I’ve been so exhausted that I’ve drooled on myself, pissed on my shoes, dozed off on the bicycle, napped heavily in the shade of a desert outhouse. I’ve mumbled at road signs, talked to myself, cursed my stove out.
I’ve never been so exhausted that I bonked getting out of my sleeping bag, not until Friday. The day before had ended with a cruel three-mile climb up to Virginia’s Blue Ridge Parkway. It was getting dark and I was still way too far from where I wanted to land that night. Instead I rolled into a resort, paid way too much for a campsite, and slept on their stage–another step forward in my planned career re-invention in NYC as a bicycle-themed performance artist.
I was so exhausted that I didn’t bother to cook: I ate a pack of graham crackers, peanut butter, crawled into my sleeping bag and fell heavily asleep. I woke, twice, to my stomach rumbling, but the air was cold and I stayed in my bag, ignored my stomach’s pleading and went back to sleep.
This was a mistake. I awoke starving, a bit wobbly. I ate all the oatmeal I could, drank a full bottle of water, and got on the bike. It was going to be a short day: My cousins were in Charlottesville for a wedding, and their offer of the spare bed in their hotel room was too tempting.
The short day turned out to be a necessity, not a luxury.
My legs started burning immediately, aching. It felt like I’d been riding for 70 miles. The road didn’t help me. The ride was covered in deep fog, and as it went steadily, slowly up, the fog got deeper, visibility dropping from 100 to 50 to 20 feet.
A long hill is a mental game, and I lacked the patience I needed to sit back and just pedal. I ached. “Go the fuck down!” I finally shouted in frustration.
The hill eventually obliged, and I coasted heavily, wobbling along at only a few miles an hour, glad only that I didn’t have to pedal. The fog deepened, and I got little notice that after only a few hundred feet I was going back up again. I cursed again, but tried to accept it. My eyes felt heavy. I wished I’d slept longer.
Eventually I turned off of the ridge, a coiled hill of switchbacks kept me from letting go of my brakes. That was fine, the downhill could have lasted the rest of the day for all I cared.
It didn’t, but it remained flat, mercifully. I’d only gone 15 miles, and I’d been on the road close to two hours. The other great mercy was an apple orchard that was selling cider donuts. Still warm, I ate 12 in the presence of 2 screaming classrooms of pre-school children.
One child came up to me, followed by his beaming mother, proud that the child could talk.
“Those donuts are delicious!”
I eyed him warily, trying to think of what I was going to say if he asked for one.
“They’re sooo good.”
Child, I’m not falling for your hints. My donuts.
“They are. What did you like best about them?” His mom was so proud, and the kid was admittedly cute.
“That IS good.”
“I ate like four.”
I became less concerned that the creature was trying to steal my donuts. We went on in this vein for awhile, with the child telling a rambling anecdote that centered around the already established fact that he’d eaten four donuts with lots of sugar and enjoyed them immensely.
The mom, too, got bored, and called him along. I was left to my donuts.
Another mom came up, younger, with a voice that had a heaviness to it, like she was talking from deep inside a clothes closet.
“Look like you’re on a long trip.”
“LA to NY,” I said, smiling. She wasn’t going to steal my donuts.
“Wow! That’s amazing! That’s really cool!” She had the enthusiasm of someone who spends part of her day being amazed at poorly conceptualized finger paintings.
“Well, good luck. Be safe.”
Later she came up to me again as I sat, avoiding looking at my bicycle and the miles still left in it for the day.
“Do you need anything?”
“No, I’m great, thank you,” I said, wiping donut sugar from my mouth. There was a lot of sugar on it.
Feeling bolstered by her kindness, and more to the point, driven out by the shrieks of children, I got back on the bike.
I chose a busier road over the roundabout backroads route and cut my ride even shorter, wobbling in, happy to see cousins, family, people I didn’t have to explain my trip to and from whom I could accept a meal. And a beer. And a warm bed. And cider donuts if they had any.