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.
Holed up in another motel in Glasgow, MT at the moment. We had intended to take just one rest day yesterday here but the night before, after doing about 82 miles in a little over 7 hours of riding, we only made it to Nashua, about 15 miles short of Glasgow. We ended the day riding for an hour after dark on Rt. 2 which was a little bit amazing and a little bit scary. Figuring we could do the last little bit on our rest day and being very exhausted, we camped for the night with only some Triscuits and cranberries for dinner.
We woke to a very chilly, rainy morning that barely nearly kept us huddled in our sleeping bags for the day. Starving and cold, we found ourselves in Bergie’s up the rode and with a menu that started with “Bike Trekker’s Breakfast.” Pefrect! 2 jumbo pancakes, 3 eggs, 4 slices of bacon or sausage, and a pile of hasbrowns. And best of all, it stated beneath it “If you finish, we pay for it” Even better! Of course, I quickly ordered this without even thinking while Marissa picked the Adventurer’s Breakfast just below it that didn’t come with hashbrowns. I suppose we should have been clued in by that little offer to pay for the meal that something was amiss. Turns out those 2 jumbo pancakes that we each got were a full 16″ hotcake, each. Ugh. We both managed to finish about half of each plus all our protein and my hashbrowns with lots of coffee, tea and milk. So much for becoming competitive eating champions after this trip.
It was still raining and cold when we decided it was finally time to finish those 15 miles to our hotel (there were none in Nashua). Thinking we were properly fueled up and bundled up as best we could, we set out for what should have been a 1 hr 15min ride. What we didn’t take into account was that this was Montana and the weather is anything but predictable. So, instead of a wet, sluggish ride, we got a snowing, freezing, windy ride from hell. The snow was actually hitting us in the eyes! Plus, no shoulders on the road meant it was anything but playful as the trucks and semis went whizzing by. Needless to say, I got a lot of angry looks from Marissa. By the time we rolled up to our little motel, neither of us could feel our feet or open our mouths for fear of saying something we might regret later.
So, having spoiled what was supposed to be our rest day, we are now on day two in the La Casa Motel. It’s not such a bad place though and with all the extra time, we were able to go out and get some good waterproof gloves and do some really good meals. And update this here blog, so lucky you.
The rest of our time in Montana, and North Dakota for that matter, has been pretty nice. The mornings are chilly but within an hour of riding, we are quickly shedding layers. It’s a lot of flat, endless roads with a lot of oil trucks and pick-em up trucks. Oh, and an update from the end of the last post. Feelilng pretty down about all the wind we were getting in Rugby, we started asking around the motel for a ride to Minot. We ended up piling our bikes into the back of another pick-up owned by a man named Rory who worked as an oil pipe-line inspector. What would have taken us all day to ride took us all of 60 minutes to drive. Feeling more than thankful, we excitedly shared all the great stories so far with our new friend. I don’t know what exactly stuck with Rory but, as we pulled into town, he suddenly announced that he was taking us straight to a nearby hotel and putting us up for the night. That’s right, he payed for a $100/night stay in the local Holiday Inn before he headed straight back to Rugby. Thanks Rory! And best of all (well, not really but it was a treat), I got to watch the Browns game the next morning in restaurant next day.
One other nice little highlight worth sharing was two nights ago. We were rolling through Culberston on our first day in Montana and stopped for groceries before trying to make it to Bainville for the night. Outside though, we met Mary Lou who stopped to chat about our trip. Upon hearing our final destination was inside the Indian reservation, she quickly steered us to her daughter’s house just shy of town where we could camp out behind their barn. What could have been a sketchy experience turned out great. Laurie and her husband Buzz were very welcoming as was my new best friend Monte, their German shepherd. We slept great as Monte prowled the farm, barking at all the coyotes and then sharing our breakfast in the morning.
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).
We’re a day out of Chicago and just had likely the worst day, or at least night, of the trip so far. So, I figured it’s probably a good time and mood to fill you all in on Indiana. That’s mostly because there’s not much to say. It’s flat and it all looks the same. There you go.
We rode Route 6 most of the way across from Ohio. One of the highlights of the state came on our first meal though. We stopped in the town of Butler and found this little mom ‘n pop restaurant called the Eatin’ Haus. It seemed like an odd choice but the town was mostly empty, this place was open, and it looked like the old folks were digging it. As a quick side note, it seems like that’s pretty much the only people left in most of these towns we pass through. Or maybe we’re just old souls ourselves and are naturally drawn to such locales. Anyhow, in went starving and out we came stuffed to gills and only $24 lighter. That included two trips to the salad bar, two Arnold Palmers (our drink of choice), two hearty broasted dark chicken meals, and two slices of pie. Amazing. Marissa had a smile stretched from ear to ear.
Since it was getting late, we decided to stop early in Waterloo and found a little roach motel, roaches included free of charge! Squeaky bed, lots of fly swatting, sandals in the shower of course, and a quick getaway the next morning. Well, by quick I mean 11am, which is about average it seems. Somehow though, we managed to put in our longest day after that. Maybe we were just so anxious to put that all behind us. Either way, we found ourselves looking for another treat of a motel 72 miles later and were easily drawn in to the Bel-Air Motel outsider Walkerton. This was much better. I mean, way more class through and through. They had HD converter boxes on the 70′s TV and porcelain ash tray as opposed to that plastic thing in the last spot. So, in celebration we cooked up our favorite/default meal of the trip. It’s pretty simple and tasty. We start with some small, spork friendly pasta (pinwheels in this case), then fry up some chopped onions and peppers with olive oil and some spices. Dump that on the pasta, then pile on some tuna fish for protein, diced green apple, and some avocado. Salt and pepper to hell and then drown the whole mess in more olive oil. Delicious. Of course, it barely fits in our bowls but we that’s okay. We were pretty beat after that long ride so we took our time the following day and barely pushed ourselves into Valparaiso. We had spent the morning putting out feelers for a potential place to stay on our way into Chicago and started getting some hits by that night. We’d been spoiled by our recent motel stays and decided to push our budget and find another, a Super 8 on the edge of town in a real suburban nightmare.
While we were stocking up at the Target across the street though, we had our best experience of the state. Having met so many good people on our trip and becoming accustomed to small towns, we didn’t think anything of just leaning our steeds up against the wall and walking in. When we came back though, we met Jacquie, who was much more concerned about Bernie and Patrek and had decided it was in our best interest to watch over them until we got back. As we got to talking, the question of lodging eventually came up and we mentioned the Super 8. Jacquie was unimpressed. Wouldn’t we rather crash at her house that she isn’t even staying at? Well, yeah, that would be pretty great but we already signed in at the motel. We pondered this conundrum quite a bit when we got back to our room and eventually decided that it would be against the best interests of our trip to turn down such hospitality. So after an easy night of resting and swimming, we decided to spend an extra day in Valparaiso recouping and planning our Chicago attack.
This was definitely a good idea. We were puckered, sore, and chaffed and a rest day was definitely needed. I can’t say we did a whole lot but that was just fine seeing as there’s not a whole lot to do in Valpo anyhow. Mostly, we sat around in a coffee shop sucking up free internet, finishing the last post, and eventually a nice Mexican dinner. It was a bit surreal though coming back to an empty house, doing laundry, hanging around, listening to music. Could this be our lives someday? No more tents or campstoves, endless pedaling, constant movement. I don’t think I’m ready for that just yet.
Many thanks to Jacquie and her friend Andy for their generosity and trust. It might have been nothing for you but a roof over our heads, a shower, a kitchen to cook in, and a washer for our stinky clothes is everything to us. Good luck in the new house.
The next day saw use pedaling due north for Chicago and a new adventure and another new state for Marissa. Lots to say on that bit of the trip. For now, we’re just leaving Milwaukee on our way to Madison, WI and hopefully another rest day if we can manage it.
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.
“they…they taste just like chicken…when they’re that young. yeh…yeh can practically suck tha meat right offa tha bones!”
he then audibly licks his chops and makes mumbly “mmnnyum yum” sounds before glancing over at me and busting into a laugh.
this, of course, makes me laugh even harder.
we’re bouncing along a back road of Olean, NY piled three-up in the cab of a faithful, old mottled-tan pickup truck. our bikes are strapped down sideways in the flatbed. im wedged clean in the middle between andrew and our wild game connoisseur, keith miller. the delicious youth he speaks of is peacefully grazing in a field dappled in the golden, magic hour of sunset. we are passing a meadow full of spotted, puppy-sized, gangly-legged fawns, blissfully unaware of a truckful of people eyeing them up like highschool girls.
“shit! you can pretty much just eat tha bones too!”
i keep laughing even though i have come to realize his jokes are probably based on truth.
we’ve only just met keith a few minutes earlier at his fruit stand farmers market. you see, one roadside food item we seem habitually keep stocking up on is the ridiculously velvety, syrupy Pennsylvania peach. we can’t seem to go one day without stopping to pick up a bag and eat at least half of the batch right there in the road. so late that afternoon, when we saw the sign “PEACHES!” along our route, i shouted it out exactly as it was written and did a u-turn in the middle of traffic.
it turns out they were starting to close up shop. andrew and i ran in and promised we’d be fast. when we were checking out, the man at the counter gruffly asked the question we’ve grown used to hearing:
“where ya folks headed?”
“today? tryin’ ta get to jamestown…but ultimately vancouver, bc…”
“jamestown, eh? and yer goin up through little valley? naw..naw…that’s too outta the way if yer tryin’ ta get tuh jamestown.”
i asked if he wouldn’t mind taking a look at our bike map to point out an alternate route he might know of. one that might just allow us to circumvent the massive hill we have ahead of us. so the three of us huddled around our now, cotton-y, dog-eared NY state bike map at the check out counter of a closed-up roadside market stand.
out in the parking lot, andrew turned to me and asked “so you think that route is a possibility or just crazy talk?”
i sighed and slumped down next to our bikes in the parking lot, feeling sluggish in the late afternoon sun. “i dunno…a little bit of both, maybe.” i dig out a colossal-sized peach and get covered in juice before letting the thought of the rest of our route even enter my consciousness. we still have a long ways to go and the sun is already tapping out.
“so when’s the last time you two had a good home cooked meal?” the man from behind the counter asks us as he brushes past, finishing up closing the market.
“well…we had lunch at dave’s diner earlier…?”
“HAHA! i said when’s the last time you had a GOOD meal!?”
he brushes past us again and appears to be getting things together to head home in his truck. we begin trudging back to our bikes and get ready to leave as well when he turns to me and says “so…i was thinking. i live about 6 miles down the road from here. and, my wife’s back home makin’ dinner. it’s gettin’ late in the day. we have an extra bed and a warm shower for you two if yeh’d like ta come back home with me and we’ll put you up for the night! how about it?”
this man is just talkin’ dirty to us now. showers? DINNER? BED??! he’s definitely just twisted our arms. andrew and i share a quick glance at each other and shyly agree to his terms.
the man smiles and juts his big bear paw of a hand out to us in introduction, like he’s just finished the agreements of a large business transaction. “my name’s keith miller n’ this here’s my farm stand. i hope you two like pot-roast.”
i really cannot express the feeling of the meal i have just finished. it is like a swelling joy in my chest that can only be evacuated by a large contented sigh. i am so full but also feel so nourished, something that has been seriously lacking in our roadside diner-food gastro-explorations. my eyes almost well up with tears as i sop up the last of lori miller’s home made spiced applesauce from my plate with a small piece of soft potato bread slathered in butter.
“you’ll have to save some room for lori’s bluebarb crumble! it’s blueberry and rhubarb mixed together!”
i feel absolutely spoiled rotten.
lori is a terriffic cook, something that comes from years of experience while raising their three (now fully-grown) children, no doubt. this would explain the “nourished” feeling that lingers like an extra flavor on the tounge. i sense there is a certain saddness to our dinner as lori and keith feed us. as lori later explains it, “keith really misses having his kids around.” as keith elaborated during breakfast the next morning “i rarely get to do this, sitting down and eating in the morning, now that the kids are gone. so i had the two of you come home with me so i could sit and talk to someone a little bit, ’cause i’m lonely now. so i’ll have the two of you know…you’ve been used!”
we all laugh at this joke too. but this one is most definitely based on truth.
it’s a strange thing, the concept of time. as i type this on the eve of my 24th birhday, in the midst of probably one of the hardest things i’ve ever done in my entire life, i feel old. sort of worn out (the muscles complaining more than me, really). and yet, i am just at the cusp of the quarter life. i’ve barely chipped away at the beginning of a stone that is yet to be sculpted into something useful. i thought about this as i quietly inched my way around the perimeter of the miller household and examined all the family portraits. life frozen in time like a segmented diagram of a butterfly’s development stages. the miller’s son and two daughters, from babies to blossoming adulthood. final transformations complete. that is the real mark of time passing, watching a little person that looks like you turn into a big person that kind-of-maybe looks like you and being there for most of it. and then you’re allowed to feel old and worn and like you’ve actually lived. and then i wonder how i compare. where the hell do i fit on this butterfly-life diagram thing? is it okay if im a caterpillar on a bicycle? maybe im still an egg. and then i tell myself to relax. there is only right now and right now i’m standing on plush carpeting with a roof over my head, digesting an amazing meal, awaiting my turn for a hot shower and im more than okay with that.
that sense of peace stays with me for the next few days. lori miller sent us packing the next morning with a batch of her homemade applesauce and some fluffy, sweet zucchini-pineapple muffins. keith asked us to stop by his market again before we left town, so he could bid us goodbye and stock us up with at least 10 lbs of the sweetest peaches, plums and nectarines. after countless “thank-you’s”, a handshake, and a hug goodbye, andrew and i get back on our bikes in the exact same spot we stood the evening before. though my muscles still complain a bit, i’m popping motrin like they were orange flavored Tic-Tacs and i mentally prepare myself for the next topographic “spike” on our bike map, none of these things faze me, because today i feel infinitely wealthy.