.

I needed supplies anyway, and some tie away from the bike, so I found a group of people to couch surf with and used it as a launching point to run some errands and stop in at the Saint Louis Zoo. Saint Louis is a great town, cheap, too, and I recommend it if you have some frequent flyer miles and a few days to spare. Last time I went to the zoo, however, all the great ape exhibits were unfortunately closed–“training”.

And while I am all for ape education (to a point. I view Planet of the Apes as a cautionary tale), I was really hoping the apes weren’t in school this time. They weren’t.

My hosts were nice, but seemed uninterested in socializing, leaving me mostly to my own devices, hanging out in their apartment. After my rest day, I made sure to leave early. I’ve hung out with very few people my age. Those most eager to talk to me are senior citizens, and slightly balding middle-aged men with long hair, who either want to tell me about their own youthful adventures, no matter how irrelevant, or to tell me they bicycle and they wish the’d done the same. My own age group? They seem to recoil from my current status, or at least wary of it. Without being able to say what causes it, it’s a feeling I understand: I hear of people doing trips like that and I get impatient with the narcissistic clichĂ© of it, of young people going out to find themselves, all the while blogging about it. Especially when they go to Africa.

Let’s be clear: I didn’t go on this trip to find myself. Rather, I knew far too well who I was and where I was. I wanted to change myself, to come back different, so that I could look back at pre-trip me the same way I look back at high school me, recognizing myself, but finding my thoughts and actinos from that time period alien. I had plateued, and I needed this trip not to locate myself on that plateu, but to force the next step, force me to level-up and progress.

The ride out of Saint Louis was easy. I timed it right to avoid traffic. I was excited: I’d hit current location on my phone’s map and then zoomed out, staring, mesmerized, at my glowing blue dot that no pulsed quietly in the midde of the country. It felt unreal, that I’d been transported there. I couldn’t wait to make it move again.

My delight soon got lost in the headwind, as I struggled south. Compounding it was a still ginger knee, which took away my ability to grind through gusts of wind. I was at it’s mercy.

The route took me along the bluggs on the east side of the mississippi river, too far inland to see the river, though I did get to see a freight train running along the river in its 100-car entirety, trucking along and about a mile long. An impressive sight, and as exciting to me as watching a storm front move across the prairie in Kansas.

Also I suppose I shouldn’t use the metaphor “trucking along” when talking about trains.

Just at dusk, I rolled into Chester, IL, where it was claimed there was cyclist-only lodging at a place called “Fraternal Order of Eagles.”

I’d never heard of this order, but I figured short of them being a club of bird-themed furries, it was an improvement on camping in the city park.

Forget furries. It was a biker bar. I rolled up to a low-slung building, with country music blaring. People stood outside in leather jackets pulling on cigarrettes. In the back, I could see the glow of a bonfire, and the screams of children.

I stopped, and took my time locking up my bike, keeping an eye on how people were reacting to my presence.

Finally, an older woman with a limp, clearly drunk, detached herself from a group and came over.

“You looking for a bed tonight?”

I’d been through this–once, in my hometown, a very nice obese prostitue had offered me a very good deal on her “pay-to-play” routine.

I wasn’t there for any nookie.

“There’s a shed out back for cyclists.”

Ah, that was relieving.

“You just need to go get the key from Donna inside.”

The woman then abruptly turned, and before I could grab my pair of jeans, beckoned me to follow her into the bar.

Inside was packed with mostly middle aged motorcycle couples. In the corner, a man with waist-length hair and a fedora was singing country songs into a microphone as tinny music blasted out of the sound system. Random sports games lit up the TV screens.

I tried to look both harmless and tough–putting on a weird half smile that probably just made me look demented. I got the key as fast as I could.

Out back the bonfire was raging, and hundreds of sugared-up blond children ran around screaming, over-stimulated by the raging fire. I’d clearly stumbled upon some sort of white people initiation ceremony. A firetruck was parked nearby, from which two soccer moms–high priests in this cult–shouted excitedly and incomprehensibly into the truck’s loudspeaker.

I skirted the crowd, wary of being forced to join or being made a sacrifice to their white god.

I walked up to the Moto Mart to scrounge some dinner, a magical place that had a make your own milkshake machine and sold wine in little sealed cups. It was magical, but after frolicking for a bit in the aisles of pre-packaged foods, I started attracting some odd stares and I thought it best if I headed out.

I went back to the shack and ate quickly, keeping an eye on the swarming groups of children. I do not like children that I do not know, and that goes especially for blond children. They creep me out. Especially if they’re twins. The more blonde the worse it is.

To escape, I decided it might be worth checking out the bar. Plus, I wanted to catch what I could of the Yankee game.

Inside, the adults were going native, too. I mean, this whole country is pretty much geared to white people, but this was the deep reservation. Bud light was $1. The slightly better crap beer was $2.50. Inevitable Journey came on the stereo, followed by “Footloose.” It was only a matter of time before Sir Mix-A-Lot’s booty-oriented lyrics were to start blasting, and sure enough, it came on soon, leaving the die-hard middle age dancers struggling to both jiggle their bits together and attempt to find a rhythm, any rhythm, regardless if it matched the song’s beat.

The Yankee game dragged on, and I found myself a few beers deep. Two women sat next to me at the bar, and though not astoundingly attractive, they were women, roughly my age, seemingly single.

“Do y’all know what’s going on behind the bar?”

At this point I knew the junior football team had one a state championship, and the celebration, in conjunction with the team’s pee wee chearleading team (yes, they have that, yes it has made me more afraid of blond children), was for them.

“I’m not really sure,” said the skinner one.

Crap, my game of asking strangers questions I already knew the answer too (I already had a few weak jokes lined up) was blown out of the water.

I gave up. I usually need a second meeting before I can get a girl to show any interest.

The game kept me up, the bar emptied out, and by the time I went to bed, the yard had mercifully cleared of all small children, a smoldering pile of charred wood all that was left of the bonfire.

METH IS GREAT YOU SHOULD TRY METH ON YOUR BICYCLE

Ok. Ok. OK. METH. You should try it, I mean, it’s fucking great. Like really good, like have sex on waffles in a massage chair covered in bubbles and thats amazing, but compared to meth it’s like pretty good.

I got up this morning and I was still pretty tired, like sleepy you know? Like I hadn’t had any sleep or like other shit that makes you tired and shit and I had coffee and while I had coffee I thought, they should make really strong coffee and then i thought, they do! It’s called espresso, and I thought that’s pretty good but sounds european as shit, and I drank my coffee and then I left and got back on the bike path and rode past the place where I almost camped and I was like, I should buy some meth. I should by some fucking meth. And why not? WHY THE FUCK NOT?

go to hell.

You go to the grocery store and get your eggs and your bacon and your toilet paper and shit, but you can’t buy fucking meth?! That’s messed up, but I bought some, and then I smoked some AND OHMYGODMETHMAKESYOUAWINNINGBEAST.

I was pounding on the pedals. I mean, i’m like Zeus kicking satan’s ass and i’m stomping on the pedal’s like they were Satan’s balls except the same size and I’m flying, and old people are getting TOOFUCKINGCLOSETOME so I stiff arm them into oblivion cause I’m a terror-blizzard raining hail on the damn flood plain and the levee has mother of god broken so here comes the thunder!

My right leg is Thor and my left leg is Zeus. Thunder and Lightning, motherfucker, mix your mythology like a meth cocktail. By the by, that would be divine

And there are squirrels on the trail, and I’m like those squirrels can go to hell, they make me so damn angry, I hate them, I hate the squirrels those sons of, of, of, OF OTHER SQUIRRELS. I despise them, and I think next one that comes along I’m going to kick it so hard it goes around the world and comes back to me and I’ll wear it like a hat like Davey Crockpot or Daniel Boone.

NO. FUCK HATS. THAT SQUIRREL IS GOING TO BE A MUSTACHE. A GREY AND WHITE STRIPED ROT-‘STACHE.

It’ll be fucking fashion. Like a hot 20-year-old girl with a Mitt Romney haircut with an Ed Hardy trampstamp but NOT ON HER BACK. ON HER FOREHEAD.

I rode so fast, I finished the last 60 miles on the Katy trail in like 45 minutes. I had like four ice creams. I love ice cream so much i hate it. I want to kill ice cream.

And there was a bridge and I went over it. A bridge is cool because it’s like a road but it goes over shit and then there was traffic because people live in cities, but I am the Hulk. I’ve got the anger, I’ve got the spandex shorts and I’ve got the green.

NOBODY dared get in my way they just beeped about how freaking beast I was and suddenly I was at the place I was staying, and I have to say I love meth, so much that even though I should save some for tomorrow, I smoked the rest.

AND I FEEL AMAZING. DID I MENTION IT WAS LIKE SEX? But better. Like, sex with guns on the sun flying into a bigger sun and exploding and shit and I feel so good.

Goddamn peaceful.

“Meth town”–a family resort

When I last left you, dear readers, our hero (meaning me), was happily in bed in a hunting cabin, heater blowing fiercely against the icy night.

This situation lasted about five minutes.

With a pop the pilot light went out. I got up, check the heater, tried to re-ignite the light, then remembered the owner mentioning something about “not much propane.”

Damn it.

I turned everything off, and then just to be safe, put on my shorts and went outside to turn off the full tank. The owner was outside, and in his high-pitched Missouri drawl, said “Oh, I was worried that might happen.”

He apologized, and then launched into a ten-minute monologue about anything that came to mind, no matter that I was shivering visibly in the night. He ranged from where his dad was from to where his grandpa was raised to the peculiar spelling of his name, to how he was Christianm to the sorts of dinners he liked to cook, what he ate that night, and finally ended, with, “See, I’m not a redneck, I’m a country boy. Know how you can tell the difference?

“No”

He whipped around and lifted the hair off his neck, “See my neck? It’s as white as my bottom.”

Laughing, shivering, I said goodnight.

I woke at four in the morning, shivering. The cabin was at best in the 30s. It took me twenty minutes to will myself out of bed to unpack my sleeping bag, get into it, and then get back into bed. I was then most comfortable.

I woke early, and was eager to get on the road. I was going to hit the Kati Trail in Clinton, MO. 264 miles of traffic-free bliss, scenic views, and hot babes. Well maybe not babes, but MILFs, well maybe not MILFS but an overweight soccer mom trundling along on a Walmart bike and secretly hoping one of her kids would fall off the trail. Hot.

I stopped for a big breakfast in Clinton–I was low on fuel and had avoided using my stove for dinner, leaving me hungry and protein=starved.

I tried to stop in at the outdoor goods store, still desperately in need of some legitimate winter gear (I’ve been riding around in my jeans and whatever layers I could come up with), but it was Sunday in small town Missouri. No luck.

I gave up and got on the trail. IT was beautiful. Bridges, tunnels, peaceful, quiet.

On a slow uphill, a guy in a t-shirt with triathlon bars passed me. I could see by his uneven rhythm that he was really pushing it to pass me and clear distance as fast as he could.

“Bitch, please.” I thought to myself, (Or maybe outloud), I’ve been riding daily for over a month, and while my turbo engine wasn’t there, to paraphrase Jan Ulrich, my diesel was. I accelerated slightly, and within the course of a mile, caught him.

Despite being a triathlete, he was a nice guy and we chatted for a bit before he turned around to end his 30-mile ride befre the football game. I had another 60 to go.

Perhaps it was the scenery, or days on dayts of longrides, but somehow the day slipped away from me. It was getting dark, and I decided I wasn’t going to make it as far as Rocheport. I rode through Boonville, and then into Franklin.

In Franklin was a campsite, and I arrived just as it really started getting dark. THe office was closed for the night. I filled out m form and went to pay, and then on the door, I saw an annoyed sign from another cyclist “No bathrooms, need repair.”

I decided to check out the site before camping.

The campsite was surrounded by trailer homes. Dogs were barking. An unsupervised trash fire burned, illuminating a backyard full of junk and rusted engines. In the park where I was to camp, shadowy groups of teenagers flitted about. No one acknoledged me, but they were quiet.

The feel wasn’t right. I left, riding back two miles in the pitch black. I stopped at the grocery store, and asked where the closest, cheapest motel was. The heavyset woman with a smoker’s voice gave me the store phone book and helped me look up numbers.

I found a cheap room at the Day’s Inn.

“Those roads are real dark” she said. “Hang out for an hour and either I or one of the guys will give you a ride hom. You can put the bike in the truck.”

I at first declined, but as I walked to my bike, I thought not, “What would Jesus do?” but “what would my mom be really un happy I did.”

I went back in and accepted the ride.

We chatted while she waited to be left off. I told her about the park, and the spooky feel I had from it.

“You made the right choice,” she said, leaning in “Meth town. Big problem down there.”

I was relieved.

Got in at the Days Inn. A beautiful girl was sitting in the lobby. I resisted the urge to desperately try to strike up a conversation, and put all hotel-related thoughts out of my mind. It’s been awhile since I’ve even spoken to a woman not in the context of buying gatorade or sitting in a diner, let alone a pretty one, but that was no reason to lose my shit.

I went to bed, dreaming that in a slip of inattention, I’d forgotten my goal and taken a flight back home. Furious and crying, I realized what I’d done, skipping out and not meeting my goal.

This is the second time I had this dream. I used to dream about what was coming up next, now I only fear not finishing, it seems.

Caught by the cold, heading into Missoui

Having chased me through California, nipping at my heels through Utah and Colorado, the cold weather finally caught me on the ride to Toronto.

I shivered the next morning, riding out in that tough headwind, but was encouraged by crossing the 2,000 mile barrier. Progress is being made. Once I got to Iola, I had the luxury of riding a rail-to-trail bike path. Quiet, covered by trees, I even saw live animals instead of roadkill ripped apart on the road.

The day was dragging, and it wasn’t until dark that I rolled into Garnett. The temperature was into the thirties. I put up my tent quick, shivering. The couple in the next campsite over had a fire going, and under the ruse of asking where the bathroom was, managed to linger enough to be invited to sit down at their fire.

We chatted for awhile before the husband said, “well, now that we’ve been talking for awhile, I can tell you when we saw you ride in, we said ‘That guy is out of his fucking mind.'” I laughed. I’d been thinking the same thing for parts of the day.

I didn’t want to overstay my welcome, so I said goodnight and headed over to my tent, too cold to even change out of my clothes, I merely put on an extra pair of socks (I am woefully in need of picking up winter gear), and jumped in the tent.

About 15 minutes later I heard footsteps. The wife had come over with a few sandwiches, cookies, and homemade zucchini bread.

While I chose to do this trip, the length of it, and doing it in this weather, is shocking enough to most people that it brings out the charity in them: I’ve been offered food, places to sleep, and even money by total strangers deeply concerned by the pathetic figure I cut.

I thanked them. The sandwiches were meat, but I was more than happy to devour the zucchini bread.

I slept warm in my bag, and deep. My body was running ragged. I woke late, and the cold kept me moving slow. By the time I’d gotten up and out, and mapped out my route to the Katy trail (a 264-mile rail-to-trail that cuts across Missouri to St. Louis), it was past 10.

The flat roads and huge open fields of corporate farms had given way to rolling hills and smaller, diversified farms. It made for prettier, calmer riding through some small towns. It also made for more over-zealous farm dogs, who love nothing more than to come tearing out of their yards to take a bite of your ankle.

Usually shouting or spraying your water bottle at them makes the dogs pause just long enough for you to get by them. The real danger is them knocking you off your bike into traffic. Not something I had to worry about on these quiet roads, but still frustrating. Getting bit–which has happened–is something I want to avoid. Through one town it seemed like every dog came out to take their turn chasing me down. The one that came closest was a yorkshire terrier that snuck up on me, only barking when it was within 10 feet.

As I rolled up one hill, an SUV rolled up beside me, two older women peering out at me. I nodded, they waved. At the top, they stopped. I rolled up to their window, and we chatted.for awhile.

“Do you take money on this trip?

“No, thanks. I budgeted well.”

“Oh, ok, well be safe. I’m going to add you to my prayer list in church tomorrow.”

“Thanks, I appreciate it.”

“Oh, really?,” she laughed, “good! Take care!”

Her surprise was interesting, I mean, she was the one who offered it, and while I”m not religious, I enjoy all religion (including my own) for both its codified values and codified nonsensical ritual, and anyone who wishes me will within the context of their religion I’m not going to dismiss, but thank.

I rode on, happy to have met some nice people, and to have left the Transamerica trail–they were more used to and less interested in people riding cross country.

At the damn at LaCygne lake, a huge power plant rose hideously in the sky. Normally fascinated by industrial buildings, I find there is a certain menace to to industry in the middle of rural areas, something of deeper mystery, and hinting of Soviet gulag.

Just after the lake, the road curvedd sharply, and there it was, the Missouri stateline. After six days of wind, obliteratingly boring landscape, and infuriating cows, I was across Kansas. I stopped for a picture, and then a twinge in my bladder gave me a better idea. I stood on the Missouri side, and in a final statement, gleefully micturated on to Kansas.

Of course, the advantage of Kansas roads is that the long straightaways give you ample time to see a car coming in either direction and keep yourself out of the way while peeing.

Peeing east into Kansas meant that I was exposing myself to the line of traffic, and several drivers got a bit of a show coming into Missouri, or, if they weren’t impressed–it wasl cold out, after all–at least an opportunity to make the lame joke, “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore” to their driving partner.

I was even happier to discover that Missouri cows, instead of just staring, were actively afraid of me, running off into the field when they saw my blue-jacketed figure appear over the hill. I cackled with delight, a puny god drunk on the excitement of newfound power.

The sun was setting quick, the temperature dropping. I wasn’t even close to Clinton. Finally, I stopped at a crossroads with one house, and called home to ask for some help looking up a place to say.

A woman came out of the house and asked if I needed any help, then mentioned that she rented out the cabin behind–complete with heater–for $25 a night. I barely thought about it, happily ensconcing myself, just in time to watch a weather report that mention it was going to drop to 25 degrees that night.