Tuesday, June 30

Two Great Nights, Here's for Hoping

After taking a week off, I've been back on the road for another four days. Taking the first day a bit slow, the next two I tackled back at full force, hitting 80 a day. Today, I write from Marion, KY, a small city right at the edge of Kentucky and Illinois. The past two nights have been lovely stays - the first being right next to a lake and the second being at the First Baptist Church in Sebree.

The campsite was at a US Army Corps of Engineers campsite, on the Rough River Dam. I got into the campsite after hours and all the signs seemed to tell me to set up camp and pay in the morning. When the office opens. At 10am. Now usually, by 10am, I'm taking my pre-lunch break a good 20 miles away from where I awoke. Hence, a free site was in the making.

The tenants from the night before had left some trash and burnt offerings in the fire pit, so after collecting a bit of brush I was able to put a fire together - making it the first for the trip. In the month I've been on the road, I've learned that my favorite time to ride is just after 6pm. Sometimes even closer to 7:30. Its at that time that I can smell the smoke from people's backyard fires as I ride by. So to actually be graced with the presence of a fire Sunday night was quite a time.

Just after getting the fire started, a white van pulled up to the end of my campsite and waited. It was clear to tell there was some kind of park person inside. Busted. I walked towards the vehicle, fully prepared to dish over the cash, when a woman stepped out the passenger side, introduced herself as the Camp attendant, and told me I had paid.

"I what? Uh, what's the occasion?" I questioned.
"It's your birthday." the driver responded.

Apparently, the Camp Attendant is sympathetic to cyclists and it was my lucky night. She pinned the "Paid" stub to the reflector at the end of the driveway, told me about a good breakfast place down the road, and after hearing me thank her yet again, added "Besides, it's just one shower."

Which of course begged my response, "There're showers here?"

On my ride yesterday I rode through Utica, KY - home of my good friend Clayton. Taking a bit to get a hold of him I rested at the Fast Fuel shop on the corner of 140 and 431. After getting a bit restless at the local gas station, I headed across the street to find the Volunteer Fire Station. I had remembered seeing something about the Firehouse on the back of my map the night before and rechecked for details. I found the place was cycler friendly, explaining why it was completely unlocked and unmanned. Walking into the air conditioned building, I found a log for cyclists to sign, mattresses, a fridge, and a number of dry snacks in the cabinets. Lying down on the mattress, I waited for Clayton to call.

I awoke as the phone vibrated against the cold floor. It wasn't Clayton, but after taking it I found I had had a missed call from Clayton. When we finally met up, I had learned that he had come all the way out to Fast Fuel, asking the tenant there if "a tall guy probably wearing a speedo thingy" had come through. Following his directions, I headed back to his house with him and Zeke, another friend from Centre who just happened to be visiting for the day.

After meeting his family, the three of us caught up on what each had been doing for the past year, as it had been that long since we were all together at Centre. I learned Zeke is getting ready to head north to Chicago's Divinity school while Clayton is going south to Tennessee to make music with another friend, Scott. It was hard leaving, as his mother had invited me for Chicken, but I continued on towards Sebree, KY. I would have stayed - free meal, are you kidding? - but while resting at the Firehouse, I had called ahead to the cyclist hostel and the woman on the other side told me she'd have dinner cooking when I arrived. And since I had made the call a few hours before, I didn't know how much trouble the hostel had gone through to prepare dinner.

I had heard about Sebree as early as Afton, Virginia. When resting at the Cookie Lady's place, an Eastbounder, Nick, shared the good news of Sebree with me, describing it as just like the cycle house, except without the memorabilia. Tell you what, Nick was not far off. Minus the News Team and memorabilia, Sebree had it all - laundry, stocked fridges, mattresses, couches, TV, pool and ping pong tables, shower, etc. Of course, I wasn't quite able to enjoy the ping pong being the only one there for the night.

Bob and Violet have been at the Church there for 30 years, and half that time running this hostel for cyclists as well. They used to make the cyclers homemade ice cream, but have since stopped as it became too expensive to make that much ice cream. The two had me up for dinner - pork roast, Lima beans, noodles, salad, apple sauce, sauteed squash, and sweat tea! - and we discussed the history of the hostel. They said they'll get between 150-200 cyclists a summer and have each up for dinner, which for many is their first meal at a table - I guess I've been extra blessed thus far. I also learned that the night before they had 6 Westbounders, which means there are six people for me to try to catch if I'm looking to ride with someone. After dinner, the two prayed for my journey, and I was off to bed. Talk about a great nights sleep. Mmm.

As I said, I'm in Marion, looking to take the Ferry across into Illinois in a couple hours, where I'll try and rest in Elizabethtown, IL. Bob tells me Elizabethtown is a pretty area, lots of old buildings, so I'm hoping to settle with some extra time to enjoy the area. We'll see.

Friday, June 26

The Ride Continues

After a great 72 hours of funraising - the journey continues. I'm still under my goal but have been convinced to keep riding. What convinced me? An incredible amount of individual donations along with the two sponsorships mentioned below - BGI and The Hub. That and the prospects of continued donations of course. Obviously, at this point I'd like to thank then the many folks who have clearly expressed their desire to see this ride until completion. Without your generosity, this would not be possible. My debt to society increases.

It's funny, I was speaking with my good friend Shauna when it hit me - this stop in Danville has been just as much a part of the journey as the Appalachians. Yeah, so I sweat more on the mountains and I was probably even more thirsty. But mentally, this has been just as much a challenge as Hayters Gap or that 27 mile incline called the Blue Ridge Parkway. Comfortable living, slim outlook for raising enough cash, cheap flights back to New York, vacation in Northern Michigan if I didn't continue - the challenges add up, each in their own way scratching at the vision of the Pacific, the vision that has brought me thus far. What seemed to be a daily occurrence, the outlook for the journey waxed and waned when confronted by these challenges. But no. Not anymore. Because of consistent encouragement from friends like Rob, Jonathan, Brian, Sarah, Shauna, my brother Will, Dan, Mark, the list goes on. Because of encouragement, whether in word or deed, this Pacific vision stands the victor. (Can you tell I'm excited?)

Tomorrow I hit it again hard, riding on. I'll come into the Hub around 8:30am, grab my last free cup of coffee (maybe not my last) and pedal onward. I'm excited for the next portion of the trip - Kansas nears where I'll be joined by Grace and Ashley for some mileage. But first, Kentucky, Illinois, and Missouri. Whoa son, don't get ahead of yourself.

Hear you me - injuries aside - this ride will come to completion on the coast of California (Pacific skinny dipping. Who's in?)

Wednesday, June 24

A New Option - Funraising

Last night I was able to enjoy one of my favorite past times here in Danville. When I was living in the apartment with Rob and Mark, we used to put cushions out on the porch roof and sit out there, beers in hand, watching the cars pass on Third St. and discuss life's questions. Thankfully, Rob remains in the same apartment which allowed for a return to the roof. We sat there for hours, accompanied by a good friend, Jonathan, discussing ways in which this ride could continue. As I said, Rob is good for leveling out all the options and finding what works. Jonathan claims Rob got the skill from him, so the fact that they were both present meant I was in good hands. The following is what we came up with.

I met with Jim Davis, my former boss and owner of The Hub, again the favorite café here in Danville, this morning about creating sponsorship opportunities for businesses around the area. He was onboard for the price of advertising and I am proud to announce that The Hub is the first official sponsor of this ride, contributing to the cause of getting the word out on Sojourners, the work we do, and the need for Asylum reform. I'm also pleased to announce that after some phone calls to Indianapolis, I've also acquired a sponsorship from Bicycle Garage of Indianapolis (BGI). So know we're that much closer to making this trip happen and get the word out on Sojourners thanks to both the Hub and BGI!
But the fun doesn't stop there. In the short time since yesterday's post went public, I've received a number of emails and phone calls inquiring about the journey's end, each sharing their grief (of sorts) and hopes that I would be able to continue (if anything for a continued reading of the blog). In the calls and emails, a reoccurring suggestion has been that of making use of Paypal. Now, I'm not a fan of fundraising; I mean, who likes asking for money? In fact, I refuse to fundraise. But fun raising, that I can do. Thus the new option. You've read about The Purist, The Compromise, etc. - well now meet The Fun Raiser.

Below (and on the side) you will find a donate button in which blog followers are able to contribute to (and here's the Fun part!) the cause of getting the word out on Sojourners, the work we do, and the need for Asylum reform. Help make this possible, join me in funraising!

Tuesday, June 23

Bike Trouble and a Dilemma

I rode into Kentucky Sunday afternoon, reaching the 1000 mile mark.  In fact, it was exactly 1002 miles from New York City to the boarder of Virginia and Kentucky via my route (and a few wrong turns).  On the way into Kentucky however, there were a number of hills and bits of the Appalachians that got the best of me and my steed.

Not sure if I posted it, but late last week I broke another spoke.  Earlier in my trip I had broken a spoke in Pennsylvania but was able to ride a bit further before getting it fixed in D.C. so when my second broke late last week, I figured I could make it to the nearest bike shop before anything else would go wrong.  And I did.  Well, sort of.
The day I was riding on US 11, I got into Abingdon, VA and found a bike shop.  I told the fellas working what my problem was and
 they took a look at it.  Apparently their mechanic was at a wedding and the spokes they did have were the wrong size... so they sent me on my way.  Next bike shop on route?  Danville Kentucky, 200 miles before me, or Damascus Virginia, nearly 100 miles in the other directions.  Not wanting to backtrack, I pressed on.
The area between Virginia and Kentucky, still mountainous, was beating me up with it's seemingly pointless up and down.  Somewhere in Breaks Interstate Park I broke my third spoke, which meant at the time I had two broken spokes.  Now a bit of science.
Spokes are what connect the outer circle of the wheel, that which connects with the road, to the inner circle of the wheel, that which connects with my bike frame.  If a spoke is missing, the proper tension is not present c
ausing the two circles to be unbalanced, resulting in a wobbly ride.  If two spokes are missing, you get a super wobbly ride and the outside circle, that which connects with the ground, begins to connect with the frame of your bike as it rubs against the inside of the fork of the frame.
Imagine this scenario.  You're riding up a mountain on a bike at a slow speed (it's steep).  Attached to your seat post is a rope trailing behind you with a person holding the other end, walking up the hill at your pace (it's steep).  Every two pedals you make, the person holding the rope give you a tug backwards.  That's what it felt like with two broken spokes.  Every time the wobbled section of the tire came through my fork, it rubbed on the frame so hard that momentum nearly came to a standstill.  After a few miles of this, you can see how it might get a little old.
I stopped in Elkhorn City, KY, about 5 miles into Kentucky.  The town itself was pretty quiet - Main Street looked like an abandoned parking lot with grass growing through cracks, shops were out of business, and the only hopping spot seemed to be The Rusty Fork Cafe, a restaurant at the intersection of SR 80 and 197.  It was just after noon so I was needing to take my afternoon break anyway, so I walked the bike to a nearby park to make some food and figure out what I was going to do with this spoke problem.

(A softball game I caught in Elkhorn City, KY.  Good folks in Elkhorn - John sent me away with a couple Reese's Cups.)

By 6:00pm, I was beginning to worry.  I had made some phone calls and all signs pointed to no closer shop than Danville, again 200 miles away.  I called my former roommate Rob, to brainstorm.  He's good at that.
Back in 2007, Rob, my other friend Mark, and I walked the Camino de Santiago in Spain.  There was a moment right before we started of which we had to make some serious decisions concerning the walk.  I remember sitting on the ground at a train station in Germany as Rob led us through every option we had, discovering new ones as we thought it all out, in an attempt to solve the dilemma we had found ourselves in.
Similar to that day in the train station, Rob helped me think through the options.  Finally we settled on a solution both were happy with.  Rob would leave 30 minutes later, making the nearly 4 hour ride to Elkhorn City to pick me up and drive me to Danville, KY in order to have the bike serviced.  We got into DanVegas (as the kids call it...) around 2:30am.  What a road trip.  The whole time we conversed about my trip, the time he and Mark walked the Appalachian Trail, and whether or not this sort of break from the journey was 'legal'.
The next morning, I dropped the bike off at Ernst's shop, Danville Bike and Footwear, and made an early appearance at The Hub, the favorite Danville coffee shop and my place of work for just over a year while studying at Centre.  All the usuals were there and I enjoyed catching up with everyone.  Besides catching up with friends, I spent the day discussing with Rob what would happen from this point forward.
Allow me outline my options and then provide a brief pro and con afterwards.
The Purest - Rob drives another 400 miles to drop me off where I left off, 200 miles from Danville.
The Compromise - I ride 100 miles east of Danville and then back into Danville, amounting to the 200 miles I missed.
The Justified Excuse - Ride on from Danville.
Game Over - I'll explain below.
The Purist option requires a lot from Rob.  That's a con; but believe it or not, he's actually a purist when it comes to these long distance journeys (having hiked the AT) and favors this, despite having a full week of work ahead of him.  I could do this.
The Compromise option makes the same distance, but still leaves a portion of the trip untraversed.  It seems most likely as it's least troublesome for all.
The Justified Excuse option doesn't seem likely.  It derives its name from the 350+ miles I put in before actually heading westward - the portion from New York to Virginia - of which wasn't riding across the country so much as getting me to the place to ride across the country.  I suppose it even comes from the idea that when I get to the Pacific at San Diego, I plan on riding along the coast for another 250+ miles to Santa Barbara.  I'm not really feeling this option.
And now, the Game Over option. I haven't mentioned this before, mostly because I'm not really a fan, but it needs mentioning. If anything, for those faithfully following my journey.
Part of the adventure of this trip has been the fact that it's been on a low budget.  Correction: Very low budget.  I've learned however, that this sort of thing needs to be a fully funded endeavor.  High milage means huge appetite.  The longer I ride, the hungrier I get - one burns a bit more calories riding this sort of thing than simply walking in New York.  Also, high milage means high wear and tear on the bike.  I've already had to dish out a couple hundred dollars on repairs and maintenance - and at 1000 miles with about 3000 to go, the need for maintenance will not go away anytime soon.  Hence I find myself in a tough place as I have a quickly diminishing source of funds (Ok, so seeing the same movie twice didn't help either, but it was still cheaper than one movie in New York).
Consider it this way: I'm not at E just yet, but I'm getting close.  And as I get close, it's the old decision of whether or not you want to run out on the interstate or on an exit.  You have enough gas t get you further down the road, but if you do go further, you risk running out between exits rather than on an exit, which usually has gas stations.
Does my analogy make sense?  The exit is Danville, a short drive from my hometown in Indiana.  I'd have enough 'gas' to get a start there or back in New York.  The interstate is somewhere in the middle of Western Kentucky or Illinois, still a short drive from the hometown, but then literally I'll be at empty and the options for what I do after that point are severely limited.
Did I see it coming?  Well, I was aware of the amount I began with and have been following it since starting the ride.  So... yeah.  Did I care?  Not really.  Did I expect bicycle maintenance to be as expensive?  No.
This is the dilemma I find myself in. Overall, not favorable.  But at the same time, I cannot complain an ounce about the three weeks I have had.  1000 miles.  Several beds, showers, breakfasts, lunches, dinners.  Popsicles, cakes, pies, and ice cream.  Countless handshakes, smiles, and warm welcomings.  I have experienced what others call the American Spirit - something referred to as no longer with us, but very much alive.
Keep in mind: Game over is not the same as quitting.  One chooses to quit ( Q).  One is forced to stop when it's game over (frozen screen...? Not familiar with this analogy since I have a Mac).

After 1008 miles, even a Bud Light tasted good.

Monday, June 22

Some Brief Interactions

The following are a few funny interactions I had with different groups of people (and a few related and unrelated pictures).  Again, on the theme of not long enough events to create a full blog for each, but each meriting a mention.
A few mornings ago I was riding on US 11, actually taking a shortcut of sorts, when a police car, lights fully lit, pulled around me.  Slowing down in front of me I began thinking to the story I read in another cyclist's journal (the one questioned for a double homicide).  Obviously, I began to worry a bit, "Oh no, what'd I do?" but finally noticing that the car was not slowing down, I realized it was not lit on my occasion.  I looked behind me to find a whole host of cyclists nearing my trailer.  One by one they flew past, nearly 50 of them, racing their hearts out (which of course caused me to want to ride faster).  I think what made this hilarious, for me at least, was that I was listening to Rome's rendition of T.I.'s Whatever You Like.  Now most paid no attention at all but I think there were others who recognized the tune and of course the looks which followed ranged from flabbergasted to sheer pleasure.  If only I had the camera for that one.
At a gas station on US 11 I ran into a biker gang.  4 strong, each covered in leather, tattoos, beards, and an assortment of bandanas.  Stepping off my steed, they looked at me a bit confused; I mean, in my tights and all I do look a bit goofy.  I feared what would follow.  But to my chagrin the four were quite interested in the ride I was making and question followed question.  
"How far you going?" one asked.
"I'm at 888 miles right now, looking to get over 900 by the end of the day," I nervously replied.
"888?  Shoot, he's almost got us Gus!" one shot back at the inquisitor.
"And when you expecting to make it to the Pacific?" another added.
Turning to him, "Sometime in August, maybe.  I've got more school in September, so I guess I have until then if I need it."
Laughing, one chimed in, "Come August, while you're just getting to the coast, we'll be in a bar somewhere with a few beers."
"Pour one out for me," I responded.
The Q&A section continued session continued for some time, proving to be a bit bothersome for me.  That is... well, you see, my reason for stopping was bathroom related.

Taking my afternoon rest at a local volunteer firehouse.
Further down US 11 I came to Chilhowie, VA where I rode past a school with several young folks at the road's edge holding car wash signs.  Riding by, the kids clearly knew I wasn't a car but still adamantly waved their signs in my directions to get a laugh.  I shrugged my shoulders and smiled, pressing onward.  As I got further down the road, I realized I had already put in a couple of hours, hitting the morning session pretty hard, and thought to myself why not? (a theme of my trip).
I circled round back to the entrance of the school parking lot and rode up to a bunch of hoses, buckets, students, and parents.  "How much for a rinse?"
"Well, we're taking donations... It's for the school band - we're raising money for band trip this summer."
A bit confused as to why I pulled in, I explained I was pretty hot from the sun and could use a rinse.  It took a bit of encouragement and a small donation, but not before long the students were spraying me down and having a bunch of fun with it, maybe a little too much fun even - hose in the face is not always pleasant to have happen to you, but always funny to see.

My attempt at an Into the Wild shot and the night's sky in Wytheville, VA.
A barn.  The sky was muggy so I had to make it black and white to look 'good'.

Sunday, June 21

More Blue Ridge

As one can see, the Cookie Lady is super excited to house and talk with cyclists that come through.  She not only welcomes folks warmly, but sends them on their way prepared - be it hunger pains or housing pains.  One of the more delightful treasures June sent me away with, in addition to a full stomach, was the business card of the Lee family who were located in Radford, VA.  Handing me the card, she went on and on to tell me story after story of how wonderful the Lees are to cyclists.

My favorite story shared was that of a young family who came through with their daughter whose birthday was three days later.  "And you know, Radford is about a three day ride from here," making sure I understood.  Well, somehow the Lee's had caught wind of the birthday, probably from June herself, and to the child's amazement when they finally arrived in Radford, the whole place was decked out in Birthday gear - ribbons, Happy Birthday signs, cake and all!  "Good people, the Lees," she insisted.
Needless to say, a couple days later I pedaled just outside Radford and made the phone call to the Lee residence to check for vacancy.  As soon as "Trans Am" came out of my mouth (the name of the route), Sarah, Mrs. Lee, was giving me directions and insight on where to stop for dinner before arriving.  She directed me to a pizza place in Christiansburg which had an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet (the sort of thing that has been a huge ally in this endeavor), and after filling up for under $6, I was off to Radford.
Upon my arrival, I met the whole family - Thad, Sarah, their son Sam, and Katie the dog - and was given the grand tour of what would be my stomping ground for the next 10 hours.  "Once you're here, you're family - no one waits on you, you help yourself."  My kind of place.
After settling in a bit, I joined Thad, Sarah and David, the family's Presbyterian pastor, who were enjoying a porch sit, soaking up what was left of the balmy night.  I listened intently as the three exchanged stories, adding a piece or two as the conversation allowed.  Evidently Thad had made the ride back in 1998, starting in the West riding East, and David's brother in law was among the first to ride in 1976 when the route was first put together.  Soon enough, only Thad and I were left on the porch as he began to tell me about Radford and the significance of the New River, which runs right through/next to the city.
It's said that the New River is one of the oldest rivers in the world - second only to the Nile.  Geologists posit that billions of years ago the Appalachians were the present day Himalayas, and that over time have eroded to their present height, size, or girth (however one measures a mountain).  Now the New River itself runs north, into West Virginia, eventually connecting with the Ohio, and for those who don't know rivers, eventually pours into the Mississippi which heads out into the Gulf de Mexico.  So in order for a river to run north like it does, through the Appalachians, it's said the river must have been around BEFORE the mountains themselves - hence, 2nd oldest river in the world.  I know, crazy.  But, it's science.
The next morning I asked Thad and Sarah, who were comfortably lounging in their PJs, for directions to the nearest "breakfast joint."  Without missing a beat, the two pointed to the fridge with heads still buried in their newspapers.  Again, my kind of place.  After some eggs, bacon, and a pair of bagels, I was back on the road, not to forget the generosity of the Lee family.
The first glimpse of the Appalachians in Northern Virginia along with a cute cat that napped with me... no fleas, thankfully.

Saturday, June 20

Cookie Lady and the Blue Ridge

Previously on Whereabouts in America:
I got into Afton and followed the signs to the Cookie Lady, not knowing what to expect. Making the final turn to her house, I saw before me something quite peculiar...

What I found was a local CBS van. (Flash required! Make sure you have it for the video.)

Or if that doesn't work - try this

And the article too.

That should give you a feel for both the Cookie Lady and my stay there. Remember, I had planned to continue on. But when I learned the kitchen was stocked with free food, I quickly altered my plans.

After Jennifer and the local CBS van left, things settled down at the Cookie Lady's house. June went up to her house and left me in charge of setting up any other cyclists that came through.

Alone, I walked the house laden with postcards, bicycle parts, letters, pictures, theses, and everything else one could connect to bicycles in one form or fashion. I flipped the pages of one transcribed journal, reading the stories the writer had penned. One that I remember told of the interaction between a cyclist and a cop at the border of a town.

"Where were you two days ago?" the cop asked the cyclist.
Thinking he was to be lectured about illegal camping, he left his response loose. "Back a few towns..."
"No. Exactly where were you?" the cop inquired harder.
The writer went on to tell that two nights back there had been a double homicide and he was one of the officers suspects - "I didn't fit in." Apparently, after explaining what he was doing, the cop let him go on, realizing he hadn't been apart of the incident.

And I thought my stories were funny.

The significance of the house and its memorabilia set in the longer I was there. About 33 years of stuff. Each with a story, a passion, a history. Quite humbling.

I cooked dinner, grabbed a copy of Jack Kerouac's On the Road I found in a stack of books, and took it all outside to enjoy the early evening. As I began to open the book, and Eastbounder, Nick, showed up. Nick started his journey from San Diego and was headed to Boston - pretty much the exact trip I'm making, in reverse and going beyond New York. He was in his 7th week, having started around April 25th. A good guy, we swapped stories, insights, and places to stop and find a meal. Apparently in Kentucky, there's another place like the Cookie Lady's. I told him about Sue and Chuck at the Methodist Church in Maryland. I never got to Kerouac, but didn't mind; I'd prefer good conversation about any day.

(Cookie Lady water spot)

The next morning, after pancakes and bacon, I began my ascent up the Appalachian mountains, Blue Ridge style. Rain and clouds shrouded the entire climb. I was pretty bummed, I trust there were some fantastic views, but didn't mind it when I reached the peak and the clouds finally opened and I felt the warmth of sunlight. It took 3.5 hours to get to the top, reaching an altitude of 3,200 ft, and a mere 20 minutes to get down. That is, 20 minutes of squeezing my breaks so hard that my hands began to hurt all the while still traveling between 20-30 mph. The road winded down this way and that; had I not held the breaks I would have drifted into the other lane on a turn or worse, gone over an edge even steeper than the road itself. I'm sure any car that was making the climb in the other lane could see the sense of accomplishment I was feeling at the moment - not only did my hands hurt, but my cheeks hurt from smiling ear to ear.

(This is the elevation profile of Afton - home of the Cookie Lady - and the 27 miles of incline that followed the 3.5 hour ride up with 20 minute decline. Notice the decline to Vesuvius, still not 2 miles...)

I relaxed a bit in Lexington, VA and continued on to Buchanon, VA for the nights stay, racking up 79 miles for the day. In Buchanon, I waited outside a volunteer firefighter station to find someone who could point me in the direction of a campground. Their was some kind of meeting taking place inside and when it finally let out, a whole host of people were offering to help.

One man jumped in, "I'll tell you where you can camp. You see that insurance building," he said pointing directly across the street. "My wife owns the building, you can camp behind it. If anyone gives you trouble, tell 'em the Vice Mayor, Chandler, said you can."

As I began setting up camp, another man walked towards me. "Oh no, I'm going to have to drop names," I thought.

As he approached he began, "You see those clouds over there? The way their hanging on the mountains make it look like its going to rain. There's a bandstand behind that building," he motioned. "You can camp under it if you want. If anyone gives you trouble, tell em Marty Richtman told you can. They shouldn't bother you much." Now I don't know who Marty Richtman is, but he sure thinks he's hot stuff - as if he were the Mayor himself.

The days since then have been lots of ups and downs. More time going up, but I think the elevation is leveling out soon. I am in Abingdon, VA currently, after a 54 mile morning, and have my last large climb this evening. Kentucky is just around the corner I reckon.

Wednesday, June 17

Charlottesville, VA Continued

And by halftime in Charlottesville, VA, I meant overtime.

After leaving the library, my stomach told me it was time to grab a burger from Five Guys. Once acquired, I headed outside to the outside mall (or whatever they call it there) to both enjoy the meat and the sun. You see, downtown Charlottesville has this neat little strip loaded with stores, boutiques, restaurants, bars, and whathaveyous, all along the sides of a thick sidewalk (road-like, but no autos allowed... like I said, an outside mall). While people watching (a regular practice) I couldn't help but notice a familiar face. Wait, not one but two familiar faces! I called out and it was confirmed - Brad Stephens and Sarah Langford!

Brad and Sarah studied with me at Centre College in Danville, KY (where I'll be traveling through in about a week). Brad reminded me that had grown up in Charlottesville, so the two, along with Brad's parents, were out for a double date on Brad's birthday. Graciously, Brad's mother and father offered their place to stay for the night once I told them what I was doing, but expecting that I'd continue riding I thanked and turned them down. I had planned to put in another 30 or so, hopefully making it to Afton - "Home of the Cookie Lady," Brad's father informed me. After pointing me in the direction of a park, we said our goodbyes and I headed out for an afternoon nap.

Once awake, I still wasn't feeling a return to the bike. I decided I'd take another hour, stretching, drinking water, and resting before getting back on the road - justifying it by knocking it down to a 20 mile evening session instead. Walking back to the outside mall area, I passed the movie theatre. Glancing up to see what was showing, I caught sight of "The Hangover." Now, I had heard a lot about this movie beforehand - all praise of course (mostly from Sarah who saw it before it was released. Lucky!) - so I couldn't help but reason, "What's another hour?" I mean, one can still stretch, drink water, and rest while watching, right? Right.

Catching the 5:15 show and having to wait through the commercials and previews, the actual movie didn't begin until after 5:40... Ooops. After laughing my head off to what was a hilarious film (SPOILER ALERT: minus the male genitalia at the credits), I walked out at 7:15 with no motivation to get riding again - all I wanted to do was get crunk and have a crazy night as the movie suggested... But Brad and company were long gone by now, what was I to do? Thankfully, while in D.C. I made a Charlottesville contact.

While at Danielle's, I was introduced to Sallie who not only went to UNC with Danielle, but also serves as a school teacher in Charlottesville. I quickly called Danielle to get in contact with Sallie, who had offered to help me out when I came through anyway. Once in touch with her, I learned I had a place to stay, a shower to make use of, and also that she and two of her friends were catching a movie later that night - The Hangover.

Via experience, I can attest The Hangover is just as funny the second time (SPOILER ALERT: The male genitalia the second time still isn't funny). That's right, I saw it again. But in my defense, movies are always more fun to watch when you have others to laugh with - if anything to laugh at them laughing, not that I was, but I'm just sayin'.

The next morning, Sallie celebrated her first day of summer by lounging a bit, which kind of overflowed into my morning routine (I don't blame her, well earned; I do blame me). After sleeping in, drinking two cups of coffee, and enjoying good conversation, I was finally back on the bike headed toward the Blue Ridge Parkway around 10am as opposed to my 7:30am usual.

I got into Afton and followed the signs to the Cookie Lady, not knowing what to expect. Making the final turn to her house, I saw before me something quite peculiar...

To Be Continued...

(Notice the East bound directions at the top say "CAUTION: Steep downhill next 2 miles" while the West bound directions say nothing of the sort.  I'm thinking, not only do I have to go up what the east bounders go down, but I never get to come down from it... Not cool.)

Monday, June 15

A Brief List

I arrived into Charlottesville, VA today. On the way into town, I thought of just a things I wanted to blog about but didn't have enough to make each a full blog. Thus, a list:

A shout out to Katy and Jesse who I randomly ran into in Lancaster, PA. Katy just finished up her MDiv at Union and has moved to Lancaster to begin her post-seminary work in the Presbyterian Church USA. While resting in a coffee shop there, we saw each other and all did double takes.

A shout out to my friend Chad Dike, Chelsea, and Chad's ladyfriend Meg who took me out when in D.C. Chad and I were fraternity brothers back at Centre. Chelsea went to Centre and was Chad's year, but sadly our paths never crossed until D.C. Sorry for leaving you guys out of my brief D.C. narrative. Definitely had a good time catching up and swapping stories.

(The place of the D.C. cookout with my friend Danielle.  Mmmm good burgers!)

Mental Cocaine - Catching up to cars going downhill; the sound my trailer makes when it skims through a puddle that my bike tires miss; seeing deer nearly everyday

Mental Depressants - Going uphill (really?!); potholes; shifting down when going uphill only to find I'm already in the lowest gear

All states above Virginia have tons of Methodist Churches
Virginia has only Baptist Churches

The Mosquitoes in Virginia leave the biggest bites I have ever seen! (Nickel sized, no kidding!) And they itch more than ever! I gotta find anti-itching cream.

Small town libraries are much more lenient on their computer usage policies (i.e. uploading images via USB, time limits, etc.)

Yesterday I put in 74 miles. Today, at halftime, I racked another 50. I've already put in more than 600. After talking to my friend Jenn Lindsay, who did it a decade ago, I learned that by the end of her trip she was averaging 120 miles a day. I look forward to being fit.

At the 500 mile mark, I got to thinking about the Camino de Santiago and comparing the two trips. On that one, I had friends to speak with the whole time and didn't find myself in such solidarity. On this trip, I feel I am accomplishing more, yet am not as tired at the end of the day. But in so many ways, the two really aren't comparable. They're both good!

My sleeping mat has a small hole in it, causing me to wake up once in the middle of the night to refill the mat with air. Boo.

Saturday, June 13

Rest Stops and a Few Pictures (more below too)

The 49th mile came and, just as the four before it, took forever to pass. I felt I had been riding uphill on the heavily trafficked road for far too long. Thankfully, I was way out on the shoulder, watching car after car pass speedily along. I had decided to make it to 50 miles before I took another break. The thought of the grapes, cheese, and crackers I was about to consume kept me going. As I finally hit the 50 mark, I realized the strip mall I was passing through had a picnic table at the edge of its parking lot shaded under one of the buildings.

I sat down, unlatched my shoes, dropped my helmet, and began to enjoy a great rest stop. Reaching into the trailer, I pulled from it a sandwich, orange, those grapes, cheese, and crackers I had been dreaming about, and began to prepare myself a great snack when a man walked out through a door on the side of the building I was resting beside.

"Can I get you a drink?" he asked.

"Nah, I can't afford it today. I should be alright - I've got plenty of water," I exhaustively responded.

"No, it's on the house. What can I get you? Soda? Juice? Wine?" Let's just say at that, he had my ear. But before I could respond, he jumped in again, "Why don't you come in. Bring your food too. There's air conditioning!"

Reluctant to get up but excited for air conditioning, I followed the man who introduced himself as Trevor. Once through the side door, I froze as before me were about six people all formally dressed - pant suits, ties, the works - sitting in tall chairs at a couple of bar tables put together.

"I think there's been a mistake," I said backing up towards the door. But Trevor and now the others kept insisting, motioning me forward. "But you see, I'm stinky, and sweaty. And you... you're all... I mean... I just am out of place." Still, they insisted it was ok. I looked beyond the pant suits and noticed I was in some kind of nice restaurant, accepted my invitation, introduced myself, and and sat down. The folks did likewise as well as introduce the event I was now attending - a wine tasting by several wine reps who were trying to get their bottles with the other 500 bottles that lined the shelves of this wine store/bistro.

The group exchanged questions with me, asking about the ride - how far I ride, where I sleep, how much preparation I put into it, why I'm doing it, what my mom thinks about me doing it, etc. Between the questions I would hear a "Oh, I taste the spice in that" or a "Yes, we now own the xyxyx vinyard" and other fancy business talk. It was quite humorous actually - though it was a business meeting, because they were tasting wine it was so laid back.

"Do you drink wine much?" one woman asked. I thought about responding something like: "I'm about a year removed from Franzia, I've had my share." But instead shared that though I like wine, I am not one who knows much about wine. She poured me a glass of Pinot Noir.

"Swirl. Smell. Sip." I followed suit. Delightful.
"Your tongue can taste about four flavors. Your nose can smell 1000s of smells. A good wine is all about the smell." I nodded.

After tasting a few wines, I headed out but not without first getting a picture with them and sharing the blog address. Once on the bike, I felt rested and strong - must have been the antioxidants.

Currently, I'm in Fredericksburg, VA. Thursday evening and Friday morning I rested in D.C. at the home of my friend Danielle. We met at a Young Life camp back in Minnesota - she was my boss and I didn't steal the boat so I'm still in good standing (Take that Ash! Laugh hard Grace!)... Checked out the White House, saw the Washington and Lincoln memorials, saw the Vietnam Wall, crossed into Arlington and saw the Cemetery and the Pentagon. In fact, I got lost as hell at the Pentagon. Tomorrow I'll pass the 500 mile mark in the morning. Two great things are also 500 miles: 1)The Indianapolis 500, of which I have never been to and really just put it in the list so there was more than one, and 2)El Camino de Santiago, of which I walked in January 2007.

Tomorrow I'll also make it to Ashland, VA where I'll head west, finally, on the TransAmerican route. And then before you know it, I'll be at the Pacific. Crazy to think.

Wednesday, June 10

Stormin' Norman

Yesterday I crossed into Maryland. And what a show the great state decided to give me! Nearly as soon as I crossed the state line, I could see some dark clouds forming in the distance. The wind was pushing against my face, coming from a southwest direction, and the clouds were to the northeast so I felt I could continue riding, guessing they would blow further northeast with the wind. But by the time I got to Rocks State Park, the clouds had caught up, despite the wind, and opened up dropping tons of rain down. Thankfully, I was near the Rocks SP office, so I pedaled in and they let me hang out for 10 minutes until the rain passed.

Back on the ride, I hadn't gotten but 5 miles down the road when more clouds came in, this time as dark as the nights sky. Lightning and thunder had started their thing and when I came to the end of the park - which had served as a cover from the lightning, I now faced an open field... I kept hearing my mother's voice, "Never ride if there's lightning!"

I waited at the edge of the forest line, deciding what to do, when I caught sight of a house a bit further down the road. It was a large house, kind of looked like my neighbors house back home, but had a fence around it and a dog doing laps around a swing set. The dog let me know someone must have been home. With the lightning and thunder sounding behind me, I hightailed it to the home, knocked on the door, and shared my predicament with a surprised woman.

Next thing I know, Jane (the surprised woman), her three children (Becky, Joey, and Hannah), and I are sitting inside the garage, eating grape popsicles, and watching a rather large hail storm move in. Lightning was flashing with immediate cracks of thunder - I've never known the accurate distance per second, but we couldn't even count to one before the thunder hit. After Jane's husband, Greg, come home to find us all in the garage, I learned the house had been hit by lightning three times before, "Knocked the chimney straight into the yard once!" Consequently, the family put up a set of lightning rods, so we were sure to be safe.

(awkward picture)

After the storm showed no signs of "blowing over," the family invited me in for dinner. But not before politely asking if I'd like to take a shower - which had I turned the offer down, the politeness would have turned to more of a command (I was at 53 miles for the day). After dinner, the storm had seemed to pass. We checked the radar and it was so. The kids took a picture of "the biker that stopped by" so they could write about it in school (I don't really know, something about that... I just smiled) and I was back on my journey towards Jarrettsville, MD.

I now write from Reisterstown, MD after a 30 mile morning session. Its only 11:30 and I'll probably hang out around here until 2ish, resting my legs, grabbing some coffee and food. It's sunny as can be, a whopping 77 degrees out (that's 26C for you, Skippy. You English Aussie!) Yesterday, when I was going down a hill, I hit 41 mph! I'm about 310 miles in, be in D.C. tomorrow, and looking forward to some steep inclines in Virginia. Speaking of which - yesterday was obnoxious up and down riding. It was ridiculous in fact. But I keep telling myself, every time I ride up, I know I get to come down. Unless the Pacific Ocean is at a higher elevation than the Atlantic... but that'd just be weird. Bikewise - I broke a spoke, so my back wheel is wobbly. But I'll be into a bike shop tomorrow before D.C. to get that fixed... hopefully.

Alls well. Peace on ya.

Monday, June 8

Cure for the Pain: Body Movin' and BLTs

So I think I have come up with a cure to the Mark and Rob syndrome previously mentioned.

After a long day riding in the rain on Friday I began to look for a place to rest for the night and come across a large high school in Warrington, PA. As I rode by around 6pm, I noticed a large amount of cars coming through, dropping off kids in the front, and driving on. The kids ran like ants to the wing of the building labeled "Auditorium". Lucky me!

I pulled into the parking lot and rode to a parked car. "What's going on tonight?" I asked a mother patiently waiting for her daughter to exit the car. She went on to tell me about the dance recital taking place, the work the girls had put into it all year, and finally invited me to attend.

"Will people think I'm a creep?"

"Just act like a father. Or a family member of some kind. You'll be fine!" she assured me.

I rode around the school, took my bike into the woods behind the football field, set up my tent, changed clothes, and headed back to the building to make the seven o'clock show. After convincing the woman selling tickets I only had $5 on me and couldn't pay the $16 because I was biking across the country and didn't stop at an ATM today, she let me in and I settled in near the back. The lights went dark. Music started pumping. The stage opened and a bunch of 6 to 16 year olds danced their hearts out to Justin Timberlake and Madonna's 4 Minutes song.

At intermission I filed out into the lobby with the other parents, grandparents, and dance instructors. In an attempt to not be thought a creep, I stood just between the different families trying to pass as being with "the other family." After a bit of floating between family circles, intermission ended and we headed back in and listened to more hip hop music. Undetected. All in all, despite feeling a bit creepy, it was good entertainment. It was obvious the performers had put a lot of work into it and I think I picked up a few more moves than just my stiff shoulder shake...

The next 48 hours were splendidly filled with lots of interaction with wonderful folks. Saturday night, I ran into Sandy as she was getting ready to walk her dog. I asked if I could put my tent up on the edge of her property and though she was fine with it, she offered the apartment that was built on the side of her house instead. "You'll have a bed, a shower, even a TV." I couldn't pass her up on that one. By the end of my stay, Sandy had provided me with one-and-a-half huge BLT sandwiches for dinner, two bacon and egg english muffins and a fresh cup of coffee for breakfast, and, best of all, great conversation.

Sunday I headed towards Reamstown, PA, passing tons of Mennonite and Amish homesteads, to arrive just in time to catch a church service. After the service, I was back in the parking lot eating oranges when a man approached and inquired about my travels. After a brief conversation, he introduced himself as Jordan and invited me back to his house with his family for brunch. A bit hungry, I entertained his invitation and followed the directions to his house only to arrive just after a van load of 8 kids emptied out. I stuck around, engaging in great conversation for another 3 hours, as I ate hamburgers, bow-tie pasta, salad, and homemade strawberry pie with strawberries picked fresh the day before.

And finally, last night, I arrived to Lancaster, PA from where I write now. My church community back in Manhattan has many ties to Lancaster, as it houses one of the larger (if not largest) Mennonite communities in the country (it's the Goshen, IN of PA). After a quick call to my pastor back at Manhattan Mennonite Fellowship before their services started, I got into contact with a family who were members last year before moving out of Manhattan to Lancaster. Thankfully, they have been kind enough to house me for not one night, but two as I take a zero day today. With coffee and fresh strawberries for breakfast again this morning, I am very thankful for the way in which Pennsylvania has taken me in and, in many ways, been Christ to me.

I'm 220 miles in and feeling strong (believe it or not, but I haven't woken up soar until today). Definitely feeling ready for the next stint of riding. It's looking like I'll be in D.C. on Thursday where I'll meet up with some fraternity brothers from Centre. After that, I'll be headed through Lexington, VA - the location of one of the many Young Life camps I attended while doing YL in Lincoln Co. Kentucky.

Again, my heart goes out to Sandy, Jordan and his family of 10, and my current hosts - Brandy and Brian and their three beautiful children. They were excellent hosts and I am very indebted to their kindness.

Friday, June 5

Two States Down

Greetings from Pennsylvania!

So it's day three and I've clocked over 100 miles. Why so few you might ask? Well, because I'm out of shape. When talking to my friends Mark and Rob about their experience on the Appalachian Trail (Georgia to Maine), I learned that there's no sense in taking off hard only to hurt yourself and not be able to finish the jounrney. Thus, being out of cycling shape, I am building my way to the 60 mile average. What am I at today? 30 and counting. This has actually been my biggest challenge - stopping short of what I feel like I could go. Let me explain.

The trip began with Cullen, my Pace Car, leading me over the G.W. Bridge into the depths of New Jersey. We parted ways and I was off to follow the maps, no longer guided by someone who actually knew where they were going. Unfortunately, the route I am taking goes straight towards Newark. It was only 20 miles to Newark, but beyond Newark there was industrial dilapidation everywhere, for a good 12 miles in fact.

Nearly everything inside of me wanted to ride on beyond Newark, trust me. But I knew, if I did I faced the danger of hurting myself (back to Mark and Rob). Knowing that even if there was a park south of Newark, I probably didn't want to camp in it, thus I headed to the churches. Thankfully my friend Obed (who worked behind a desk at the Sacred Heart Cathedral) pointed me in the direction of a park in a safer part of Newark, perhaps even a suburb. I headed that way, through the rain, found some woods, and called it a day. Since it was still raining, my tent got soaked as I set it up. Thankfully, a naked body in a tent lets off a lot of body heat. Just enough to dry the inside in fact.

Lessons learned - (1) don't put yourself in a situation where you can't leave urban life and (2) always set up tent in dry weather.

Yesterday I spent the day riding out of Newark, Elizabeth, and some other city which was kind of industrious. By midday I was out into the country, floating from small town to small town. I stopped in a small park, set up my tent to airdry and eat. At the end of the day I put in 42 miles, stopping in a town called Raritan. Leaving the city there's this beautiful bridge which crosses a large creek that cars are not allowed to travel on. Across the creek, and technically out of Raritan, there was dense woods between the riverbank and a huge field. I walked my bike back into the woods a bit and set up camp by 5pm. The next two hours I spent back in town sipping on coffee, walking to the grocery store, and sitting on main street benches planning the next day's ride. By 7pm I had accomplished all I could think to do and found myself a bit bored.

This Mark and Rob factor is taking its toll on me. Only a matter of time though that I'll be spending more time on the bike and less time trying not to get hurt.

Monday, June 1

Final Preparations and a Change of Departure

As I had said in the past, I was shooting for a June 1 departure date. But as Skip so graciously pointed out in a blog comment, "so, it's june 1. have you departed?" Negative. After a few days of preparation in Indianapolis and a lovely flight back to NYC, I've decided to take a day of rest. The bike is outfitted, properly dressed, and I nearly have everything I need however I was beginning to feel rushed and felt I needed a few more hours of gathering things - mace spray for the mean puppies, a proper lock, sunglasses, and pancakes from Emma - that sort of thing. Plus, my maps didn't arrive until friday and since they came in package form, I could not access them until my mailroom opened up today after 12 (a post-12pm departure would not have given me enough time to get out of the industrial parts of the New Jersey). Thus, I have pushed the departure date back a day and will be leaving tomorrow morning.


Last week, I flew back to Greencastle to watch my little brother graduate from High School. It was excellent - family came in for the days activities, I saw my former teachers, Luke got to speak, and I nearly fell asleep during the other comments (to my defense, the sound system was terrible). While at home, I was also able to grab my bike, make a stop up in Indy for parts and gear, and wish my loved ones goodbye (temporary goodbyes of course). The goodbyes were tough, but the gear shopping was great!

My uncle Paul helps run a great bike shop in Indy, Bicycle Garage of Indianapolis, and was able to set me up with gear. I was thinking front and back panniers (more or less saddle bags on the sides of the tires), but he talked me into a trailer - and boy am I glad! It's super light and has tons of room so I'm definitely looking forward to the space. I stlll have a back rack and set of panniers, but I don't know that I need them except for having easy access to things. We'll see if I decide to keep them. I got bibs, water bottles, tools, a new seat, extra tubes and tires, and everything I think I could need.

Paying attention to both price and weight, I must admit I did treat myself to one thing however. My friend Jenn rode a similar route about a decade ago and suggested I tape some speakers to my handlebars, referencing the monotony of the road. I told my cousin this, who also works at the shop, and he pointed me in the direction of the iHome bike speaker system. It's a speaker that is shaped like a water bottle, holds an iPod, and comes with a remote that hooks onto the handlebar for easy and safe control of one's tunes. It's heavy and pricey, but loud. Excess, I know, but I feel like I deserve a little bit of a treat if I am serious about riding 4000+ miles.

One of the questions I seem to get a lot has to do with technology - How will you charge your cell phone? How will you blog? You are taking your cell phone?

Would I like it to be a technology free journey? Sure, I guess. I mean, it seems more burly, right? But whether I like it or not, each day I will be traveling through towns using technology and interacting with people. Thus, my plan is not one technology-free but instead one of reduced use of technology. For safety reasons, I will have my cell phone. I plan to drink coffee from time to time at the cafés I come across (except in Utah) and will charge there. Free of a laptop, I will have an iPod and speaker (as previously stated), my camera, and I will interact with computers from time to time in order to blog (libraries, in case you were wondering). Speaking of which - don't judge - for safety reasons, I have set up a twitter account to let those who wish to know that I am safe each night... know that I am safe each night (its to the right as well). Please do not become dependent upon this, but use it as a tool, trusting that at times I can't always update. Besides, for the longest time I made fun of this sort of thing.

Tomorrow is going to be great. My friend Cullen is going to ride Manhattan with me. He tells me he'll also be in Kansas on the side of the road clapping me on, but I doubt his dedication. I think we'll be down in the southern part of manhattan looking to head north around 8, if anyone is interested. Again, this Vanilla phase of the journey has been great! Though somewhat rushed and short-lived, I feel I got much out of it.

Today's activities include shopping for those last minute things and a serious study of my maps. Plus a full night of sleep.

First book - The Wealth or Health of Nations: Transforming Capitalism from Within by Carol Johnston.