Monday, June 30, 2008

The [sort of] end

After several hours on the computer trying to find a good bike route to Olympia, we determined that we were probably not going to do any better than the google maps directions which included 30 or more directions and took us entirely through suburban sprawl, mostly on roads which looked like multiple-lane roads with no shoulders. Ok, fine, we could have ridden that way anyway, but it just looked like it wasn't going to be any fun. So, when we found out that we could take a train and bus for around $5 each, we took the easy road again. Having reconceptualized this trip as a general traveling adventure rather than a bike-specific trip, it didn't really bum me out.

When we got to Olympia, we rode to my friend Ashley's house to meet up with Amina - a very close high school friend with whom I haven't been very close in the last several years - where we witnessed a cake-related crisis and its resolution. It was inspiring. After assorted hang-outs we ended up at an acoustic show which was described to us as "very Olympia". The music ranged from decent to really good, and the vibe reminded me of when I visited Oberlin College as a high school senior. Sean and I shared Amina's very small bed that night and his knees kept forcing me closer and closer to the wall.

The next morning we went with Amina, Ashley, and their friend Elenore to a Korean place to get tofu sandwiches and then walked around downtown Olympia, such as it is. While sitting around discussing our trip earlier, Sean and I had come to the conclusion that, as much as we felt ready to get back on the bikes, we were getting anxious to get to Portland, as we both had people there we really wanted to see. We talked about changing our route and biking as quickly and directly as we could to Portland, and then it occurred to me that my friend Matt, to whom I'd spoken on the phone earlier, just might be into driving up from Portland to pick us up. As it turned out, he was looking for an excuse to get out of the city for the day. He drove up to Olympia and we had Thai and went on a nature walk through some forest or something. It was actually pretty cool. He had recently been on a similar nature walk which included learning about edible plant life, so he dropped a bit of that sort of knowledge on us along the way. We spent a long time sitting on a beach of rocks and mud and trying to skip poorly-shaped rocks along the Puget Sound. When the sun started to go down we jumped in the car and headed to Portland.

Sean and I promised each other that we'd ride out to the coast and go camping, and I'm considering riding from SF to Sound and Fury Fest in Santa Barbara at the end of July, but I guess the trip is pretty much over, insofar as it has been defined by getting to Portland. I'll be here for the next couple of weeks, then the Bay area, then Sound and Fury, and then, unless something comes up giving me a reason to stay out west, Back to the east coast. Perhaps some reflections on it all later.

Thursday, June 26, 2008


For those considering a 2-day Greyhound bus trip, allow me to advise against it. The boredom didn't bother me; I read, I listened to a lecture series released by the Teaching Company about Nietzsche, I napped, and I contemplated. The physical discomfort, on the other hand, is a severe bummer. My legs cramped, my knees became sore, and sleeping for any length of time required Nyquil, which I hated. I rarely take medicine designed to treat symptoms (other than for allergies), partially because I don't like the idea of it but mostly because I prefer to try to listen to what my body is telling me and address the underlying cause. I rarely get headaches, but if I do, it probably means I haven't been eating right, sleeping enough, or doing enough to relieve stress; if I can't sleep, I get up and do something else for a while until I feel tired, and, for the week or so each year that I have insomnia, I try to really deal with whatever emotional issue is getting in the way; if I'm tired, that means I need to sleep more or get more exercise while I'm awake, so I don't use caffeine to artificially wake me up. But on the bus if I didn't use Nyquil, I would have slept in shallow 20-minute intervals and been a total wreck. But perhaps the most bummerific consequence of the long ride was that after spending 2 days sitting down, our ankles and feet were disgustingly swollen. After the first few weeks of the trip, Sean and I were pretty psyched about our legs. Sean, particularly, takes his lower-body physique pretty seriously, and my personal theory is that vanity is more often the reason for leg-shaving among cyclists than performance. So I was upset and Sean was crushed to see our fat ankles, the tops of our feet spilling out of our shoes. Luckily, after several nights of prone slumber, our pedial shapeliness has returned.

The next Greyhound-associated snag was  the fact that our bikes did not make it to Seattle as quickly as we did. In the middle of the night in Billings, MT, there were too many people waiting to get on the bus so they split up the group and added a second bus. We stayed on the same bus but our bikes didn't. We were told that our bikes would arrive on the next bus, so, per the suggestion of my buddy Vibe (Jennette, if you are reading this, I'm sorry), we wandered in the direction of Capitol Hill in search of vegan food. We had some pretty decent pizza and met up with Vibe, who generously walked us back to his swanky, kitten-filled apartment where we showered, did laundry, and watched TiVo  with him and his girlfriend, both of whom were very gracious hosts when it turned out that our bikes were not on the next bus and we decided to stay there for the night instead of heading up to the U district, since they live closer to the Greyhound terminal. 

The next day we walked back to the dirty dog where our bikes had finally arrived, re-assembled them, and rode to Hillside Quickie's where we enjoyed sandwiches and the company of Danny and his badass car from the late 1950s. Danny has seen better days, and it's always a bummer to run into a friend who is not at his best, but it was still nice to catch up. Not being able to immediately cure my friends' emotional ailments has always made me feel like a terrible friend. If you've ever gotten unsolicited advice from me, now you know why.

After a few hours of killing time in the U district, we rode to the screen printing shop where the merch magic happens for every hardcore band in the northwest and folded shirts late into the night with Ace and assorted cameos by legitimate bros allstars, all of whom have nicknames that are similarly idiosyncratic to NW hardcore. Ace claims that he is not in the habit of waiting until the night before tour to print several hundred shirts, but being no stranger to the concept of punk time, I suspect that this was not the first time things have been pushed to the last minute, nor will it be the last.

We slept that night at the Bro Dangler - an historic punk house known (by me, at least) for the prolificness (prolificity?) of its hardcore-playing inhabitants - and spent the next day getting in the way of On's tour preparations. I ran into a handful of tour-friends, which is always a good time, made a few new ones, and ate too much food. After On left and Roger and RJ returned to their respective homes we found ourselves alone at the Dangler with an evening to kill and a sizable collection of VHS tapes. I'm not generally the type to speak celebratorily about the wonders of punk rock and hardcore, but I must say that you don't tend to get this kind of treatment in many other circles that I've experienced. This was, in fact, exactly what Chicago was missing (although it turns out that we had a contact of this sort in Chicago, we just didn't get in contact with her until it was too late). I'm used to showing up in nearly any major city and having a friend of a friend who is not only willing to let me crash on the couch but actually treats me like an old friend upon first acquaintance, and as thankful as I am for the hospitality of Bill and Ben in Chicago, there is a unique character to the welcome you tend to receive at a punk house. Though I've known Ace for several years, we don't know each other especially well, as our friendship, if it can be called that, has consisted mostly of running into each other at a handful of his band's shows, and I had never met any of his roommates  before yesterday. Nonetheless, when 3/4 of the house left for tour (including Ace, the only person who actually knew who I was), Beej showed us where a key was hidden and we were welcomed to stay as long as we wanted. This is pretty much the usual treatment in my experience, and it's pretty easy to take it for granted.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Leaving Chicago

Another round of french toast at Pick Me Up this morning (which may have been the non-vegan one; it started to taste weird after we were more than halfway through but we weren't sure and we figured that if it was the non-vegan one they would probably just end up throwing it out), Whole Foods to pick up some snacks for the next 2 days, and a bike shop to get boxes for our bikes. After a series of conversations about our plans and goals, at which I've hinted a couple of times, we decided to ride to Milwaukee, which is about a day from here, and fly to Seattle. However, the day after we decided not to buy $150 tickets because we wanted to think about it more, the prices went up by more than $100, so I ended up buying $180 Greyhound tickets and we are now poised to spend almost 48 house on a bus, starting at 10:30 tonight. After I leave here we are going to eat one last meal at Chicago Diner (of course), pack up our bikes, and take the train (what do they call it here? the "L"?) to the bus station. Once we make it to Seattle, we'll hang out there for a couple of days and then ride, at a much more liesurely pace, to Olympia, then out to the coast, and, finally, to Portland. I sent an email to a friend yesterday explaining why we decided to take this route, so rather than retyping more or less the same thing, I'll just paste it below. If you live in Seattle, get at me. If you live in Portland, I'll see you in a week or so.

For my non-cyclist readers, the following is borrowed from Wikipedia:
Drafting or slipstreaming is a technique in sports racing where competitors align in a close group in order to reduce the overall effect of drag or fluid resistance of the group in a slipstream. Especially when high speeds are involved, drafting can significantly reduce the average energy expenditure required to maintain a certain speed.

To Dan:
So Sean and I managed about 90-100 miles for the first leg of the trip (not counting the day we took off in Scranton, PA), pus a 130 mile day at the end. We stayed in Cleveland for 3 days, and then did about 100-110 for a couple of days, two 60-70 mile days, and got to Chicago. We realized a couple of days in that if we kept the pace high, drafted, and didn't stop too much, we could keep up 100-150 a day for the next 3 or 4 weeks (with a day off once a week or so and varying with the headwinds and terrain), sleeping wherever we ended the day and eating whatever we could find along the way, and make it to Portland in a litle over a month. We also realized that this would be no fun at all. That kind of pace leaves no time for the things about traveling that I really enjoy: exploring new towns, checking out local vegan food, meeting people, and generally having adventures. Those were the reasons I wanted to do this, not just to prove that I am a really hardcore cyclist (because let's face it, I'm not), and they were being totally eclipsed by the pressure to keep going. Additionally, for me, at least, riding 15-20 mph on a loaded up touring bike requires a lot of mental energy as well as physical; I found myself spending most of my riding time just thinking about riding. If I'm leading, all I can think about is push push push keep up the pace don't slow down, and if I'm drafting I'm just staring at Sean's rear wheel desperately trying not to let it get any further from me. In New York I've gotten so accustomed to traffic that if I just ride 12-15mph and find good lines, I can zone out and think about other stuff, and I was hoping that this trip would give me a lot of time to get some good thinking done. It hasn't. I don't like riding enough to enjoy riding for most of my waking hours, thinking about nothing but riding, and having no time for anything else, and Sean likes it only a little more than me. So the revised plan became: take it slow, stop often, explore, have adventures, and enjoy ourselves. We made it to Chicago in about 4 or 5 more days than it would have taken if we hadn't spent 3 days in Cleveland and taken a few slow days, and we've been hanging out here for 4 days already. If we had all summer, we would just keep this up and make it to Portland eventually, but since Sean needs to be back at work on july 21st and wants at least 2 weeks in Portland, we are going to probably fly from Milwaukee, which is a days ride from here, to Seattle, hang out there for a few days, ride to Olympia and then out to the coast, and finally down the coast to Portland, for a total distance of around 1300-1500 miles.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Chicago so far

If I ever bother to sit down and make a list of my top 10 regrets in life, not seeing Fugazi will be on it for sure. They were still playing for the first 6 or 7 years that I was going to shows; in fact, my friends often went to see them and I didn't bother because I didn't like them. I guess it was just a matter of timing. Sometimes you need to hear a band at a certain point in your life for the music and the ideas behind it to resonate with you, or maybe I just wasn't a sophisticated enough music listener until more recently (when I was 14 or 15, I think I remember believing that everything except skate punk and youth crew hardcore was "gay") to appreciate it, but for whatever reason it wasn't until just after they stopped playing shows that something clicked and I started to realize why everyone liked them so much. In the several years since, my appreciation has grown with every listening, and I think the only thing that could really deepen my relationship to the music would be seeing them play it live. Their songwriting relied so heavily on dynamics, and the production on their recordings downplays the dynamic effect for me. I've seen the Instrument dvd, which corroborates my suspicion that the live show is way better than the record.

Anyway, all of that is by way of introducing my activity for last night: seeing Mike Kinsella and some of his friends play a set of all Fugazi covers at a bar. It was awesome. Though their stage presence was poor (Mike looked like he was just hanging out, having a good time playing his favorite tunes, and his backing band looked like they had never played for an audience before in their lives), their musicianship was exactly where it needed to be. The guitar tone was straight off the record, the drummer played everything fill for fill (at least, to the best of my memory), and Mike even did a pretty decent impression of Ian's voice, though not so much with Guy's. They played all of my favorite songs except Blueprint, including Sieve-
Fisted Find and Smallpox Champion, although the latter was probably the sloppiest song of the set. Other noteworthy aspects of the show:
-Mike is way better looking than I had ever suspected and has fantastic hair.
-The show was a benefit for CAASE - the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation, an organization that seeks to eliminate the demand for sex work. They cage it in almost pseudo-feminist language, but it sounds suspiciously puritanical to me.
-The opening band, The Beauty Shop, was a pretty decent trio that had songs ranging from mediocre alt country to pretty solid indie rock, with a singer that sounded like a cross between Johnny Cash and Mike Ness and a really solid drummer.

A play-by-play of my activities in Chicago would be pretty boring to read, because it would consist mostly of eating. We've eaten at the Chicago Diner 3 times now, which is by far my favorite, as well as twice at The Pick Me Up (also in Boystown), which has amazing french toast and a great jukebox, once at Earwax Cafe in Wicker Park, which makes an extremely flavorful jerk seitan sandwich, once at some Mexican place that made the best burritos I've had outside of southern California, and once at the Handlebar where the biscuits and gravy are phenomenal but the breakfast burrito unimpressive. We've also done a lot of wandering around, sitting at Starbucks reading the Reader (the local equivalent of the Village Voice), and sitting at the "beach" by Lake Michigan. We stayed at a hostel the first night, which reminded me of living in dorms, at a friend of a friend's very spacious apartment the second night (Sean was convinced that he was actually Thurston Moore), and at a courier's apartment last night, where I watched Hollow Man on On Demand. We went to a meeting of the Chicago Couriers Union, which was impressively well-organized if poorly attended, and spent an evening playing free pool at a bar called Ronny's while watching World Extreme Cagefighting on tv. That pretty much sums up the last few days. I really like this city.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


Article about us in the Northwest Indiana Times.

Day 2

Having fallen asleep much earlier at the end of our first day of riding than we had on the night before we left, we woke up around 7:30 on the morning of day 2. In the middle of the night a light rain had forced us to wake up and put the (not actually waterproof) cover over the tent, so we were not only sore from having ridden almost 100 miles the day before but a little damp as well. At that point my pollen allergies were starting to remind me that I was no longer in the city. Nonetheless we were in pretty good spirits as we ate the remainder of the box of pop tarts and broke camp for the first time.

The first 45 minutes of the morning was 90% climbing, at an average speed of probably 7 mph or so, and I remember thinking to myself as I bent my head down into a steep climb, "fuck, I could be at home watching Gossip Girl." By 8:30 we were ready for our first break. Just as it started to rain again, we stopped inside a"safety booth", which was sort of like an old wooden bus stop but in the middle of nowhere, and Sean promptly fell asleep.

Around 9:30 we started again, this time with a bit more enthusiasm, and spent most of the rest of the morning climbing Moosic Mountain (elevation about 2000 feet). 20 Miles into the morning we took a second break by the side of a lake in the woods. The rain had stopped but the lake was covered in a thick mist which added a mysterious quality to its in-the-woods-in-the-middle-of-nowhere charm. I sat next to Sean on some rocks and we shared a bag of potato chips. After a few minutes I noticed that there were ants crawling all over me, and no sooner had I surmised that I must have sat on their home than they began biting. I jumped up and began swatting at every little spot where I felt a pinch, on my arms, legs and back, and even a few down my pants. For the next half hour or so every little inch and pinch felt like another ant. What a stupid evolutionary defense mechanism. If they hadn't started biting me I would have brushed them off and moved to a spot that wasn't their home, leaving them in peace, but as soon as they started biting I freaked out and killed as many of them as I could. Nice going, guys. At that moment, I really hated nature. Living in the city it's so easy to forget how close we are to predators, parasites, allergens, and mysterious rashes that we never even think about. In Brooklyn the most we have to fear from nature is mouse poop and roaches, but you don't have to go very far to be reminded of what's out there. For the second time that day, I missed television.

We rolled into Carbondale - a small coal-mining town - around lunchtime, and sat down at a diner called Pinkey's that appeared to be the only option in the vicinity. As we expected from the typical diner menu, the only vegan food available was french fries and salad, but we were hungry enough that we didn't complain. Our waitress was very pretty and had a midwestern-sounding accent, which surprised me since we weren't that far from the east coast. I correctly guessed her age to be 21, but despite having lived about 2 hours from it for her entire life, she had never even seen the ocean. She told us that she had been to New York once to go shopping with her sister, but other than that had done very little travelling. I insisted that she visit the ocean as soon as possible; who knows if she'll keep her promise.

After some confusion about where US 6 picked up again, we continued onward, passing over the top of Scranton, and around 70-miles, just outside of a small town called Tunkhannock, I got another flat. As I began replacing my 3rd inner tube, Sean wandered across the street to an auto shop to see if they had any tools that would be useful in diagnosing the friction coming from his bottom bracket, which he had begun to notice a dozen miles back. Not only were they no help, but they insisted that there was no bike shop anywhere in the area except Milford, the town in which we had slept the night before. We decided to soldier on to the next town, despite the growing resistance in Sean's drive train, with the intention of stopping there to evaluate our options. At 5:30 and 86 miles, we stopped and sat at a bench in downtown Tunkhannock (such as it was), and had what turned out to be the first of many conversations about what we were doing on this trip. Afraid that if we kept going without addressing Sean's mechanical problem it could worsen, seize up entirely, or, worst of all, strip his bottom bracket shell, we considered taking a bus from Scranton to Cleveland (where there was sure to be a decent bike mechanic) and just forget about the rest of Pennsylvania. We agreed that neither of us cared that much about the bragging rights associated with having biked the entire way across the country and that taking a bus for part of the way once or twice would most likely not get in the way of having the adventure we were hoping to have.

We went into a nearby hotel to ask about local ground transportation, where the friendly, lazy-eyed front-desk clerk let us use the computer. Finding that the nearest bike shop was 50 miles ahead of us, and not wanting to risk an even more dire mechanical failure on the way, we settled on the greyhound option and asked at the bar about nearby campsites. After explaining our situation to the bartender, she asked the crowd if any one had a truck and wanted to drive us to Scranton for a few bucks, but apparently no one did, so we started riding in the direction of a free campsite a few miles outside of town on the way back to Scranton.

Having spent the last few hours off our bikes, my already sore left knee had stiffened to the point that riding again was extremely painful, so we stopped after less than a mile at a gas station across the street from a high school baseball stadium, waited until the families drove away and night began to fall, and spread out our sleeping bags on the grass next to home plate, thinking that if it began to rain (which it did) we could relocate into the dugout to stay dry (which we did).


I don't know what it is about certain cities, but I just dig the vibe or something. I really want to fall in love with Chicago, and I feel like almost all of the ingredients are here. Maybe it's just the fact that I've been in rural Pennsylvania and the midwest for weeks, and maybe it's just because this is the first place I've been since New York where I can get good vegan food, but just wandering around I've found that there is something really appealing about the way this city is laid out and the way the neighborhoods feel. So what's missing? Friends. Every other major city I've been to I've been able to find people to hang out with through friends of friends, but for some reason no one seems to know anyone here. We've found just enough contacts to have places to stay (and by the way, thanks to everyone that went digging through their metaphorical rolodexes), but I haven't really found people here to hang out with during the day. I guess this isn't terribly surprising, but I feel like if I met one or two really cool people here with whom I really clicked, that would seal the deal. We've got a few more days here, so I suppose anything could happen.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

McDonald's apple pies

Right before I left I had a conversation with someone about McDonald's apple pies. Whoever it was (and I've now forgotten) seemed surprised that I wasn't aware that they are vegan, and the other person present spoke up in agreement. Was this you? I looked it up, and they have L-cysteine, which I thought was made from animal or human hair; does anyone know anything about this? There is nothing I can do about the dozen or so apple pies I've already eaten on this trip (out of desperation, believe me), but I'd like to know whether or not I should continue doing so.


Chicago is one of the few major US cities in which I had not set foot, and now I can cross it off the list. So far, my impression has been largely positive; I like the landscape, the people seem interesting, and the Chicago Diner serves vegan American food that is better than any I've ever paid that little for. For you New Yorkers, it's nearly Counter-quality food for Foodswings prices, I kid you not. And to top if off, all of their cheese stuff is made with Temptation cheese (which stands to reason given that Temptation is made here in Chicago), and if you've never had it, trust me when I saw that it is a bona fide vegan miracle that this stuff exists. It melts. It tastes like cheese. It will knock your socks off and you'll never want Follow Your Heart nor Toffutti as long as you live. The disadvantage is that Temptation only sells it to restaurants so you can't buy it for your home cooking. If you live in New York, Vinnie's Pizza will sell it to you (and if you don't already know Vinnie's you are no friend of mine).

We woke up in Portage, IN this morning, in the grass behind the local newspaper building. As we were leaving, a woman noticed us and, after finding out that we had slept the night there and were on a bike trip from New York, asked if we had had a story written about us yet. We replied that we hadn't, so she went inside, grabbed a reporter, and we're told that we will be up on in the next day or so.

After being interviewed, we rode 50-something miles straight to the Chicago Diner - up through the entire south side and into Boystown - ate until we thought we were going to explode, and then sat in the diner booth staring into space while we developed diabetes from the two desserts each that we had just eaten. The shock of being back in a real, vegan friendly city is a little much for me, I must admit. After we recovered from our respective food comas, we took a walk around the neighborhood to get a feel for the town, which included stopping at American Apparel to pick up a couple of shirts (neither of mine have been washed since Cleveland) and wandering around for a bit in search of this very internet cafe. It's pretty cheap, so if I don't end up finding a place to stay with someone that has a computer I'll probably be back here for the next few days filling in the large gap starting in Milford Pennsylvania on the 4th and ending in north western Indiana yesterday.

Speaking of finding a place to stay... it turns out that no one knows anyone in this city. We have found 3 different friends of friends who are willing to let us stay with them, but in all 3 cases it will be inconvenient for the host, and I hate being a burden, so if anyone reading this knows anyone in Chicago that would be happier about having guests, please pass that contact information along to me via text message or phone call. 301.602.1706.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Last update from Cleveland

Tomorrow morning we are leaving for Chicago, and I didn't end up having as much time as I would have liked over the last 3 days to write about the first part of my trip, largely due to m y preoccupation with television watching and loafing. Rest assurred, however, that I have taken good notes and will eventually do so.

I would like to take a moment to update the cyber world on the restructuring of our plans. We realized on day 3 that, though we found ourselves to by physically capable of maintaining the necessary level of speed for the necessary amount of time to make it across the country in our 4-5 week time frame, it wouldn't be any fun to do it that way. We've managed about 600 miles in 6 days of riding during week one, with no training or preparation, including 127 miles on the last day, and most of it through the mountains of northern Pennsylvania. We survived camping every night for a week except one day, when we stayed in a $40 motel room so that we could shower. And at the end of it, we felt more fit than ever. I feel satisfied that if I was determined I would make it in the time frame that we originally set, but I also discovered that biking 100 miles a day kind of sucks and doesn't leave a whole lot of time for anything else.

After Sean's bike sufferred a bottom bracket cup unthreading problem which forced us to backtrack 30 miles from Tunkhannock to Scranton and spend the better part of a morning at a bike shop, we sat and reevaluated our intentions, realizing that we had been trying to combine two endeavors into an impossibly short period, and that we could either commit a feat of athleticism and commitment by biking across the country in a little over a month, or have an adventure on the road that involved stopping along the way, hanging out in random small towns, and enjoying ourselves, but that the pace required by the first precluded spending sufficient time on the second. As a result, we opted for fun (perhaps slightly out of character), figuring that if we only biked a couple of thousand miles, had some new experiences and a lot of fun, without putting pressure on ourselves to go go go, we would ultimately feel better about how we spent our vacation.

The (tentative) plan we came up with is to bike to Chicago, hang out, bike to Minneappolis, hang out, take a bus/train/plane to Seattle, hang out, bike to Olympia, hang out, and finally, bike to portland. The total trip will probably end up being around 2000 miles of riding, which I still feel pretty good about since this is the first time I've attempted a ride longer than the 2006 Halloween Alleycat in New York which included checkpoints at 150th and Amsterdam, Greenwood Cemetary, and Bushwick, finishing in Bed-Stuy. Perhaps some day I'll attempt a cross-country bike trip on an expensive carbon road bike with no gear (ideally with a support van, but short of that, simply by staying in motels every night instead of camping), and make it in a month. Or some day I might try a cross-country bike trip at a more leasurely pace, getting a chance to check out small towns and do some soul-searching, and take 3 or 4 months to do it. This time, however, we've chosen option C: the old-fashioned American road trip but on bikes. Adventure, here I come.

I'll write again from Chicago in (hopefully) 3 or 4 days. Until then, enjoy this ridiculous fucking heat wave and trust that we will, too.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Day 1

On Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008, at approximately 10 AM I woke up on an uncovered mattress on the floor of my loft, sweating and wearing only a pair of boxer-briefs and a few thousand mosquito bites. I fucking hate mosquitoes. I hate them more than I hate... pop country music. That's how much I hate them. I am a very light sleeper and being bitten by one is usually enough to wake me up, so the fact that I was covered in bites is an indicator of how well I slept. If our loft wasn't 90 degrees at night, I might have been able to protect myself with a cover of some kind, but then I would have been too hot to sleep at all anyway; you can see the predicament I was in. Of course, the last week or so has forced me to redefine my concept of discomfort.

The original plan was to get up before sunrise, ride to the southernmost point of Manhattan, and take a moment to contemplate the Upper Bay (which was the closest we could come to the Atlantic ocean without riding an hour in the wrong direction) as the sun came up. Instead, we left the house around noon after some hasty repacking and decided to skip the ceremonial crap and just start heading west.

We made it over the Williamsburg bridge and felt pretty good about our level of fitness (of course the Appalachian and Allegheny mountains proved to present some slightly more challenging climbs than the bridge). We stopped on sixth ave in the Village so Sean, having recently lost his fancy cycling glasses, could pick up a pair of knockoff designer sunglasses with white frames and ironically large lenses. Oh how I'll miss you, NYC. In a touching valedictory moment a not-so-unusually rude motorist in an SUV honked at me for several seconds while I was heading west on 14th, riding on the right side of the road, leaving, of course, ample space for passing. I yelled something to the effect of, "what the fuck are you honking at?", to which he replied, "you, asshole," or something similarly tender. Thankfully, we made it out of Manhattan without any incidents of fisticuffs or u-lock justice, and were not honked at again until we reached the outskirts of Cleveland 7 days later.

Our first serious challenge was finding the George Washington Bridge. The west side bike path ends around 120th, which is further north than I've ever taken it. We walked our bikes up a very long set of steps and then took Riverside Dr the rest of the way to 181st and then looped back around to 178th and Fort Washington, finally finding the stairs to the bike path tucked away on the side of a highway exit ramp.

Confusion becoming something of a theme of our tripe already, we found ourselves in Jersey with no idea how to navigate the clusterfuck of interstates and state routes spilling out of the bridge exit like the frayed edges of my extremely short cutoff jean shorts. The guy at the hotel desk nearby insisted that 46, the route we were planning to take, was an interstate with no shoulder and therefore not bikeable. I'll spare you the boring details, mostly because I've forgotten them, but trust that we eventually did make it to route 46 west and finally began to put some distance between ourselves and familiar territory.

After about 25 miles we stopped for the first in a long succession of gas-station breaks to refill our water bottles and cram as many carbs down our gullets as possible, mostly in the form of potato chips, the new, apparently vegan flavor of doritos, and nature valley granola bars. My diet has experienced better days.

While we were sitting outside of the BP on the curb, filling ourselves with heavily processed and almost nutritionally worthless foods, a strange man piloting a slow-moving motorized scooter (the wheelchair kind, not one of those hip, European thingies you see around New York these days) pulled up, executed a tight 3-point turn, and backed carefully into the handicapped parking spot. He was wearing sweatpants, a tank top, and a baseball cap, and did not appear to be severely injured or obese enough to necessitate the scooter, although some kind of chronic pain or joint injury may very well have justified it; he did seem to walk with a slight limp, after all. He came out of the store a few minutes later with naught but a pack of Newports and a Strawberry Yoohoo, fired up his whip, and scooted away at a brisk 5 or so miles per hour, whirring for all the world like an upset but slightly drowsy bumble bee. As he vanished into the distant sunset, he uncorked the strawberry milk and pounded the entire thing in a bottoms-up maneuver that would have made John Belushi proud. Sean and I were in stitches, and the thought of that image still makes me chuckle. I suppose you really had to be there.

Yikes, I'm even more long-winded than I thought. I've been writing for close to an hour now and I'm not even halfway done with the first day. I've been thinking all along that I might like to some day write a more substantial account of this entire trip, but since this blog exists mostly for the purpose of keeping my mom and grandmother updated, I'll try to keep things short from now on. Basically, we rode, rode, and rode some more. I got tired, but we kept riding. We rode up hills, and then rode down the other sides. As it turns out, riding close to a hundred miles per day can get pretty monotonous. The highlights of the first day of riding included me getting two flat tires within 15 minutes, the second of which left my brand new rear tire with an inch-long slash in it (which I patched with a folded up dollar bill), eating lots more junk food, listening to several chapters of a lecture series released by The Teaching Company which featured philosopher John Searle talking about the mind, and finally settling down for the night in a patch of woods next to the Milford Learning Center in Milford, PA. We did 96.4 miles at an average speed of 14mph, which is not bad for day 1. Then we ate pop tarts and peanut butter for dinner and fell asleep around 11.


After our longest riding day yet (127 miles), scortching heat, torrential thunderstorms, sore knees, and my first ever energy drink, we made it to Cleveland around 10:30. I'll write about the first week in more detail tomorrow, but I just wanted to quickly update my reading public (yes mom, that's you), that I am alive and, well, not exactly well, but I will be after a good night's sleep.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The morning of

I barely slept last night due to the flock of mosquitoes that spent the night bidding me a fond farewell, so we are getting a later start than we hoped. Now I need to repack my stuff and hop in the shower, and then I'm outta here.

Monday, June 2, 2008


Cleaning my room took hours. I packed everything I own other than my bikes, books, furniture, and what I'm taking with me into 4 small crates and stuffed them into the corner of the room. Coleman, Ben's friend and my subletter, moved his stuff in yesterday afternoon. Sean and I packed up all of our stuff, loaded up our bikes, and went on a test ride. There are a few kinks that need ironing out; I need a better way to pack my ukulele and I need to make sure that the bungee cords won't be rubbing the wheel, but overall I felt really good about it. Right after I packed everything I started to feel apprehensive about the load. A change of clothes, rain gear and a warm layer, a few essential tools, toiletries, and a sleeping bag don't seem like they'd weigh that much, but once it's all packed up on the back of a bike, it feels like a lot. Luckily, once I got riding - and got over the initial difficulty of steering a bike that top-heavy - it felt fine. So that's it. I have to buy some batteries, attend Trackstar's courier appreciation party at 151 bar (free drinks! yay!!!!), and have a goodbye dinner (courtesy of Tamara's fine cooking). Tomorrow, at the crack of dawn (or whenever we wake up anyway), I'm out.