Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Napoleon...Dynamite!

Here's a shocker: More pedaling today. Jeez, who woulda known? Still in Ohio--but not for long. Tomorrow it's Indiana and the bicycle-only lodgings in Monrovia. I'll take a rest day there as that will be seven consecutive days on the bike. Yesterday and today are a bit shorter than I have been riding. I'm usually in the 60 mi. range with one 80 miler so far.

Ohio has been a varied experience. Recently, the minions of Satan have been loose on the land, imps ejected from the sulfurous bowels of Hell itself: mosquitoes. The flooding that I missed has given birth to legions of the vile demons. Each evening as the punishing heat of the day recedes, just when you are getting relief, they come out to feed. Lordy, does I hate dem bugs or what? The nights have in general been okay, sometimes too hot, like last night, but otherwise tolerable. Just gotta keep pushing.

My lodgings have been in the full spectrum of possible experiences. East of Cleveland I found myself in a tight situation. While looking for a hardware store to replenish my alcohol supply for my stove, I ran into a couple to ask for directions. Missing a few teeth, and those left heavily stained by tobacco, they smiled with pure delight as I pulled to a stop. He was short and slim in blue jeans and t-shirt with native American symbols on it--neat but casual. A short-billed white cap hung over his glasses, and he gripped and released, gripped and released a walking stick. She had the fewest teeth of the pair but was more enthusiastic and talkative, her red hair shot with grey pulled back. I told them of my situations--needing directions and a place to camp--and they yelled out: "Heck, you can stay with us!"

Now, many of you may be thinking: What was he thinking?! But I couldn't turn this down. These were marginal characters, no doubt, but the road will provide, and something about them appealed to me. They had no car, walked everywhere, and were quick to inform me that they were both in The Program. He (call him Bill) was noticeably edgy, a man holding on to his sobriety in a pretty desperate fashion. She wore hers more securely. He'd been clean for just over six months, she for over 16 years.

I called them both road angels, and they said the same of me. They were such kind, generous people and seemed inordinately happy to be talking to anyone. So for that day and night I was to bear witness to their on-going struggle. I picked up some food and followed them home in stages, going ahead and waiting for them to catch up. I later learned they walked 8 to 12 miles every day and that this exercise had made her (call her Jane) much healthier. She was walking without a cane now and looked slim. She said she had been up to 160 lbs. and used a cane with four feet at the base. Now she moved right along, smoking cigarette after cigarette and chugging Dr. Pepper, her other substitute addiction.

At last we arrived at their apartment, and I stabled Mojo next to my hosts' bikes and walked up to the second story. Before going in, I witness a telling scene that set the tone for the building: A woman yelling at her young son to get in the car because the father had "a real attitude problem!" and they were going to Grandma's house. The complex had a complex, one desperate dysfunction junction: All night I would hear: "Fuck you!" "You slept with that bitch? Fuck YOU!" back and forth in a monotony of invective and sour unhappiness. The back beat was provided by one character with a loud electric bass. Oh yes, even at 2am in the morning.

Inside the apartment was chaos, especially in "my" room, a veritable moraine of piled clothing covering most of the floor. My hosts quickly shoveled it to one side and vacuumed the stained rug where'd I'd lay my pad for my night of wonderful rest.

For all that, we cooked and ate, and I did have a place for the night. They both seemed very concerned about explaining how they had come by all their belongings. Bill would mention some good thing that had happened, like meeting me or just being sober, and he'd exclaim about God: "It's undescribable, it's just undescribable!" Repeating the poorly constructed term like a mantra. I was treated to their prized Jesus picture with a four-leaf clover taped hopefully above. When you tilted the picture, the eyes of the Son of God opened and closed. Bill held out a small stuffed frog that croaked when I squeezed it. "God gave that to me today, " he said.

And so the evening went, the rumbling bass, the strident cries of domestic misery, the acrid smell of tobacco smoke permeating every surface and air molecule.

Once in Cleveland, I fell into a crowd of delightful, functional, NICE! cycling people I met through Warmshowers.org. Ann, Mary, Ann's sister Joy and her husband Phil and a whole platoon of other relatives gathered at Phil and Joy's place for a classic Labor Day feast--great BBQ and local beer, screaming kids and snappy conversation were the order of the evening. I couldn't have asked for a better experience--and such a nice contrast from the night before. The next morning, Phil guided me out of the Cleveland tangle of streets to the outskirts of town. Thanks, everyone in Cleveland. You made my day!

I then camped behind a decaying and almost totally abandoned shopping mall. Call it Zombie Mall. I bit odd, but I wasn't bothered (except by mosquitoes) and slept well.

What will tonight bring? I've got a request into couchsurfing.com, so we'll have to see. I need to ask around, too. I'm definitely not up for another 60 miles today to get to my next destination, so I've gotta make something work. I may break down and get a motel room.

There's always more to tell, but that will have to do it for now. Until next time, this is the World Champion Recumbent Cyclo-Tourist reporting from the outer fringes of human powered adventure in the Great American Outback.

Be well.

1 comment:

William Enos said...

I have stayed in some strange places in my travels.. but you are a much braver soul than I! Your acceptance of a broad range of personalities obviously borders on legendary!