Thursday, June 19, 2008

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).

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