Dodging tree limbs, Hurricane aftermath

I sat it out for two days, though the worst of the storm and an extra day to allow for clean up and dodge the rain. From north of DC, I only have roughly 300 miles to New York, so I had some time to play with. I read a book. I napped. I shouted at the news with my uncle.

I left Wednesday. All I needed to ride was some 50 miles and change a day and I’d be back in NYC by Monday. I left a bit later in the day, figuring it would be worth it to dodge some of the DC traffic. Besides, I figured the first miles would be quick: It was all bike path until I got well north of the city.

Within half a mile of the bike trail, I realized riding was going to be slower than I thought: A tree three feet in diameter lay across the path. With some adult dressed in a lion costume and–disturbingly–walking alone watching, I lifted my bike over and picked my way through the branches. The next 15 miles were like a cyclocross race: deep mud, washed out paths, jogging through thorn bushes to get around fallen trees. I got to the end of the bike path muddy, wet and scratched up, but happy to be done with that section.

It was at this moment that I realized I’d dropped my map, “Fuck!” I shouted.

The guy blowing leaves shout me a wounded look.

“No, sorry, not you.”

He glared.

I went back up the trail in search of the map–I’d be out of luck for the next four days if I didn’t find it.

After two miles of riding, looking, asking people on the path if they’d seen it and enduring their advice on how I should find it, I got lucky enough to find it. By the time I got back to where I was it was 12:30 and I’d only ridden 20 miles.

I was still in the DC area, and the route took me sharply east into the exurbs of Baltimore. Those roads were busy, and people were driving like assholes. For the third time this trip, I was run off a two-lane road by an oncoming car passing traffic in my lane. By now I’ve had the practice, and was able to get off the road with more than enough time to proudly brandish my middle finger.

The rest of the ride was uneventful, though I did realize oncee serious problem with riding in one of the most populous regions of the U.S. For two months now I’ve been peeing with gleeful abandon, hell, on roads so quiet that I wouldn’t even pull of the road before letting lose. It’s been a glorious few weeks of shitting in the woods and answering even nature’s quietest whisper.

This is no longer possible, and the more people there are the less inclined I am to leave my bicycle outside while I run into to relieve myself. Twice on this ride I found myself making desperation pees on the sides of busy roads, hoping I wasn’t giving too many people a free show.

Although, to be fair, camping sites are also becoming scarcer and being arrested for public indecency might be a nice way to get a cheap place to stay for the night.

Staying ahead of the hurricane, riding onto military bases.

After eating near constantly the night before, having a few beers, and flirting mildly with a few girls (as I mentioned, by cousins were there), I woke feeling recharged.

Well, I felt like a cellphone after an hour on the wall: Not quite 100% but enough charge to get what I needed, which is to say, four instagram photos of my breakfast and a status update saying something snarky about the election.

Hurricane Sandy was becoming enough of a threat that I wanted to be inside for her, and I figured hunkering down in DC with my Aunt would be far preferable to lounging in some seedy motel for two days. I had two days to get there, but wanted to leave Sunday’s ride as short as possible as the storm was predicted to start making it’s entrance sometime Sunday afternoon.

I left a bit late, riding on mostly quiet roads. I felt good. I called my cousin’s fiancé and asked me to send me directions to Dumfries, about ten miles north of where I was planning on going.

The quiet roads abruptly ended and threw me into the roiling strip mall traffic surrounding Fredericksburg. It nasty riding, and I pulled off: My cellphone was dying and I needed a loop around this shit ride. This many miles in traffic and I figured I’d used up my nine lives. Most of them in LA.

Re-routing took forever and my phone died. I was losing time. I charged it outside a gas station, and then got on my loop.

As I cruised down one hill a car pulled up next to me, a fat woman with red hair sat in the passenger seat:

“Excuse me, you dropped a jacket back there.”

“Oh! Thank you!” I turned around. It wasn’t a jacket, it was my only other pair of bicycle shorts, drying after I washed them the night before.

“Just back up at that stop light.”

I turned around and rode quickly back up the hill, past the woman who’d given me a dirty look the time before. At the first stoplight, I looked around. No sight of my short. I rode up to the second light: No sign.

I was pissed. I was already frustrated with having to ride through all this traffic and now I was wasting more time, and my shorts might be gone. It sounds mild, but little things like that can be near devastating in the middle of a ride.

I started to backtrack up to the next stoplight, when the same car drove by, my shorts being brandished out the passenger side window. I laughed aloud. All across this country, people have lamented the end of society, how dangerous the world has become, but to them I say: There are still people in this world. Good people, honorable people, who will see a smelly man drop his tight-fitting shorts on the road, drive around the block, and pick them up off the street to give back to you. Without this, terrorists would win.

With my phone charged, I checked back in on my directions, and noticed something odd: A greyed-out area on the map. It was quantico military base, and my directions thought it would be a really good idea for me to cut straight across it.

This had happened before, when I wandered fuirther than I should have onto a military base in the Mojave desert, before being repelled by an agitated Military Policeman with braces.

I decided to skip this adventure, but this meant I wasn’t making it to Dumfries. WIth all the re-routing and chasing down escape-minded bicycle shorts I’d be lucky to make it to Stafford before nightfall.

I wasn’t lucky. With an overcast sky, night came dark and quick. After the attempt at the military base practical joke, my map tried again, this time sending me through a prison. The map was more successful in tricking me this time, and I didn’t figure it out until a scandalized security guard shooed me away like I was the biggest idiot he’d seen in awhile, which is a very low opinion to have of someone when you work at a prison.

I got in at dark, and after spending half an hour listening to the talkative motel attendant tell me all about her life as a med school student and her boyfriend, I happily crashed into bed, rising only to let a pizza in the door.

The sheriff doesn’t answer.

I ate my three breakfast donuts, munched on what other things I had, and headed out. I needed to hit Radford Virginia and get to me to a bike shop, not for repairs, but to see if they had an elusive Virginia bicycling map. I was going based off of photos of a map, which was a less than ideal situation.

FIrst bike shop was closed, and I consoled myself with a “buy five get one free” deal at the local cookie shop. On the way out of town, saw a little shop and rolled in.

I asked the counter guy for the map in question and he said he’d never heard of it. We pulled it up online, and the PDF was so big it froze out his computer. I thanked him, and was about to get back on the road, but he took me next door to a print shop. The file was so big that to get it to print right took a number of steps. I was stuck: They were helping me out, so I couldn’t impatiently bail on them, as much as I wanted to be back on the road. They were nice guys, anyway, so I didn’t mind sitting through the fussing.

By the time I was back on the road it was past one, and I’d only ridden 30 or so miles. With the days so short, this could really screw me over. I rode quick, though I tried to pass myself over the rolling hills, which had cruelly taken their sneaky toll last week.

I paused to check my new map, already folded wrong and stained with sweat, and heard an “on your left” shout from behind.

Two women rolled past. An older woman, and a tanned and toned younger woman. I wasn’t sure if she was attractive, but after my experience with the naked Airstream trailer lady, she was close enough. I pedaled after them, caught them quickly, found them to be rather boring conversationalist, and rolled on. I’ll admit it feels good to be passing people easily with this much gear on my bike. Given that a touring cyclist’s days are filled with smelly encounters, peeing on the side of busy roads, and dribbling gatorade as you gasp up a hill, the odd ego boost is a nice touch.

I planned to camp in the Town of Troutville, but when I stopped to call over to the town office (my picture of a map informed be that one had to do so), I discovered I didn’t have service.

I kept riding, but by the time I got service, the offices were closed. I called the sheriff’s office, which, while I suppose I should have been worried instead of amused, just rang and rang and rang.

I camped out anyway, and did my best to present myself as a friendly harmless individual as I set up camp in the midst of children in the playground.

I slept heavily, despite the freight trains rolling by so close that the ground vibrated, and was up feeling more rested than I had in days.

Last of the mountains: 75 miles to Fort Chiswell, Virginia

Perhaps driven out by the smell of the Appalachian Trail hikers, I was out of my sleeping bag around 7:30, but due to some dawdling, the chance to have a strong cup of coffee and purchase a replacement spork for the one I’d tragically broken, it wasn’t until after nine that I was officially on the road, ready to ride.

Looking at the elevation map, I had two big climbs, and then a series of small rollers in a long, steady downhill. I would be done with the Appalachians, done with the mountains, and soon to hook left and head north. I still have hundreds of miles to go, but thats an order of ten smaller than thousands of miles to go.

The first climb was long, steady, picking its way through a shaded valley with a shallow river. I passed a sign that said “Department of Corrections Roadwork Ahead.” I’d never seen a chain gang, and was a bit excited to see this throwback. Sadly, or happily for them, they weren’t chained, they wielded weed whackers instead of pick axes (I assume to teach them that “weed is whack), and there was no drawling foreman with a gun. I waved to them, they waved back, and I rolled on, somewhat disappointed.

I peaked, and found myself on a slight downhill, cruising along. The day was warm, stupid warm for this late in October, but I couldn’t complain. Climate change has its benefits, if I may be so selfish. With a slight sense of shame, I’ll admit that I even banked on these few weeks of Indian summer when I left so late.

I kept waiting for the second climb to start. I was going up slightly, but not nearly enough to count it as a climb. I waited, double-checked my map to make sure I wasn’t off route, and suddenly, found myself back on a downhill. I was up and over, and hadn’t even realized it. Pleased with myself, I pushed into the downhill, cruising along. Today was supposed to be my rest day, but I was now debating about pushing on another twenty or so miles to 95.

As I got closer to my destination, I decided not to. A rest day is a rest day, and I didn’t want to push dusk on roads I didn’t know. Besides, a lot can happen in two miles–a nice downhill can turn on you, become a mean uphill–let alone twenty. I played it safe.

I grabbed a motel room, and then headed to the convenience store up the road, buying two foot-long subs, three protein shakes, and, in the surest sign yet that I”m back on the east coast, a half dozen of crispy cream donuts. The six-foot-five, three-hundred-pound cashier I’d me skeptically:

“You gon’ eat all that?”

“Yep.”

“You sure?”

“Yep.”

“Damn, dude, y’all musta bicycled type far to eat all that.”

Amen. Back at the motel, I saved three of the donuts for breakfast, watched some of the Cosby Show, my favorite motel activity, and went heavily to sleep.

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.

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 café 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.

Kansas Cows

The winds of Kansas have been blowing so hard they’re starting to strip neurons from my brain like layers of sod. If I don’t get out of this flat, windy state soon, it’s going to be the mental equivalent of a dustbowl.

Kansas is the toy that the good baby Jesus got so bored of playing with that he never bothered to finish making iit, give it some mountains and trees to block the wind.

That wind, is supposed to blow from the south or the south west. This is pretty much the only reason that I rode from LA to NYC, to have the wind more at my back then at my front.

I’ve had one day of tailwind–and I took full advantage of it, riding 118 miles from Ness City to Sterling. The other days have been crosswinds or headwinds, and I’ve slogged through all day to keep up some high mileage.

Aside from the wind, the uniformity of the landscape is numbing. Except for the cows, the cows. You come near a whole field of ’em, sitting out there, chewing on the grass or just wandering around thinking cow thoughts. Seven, eight cars will come whipping past and they don’t react, then you come riding along–quieter, smaller, slow-moving, altogether less threatening to a cow. First one stops and turns to look at you, then another, then another, until they all are.

I hate it.First I hated it as a joke, but not I truly get pissed off. What really gets to me is the way that they stare without any emotion–just calm, quiet, watching you. It’s condescending. It’s like a scene in a movie when someone starts yelling at the opera, and nobody does anything but just stare.

I started muttering “fuck you” to the ones that stared. Now I scream it, spittle flying, while I brandish my middle finger as high in the air as I can until I’ve passed the entire herd of bovine jerks.

This can get a little embarrasing when a car appears on the road behind me. But I’ve stopped caring. I can’t stand it.

After one too many cars gave me confused or dirty looks as they passed, I thought I’d take my mind off the cows by thinking about what sort of winter gear I should buy.

The cold weather has been chasing me since California, but yesterday, it finally caught me–the temperature suddenly dropping into the 50s. I’m missing a few essentials: long underwear, long tights, a hat, winter gloves, and so while riding, I tried to put together a laundry list of things i needed.

I wanted booties–they fit over your bicycling shoe to keep your feetses warm and dry. Booty happens to be one of my favorite words, so I took a few minutes just to say it in as many different voices as I could think of. This led me to pronouncing it like “beauté”, which led to me trying to do a sexy French accent, which I’m not very good at, so I tried to do a serious French accent, which I’m also not good at, so I switched to doing a sexy Spanish accent, which I”m better at. This led me to say things like “If you give me your heart, mi amor, I will fight a bull for you.” Which led me to think about bull-fighting. Bulls are just male cows. We have the NBA and the WNBA, so if there’s bull-fighting, then why not cow-fighting?

I’d be happy to get involved, start the sport, hey, even fight a few of the cows at the beginning. I’d love to get a running smack on a cow.