It was quite real, I have the most ridiculous tan-lines to prove it.
My hair grew while I slept. It too has been marked by the sun. Streaked, ropey, ends split like forked roads.
I pedal in my sleep. I hear my knees pop and crack like my bike did when I would shift gears, climbing a bitch of a hill.
My chest aches, but not in the way my lungs would burn for more oxygen in the mountains. Instead it aches with a mild case of depression as I shuffle around a daily life.
New York City. Somewhat homeless. Working constantly so I don’t have to think too much.
People are excited to see us again. They want to know everything. Where am I supposed to start? Do they really want to hear all the stories? Usually not. They ask how it was and all I can do is lie and say “amazing”. How can I sum up a three-month adventure in one word? An adventure that is at once a memory I nearly don’t believe and also, a physical sensation. Not quite homesickness or nostalgia. Rather, it’s a panicked, aching, racing of the heart similar to the head rush of new love affairs.
If only I could just give a shit-eating-grin to a friend and they could instantly know the damp chill of flying down the west side of the Cascade Mountains. Tears streaming out of the corners of your eyes while you howl and yip like a coyote.
Maybe when I share a subway seat with a stranger, they would suddenly smell the sooty smoke of a cooling camp stove that has just been turned off. This person, how ever, is confused by the Pavlovian reaction of their mouth watering, for a meal is about to start.
What if I were to hug a curious family member and they could feel the high grass poking them in the thighs as they hide in the roadside weeds to take a leak? Does adventure peeing really translate into words? Furthermore, is it even healthy to fondly recall that sensation? Clinging on to it like a childhood memory? What the hell is wrong with me…
Then again, I suppose “amazing” is a more socially acceptable answer…as opposed to “It was fucking great! Here, grab my ass! It’s as solid as a rock!”
The next common question is “Sooo…how are you adjusting?”
I’m not really sure how to answer this inquisition of genuine concern either. The best comparison I have come up with is that I am like a prize goldfish from the carnival. I remember when my dad would buy a new fish for his aquarium, and it would dart around in its puffy plastic bag. This bag floated like a bubble on top of the water in the tank, the future home of this new fish, for at least an hour before he dumped the little fucker in.
“Dad? Why do you do that?”
“You have to let the water temperature in the bag adjust to the water temperature in the tank.”
“It’s like jumping into a cold swimming pool. He might go into shock. He might die.”
And then the cherry of his tiparillo cigar melted through the plastic bag and the fish poured out.
I think I’m in the “plastic bag phase” of adjusting.
I am darting anxiously through the small space of the plastic bag as it floats on top of my future. I can see the fake seaweed and the plastic diver I’m probably going to have to learn to get along with. I can see that it still might be a little while before the water temperature has equalized and I can get started on living.
I can also see that there is the potential for boredom in this future. The plastic diver doesn’t talk much and the fake seaweed doesn’t taste so good.
not when you’ve been feasting on the wild weeds of adventure and reckless abandon.
On another note, I stumbled across another photographer and his buddy making the same cross country adventure in the opposite direction around the same time as us, from LA to Brooklyn (Really, what are the odds of that one?).
I have to say, once I got over missing Glacier, I’ve really been enjoying our trip a lot more. Even the train ride wasn’t so bad. We were treated to one of the most amazing sunsets right as we approached Glacier which we would never have seen had we decided to bike there. After that, we mostly tried to sleep the rest of the way to Spokane. Unlike New York where life outside is always visible from a train window, out in God’s country it’s pitch dark. In a way, it was probably best this way so that we could forget all that we were missing and focus on what lay ahead.
Our train got in to Spokane at 2:30AM which left us with very few options for lodging. We were downtown which meant all the hotels were expensive and I didn’t care to spend money on a 5 hour hotel stay before they kicked us out in the morning. Nor did either of us relish the thought of finding a campsite at that forsaken hour. So, a night in the train station was what we settled on. For better or worse, it was not long before we were awoken by the security guard and sent off the discover what the city had in store for us.
As I would later acknowledge, Spokane was good for the soul. The weather was excellent that morning as we searched out a nice place to grab some breakfast. We quickly decided on Satellite Diner but were none pleased when they didn’t open till 8AM and it was only 6:30. So, to burn time, we played on the giant Radio Flyer wagon in the park. Good times. Also, it gave Marissa time to look up an old friend who lives in Boston but grew up in the city and was able to make some great suggestions. Better yet, he called up his parent’s Lisa and Steve on our behalf and arranged for a lovely home-cooked meal and a roof over our heads. Thanks Blair!
After a great breakfast, we stopped by the local bicycle shop to pick up another rear tire for my bike. The Continental Touring Plus tires have only lasted exactly 1300 miles each before going bald. They haven’t given me a flat yet so I should be thankful but that seems awfully short lived for a touring tire. I replaced the rear with a Continental Top Contact folding tire which was half off from $90 and was handmade in Germany, not Taiwan. We even got Marissa’s bike tuned up for free as well as another offer for a place to stay, which we had to turn down. Thanks to everyone at Two Wheel Transit!
With most of the day still ahead of us, we took Blair’s advice and headed up the hill to Manito Park for a nap in the sun and then a stroll through the Japanese and formal gardens. Before we knew it, we were off again to his parent’s house for a great dinner and a lot of good company. It felt so good to have a nice, warm, home-cooked meal after all that time cooking in the cold through Montana. We both felt incredibly refreshed and ready to hit the hills ahead of us. It was such a huge turn around in a very short amount of time I think we were both a bit surprised.
Of course, we got a late start the next day after eating a massive breakfast and pulling all our gear back in from where we had scattered it about the house. We only managed 60 miles the next day but it was an incredibly gorgeous ride through some back roads before linking up with RT 395 on our way to Colville. I wanted to go further because the more we did that day the less we would have to do before our first major climb of the trip, Sherman’s Pass.
I can’t really ever remember being this exhausted day in and day out. It’s kinda crazy. I used to be a pretty intense swimmer back in the day and I can remember numerous practices where we were swimming more miles than a typical track training run. I could do that everyday for 4 months straight. Maybe I’m just getting older now because I can barely even get my legs out of bed. We finished biking to Madison, WI last night from Milwaukee all in one day and are planning on taking a rest day to explore the city. It’s almost one of our last decent metropolitan destinations other than Minneapolis before we really find ourselves out in the middle of nowhere. Anyhow, I still owe you all a recap of our Chicago visit so here goes.
As I said before, we had put out some feelers looking for a place to stay that wouldn’t cost us much money. I asked around on Facebook and contacted a few people who I thought might have some friends in the city. We got next to nothing at first but over the next 24 hours, the options started piling up. First, I tried a friend of a friend who I knew was following us on the blog. She said yes but I knew I was pushing the last minute notice and that was before we decided on the rest day in Valparaiso so we ended up passing on that (thanks Sarah!). Then, I found a place in Oak Park where my old boss’s last assistant now lives (thanks Dustin for offering to help us out on such short notice). My brother Evan then hooked us up with a good friend of his in Oak Park as well who was available and definitely willing to help (thanks Brian!). My friend Jen back in NYC even took it upon herself to contact everyone she knew in Chicago on our behalf to find something that might work. All of these options would have worked for us and we would have considered ourselves very fortunate. What we finally ended up with was beyond anything we could have possibly imagined.
My friend, Scott Frances, who is also a very talented photographer I work with frequently in the city stepped up to the plate when he heard we were looking for a place to stay in the windy city. His wife happens to be great friends with a fella named Joe King, a very successful restaurateur in Chicago. Turns out, Joe lives right downtown in the restaurant district and has a 3 bedroom, 3 bath condo that just happens to be completely empty during the time we were planning on coming in. Joe was off to Iowa to take his some to college for the first time but we were more than welcome to shack up for as long we liked. I think he was trying to outdo all of Ohio by spoiling us beyond belief without even knowing it.
So we set off from Valparaiso in good spirits knowing that we finally had something good lined up for us. I was a bit nervous about riding in to the city since I knew almost nothing about the surrounding geography of Chicago. What we found was one of the most bike friendly cities I have ever ridden in. Chicago apparently has one of the most extensive systems of parks and bike paths in the country that are all interconnected and very well signed. It was almost impossible to get lost once you found your way in. Our ride was to be about 60 miles and I think about 80% was on dedicated bike paths. They were not always in the best condition but they were safe and very easy to follow. Most it was fairly nondescript until we actually spotted the city on the edge of the lake. From there, we passed by the UC campus and Jackson Park. I was extremely excited about this bit since I immediately recognized it as the site for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. I have been a bit obsessed with this since reading Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City. Marissa was probably a bit scared by the way my smile stretched past my ears and my eyes practically fell out they were open so wide. I think she was impressed though once I filled her in and she actually saw what I had been chatting about incessantly since we crossed the city limits. Plus, we got to see the Museum of Science and Industry from the outside, which was one of the few remaining buildings from the fair.
The rest of the ride in was fairly sublime as the sun began to set and the skyline grew out of the horizon. After so many miles of long, empty roads, it was weird seeing so many cyclists cruising the pathways. I kept nodding and waving to each as we passed but quickly remembered that we were no longer an anomaly except for our crazy, over-stuffed tank-bikes. Now, we were just a bigger nuisance for the triathletes to get around. 60 miles of stop and go city riding has us beat by the time we showed up at Joe’s door but all that passed as soon as he swept us in to his fantastic condo. He really was in the middle of downtown, just block up from Michigan Ave. with a space to match the locale. He was heading out to help his son pack but first he gave us the quick tour with explicit instructions to go through all cabinets to find and use whatever we needed. There was also a number of good wines and bubbly to choose from, not to mention the liquor and choice selects he had set out already for us. Oh, and he made reservations for us at his restaurant, Le Colonial, just a block down the street.
The next day Joe took off to Iowa while we toured the city for a few days. I took Marissa to see Millennium Park with the all the architecture and sculptures, including the Bean, of course. We toured the waterfront, enjoying walking around the city and leaving the bikes at home. A visit to the planetarium was a little lackluster but ice-cream quickly pushed that away. For dinner, we ended up in Greek Town gobbling up taziki and gyros before shuffling home along the river marveling at all the great architecture. The next day was time for errands and we set off to find some bike shops where we could find Marissa a new saddle. We were both so glad to spend the extra day to bike around on our stripped down rides. Our quest took us out of downtown and into the surrounding area that we would never likely have visited otherwise. After bouncing around to a few different shops, we finally found her a lovely Brooks B17 S in honey. We rolled around quite a bit more, taking in as much of the city as possible before our extended stay was over. I think we were both pretty impressed by how much Chicago had to offer and quickly agreed we could easily live here (the standard question we apply to every new town we roll through).
I’d really don’t want to have to lump all of the great experiences we had in Ohio into one post like I did with Pennsylvania but we’re practically out of Indiana already and it seems I’m out of time. So, let’s see how this works. (Update: Looks like it’s a long one. Hope you’re not too bored)
From Pymatuning State Park in PA, it only took us a day to reach my parent’s house in Bainbridge, OH riding along Route 87 the whole way. It was fun feeling the anticipation build as we passed each new road sign. First there was the first store sign for a Lake Erie business, then this many miles to Cleveland, then entering Ohio, entering Geauga County, Chagrin Valley such and such, and onward. We passed through Amish country, bought some amazing peaches, pickles, and continued on our way. There were definitely a lot more hills than Marissa cared for but we knew there would be a few good rest days ahead of us so we powered through. I was also able to point out all my old friend’s houses and favorite hang out spots that we passed along the way. Good fun.
My dad met us at the end of our street along with a few neighbors he passed along the way and told them of pending arrival Brooklyn. It was nice to see familiar faces again and have a bit of a welcoming party. My parents were caring for my grandmother that weekend as well so they decided to bring her up from Mansfield, OH to join in the homecoming celebration. For the next three days, we were positively ruined with BBQ chicken, cheeseburgers, steaks, hot dogs, pasta salad, fruit salad, some good home cooking, and lots of cold beer. Marissa was smothered with greetings from countless family and friends that stopped in to say hello and catch up on all our travels. She was also overwhelmed by, not one, but two “Happy Birthday” serenades from my family followed by ice-cream cake, cherry pie, chocolate pie, her own homemade banana cream pudding, and more of Cleveland’s own Great Lakes Brewery beer.
Since we had a fair amount of time off, we also got some important things done. I took both of our bikes in to a local bike shop them looked at and tuned up. No major work was needed but Marissa did end up with a new set of tires to replace her rotting gum-wall tires that probably came with the bike in ’93. We also drove in to downtown Cleveland to hit up Dodd’s, the local pro camera shop. Marissa was able to get all 20 of her rolls developed and contacted at half the cost of New York prices. Everything looked really great though she was a bit bummed the contacts were traditional dark-room prints but digital scans instead. We haven’t been able to find her any new Kodak Portra 400NC in a 220 roll anywhere but they had some similar Fuji film the we went with. I also picked up a new hot-shoe bubble-level to replace the one I lost while we were frolicking in the grass at our 500 mile mark.
One we had also been talking about a bit was picking up a video camera to help document our trip. We stopped by a Best Buy on the way home from Cleveland and I ended up getting a Kodak Play Sport for about $150. Not bad for a little camera that can shoot 1080p, is rugged, and completely waterproof. Hopefully, we can up-load a bit of video now to the blog to help share our trip a bit better.
After resting up and packing on a few extra pounds, it was finally time to set off again on our adventure. Thankfully, our atrophied muscles didn’t have too much work to do since we were going to stay with my friends Clayton and Nicole in Rocky River, on the west side of Cleveland. Once we were packed, and said hello and good-bye to yet another good friend who stopped by (great seeing you, Monica!), we cruised down into Chagrin Falls. We stopped by the falls to do our stretching before riding along the Chagrin River and then on up into Shaker Heights to see all the mansions along S. Park Rd. It was definitely reminiscent of childhood as we called out to each other which homes we would gladly live in and which ones we would probably puke in. In University Circle, I took Marissa around to see all the world class institutions Cleveland has to offer like the Cleveland Art Museum, the Botanical Gardens, Severance Hall where the Cleveland Orchestra plays, Case Western Reserve University, and the Cleveland Clinic. We coasted in to downtown along Euclid Ave. We did a couple slow loops around downtown for more sight-seeing before we made our way westward along the lake.
In Rocky River, Nicole had generously cooked up a tasty dinner of pulled pork sandwiches that we gobbled down before heading out to see Inception. Great movie and a nice way to end our little summer sightseeing ride. The next morning had us riding out along the lake on our way to Vermillion, OH where we stopped in to see my cousin Jill. She treated us to the most ridiculously tasty BLTs we’ve ever had. The bacon was as thick as a steak which she got from an local farmer’s market and the tomatoes and lettuce were fresh picked from her garden. Oh god, I salivate just thinking about those sandwiches. From Jill’s house it was only supposed to be an hour ride to her parent’s house in Huron. Of course, we were quickly way-layed by our favorite sign, “PEACHES!” What should have been a quick 5 minute stop to load up and gobble a few down quickly turned into an hour when John Knight, the owner and farmer, offered us a tour of his orchard. We sampled so many peaches he picked straight from the tree that we almost fell into a food coma right there. He told us all about each type of tree he had planted and how he maintained and ran his entire farm as a one-man operation. I think that was final straw that secured peaches firmly in the No. 1 spot on our favorite fruits of the tour list.
Dinner at Aunt Carrol and Uncle Gregg’s house was more steak and corn on the grill while we enjoyed the company of Jill’s adorable young kids. We let them set up our tent almost all by themselves which is a sure testament to MSR’s great design. Even a 3 year old can do it! As if the day wasn’t good enough, my aunt and uncle packed us in to the back of their Jeep and drove us over to their boat for a late-night cruise on Lake Erie. It went from a magical, relaxing cruise to a truly surreal experience when we stopped for a swim a few hundred yards from shore only to realize that the water was only waist deep and silky-sandy on the bottom. Marissa and I both laughed as we walked along on our knees, staring at the stars and the distant fireworks from Cedar Point in Sandusky.
After one of our signature late morning starts around 1pm, we shipped off for a smooth ride along the backroads of northwest Ohio. A fairly uneventful day turned a bit gross as the sun went down and we were met by thousands upon thousands of gnats that came out to play. Donning bandanas, caps, and sunglasses, we rode on, struggling to push on despite number bugs in our eyes and throats. As the sun slipped away, we realized we would have to camp for the night and so we began looking around for some friendly farmers. I began evaluating each barn and silo, porch swing and lawn ornament, trying to decide whether to inhabitants of each house were friendly or not, would they welcome two sweaty bike kids onto their property or chase us off with shotguns and barking dogs. We actually tried a few doors bells with out any response before we spotted Andy from way down the road. He was out replacing some belts on a tractor chopper and we knew he couldn’t avoid us by running inside like that last lady. So we stopped and asked if he might mind a tent on his property for the night. Instead of immediately turning us away, he quickly fetched some ice-cold Gatorade’s and took us down the road to his own farm, this being his parent’s house. There, he got us set-up on a nice patch of grass, introduced us to Tessa, his super-friendly pup, and abated our thirst with more cold beer. So slightly buzzed, we settled in to our dew-soaked tent with no rain-fly for once and fell asleep, happy and content under the stars.
This is our combat attire when we go off fighting bugs across northwest Ohio
The next day saw more flat riding, this time along Route 6 again which was a bit sketchy with small shoulders and heavy truck traffic. After passing through Bowling Green, we quickly steered off the major roads and back onto our preferred county farm roads. Lots of pedaling, a couple angry dogs, no hills, and more bugs again brought us the setting sun. Anxious to find a resting spot earlier than we did the previous day, we decided to stop in Evansport, about 20 miles shy of the Indiana state border. Being aboutg 7 o’clock, the only thing left in this small town was the local bar so in we went looking for some new friends. After being offered a buggy spot to pitch our tent behind the bar by the friendly proprietors, we got to chatting with Jodie and Freddie. Upon informing them of our recent options for sleeping, they quickly offered their spacious 5 acre, pine covered property about 3 miles away. So off we went, us pedaling alongside their 4 wheeler they showed us the way. Once again, fortune smiled on us as we found ourselves swimming in a pool under the stars, sharing more beer, and enjoying some delicious pork roast, potatoes, and corn cooked over a blazing fire. Marissa has promised a bit more on this little adventure soon but suffice to say, we were spoiled rotten on our last day in Ohio.
The state is long gone but I feel somewhat obligated to write at least one post for each state we pass through (sorry Jersey, forgot about you).
We somehow managed to spend only two days cycling through the state which is amazing considering how long it took us to cross New York. For the most part, we felt pretty let down by PA. It wasn’t exactly a bad state to pass through but I think after NY, we were just expecting a little more. Plus, Marissa wasn’t feeling so hot for a few days and every hill was a huge chore. We were so excited about the prospect of flat land that each new rise felt like a slap in the face. We also missed our amazing bike map with it’s elevation chart, handy resource guide, and it’s now friendly dog-eared charm. Oh, and berms. New York had ‘em, Pennsylvania didn’t. So lots of hilly roads, bad pains, no shoulder to ride in, and no detailed map left us filling pretty slighted.
I suppose the state wasn’t all bad though. Mostly we just wanted to get across it and make it to Ohio in time for Marissa’s birthday and to see my parent’s for the weekend; PA was just in the way. We did manage to find some more Perry’s so that was a plus. The first day was really tough though so when we came across our Perry’s sign and it just happened to be sitting across the street from a closed drive-in movie theater, we felt like it was a good time to call it quits. So, happily satiated, we rolled our bikes into the grassy lot and started made camp behind the projection building. I’d been wanting to do this for a while now since we started passing so many drive-ins across New York. It was definitely high on the list of favorite campsites from the get go. We had plenty of time left in the day to lounge around, take some pictures, and still get to bed early.
The next day promised to be a chore since we had to make it the rest of the way across the state or we would never get to my parent’s house in Ohio. Our route had us coming down from Jamestown, NY, joining the Pennsylvania State Bike Route Y and then ending in Jamestown, PA just below Pymatuning State Park. For the most part, this leg was about as boring and tedious as possible. More hills, some sketchy highway riding, non-descript towns, and just a generally long day. We were both glad to hear that the campgrounds had showers and plenty of camp spots of available. PA did even try to redeem itself in the end when a friendly stranger outside the gas station in Jamestown kindly passed along a ten dollar bill to cover our camping fees at the gas station. That’s the second time now we’ve been offered money on our trip. We must look pretty miserable and helpless.
So that was PA. We were gone by 12 the next day and on to Ohio and a few well earned rest days. Oh, and Marissa’s birthday.