Nathan Biking from Wisconsin to Georgia July 2007
Well, the day is finally here, the first day of the bike trip. It seems like I’ve been preparing for this for so long, I never felt like the day was actually going to get here. In fact I felt like it wasn’t until yesterday that I was absolutely positive that the trip was even going to happen. There have been so many thoughts, emotions, and goals I’ve been putting off strictly for this trip; I don’t even know where to begin.
The first ride went well. The country roads down to Milwaukee will be the only familiar roads until I get back to Georgia. That is really a scary realization, but a realistic one that I’m going to have to learn to accept. I’m glad I started this trip on a Saturday because going through downtown Milwaukee on a weekday could have been much worse. The streets were practically empty; I had city streets all to myself. The northern part of Milwaukee was nice, but fairly boring due to the suburbs. Downtown and the south side were much more interesting. It was amazing to ride through downtown Milwaukee on a bike; the buildings looked amazing from that perspective. The south side sort of reminded me of Little Five Points in downtown Atlanta. The neighborhoods were a little nicer, but it had that feel of a lot of strange people in close range with very unique shops and a culture all its own.
It was strange to me to see how many bike riders I saw on the way down here this morning; I must’ve seen fifty or sixty. I guess most normal people operate this early, but I still consider this time of day bedtime. I got up and going at about six thirty this morning, and it probably took me about two and half hours to get down to the ferry. By taking the ferry across Lake Michigan into Michigan, Chicago and all of its roads and traffic can be avoided. I got slightly nervous about both the quality of the roads I mapped out on mapquest and the scales used on mapquest. Some roads took more time than I had planned, but even if the roads are longer than expected I don’t care. There are at least four different people I can call for directions, support, or if absolutely necessary a ride home. Right now that thought is nearly unthinkable; I feel ready and I’m more excited this trip than I’ve been about anything in a long while. I feel that I’ve trained well enough to achieve every daily goal I’ve set for myself.
Everyone I’ve talked to about my journey had had one of two responses. The first of the two are the supporters who wish they could go on trip and think it is one of the coolest things someone could do. The other group is made up of people who think I’m fucking mental. These people, though most have tried, do absolutely nothing to dissuade me, they only make me want it more, to prove them wrong, or just prove to myself; “yeah, I may be fuckin nuts, but when I put my mind to it, I can achieve any goal(s)”. While having a big set of balls on this trip is totally necessary; I will unfortunately be forced to sit on those same balls as they are repeated crushed between my weight and my bike seat.
Right now I’m sitting on the first ferry I’ve ever been on, we just departed the south east side of Milwaukee for ___INFO__ Michigan. The view is pretty incredible; it really helps to notice how vast Lake Michigan really is. Despite the view it is disturbing to see how far out you could still see the smog from Milwaukee. We must be a half an hour out and I can’t see the city, but I can still see the smog, but I guess that’s a side effect of being an industrial capital all these years. I need to stop writing now because I’m on the top of the ferry and the wind has to be blowing at least forty miles and hour.
I’m now writing in the cabin of the ferry surrounded by screaming kids and Midwestern sized people in small areas, I should’ve stuck with the wind. I just met a guy on the upper part of the ferry who claims to have biked England. Apparently he had just visited his grandkids in Wisconsin and was attempting to avoid the same Chicago traffic that I was avoiding. If everyone on this trip is even half as nice as everyone I’ve met just in the first few hours I feel confident that if nothing else will keep me going some of these random conversations with strangers just might give me the boost I need to keep going. I’ve had more random conversations already than I have the nights when I become “that guy” with bar close rapidly approaching. I met a pair of biker couples coming back from the Black Hills in South Dakota, the older guy on the upper deck, and two women who are on there way to tour the west coast of Michigan. The women were sweet; they gave me a map of Michigan, and some advice that was “misplaced”, but they had good intentions. Both of the biker couples were amazed how the hills in Wyoming and South Dakota looked as they drove near them, both were in awe of the beauty of the mountains. I would rather get in the mountains than just admire them from a distance, but that’s just me. Out of all the thinking I have to do on this trip one thing is already known to me, if I’m going to live in the U.S. I will live out west. I think that’s probably a bad attitude to have going into the first day considering I’m going through the Midwest of the U.S., but those are different circumstances all together I suppose. For some reason or another man I met on the upper deck reminded me a lot of my friend Joel for some reason. I don’t know what it was, but me and the old man just sat back against the rear of ferry shootin the shit for what must’ve been at least an half hour or so. He recognized me as the guy with the bike, and not two minutes into the conversation he tells me my back tire was looking a little flat. That’s just what I need some old guy messing with me five hours into the trip, thanks yah old bastard.
I’ve never really taken the time to write out my thoughts before, but it’s very refreshing. I can write whatever I want, and most people that might read this; one know me well enough to understand my bizarre thoughts and humor, and two most anyone has probably stopped reading by now anyway.
Well, I’m located in my temporary residence in PJ Hoffmaster State Park in western Michigan. It’s been an awesome first day, I’ve met some amazing people, seen some cool stuff, and I’ve had time to think (whether or not it is of anything of importance or relevance is not the issue). After getting my camp ground set up I went to a little diner about four miles from the campground to get some dinner. It was a nice little hole in the wall trailer that served bar-b-que and ice cream, the food was really good, but then again anything would have tasted good at that point. I went on a really nice hike after I got back from dinner, it was probably about a two mile hike that led to an awe-inspiring overview of sand dunes and I sat and watched the sunset over Lake Michigan. At the top it had a map of the distances to different places, one of which was Milwaukee, pretty cool.
As far as first days go I’ve had some “omens”, luckily for me there were more good than bad. Within the first two blocks of leaving Trish’s house a bungee cord flew off the set up for my tent sleeping pad, thankfully it didn’t happen again, but I can already tell that my patience for loading and unloading my gear will tire long before my legs. As far as my omens go though that was the only bad one. Between a couple hikes and a ride I saw a beaver, and family of five or six turkeys, and a bunch of completely black squirrels. Hopefully the wildlife on this trip will be plentiful. Though the weather was dreary all day there was not a drop of rain, but I probably shouldn’t ginks myself. Also, there was a bike repair and tune-up house I passed on my way to get dinner at a diner, hopefully those bike shops will be there when I need them.
Being at this campsite tonight really gets me to thinking about the relationship most people have with nature. I hope that some day, if I have kids I can bring them to a place like this so I can show them that this is NOT camping. These campsites might be good for a big party or a place to show special needs kids how to set up camp. I suppose I’m a little more extreme in my views of nature, but to me nature should be synonymous with wild, untamed, unforgiving. Nature shouldn’t be “lets park my massive RV next to the 1000 watt electric outlets and walk or ride bikes around in circles staying only within the campground limits while paying next to no attention to not only your surroundings, but physically deteriorating them to have a “rugged” weekend away.” They have absolutely all the comforts of home within arms reach; where’s the challenge, the excitement or joy of the outdoors when you drive in on a concrete lot?
I woke up nervously this morning to the sound of rain, but I looked at my phone and realized it was only 5:30 AM, so I let the rain lull me back to sleep. It blew over just as I was waking up. A cute blonde woman in the adjacent campsite came over and insisted that I have a muffin, it was apple cinnamon. It was delicious and an awesome way to start the day. For the second day in a row the sky was overcast, and for the second day in a row it has yet to rain while riding. The sun was only out for about twenty minutes today, which was the first I’d seen of it since before the trip started.
About ten miles into the ride there was a nature area called Rosy Mound and it like most of the parks in western Michigan had sand dunes. It also had what looked like a planted forest, there were some trees in rows but they seemed to close together to be a tree farm. The forest put off a really mystical vibe because the morning fog still hadn’t settled and it reflected off the already eerily dark red trees.
As far as wildlife went today, most was road kill, but I actually saw a freakin elephant. It’s a little early in this journey for hallucinations, but there was a fuckin elephant; granted it was being ridden by some kids at a summer camp, but that was the last thing I expected to see.
The campsite tonight is located in Van Buren State Park in Michigan, and everything is going really well. While I was riding today I couldn’t help but notice the vast abundance of motels; I feel shameful in saying that I was considering it. However I do think I will be staying in motels every fourth night or so instead of the once a week I was planning on. That or I will have to stop at Laundromats to do laundry every four days. With my limited space I have four of nearly everything shirts, socks; well just shirts and socks, and boxers I guess, but I only have two pairs of shorts and two pairs of my sexy spandex, both could be good for at least two days a piece. I thought of reusing my t-shirts at first, but I’ve been sweating so much that the shirts are still wet the next day, which forces me to put them in the panniers where they stay damp and smells even worse than they did before I put them in there. I don’t think staying in motels one in every four is that bad, not what I planned, but not that bad. Besides if I keep stopping at most of the parks along the way that should make up for living in a brief lap of luxury. That and I can’t believe how expensive campsites have been; last night $29, tonight $21, that’s more expensive than I remember them being.
After setting up camp I went for a walk on the beach it was a fairly nice walk, but there was a power plant you could hear from almost a mile away. It reminded me of the shit plant in Port Washington, I would like to meet the genius who decided to put the shit plant on the only accessible path to the beach, I’m sure he got reelected whoever he was. But I guess the great debate here would be smell vs. noise, personally I would take the brief smell of human waste to the constant humming of an electric plant. There was a sign near the campground host that said the power plant is running anti-terrorist drills throughout the weekend. The sign warned that if you heard gunshots or explosions to stay calm it is only a drill. Ahh the sweat tranquil bliss that comes from staying in a state park campground, personally I would rather be woken up by a bear than gunshots and explosions, but that’s just me. I must say however that this campsite is much nicer than the one from last night. No screaming kids and there were enough open sites to find one in the far back part of the campground pressed up against the woods where the crickets are louder than the residents, I should sleep well.
I woke up to the sound of the most annoying dog I’ve ever heard; I think it was part beagle and part howler monkey. The owners left it alone in the RV and it wouldn’t shut up. That unpleasant start to a day was quickly turned for the better when my neighboring camper came over with a cup of pourage. They offered me chili last night but I declined because I regrettably ate Taco Bell just prior to arriving to the campsite. After I finished mapping out my day I joined the handsome couple for breakfast. We all had pourage, which I had never had before, but it was delicious. The woman, Carrie, was a nutritionist who actually graduated from Colorado State, I couldn’t believe it. We spent (Carrie, Matt, and myself) an hour or so talking about biking, backpacking, Colorado, Utah, and career and life choices. It was an amazing discussion, and a great way to start the day. They were from Illinois and up just to enjoy the lake and do some mountain biking. Carrie was telling me that she always intended on going back to Colorado, but started an internship in IL and took a career opportunity rather than going back to Colorado, which is where her family lives, and where she truly enjoys her surroundings. It got me thinking that I don’t want to get stuck in a place just because of the money.
I’m currently in Jonas House, a coffee and smoothie place outside of Waterlivet, MI. I rode here off of highway 140, one of the worst highways ever. I hope I don’t run into many more roads like that one. I also had trouble finding the Red Arrow highway, but used my stunning intuition and managed to accidentally stumble across it.
Western Michigan must be one of the major blueberry producers in the world, there are fields everywhere. I passed a place yesterday that was selling sweet corn, blueberries, peaches, and honey; other than the blueberries I felt like I was back in GA.
While the smoothie I’m drinking is pretty good, I can’t help but imagine what one of Cole’s smoothies would taste like right now. I’ve never had a smoothie better than any one of the smoothies that Cole makes, that man just has a gift.
I made my way to the Camelot Campground in south east/central MI, aka bumblefuck. Today was by far the most frustrating day, not that anything major went wrong, but it was just a series of little stuff. I’ve come to the unsettling realization that absolutely all of my initial road distance estimations are underestimated, in some cases severely underestimated. It’s not like I have a whole lot of other things to do, but it’s just some days I have planned down the road might not be as forgiving as today. According to my mapquest calculation today was going to be about 45 miles, with only a few detours it turned out to be a 70 mile day. While today was taxing, it is acceptable, but on some of my days where there is an expected 60 miles, I might run into some difficulties. I plan on buying maps for each state, with the exception of Indiana, so I can recalibrate all the distances if not for safety than for my own sanity because the mileage situation today made things very irritating. For the second day in a row I thought of stopping at a motel, but thankfully I persisted. I don’t know how thankful however because I’m at hands down the most bizarre campsite I’ve ever been to. There are at least 80 mobile homes and RVs and there is no one here. I’ve seen four other people since I’ve been here, and it’s quite eerie. I choose a campsite next to the horse corral and the bathrooms just so I can hear if anything goes on. I’m excited to start a new state tomorrow, and I’m even more excited I’ll only be in this state one more night. Michigan has been nice, the coast a lot nicer than anywhere else, but that was to be expected. I’m also looking forward to staying in a motel tomorrow night, don’t get me wrong I think camping is great and the parks are what make this trip, but I just want to spend the night out of the humidity. It’s not the heat, the bugs, the annoying campers, it’s the freaking humidity. I don’t feel like I’ve been dry since I left; between sweating most of the day and then stewing in it and waking up in it, it is starting to get to me. Wow, sorry that was a lot of bitching and moaning; I just had a semi-rough day.
On a more positive note I actually named my taant, since he and I are going through a lot, and there’s been a lot of pressure on him, I’ve named Ted. Ted the taant, and he and I have had chats on rare occasions, Ted gets breaks when we’re going downhill otherwise he gets upset. Its okay I’m not losing my mind just yet, but when you’re on the road by yourself for 6 to 8 hours a day you find unusual ways to keep yourself entertained.
I just met the son of the owner of the campground. He apparently does rodeo, ropes cattle, and rides bulls, and this kid thought I was nuts. My balls have taken enough damage from this bike, there’s no way I’d put em’ underneath a bull and say giddy up. He seemed like he had been kicked in the head a few times, he knew of one account for sure. He was a really nice guy; we talked about his soon to be wife and expecting child. He was only twenty years old, and he already has a kid on the way, scary stuff.
That may have been one of the worse thunderstorms I’ve ever been in, and certainly the worst I’ve ever experienced in a tent. It was only the second time in my life I’ve been afraid of getting hit by lightening (the first was near Emerald Lake just outside of Pingree Park, CO when I raced down the mountain in a lightening and hail storm; lightening struck only about 50 yards away). I could have slept through the rain or the thunder, but the lightening was so close and so bright I could see flashes when I closed my eyes. Luckily my tent was a champ, not a drop of rain got through. Although there was a puddle that would continuously form above my head like an ever sagging boob that I would occasionally have to push up on to drain. Everyone I saw the next morning looked at me as though they were surprised to see that I had survived the storm. A few different people even had the nerve to say “You camped in that last night, that must’ve sucked”, all I could do was nod my head and restrain from saying one of the ten smart ass remarks I had roaming through my head. The storm was pretty rough, lightening had fried the gas station two miles away, and the McDonalds about fifteen miles down the road; pretty crazy stuff.
I only rode about 30 miles today, and am staying in an awful motel in Sturgis, MI. I know I’m spoiled from staying in Marriotts pretty much where ever I go, but this is bad. It stunk of cheap cigarettes and sex; I don’t really plan on pulling back the covers, I think I’ll just sleep on top of em’. I got my laundry done at the laundry mat across the street, which was interesting. I was doing a soduko puzzle while my laundry was drying and this little Hispanic baby, who had been running around in nothing but a diaper since I’d been there, ran right next to me full speed into the window. This kid started bawling and everyone in the packed laundry mat, mostly Hispanics, stare at me as though I hit this kid. Nervously I just continued doing my puzzle as if nothing had happened, and luckily none of the four big Hispanic men there felt the need to have any words.
All in all though it was a good day, I feel like I needed a short ride. The first three days I did more than 65 miles a day, and yesterday kicked my ass physically and mentally. At least I got my laundry done, then I kicked back ordered a pizza, got a six pack of Tecate and just watched some TV.
I woke up and got going earlier than I have so far this whole trip. It was about 6am, I got everything packed, I showered and left about 7 am or so. It was awesome, the weather was perfect, the ride was good, 30 miles in and it can’t be later than 9:30. I’m in Pokagon State Park in Indiana, it’s a nice, quite place. I’m going to hang out here for the hot part of the afternoon and relax and probably go on a hike or two. I was thinking about renting a boat, but I can see the dock from here and they’re mostly pedal boats. I actually had to think about that one for a second before it clicked, and I thought to myself, “yeah that would be great I haven’t pedaled in a really long time, almost 20 minutes”.
So far on this trip I have seen three groups of omish people at three different State Parks. I would assume because of all the roadside vegetable stands, that their crops are in and harvested, and this is their way of celebrating. That or there is about to be a harvest and their having a little free time before they put in the hard work, either way, good for them. They seem like a very happy group when they’re amongst each other, but when there are any outsiders it’s all serious faces. They were playing volleyball, and they were yelling and laughing, then when they were done they walked up the hill past me and no one said a word, interesting people. I really need to try and find some postcards so I can write some folks.
The only thing I would’ve changed about today was the fact that I was almost hit by an oversized load truck. The truck came probably within about a foot of my panniers; I gave the driver the single fingered salute. I saw the follower of the oversized load looking like he was thankful the truck hadn’t hit me, I was thankful as well. After being there I wish I would’ve planned more of my trip in Indiana. It was actually a vibrant state with pristine roads. Unlike central Michigan and Ohio so far, they didn’t overbuild towns, everything in the downtown areas were old but they were active and not consumed with empty buildings and run down establishments. I can see where industry in central Michigan and some places so far in Ohio got people building bigger than what they could support or whatever the resource they were using or building could support. Pokagon was a great little park. I hung out and did some sudoku puzzles in a lawn chair overlooking a lake, I played Frisbee for a half hour or so with a guy named Randy Boring who was actually pretty good, took a nap on a bench in the woods, I finished the Old Man and the Sea, started a new book that has good promise, and I got a chance to flirt with a really cute waitress for a while. This guy Randy was with his in-laws, and I think he was trying to escape for a while. He was throwing a Frisbee at chairs and when I made eye contact he was like an excited puppy, “wanna play” he asked. He had some pretty nice throwing techniques that he had down well and made some really nice grabs. I think he was pretty shocked when he realized I had played before too. We were teaching each other the throws and catches the other one didn’t know, it was nice to add some new methods to the repertoire.
After playing Frisbee I was literally dripping sweat, so when I went in the hotel for postcards and lunch they looked at me as though I had just gone swimming in lake and needed to dry off first, but no one said anything. The restaurant in the hotel made a kick ass meatball sub for lunch. While I ate I finished The Old Man and the Sea. When I finished the book I offered it to the cute waitress, her named turned out to be Michelle, I think. She said she didn’t read, but wished she did more often. I insisted she take it because I had no room on the bike, so she did and we sat back and talked about nothing in particular for a while. She had very pretty blue eyes, it was nice to talk to a cute girl rather than a fat guy who rode a bike once somewhere, and wants to tell me about it. Really though, I like the fat guys too, I think they’re the most interested in the ride. I’m still surprised how awesome everyone I’ve met has been. Whether it is random people I meet for a few minutes like the blonde with a laundry list of questions at the gas station, or the young construction worker who just got back from backpacking in Utah. Whether its people that give a heartfelt wave, or some random guy I played Frisbee with for twenty minutes before we even say a word, or if its people like Paul, Michelle, or Matt and Carrie who I end up having hour long conversations with, they’ve all been great.
I was proud of myself today; I went through three different states on a freakin bicycle. I did almost 80 miles today and it felt grand. There is no doubt I will do the early to rise, take it easy in the afternoon and ride in late afternoon as the norm from here on out. I do have to attribute some of my distance and lack of fatigue today to the flat and down hills I faced today. You never really notice when you’re driving a car you just automatically put your foot down a little harder if there’s a hill, but you really get to appreciate flats and down hills when you’re on a bike, there’s no escaping it.
I finally got the rest of the supplies I’ve needed since I started this journey. I got sunscreen, spoons, nuts for my trail mix, and protein bars which I didn’t even think of until today. They only had 12 packs of spoons, but I only wanted or could carry two, so I spent some time in the parking lot being the crazy guy trying to give away spoons, I didn’t want to just throw them out. A nice younger couple took my spoons, I hope they enjoy them. Now I’m going to watch the sunset here over Harrison Lake while the 4-H club band across the lake plays some descent jazz.
Well today wasn’t the best way to start the day, but rain was to be expected at one point or another. I feel lucky this is only the first time on the trip that I’ve had to deal with it. I got about three miles into the ride and the sky opened up. The water is uncomfortable, but getting wet is not my biggest concern. Riding in the rain made my glasses tough to see out of, but if I were to take them of the spray of the passing cars would’ve gotten in my eyes rather than just my mouth. What concerned me most was that the cars and trucks trailed on the water for so long I couldn’t hear the next one coming so I had to constantly stay on the farthest side of the road in case there was another car coming up on me. Staying that close to the side of the road requires more concentration over a long period of time than one would think. The sounds off the water also make it difficult to decipher whether it is a car or truck. I’m not nearly as concerned nor do I get as far over if I hear the hum of tiny electric car in comparison with a semi where I nearly run myself off the road to avoid being completely run off the road by the giants of the highway.
Okay this might sound like a rant, but I’m just sick of people asking me stupid questions. There are some questions that are common, and most are understandable “What will you do if you pop a tire? What if it rains?”, while these should be understood they’re tolerable. It’s the people that look at me getting off my bike and say “goin for a ride?”, or the people who ask me “Are you camping on your trip?” while I’m standing at my fucking campsite. But the best two occurred both yesterday and today. Actually there were some good ones when the people at the Camelot campsite saw me climbing out of my tent, and asked with the utmost sincerity if I had camped through the storm. Back to yesterday, a guy in a fairly busy intersection next to a restaurant with people getting in and out of their cars asked me if I knew where the closest gas station was. I’m the only freakin guy in a 15 mile radius that doesn’t have a car, and he asks me where he could get gas, duh. The topper was about 15 minutes ago as I walked into Burger King after riding in the rain for the last hour and a half, “So did yah get a little wet out there?”. No I fuckin hosed myself off right before I got in here because I just love when my shoes squish and every inch of clothes clings to me the way it only should on Pamela Anderson on Baywatch, COME ON.
I made it to Mary Jane Thurston State Park in Ohio. I just had a talk with grandma for the first time since she passed. I guess I’ve either been in denial of what happened or I just didn’t want to face it. The reason this whole journey came up in the first place was so I’d have time to think about her. This trip in a way was to honor her, even though she would have been even more worried than Mom, Amorette, and Trish combined. We had a good talk, grandma and I, but I’m going to leave the contents of that discussion on the riverbed. The strangest thing happened right after I got done talking, and I asked her a question of sorts; (I still can’t believe it) it sprinkled in the river for about two minutes and stopped, not a drop touched me, just the river, and only for a moment or two. Blue skies. I couldn’t hold back, I know she heard me, I know it was her.
It was very pleasing just relaxing by the riverbed with no one else around. I saw birds diving after fish, and more herons than I could count. Before now, I never knew herons made such a disturbing sound, it sounded like a small dog barking in full force. Since I was all by myself and way back in the campground I didn’t pay for the site. I felt kind of bad, but I got over it fairly quick. Plus I still wasn’t in a great mood because of the two flats I had on back tire. At least it was educational; I’d never changed a tire before, so it was good practice.
I’ve been thinking about heading straight south rather than cutting further east and riding the Appalachians in West Virginia. I sort of feel like it’s a cop-out to cut straight through, but I would be going further east just to cut back west, plus I will still have to ride through Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Georgia mountains. I’m a little concerned about huffing this much gear through the mountains, that and I’m not sure how good the road conditions will be. I’m going to stay in Findlay, Ohio tomorrow because it’s the last chance to do laundry before the final push through Ohio.
Well, I had a good ride into Findlay this afternoon. I passed the University of Findlay, which reminded me a lot of Valdosta State’s campus. I have decided that going straight south rather than going east to come back west. I really wanted to see Virginia and West Virginia, but I think southern Ohio and Kentucky will be interesting substitutes.
I saw a bike shop next to the hotel, and I think I’m going to treat my bike, Betty, to a tune up. She has been good to me, so I figure I’ll take care of her, plus I’m pretty sure my tire is messed up in more ways than one. The bike shop is already closed so I guess I’ll have to stay another day.
I’ve had to stay another day here at the Fairfield Inn in Findlay in order to get the tune up and be able to map out the new southern route. Plus, both my legs and my ass could use the extra day’s rest. I was able to go to a nearby Laundromat to get all the essentials washed, which included my helmet pads because my helmet had started to reek like really dirty socks. It was very generous of my dad to give up some of his Marriott points so I could stay at this nice hotel, rather than another nasty, rent by the hour motel.
It turned out to be a good decision to stop for a tune up. Besides being a very guy, the guy at the bike shop, Mike had found a piece of glass still lodged in the rear tire and made a crucial adjustment to gear changer. He also recommended that I picked up at least one spare collapsible tire, which I didn’t know existed. I took him up on the spare tire idea. I’m pretty sure that if I would’ve asked Mike to join me on the rest of my trip he would’ve have.
Well, I’m back on the road here in Ama, Ohio. I rode for nearly 30 miles today without any place to stop. It just seems that a lot of small towns in this area have strict limits on corporations. It is a great idea for small communities, but if you aren’t going to have corporate restaurants or gas stations at least have local restaurants or gas stations.
Today I had my first set of drive-by questions about the journey. This guy who was in a bike club pulled up next to me in his car. He kept pace with me in his car while I rode and we talked about the ride. He tried to give me directions, but I don’t think he realized I was camping because he was telling me about small towns along the way that would be good to stop. This guy was telling me that all his bike trips lately were cushy because everyone riding them was paying to be feed big meals and staying in KOA campgrounds or nicer accommodations. I tried to convince him that he could make up his own trip, but he insisted that I was little crazy for going out on my own and that he wouldn’t feel comfortable just winging it. He was a nice guy, but was a little off his rocker; he kept trying to tell me the best ice cream stands within a few mile radius.
People in Ohio seem much more reserved than the other states I’ve been to, that or just less interested, which is cool too. All the people I’ve met have been nice, but much more reserved than the crazily outgoing folks I’ve met in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Indiana. I definitely like Ohio though; hopefully I will feel the same way after being here for more than a week. No matter how I worked it, there was going to have to be one extra long state, it could’ve definitely been worse than Ohio. The people here are nice enough and they keep to themselves. I just wish there was just a little more to see than corn fields while I’m riding. The lakes in Ohio are really nice for camping, while they’ve been a bit buggy the sunsets are well worth the inconvenience.
I slept really well last night, I think I only woke up once in the night, and that was to take out my sleeping bag. Most nights I haven’t needed my sleeping bag until late in the night. I had to remap my route again, and I made the mistake of telling mom I was changing it with out knowing where I was planning on going. She has been great, she helped me find the hotel and has been telling me which campsites have electricity, showers, etc. The only thing that has been bothering me about talking to her is that she hasn’t been very encouraging. Every time I’ve talked to her she’s offered to come and pick me up. I understand that she’s worried and knows that I’m a fairly stubborn jackass that would continue regardless. At first I thought it was really cute that she was offering to pick me up, but now I think she has created a nervous habit for herself of asking me whether or not I want to be picked up. I have to admit she is handling herself better than most mothers would in the same situation. I feel very fortunate to have people that care about me enough to worry fairly intently about me on this trip. A few friends from Wisconsin like Kelly, Juli, and Amy along with Amorette, Ashley, and Drew (in so many words) have shown some pretty deep concern, but most are very supportive and want to see me finish. I feel at times like my dad is just as if not more concerned then my mom, but he masks it well when he talks to me. I think that he has been keeping a level head to keep my mom calm, which is exactly what I need from him right now. Trish also seems to be in the same boat as my dad, she’s worried but she’s keeping a level head both for me and my mom.
I met a nice woman in a coffee shop today in Urbana, OH. She had a laberdoodle, a lab and a poodle mix, it was a big, goofy, excited, friendly dog; it made me think of Gypsy. The woman and I talked about dogs among other things. It was sort of hard to concentrate on the conversation considering she was wearing a very tight very low cut tank top, but it was pleasant none the less.
I’m not sure how many more corn fields I’ll see, but if the one outside this town is the last, it won’t bother me in the least. There is just so much fucking corn. I’ve seen an overwhelming amount of stands selling corn on the side of the road, how does one choose exactly which corn stand is “the one”? Maybe whoever has the least amount of teeth, or perhaps the nicer tractor, I have no idea. I guess it’s good they have a new reason to grow corn at least. The government has been paying extra for corn for research and use of corn in ethanol gas. That’s good stuff, that renewable energy. For the first time ever I saw signs that said prevent wind turbines. Now this just opens me up to a whole different kind of pissed off. But they’re probably right the inconvenience of seeing wind turbines is crippling; forget the fact that you’re harnessing a free source of energy that would only decrease your power bill. While it may take away a dozen of corn stalks, the farmers that own the land may just be able to afford equipment and fertilizer that prior to the turbines getting there may have caused them to sell their land to a strip mall developer for example. Come on Ohioans get with it.
I hit a new top speed today; the previous record was 35mph, the new top speed is a stifling 35.5 mph. Riding a bike across country certainly has its perks. It’s sort of like a first class passenger that can go anywhere cars can’t. I have been able to get through three construction zones that were closed to traffic, two traffic jams due to accidents, and I was skipped to the head of the line both getting on and off the ferry, what service.
I’m here now at Deer Creek State Park in Ohio. It’s a pretty nice place, it has showers and everything. I got here pretty early so I was able to walk around and go on a few “hikes”. I don’t really consider a hike a hike unless there are hills or at least something that causes strain. These were walking trails, but they were nice forested walking trails. You could tell by the overgrowth on all three of the trails today that the “campers” didn’t take advantage of the recreational opportunities provided. They would prefer to sit on their nice chairs, with their ridiculously big fires (it was 90 degrees), and all of their comforts within close reach than actually enjoy the nature that they were charged an asinine 20 dollars a night for. Sorry I keep going after these “campers”, but I just think it’s like going to football game and intending not to cheer for anything. The walks were nice, and during the first one I saw a huge old dead tree. For some reason standing dead trees have always fascinated me; there’s something mystic or medieval about them, as if the oldest and wisest hawk presides in them waiting to snatch his next prey by diving through it’s empty canopy (yeah, something like that). I was still thinking about my dead tree fascination and the possibilities of why that tree had died when I went on my second walk down to the lake. This lake/reservoir must’ve been a fairly recent addition to the area. I say this because it was like a cemetery for trees; there were several dead trees standing in water, it was extremely eerie. While the scene itself was dreary and morbid the trees were surrounded by life. Birds both small and medium in size were all over the branches with herons fishing on the banks. You could tell there were a ton of fish around both from the birds and the fact that the trees surrounding the lake were decorated with a variety of fishing lines and bobbers.
I woke up slower today than I have the whole rest of the trip, and I’m not quite sure why. I guess I knew that today wasn’t going to be that long of a day, plus it wasn’t that hot out, so I didn’t need to rush to beat the midday heat. I’m currently residing at the Scioto Trail State Park in Ohio, it is the most aesthetically pleasing park I’ve been to so far. I think it’s because today I finally it the mountains!!! Yeh!!! The park is in a small meadow surrounded by forested hills. I saw the hills today about 30 miles into my ride and I was so excited I almost got off and did a little dance, but I quickly decided not to after realizing I was going to have to bike through those hills both down and up. The first of which may be a bit easier and more welcomed right now. All in all I am very happy to be in the mountains/hills. I can imagine drier air, which will be much nicer than the constant humidity, a discomfort that can only be matched by soreness of my ass.
There are 6 or 7 of the most annoying kids I’ve ever heard in my entire life and I’m a little distracted. It’s almost sundown and these little bastards are freaking out at the nearby park amphitheater, while their potential inbread parents are zoning out like any parents would after having 6 or 7 kids. I can’t believe no one steps in and cuts these people off, I mean after the first couple mutants, you have done your job of polluting he world and furthering your generational tradition of imbreeding, that’s enough already. On the other hand, the woman working the camp registration today may be the most helpful person I’ve run in to thus far. She gave me several maps of all the hiking trails including one she had made herself because the others were “inefficient” as she put it. Then she helped me find an alternative route to the grueling 2.5 mile up hill I would have to endure if I back tracked to the highway (the 39.5 mph road). She then proceeded to give me the rest of her lunch because she saw I was buying snack food and that it would be my dinner. She said all the time she’d worked there she’d never seen anyone as nuts as I was, which I found hard to believe so close to Kentucky. She insisted that no she’d ever heard of even attempted anything like what I was doing and right then she called her friend at the local newspaper to try to get my story in the news. She was a sweetheart, a bit eccentric, but a sweetheart.
I never thought of Gatorade as anything more than an alternative to soda and water, or something that was good for a hangover. Now it is something entirely different after the first five days or so I was drinking a ton of water, but I still had signs of dehydration; Gatorade has been my saving grace. I try to have one every morning and one throughout the day. I’ve been strapping an extra to the bike whenever I get a chance.
I just now felt like a little caregiver. A little girl named Zoe hurt herself riding her bike as she passed my campsite. Since I’m prepared for anything I was quick to provide all things in order to fix a booboo. I got her a Kleenex for the blood, some Neosporin and a band aid. I’ve been helped out a lot on this trip; it feels nice to help other people when I can. I’m just trying to keep that karma in good order. Some of the people I’ve met on this trip have provided conversation, food, or just a boost of morale when it has been needed most. So far my giving away of spoons, books, street direction, medical aid, tips whenever possible, and putting that extra quarter in the $1.25 soda machines has paid off, hopefully my good karma streak will continue.
Tonight will be the first night I will have had a fire. It’s cooler tonight than it has been, but that’s not why I’m starting a fire. It’s because I’ve been eating out of cans for dinner a few nights, and the thought of another cold canned food is not an appetizing thought. Baked beans are calling my name, and may be calling a few other things not to long from now, hah.
Speaking of good karma, right as I was going to cook my beans, Zoe’s mom, or what I presumed to be Zoe’s mom, Mandy, was very appreciative of what I did for Zoe and gave me a plate of food and invited me back to their campground. She gave me a steak, cucumber salad, potatoes au gratin, and a slice of cherry pie, with a bottle of water to wash it down. Life is good. This is one of the first real meals I’ve had in ten days, awesome.
I went to their campsite after dark and carried all the sticks I’d gathered for my fire over to their gigantic stack of logs and roaring fire, they appreciated the gesture. They were a very nice family made up of three generations and they “camped” for ten days out of the year to celebrate everyone’s birthdays. It seemed like a great idea, only I don’t know if I could put up with that many family members in that close of quarters (one RV and two tents for 12 plus people) for that many days.
I woke up this morning dreading the initial ride. I decided to go back up the huge hill I came in on. What a great way to start the day right? It turned out to be a great decision; I rocked that hill’s world.
Today has easily been the hottest day on the ride, but I’m determined to get out of Ohio and start a new state. I’ve been here for seven days now, and it’s actually been very nice considering there has been nothing to see but corn fields and lakes until yesterday. I’m ready to start riding in the south, and while I know it’s going to be tough, I’m ready for the mountains as well.
Well, so much for riding in the south. After I got done eating at the Huddle House I was welcomed back by my bike with not only one, but two flat tires. This was after I had just removed a piece of glass from the first flat I had before Huddle House. After changing the tires and finding what seemed like all of the foreign objects imbedded in my tires I hear pop flop flop flop. I must’ve only got out part of one of the pieces of glass and I couldn’t find the other. So, after patching four tires in a day, and knowing that another was libel to blow at any minute, I was forced to stay in Portsmouth, OH. I could see the Ohio River Bridge that leads into Kentucky out of my window. I could even see the big blue sign that reed welcome to Kentucky mocking me from my hotel window.
After settling in to the hotel, I went to the bar downstairs so I could get a much needed cocktail. I ended up having a few nice conversations with the bartender and a bridge builder. Right as I ordered my food that ended up taking 45 minutes, one of the most blatant homos I’ve ever seen sits two seats down from me and started making small talk. I talk for little while making sure that he knows I’m straight by mentioning the girlfriend, I don’t have, over and over again. He starts talking about his dad not accepting his lifestyle while attempting to hit on me; I’d never been hit on by a gay guy so I did what I would have if it were an annoying woman. I tuned him out and watched a prerecorded football game and started yelling at the players as if it were a live Packer playoff game. He just kept talking, so when my food finally arrived I ate it like I’d never seen food before and got the hell out of there.
Okay, so I get the dumbass award for the day. Rather than get up and moving early like I’d planned, I decided it was best to sleep in and milk my hotel room for all it was worth, bad idea. I got started today at noon knowing full well that it was supposed to be one of the hottest days of the year, and it certainly was. In my defense I thought the next campsite was only 30 miles away. I was about 20 miles off making for a 50 mile day, not to mention I was riding in mountains, which ended up balancing itself out in terms of up and down hills. Today was physically the most exhausting day without question. The heat combined with the much more ruff terrain was tough, doable but tough. Oh yeah, and that little piece of glass I missed yesterday found its way back into my tube about 12 miles into the ride today. I was forced to replace both the tire and the tube, and so far they’ve worked out. Thankfully I had gotten that spare tire a few days earlier. However, I’m a little nervous with having only one spare tube and no more patches or tires. I need to find a bike shop, but after today’s ride which wasn’t exactly full of urban shopping strips to say the least, I’m probably going to have to make do for at least a couple days. Out of all the training in both Georgia and Wisconsin, not once did I pop a tire, in Ohio I popped 7, that’s just ridiculous. I just hope that Kentucky’s roads after cleaner than Ohio’s; they seem to be less traveled and so far, less traveled means less shit on the sides of the roads for me to puncture tires.
Today was sadly the first day I had to use my zero gear. The way I see it I have 22 gears, 21 are on the bike and the zero gear is me getting off and walking the freakin thing up hill. I had a feeling that today was going to be the first day of the zero gear, but it most certainly won’t be the last. There were times in both Michigan and Ohio I almost used the zero gear, but I thought “These aren’t even mountains the hell if I’m giving them the satisfaction.” Heat combined with hills today definitely put me in my place.
Okay tell me if this makes any sense. I cross the bridge from Ohio into Kentucky and I go into the first gas station I see (one of three on the day) to get a map. Now, they have tons of maps for both West Virginia and Ohio, but no fucking maps for there own state, at all three gas stations. This conversation happened all three times.
Me: Do you have any maps of Kentucky?
Clerk: Where do you need to get to?
Me: Georgia on a bike
Clerk: Shoot I guess we don’t have nottin for yah
Me: Shit, Okay
And so it went, until the third offered me this huge road Atlas of maps of each wonderfully detailed county in Kentucky for only 18 freaking dollars. Because of a fear of getting lost and hearing dueling banjos I paid the outrageous price for something that will take up more space than I have room for, will only be used for 3 or 4 days, and will take me endless hours to decipher. At least I have a map, which was my goal for the day.
Right now I’m sitting underneath a small shelter in Carter Caves State Park in Kentucky because it started storming just as I got hear. I got a little wet, but it was actually really good timing, plus I’m only a quarter mile or so from the lodge/restaurant/campground. I was okay with my present situation until a ranger who the nerve to come up to me and say “Boy we sure do need this rain, but it’s an awful inconvenient time.” Oh, I’m sorry this rain is inconvenient for you, I just rode my bike as fast as I could for the last two miles while my legs were screaming fuck you so I could sit underneath a shelter next to a smelly shitter a quarter mile from where I need to be, but I’m sorry this rain has inconvenienced you. Oh yeah and I’m on a fucking bike, enjoy your dry air conditioned car you wanker.
I ended up staying at the lodge, which was very pleasant. I got a good deal on the room because when I got there the power was out and they didn’t know weather or not it was going to turn back on. I went downstairs to the restaurant to see if they were selling any food regardless of the power outage. The woman at the front look annoyed and ready to go home, she’d been asked this question a lot in past few minutes, she replied “only sandwiches and peach cobbler.” I think I put her in a better mood with my answer of that’s exactly what I was looking for, and she was nice enough to give it to me for free. I sat on the back porch and ate my dinner while watching the thunderstorm through the trees, it was quite a show. Afterwards the power returned and I stayed up and watched the Dolphins/Chiefs game, then watched a little Family Guy and went to bed.
This morning was a good news bad news type of morning. I guess we’ll start with the bad news so we can end on a good note. The bad news is that my shin splint that I’ve had for the last 4 days is not improving. It will especially not improve now because I’ve developed a bad rash or rubbing burn on the very upper part of my left inner leg which is going to cause me to put more pressure on my right shin splint leg. Also, the Atlas of Kentucky is a pain in the ass. I think I’ve found a decent route, but it may require some long days through areas with unfriendly topography. The good news is that I went cave exploring for the first time. I’ve always seen signs for caves in Kentucky and Tennessee, and I’ve always been curious. Today, probably against my better judgment went cave exploring alone. “Why yes ranger Dan I’m experienced in cave exploration and I absolutely have the three lights required to enter the caves.” In truth I had one headlamp with semi-fresh batteries and I’ve never seen the inside of a cave, but he gave me the required permit just the same. It was amazing in those caves, they were dark, damp, and must’ve been at least 20 degrees cooler than it was outside. Without a flashlight it was pitch black, I couldn’t even see my hand in front of my face. Some of the ceilings you had to squat to walk through, while others had to be 60 or 70 feet high. The first cave —— cave was long with high ceilings and was fairly narrow, while the second —– cave was short with wide corridors. My feet got soaked, but it was absolutely wonderful. It was pretty creepy going down there alone, something I don’t think I’ll do again, but it was an awesome experience. It felt like a place where humans should never go. The walls were a smooth clay rock that was aligned like alligator scales. There was water dripping from all walls and ceilings and it was foggy at all the entrances and exits. You could scare the piss out of anyone those caves, I had to restrain myself on the one other group I saw. Sometimes I was forced to walk through the dark water on the cave floor and couldn’t help but wonder what resided in that water; it was a welcomed rush of adrenaline. After all I haven’t almost been hit by a car in several days; I needed a little pick me up.
I can’t say that the adrenal glands were entirely full before the caves because ever since being in Kentucky there has been an increase in close calls related to canines. As soon as I crossed the border dogs without leashes were more prevalent than in any other place. At least the roads seem cleaner than they did in Ohio. While the roads here are fairly clean they lack shoulders and there have been an increasing number of sharp blind turns, good thing I’ve got my lucky bandanna.
Right now I’m waiting at Cascade Cave just outside of the Carter Caves State Park in order to go on a cave tour. Lots of people and lots of kids, but the description sounds pretty cool. Here we go.
It was a nice little walk into a huge cave. Our guide was fairly knowledgeable, but then again he could’ve been feeding us bullshit and I never would’ve known. The cave kind of reminded me of a museum with all the lights, but it had a lot of really interesting features. It was cool to be reminded about stalactites and stalagmites, which ones go up and which ones go down again? While the guide was taking questions after a lecture one of the women in the group asked “Where’s the guy on the bike going and where’s he coming from?” I proudly answered “Wisconsin to Georgia”, and then was braided questions for the rest of the tour. I’m not a big attention guy, but I do like the positive and curious remarks I get from people, it’s a good confidence boost.
Today’s ride left me slightly frustrated. Today I realized just how under prepared I am for these mountains. Just like the initial frustration of underestimating distances, I’ll get over it. I think the key here is to do longer days with more breaks and unfortunately less miles per day. Kentucky’s park and road set ups aren’t making this trip any easier. The parks are few and far between with roads that seem to go in every direction except south. Kentucky is proving to be a more difficult state than initially anticipated. However it is a beautiful state filled with long awaited tree lined roads, sweeping hillside views, caves, and down hills that make my cheeks flap in the wind.
I’m sitting here in Paintsville Lake State Park, KY enjoying canned pineapples underneath a shelter outside a mountain house museum near a reservoir. Today, so far, has been one of the best rides I’ve had since I started. It’s been hilly, filled with ups and downs, but the weather has been perfect. I think it’s been the heat the last couple days that put me in a bit of a foul mood. I got any early start today, which was needed; it was in the 60s still around ten o’clock, which was superb.
There have been quite a few people on this that have asked me if I’ve run into any assholes or people that might actually cause me harm. I can honestly say I’ve had no harsh feelings for anyone nor have I felt anyone was particularly mad or upset with me. No one has even so much as insulted me, and I thought for sure by this point I would’ve caught some hell from someone. However, dogs are an entirely different story all together. Today alone I’ve had four close calls, not just chased by four, but four that came pretty fuckin close. So far all dog encounters have come while on a down hill or a flat area, so I’ve been able to outrun them. Even the giant and silent German Sheppard that blind sided me while his friend across the street ran down his driveway barking. I don’t know if it’s the south or wheather it’s statewide let you dog off the leash month, but it’s getting pretty ridiculous. I don’t want to hurt any dog, but if it comes down to me I would rather kick them than use the pepper spray mom insisted that I get for that reason. I know most dogs just want something to chase, but some of these dogs have been pretty big and look pretty pissed off. I’m afraid if I use the pepper spray some kid is going to cuddle up with Fluffy or Hooch and get a face full of it themselves. Weather I kick or spray these dogs I don’t know what kind of crazy, protective owner they have, but its pretty much guaranteed that they have a car that could outrun my bike.
I think that’s the reason I haven’t run into any assholes is because I haven’t given anyone any reason to be an asshole. I would like to believe that the giant knife I have in a sheath hanging off the front of my bike has prevented at least someone because that knife has been a pain to carry. I’ve been nice to everyone I’ve met, partially for the reason of a car that could easily run me off the road. Despite the barrage of stupid questions and hints that I’m either crazy or an idiot I, very uncharacteristically, smile and offer nothing but polite conversation and only an occasional smart ass remark.
I’m here now in Jenny Wisley State Park in KY it’s a pretty interesting campsite. It would be a lot better if when I went for a walk I didn’t come back to find two big groups right next to my campsite. There are about 40 other campsites around that are empty, but I guess they decided I needed some company. It’s okay because I can’t really understand what any of them are saying. It sounds like a lot of toothless gibberish made up almost entirely of vowels. I’m usually pretty good at interoperating redneck, but this is a whole new level. I guess they could have more annoying accents, southern doesn’t really bother me. Reanne the cute girl at the front desk of camper registration had a very charming twang. I was forced to flirt with her for while. As it turned out she was studying to draw blood for nurses, she was a sweetheart. She tried to get me to go line dancing, I told her I would if she’d go with me, she said she would in a heartbeat if she didn’t have to work, what a good liar.
I went into a random shop earlier on the side of the road that sold rabbit by the pound and also a slue of other varmints I had never even heard of. There were four people working there and they and I had a long and intuitive conversation. The only name I got out of the group was Bear and that was off his motorcycle, but they made me promise I’d write to make sure that I got back safe. Bear and the clerks were a fun group.
On one of the highways I saw a guy in a glider with a motor on it just cruising around the sky near an airport that looked like it hadn’t seen a plane in years, but you never know this is Kentucky. I also met a nice guy in the Wal-mart parking lot today who gave me better directions to the park than my planned route. Normally when people try to give me directions without my asking I just smile and let there information go in one ear a quickly crap it out the other. As I was in the process of filtering I heard him say that the local bike club trains on the hardest road in this part of the woods, my route. So I had to say okay backup, let me here those directions again that I already crapped out. He turned out to be right, something that in my past experiences that usually didn’t happen with strangers’ directions, Thanks guy. Now I’m gonna try to get some sleep even with all these people next to me; I need to get up early again, that made all the difference in my 70 mile day today.
I feel like I need to justify why I’m staying here in Jenny Wiley State Park for another night. I’m not sure why I need to justify it, but I do. It makes me feel like kind of a wimp, but there were good reasons. First, I’m sore all over, but mostly my legs and upper thigh. I can usually go to sleep sore and wake up fresh but today I’m still sore and I had bad cramping through the night. Secondly I rode 20 miles today just to do my laundry; I went from the campsite down the wrong road to the lodge for them to tell me laundry was only available at the campsite. By the time I was done with the much needed laundry it was noon and it was hot as hell, just riding the 5 miles from the campsite to the lodge I was sweating bullets. So I would’ve started off my day sore with 20 unproductive miles in the heat of the day with at least another 60 to ride. Ever since entering Kentucky I’ve been afraid of the heat even more than the dogs. If I did 60 miles today it would be slow and take me all day in the heat, it seems just dangerous with the heat index over 100 degrees. Plus I haven’t had a day off in a week and I have some long hauls ahead of me. I would rather be rested and enjoy what will probably be the most beautiful rides yet rather than focusing on the pain and the fact I haven’t slept well in the last few because of irritating neighbors. After going through this little rant I feel better about cooling off and hanging out. They have a Frisbee golf course here and I haven’t used my two discs that I brought along, mind as well use the things if I’m takin em’ cross country.
The disc golf course turned out to be really cool. It was in a valley surrounded by mountains and was actually a fairly challenging course. I saw a doe and two fawns in the middle of the fairway while I was playing. The 17th and 18th holes were awesome they were both holes that you had to throw across valleys; I birded both of them. The 18th hole was a par 5, the only one I’ve ever seen or at least the only one worthy of being a par 5, it must’ve been over 500 feet, maybe even 600.
Choosing to rest the legs yesterday is already showing signs of payoff. It certainly wasn’t this morning when I first got moving but after a good stretch and a few miles, I felt better. It’s going to be a long ride today, but there’s a nice breeze and some cloud cover so hopefully it will continue. I haven’t been chased by any dogs yet today, (knock on wood) but it might be because the wind is messing with their hearing. I hope it’s because people from here on in will cage or leash their dogs. It almost makes me want to go shake the people hands that do chain up their dogs, then I come to my senses and I realize I would rather beat the crap out of the people that don’t.
I’ve noticed some major differences in highways and backroads that I wouldn’t have realized if I wasn’t on a bike. Some advantages of highways are they usually have less steep hills, more direct routes, more restaurants and gas stations, and more people to honk and wave. Highways also offer a better chance of getting hit by some asshole on a cell phone, more direct sunlight, less trees, more glass and metal to pop tires, and a smaller margin of error. Backroads provide more trees, more shade, often times nicer scenery, are quieter, more careful driver (especially here in Kentucky where in these small towns if you hit someone you’re probably incestually related to them), people seem nicer and not in as much of a rush. Backroads can be a pain because of dogs, steeper slopes, the smaller the road the steeper the slopes, more indirect routes, dogs, blind curves, and more dogs.
I may have met one of the dumbest people so far on the trip today. This woman asked me where I rode from and I told her Wisconsin, she said “Wow you must’ve been ridin all through the night.” Then she said “Well is it all downhill since you’re goin south?” Really, come on.
Today was probably one of the best and one of the worst days I’ve had so far. It sucked because whoever estimated distances on my giant Kentucky map was clearly drunk at the time. I’d already gone just over 80 miles when I was told that Kingdom Come is the highest park in all of Kentucky. Needless to say the last 5 miles or so were straight uphill. I put on just under 90 miles and went from 9am to 9pm only stopping for maybe an hour and a half total. It was the only time so far I felt like I might pass out from exhaustion. On the plus side I put on 90 miles and got to probably the highest point that I’ll reach on the trip. I felt like I truly accomplished something big today. All day I was chased by a pretty big storm, it kept me motivated to keep riding; had it not been for the storm chasing me I wouldn’t have made it to my campsite by dark.
It has already been an eventful morning. At just about midnight I heard something rustling in leaves just beyond the tent, something big. I woke up to a fully grown black bear 20 feet away from my tent. I froze for a second, and realized I better make myself known. I shined my headlight and yelled “Hey. Get on outta heeerh.” As soon as he heard my voice he bolted back up the hill and into the darkness. It’s kind of empowering when a 250 plus pound beast that could easily kick my ass takes off running at the sound of my voice. After I changed my underwear I was able to go right back to sleep, knife in hand.
I got up and moving fairly early this morning. Riding down the hill I came up last night was certainly better than going up. The road was very narrow and very curvy; I almost ate shit on a few different occasions. After getting down the mountain I made my way to the highway that I’ll be riding for the majority of the day. I had to pull over a couple times because of sudden down pores. Finding cover hasn’t been all that difficult. In between one of the storm bursts my rear rack (the thing holding up almost everything I have) snapped. It didn’t just bend or have a sudden failure it snapped. When it snapped it sent all my gear crashing on to the wet road, but my bungee cords were still holding strong so my gear just dragged behind until I could stop. My tent cover and my sleeping pad took the worst of it, but I should be able to make due. The joint connector where the rack met the bike had to be extended at the beginning of the trip so I wouldn’t clip the panniers on my heel with each pedal. The strain from gear and jerking pedal motion from riding in the mountains must have worn of this piece of metal that was overextended. Without the rear rack connected to the bike there was no way I could possibly continue. For a moment I almost broke out in tears, I thought the trip was over. Thankfully my startling ingenuity and resourcefulness overcame my emotions. I was able to use a strap/bungee from my camelback and ghetto rig the connector by tying the broken connector to the bike frame.
After a few hours of riding the ghetto rig held strong, but I don’t know how long a single small bungee can hold around 20 plus pounds of gear. I hope it will last the rest of the trip, but it just doesn’t seem likely considering I can feel the rack bobbing back and forth as I go uphill.
Apparently parks can just do away with their campsites if they feel like it. Pine Mountain State Park in Kentucky has replaced their campsites with $150 dollar a night cabins, give me a break. So, rather than camping at Pine Mountain I’m staying at the Boone Trail Inn, which for the price is pretty decent. At least I made it down here to Middlesboro, KY where I’ll need to get some supplies for the bike tomorrow; just some spare tubes, tires, a patch kit, and a fucking welding kit if they have one.
I’m here at Cumberland Gap National Park in Kentucky, just north of the Virginia/Tennessee border. Since the bike shop didn’t open until 9am, I got a late start and it was too dam hot to start moving by late morning, which is why I’m relaxing here. I figure I only have a 50 or 60 mile day so I’ll get started around 3 or 4. Not only did Pine Mountain get rid of their campsites, but they employed idiots that told me that Cumberland Gap was beyond the border crossing tunnel. I didn’t want to go back and forth through the tunnel to get to the bike shop because I’m pretty sure passing through the tunnel will be illegal, so I better only do it once. If I had known the park was before the tunnel I would’ve camped here in Cumberland Gap.
The history of Cumberland Gap is pretty interesting. I wasn’t even aware this was a national park. Apparently this was the gateway to the west before the railroad, a dip in the mountains if you will. I just didn’t like how they portrayed the Natives, but I guess if you win the war you’re the one who gets to tell the stories, write the books, and certainly decide good versus evil. I suppose that was one thing about history that always fascinated me though, the stories, opinions, and views of the “bad guys”. I guess it’s just referring back to the whole balance of things rant.
If the balance of the up hills matching the down hills is correct then I might be in for some trouble. While the last few days have been long and difficult, there has definitely seemed to be more downhill. I have a pretty strong feeling that Tennessee will offer even more extreme terrain than Kentucky.
After leaving Cumberland Gap it turned out to be a pretty awesome ride. I was able to sneak my way through the Cumberland tunnel by riding my bike on the elevated sidewalk above the road made for personnel. I got yelled at as I was coming out the other side of the tunnel, and apparently I got someone on the other side of the tunnel in some deep shit, but thankfully I was already through so there was no way he was going to send me back through. The guy who stopped me checked to make traffic was clear, wished me well, and sent me on my way. It’s a good thing I was able sneak through the tunnel because if I hadn’t I would’ve had to gone about 80 or 100 miles out of the way with nothing around and it was getting hot. The thermostats this afternoon were reading over 100 degrees even after 5:30; I must’ve stopped 5 times in 20 miles, but after about 6:00 I was able to push threw to Big Ridge State Park in Tennessee.
Unfortunately the bike is starting to show major signs of wear and tear. The quick release for the back tire broke off, the ghetto rig for the back rack broke again, and one side of the panniers has a broken bungee. That bike is going to have to completely break down in order for me to quit now. The next 2 days I’ll have somewhat of an escort with Amorette coming to meet me tomorrow in Knoxville. I’m looking forward to seeing a familiar face.
Today was a fairly laid back type of day. I got my laundry done around 10:30 this morning and it was already over 100 degrees. The Laundromat was run by this short guy who was jacked and covered in tattoos; not exactly the type you see folding and delivering the little old lady her under garments, but hey whatever works. He was a real nice guy and for some reason he warned me of some places that might be trouble. After I told him what I was doing, he said to me a thick Boston accent “You got some set boowwls pal.”
I had to stay in a hotel in Knoxville, it’s the only thing between the 140 miles between Big Ridge State Park and Ocoee State Park Tennessee, but it’s okay because the Packers play tonight on TV. It’s still pre-season, but it’s the third game so Favre should be playing at least half the game. It turns out there’s a pretty big event going on in Knoxville because according to the clerks all hotels in the area are booked. Based on all the motorcycles, I think there’s a biker rally or it could be the first week for University of Tennessee football, which is apparently in Knoxville (you learn something new every day). There seem to be bikers everywhere. I think bikers have been the coolest and overall the most interested and supportive people on the journey and beforehand. Most of Trish’s biker friends thought I was out of my mind or that I was messing with them, but once they knew I was actually doing it they were all, “hell yeah man, do whatcha gotta do.” I had one biker today ask me “How many horsepower you got on that thing?” I told him six one in each calf, thigh, and butt check. He laughed and invited me to their room for a beer, but I regretfully declined because I thought my room was ready, but it wasn’t. There seems to be three types of bikers on the road, and I mean motorcyclists because I haven’t seen another bicyclist since Michigan. The first type are the people that wave, even wave hysterically. Next are the hard asses that either ride solo or in a pairs that look rough and obviously want nothing to do with my self-repelling means of transportation. The third are my favorite kind, the kind that don’t know weather or not they should wave to a guy a bicycle; I can just imagine their thought process “We wave to bikers, but do we wave to bikers?” So rather than wave or ignore they just look at me like a dog you just asked to go for a walk when they tilt their head to the side trying to make sure what they’re seeing or hearing is really true. Although I don’t really feel like a biker, I do feel the mutual respect for the enjoyment of the road, the sun and wind in your face, the ability to closer connect to the things around you, the way the speed makes you cheeks shake and your eyes widen, and the ability to pull over and take in surrounding whenever the hell you feel like it.
It’s a good thing today was a short 25 mile ride; it seems that my ghetto rig off the rear rack was fading fast. The outer part of the bungee had worn down and all that was left were 3 little stretchy fibers no thicker than single threads. I had to ride with my ass stuck out as far as possible just to keep the rack from rocking back and forth, truly a sight to behold, and also a literal pain in the ass.
Okay, so I’m going to come clean, today was my cop-out day. I’m ashamed to say that today, rather than riding my bike from Knoxville to Ocoee State Park in Tennessee, I got a ride with Amorette. However there was good reason for my decision. The ride would’ve been nearly a hundred miles with no stops in between to stay, along with the face that it was a record setting day for the heat in Knoxville, 105 degrees, and it wasn’t getting any cooler as I continued south. So, probably against my better judgment I took the ride.
It was strange I hadn’t been in a car for nearly a month other than the short bus a few of us rented to go to the Jimmy Buffet concert. I felt a little shaky, like I was in a bubble going entirely to fast and riding alongside cars that I would normally have tried to avoid. Everything seemed too easy being in a car. It was easy to find places to eat, I didn’t have to plan out stops, map out back roads, or worry about mileage; all of which had become second nature to me at this point.
I was able to stop by the book store and get a new book. I’m just about done with my current book The Sex Lives of Cannibals, I know it’s a weird title. It’s about a guy who has moved to the South Pacific and all the problems he’s having on the island and he takes it all so lightly and with such good humor. I think reading the book while on the ride has really helped me be more easygoing in a lot of the situations I’ve gotten myself into. Being able to read right before I go to sleep has really helped to calm me down a bit and allowed me to get better rest than I probably would otherwise.
We arrived at the Big Frog “campgrounds” just as the lodge was closing. The “campground” is set up behind the lodge and it’s filled with big army green tents; the campground felt and looked like an army barracks. We were in one of the hottest places in the country and for some reason the tents had no ventilation at all, it was like sleeping in a sauna. We had reserved a tent here because we were going rafting the next day with the same company that owned the campground. All we have to do tomorrow is wake up and hop on a bus. Unfortunately we probably won’t get that good of sleep because there is an obnoxious group next to us with an even more obnoxious generator.
I didn’t get a whole lot of sleep last because of neighbors, but I gotten woken up pretty quick when I jumped into the Ocoee River at about eight in the morning. The raft trip in the morning was extremely cold considering how hot the surrounding environment had been for weeks. Amorette and I took the two front spots in entire way down the river and were soaked for almost the whole, amazing trip. I didn’t know it until right before we dropped in that I had rafted this same river about 3 years before with a big group of guys from Valdosta State. The fairly wide river winds down a tree filled valley with mostly class 2-4 rapids; a very peaceful ride as long as you can manage to stay away from all the other rafts, which we somehow managed to do. The raft guide’s name was Brett and there was also a couple from England in the raft. Despite their fairly annoying British accents they were a really nice couple. I think we lucked out on our guide, he was the most experienced out of the bunch, and out of the three boats we seemed to be doing the coolest stuff. He would bring us back up river after we would go through rapids so we could surf the rapids (or get battered by them). He and I talked for a while about Crested Butte; apparently he has a friend out there and they went kayaking all around that area. It was weird I had just hiked Mt. Crested Butte not even 3 or 4 months earlier with Randy, small world. However he did ask me one of the dumber questions that I received on the trip. After I told him I was riding from Wisconsin to Georgia he asked, “So, did you go through Oklahoma then?” I think he thought I was coming from Colorado, so I cut him some slack.
After rafting Amorette and I went and had lunch at a little riverside café. Amorette insisted that I get a ride with her, but I felt bad enough about not riding yesterday, there was no way I would ride in a car another inch on this trip. Since my rear rack rig was still busted I did take her up on the offer to take my gear in her car because at that point the ghetto rig was a pain and in danger of destroying both my tent and my cheerful mood. I crossed the Tennessee, Georgia border and for the first time on this trip I realized this was it, I’m going to freaking make it. Amorette was going to drive ahead and secure a campsite for the night at INFO State Park in Georgia. Luckily for me she went ahead, the park was off a gravel back road that was about 15 miles and straight up hill. We ran into each other while I was huffing my way up the shitty gravel road, and she informed me of the road ahead. If she hadn’t been there, I would’ve no doubt kept going and telling myself in an exhausted sweat drenched walk up that hill, “the park must be just around the next curve.” I decided we needed to turn around and find a new park.
The new park was Fort Mountain State Park in Georgia, a new route was mapped and we were back on the road in no time. Towards the latter parts of this trip I’ve realized I’m a better on the spot decision maker then a planner, at least most of the time. At the beginning I had every park picked out from Wisconsin to West Virginia (which I never got the chance to go to), but it was when I got to Ohio that almost every days’ ride was mapped out either right before the ride or, at most, a day in advanced. I really didn’t have any place to be as long as I could find someplace to sleep within a 100 miles of where I started in the morning. It’s been exciting and educational to just live life on the seat of your pants, or whatever that saying is; or in my case the seat of you bike, hah. Anyways the new destination is Fort Mountain, which is about another 20 miles. With shoes still soggy from rafting, and Georgia road still fresh on my tires I put the little detour out of mind.
The last 8 miles of today’s ride was just a bitch, a long steady up hill. At least with sudden excruciating hills there’s almost a guarantee that a down hill will come soon, but not with steady up hills, they can last forever. They just drag you along and drain you out. It’s remarkable how a short downhill can help, it can give you a burst of energy, cool you off, and rejuvenate you when only seconds before it was one of the greatest strains your legs have ever endured. I’m just full of random tangents today. So, during that last 8 miles I was trying to tell myself that I hadn’t been here before and that Fort Mountain wasn’t one of the highest points in Georgia, I lied to myself.
It was nice, when I arrived Amorette had already gotten the campsite and we went for a hike after setting up our camp. We hiked up the Fort Mountain lookout point just as the sun was setting. They have a strange boardwalk set up leading from the fort itself down to a porch like structure overlooking the west. It was a really nice view of Georgia’s rolling green hills right at sunset. I can’t quite remember why the fort was there, I believe I had something to do with fighting the Cherokee, but the descriptions were fairly vague. All I remember is that it was very interesting. After our hike we drove down to INFO, GA for dinner. It was called Doc Holidays and had a western theme. The food was pretty good and as soon as we got back to the campground I crashed hard. Three hours of white water rafting, 50 miles worth of tough biking, and a hike, I was beat.
I woke up early to get a jump start on the weather; it was raining early in the morning and looked like it was going to do more of the same. I wanted to try to enjoy a full day Amicaloola Falls State Park; otherwise I might have just tried to sleep through the weather. I didn’t have reception on Fort Mountain so I called my folks when I pedaled past a huge cell tower. I told them I was on my way to stay at Amicaloola, and that I would be home tomorrow. Tomorrow? Is it over already? Had I really just spent three weeks on a bike?
The ride was nice, it was fairly warm for 8am, but it was still nice. Oh and that long bitch of an up hill yesterday was only about a half mile longer before the long relaxing downhill started. At about 8:30 this morning I saw the first bike riders I’d seen since Michigan. First I saw one the two and all of a sudden they were absolutely everywhere. There must’ve been a race or charity event because in Elljay, GA they had food and water set up for all of them. Most of the bikers waved and looked at me as thought I was lost (they were going north, and I was going south), and a few even yelled from across the road, “Hey, are we going the right way?” I said “Nope, I just like to go against the grain.” I would be lying if I said I wasn’t temped to yell back “The race is over, they’re calling on account of the weather, everybody’s going back.”
I went into a gas station in Elljay to get my breakfast of choice a muffin and a Gatorade. While I was there I overheard the clerk and a cop was having. Apparently some guy had just come in asking for directions and after he left the female clerk started going off. She’s screaming to the cop and the other clerk the next person that asks for directions she was going to cuss out, “This ain’t no damn map station. I tell you what, from now on if somebody asks directions its 5 dollars, and if there hard to explain directions, a 100! Fuckin dumbassess….” Whoa lady settle down, I wonder if all gas station attendants are this bitter about giving directions. I guess has stations are the preferred locale for direction getting. I wonder why that is, I know there are cars there, but you never go into a restaurant or a grocery store to get directions; there’s no way of knowing if the gas station employees even have cars. Either way this lady was just a little off her rocker.
Another half mile down the road Amorette drives by. She said she was going to sleep in, but I guess that early storm came back and woke her up. She must’ve been in a hurry because the tent was crammed in the back of her jeep in almost one whole piece. I took it apart and told her I’d meet her at Amicaloola in an hour and a half or so. When I arrived she was there and to my, somewhat, surprise my mom called and said they were on their way to Amicaloola. It was really great to see them. My parents, Amorette, and I went up to the lodge for lunch; it was a huge buffet that had everything, I must’ve had at least three plates. After lunch we watched as a bird lady from the Department of Natural Resources was there with a presentation on raptures. She had a few different birds of prey that had been injured and required attention; she was a little nuts, but both her and the birds were both very interesting.
I got a campsite and goodbye to my parents, although my mom was meeting me in the morning to take my stuff back home. The last four days I didn’t have to haul any gear, and I would’ve felt bad if my rear rack wasn’t in as bad of shape as it was. I was very fortunate that I had Amorette and my mom to help those last four days, without there help I don’t know if I could’ve finished. Amorette and I went on a hike up the falls, which a huge staircase with 1,700 plus stairs that criss cross over the falls. After hiking, Amorette and I said our goodbyes. Because of the circumstances, differences in interest, and differences in plans, these would be our final goodbyes significant others, but certainly not as friends.
I walked up to the lodge to have dinner, and tried to get used to the thought of being done with the trip. I sat and wrote my final postcards, in which I thanked everyone I had been writing for their support. Weather or not they knew it or even had contact with me they were my greatest supporters, just by listening and allowing me to vent or to share some of my most fond memories. As I sat there I watched a beautiful sunset over the mountains I realized it would be the last of many on this trip.
I was woken up this morning by the sound of mom’s car puling up to my campsite. As she had promised, she was there to take my gear back home. We sat there and talked while I got my bearings and put my stuff together. She brought me some food and a Gatorade which I gladly ate rather than another freaking protein bar, which was the usual wake up snack. After trying to convince me for 10 minutes to give me a ride to the bottom of the falls (a steep and narrow road) she realized that an early morning down hill wasn’t something she was going to talk me out of.
With no more riding ahead of me and no fear of my legs being sore tomorrow I rode hard and fast for the last 50 miles of my journey. Stopping only once for a Chick-fil-a sandwich, I rode that last 50 miles in a little over 3 hours. It was great being on familiar roads again, until I realized I was riding a bike on congested suburban Atlanta roads. I was almost hit more times in that last ride than I had been on the entire trip combined. It didn’t really matter though, I was home, and my goal was accomplished. The last ride was a good one, a great way to end the trip.
The journey is over and I feel like I’ve come away healthier both mentally and physically. I’ve learned things on this trip that I don’t think I otherwise would have learned. There will be aspects of the trip that will be sorely missed and other aspects will not be given a second thought.
One thing that has been renewed though it was not completely lost was my faith in mankind. There was not a single asshole on the entire trip. Sure there were some annoying ones and some stupid ones, but for the most part everyone was absolutely amazing. I was certain there would be at least one group of campground folks or a mid afternoon drunk that would’ve at least given my a hard time, if not worse, but there was no one. Most of the people were not only tolerable, but welcoming, inquisitive, whole-hearted, and generous. I met several people on this trip that I will never forget, and though I may never speak to them or see them again they will hold a special place in my memory. This may seem a little strange, and I know this is going to sound corny as all hell, but a lot of people told me their dreams and aspirations. What they really wanted with their lives, what they wish they could’ve done or could still do. People who I didn’t know at all told me their life’s ambitions and goals. I’m not quite sure why these people opened up to me the way they did, but it was a really great feeling to see total strangers with that sort of honesty and sincerity.
Luck was on my side in several of the situations I came across, but it was probably most apparent in certainly the weather. Sure it was hot as hell just about the entire ride, but that was a consequence of riding in August through the south. All in all the weather was phenomenal, I only had to ride through rain one day, and all the storms I encountered were at night. If anything it was lucky that I had one of the biggest storms of the decade following me through most of the trip, it kept me going. Three days after being just about anywhere there would be a huge storm. There was flooding in Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, and parts of Northern Kentucky just days after I had left each of the states. Even the wind, which had been a big factor during training in Wisconsin, stayed fairly mild for most of the trip.
I would like to think that this next statistic was skill, but there must’ve been at least a little luck involved. Throughout all of training and the entire trip I some how managed not to take a single spill. I didn’t even say it out loud until I was home for fear of jinxing myself, but I somehow did not bust ass the whole time.
Since being back things have been a little strange. There are a lot of things I’d gotten used to doing day in and day out. The biggest thing that bothered me was the constant itch to be outside and to be doing something active, at least after the first day or two of sleeping. There just don’t seem to be enough things to do. Readjusting to normal life again shouldn’t be all that difficult, but I don’t think it’s going to be all that easy either. There are just so many things I miss already.
I miss sunsets. Before the trip I definitely enjoyed sunsets, but I don’t know if I ever just sat and watched them before in silence by myself without feeling antsy or like I needed to be doing something or having somewhere else to be. There was a certain beauty in allowing life to slow down, not having anywhere to be or anything particular holding you back. There was no rush, there was nothing to be afraid of, and there was no need to keep track of time or days. As long as I was seeing the sunset from the campground I knew that’s where I was supposed to be for the night. Watching those sunsets was in a way the most free I have ever felt.
Though the trip provided almost absolute freedom, it did not come without cost or work. It would seem like riding a bike everyday, day in day out things would become tedious and boring, but each day there was a new puzzle to solve. Weather it was mapping, fixing parts, readjusting mapping, modifying riding techniques, gear alteration, planning stops, worrying about the heat, what and where to eat, where to shit, physical endurance, pains, etc. It was a new challenge everyday; granted a lot of those challenges were an unwelcome pain in the ass, but it felt good being nearly completely self-reliant in a somewhat constant state of change and risk.
It has been a year and a half since the trip, why it took me so long to type this up, I’m not quite sure. However since it’s been a while, I’ve realized a few things. First of all, I still miss the trip; it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Second, I’m glad I did it then because now I think the whole trip is a little more nuts, especially from reading back on it. I’m not saying I wouldn’t still do it, but I got lucky with a lot of close calls. I learned things about myself I didn’t know existed. This trip has given me more confidence in myself than I’ve ever had, which has allowed me to go places and do things in the last year and a half that I wouldn’t have had the guts to do before the trip. I can honestly say that this little bike ride played a big part in changing my perspectives on life, and has helped to make me happier now than I’ve ever been.
My late grandmother Henrietta Haack was the one who inspired this trip. She was a wonderful woman who was like a second mother to me. This trip was thought up with idea of giving me some time to think about her. Although this trip would have made her a nervous wreck she would have supported whatever made me happy.
I LOVE YOU GRANDMA. THANK YOU FOR EVERYTHING