Saturday, September 8, 2007

Child of the Corn

The North East is going to be the physical crux of this journey, but the Mid-West is going to be the psychological crux. Although often pretty in a rural fashion, the pattern is brutal and relentless: corn, soy beans, corn, soybeans, farm house, barn, silo, corn, soy beans, corn, soy beans--more soy beans for variety--then some more corn, farm house, barn, silo.... These patches are separated by stands of extremely thick trees that rise like islands or mesas out of the agribusiness sea. My father once said that it was possible for a tree squirrel to go from the Atlantic to the Mississippi without touching the ground. When I realize that at one time all these tree-islands formed a single arboreal continent, I can visualize what he meant. What a true wilderness of trees that must have been!

I seem to be getting my sea-legs. Yesterday, through a morning storm and heavy winds, I managed almost 82 miles. Today I'll clock about 70. I rise like the undead at 4am to do my chores and roll off into the darkness on silent wheels, my small headlamp cutting a small patch in the surrounding night. It's a great time to be out, and cycling during the transition is interesting. By lunch time I've logged a good portion (most) of my miles for the day. As long as it stays hot and muggy, I'll be on this routine.

Hey, I just found out! I crossed into a new time zone. Holy trans-American, World Champion Recumbent Cyclo-Tourist, Batman, that rocks beyond rock. It's like uber rock, or something. I should dispense with Indiana tomorrow. Illinois is a bit longer and should take me three full days, but then it's due south for a while along the Mississippi, Huck Finn on a 'bent and all that.

Here are some photos from the wilds of Indiana:

THIS is a "rancid meat morning." What did I tell you?

Flowers I found this morning:

My lunch stop today:

Until next time, be well and ride on!


Thursday, September 6, 2007

Rest Day Grab Bag

Today I'm kicking back in the wonderful Monroeville library, a new edition to the community. Let me say it now and for all time: Libraries and librarians are the best. My students, of course, need to spend more time with these places and people. For me, especially on this journey, they have been of immense value. The bibliophiles have all been warm, supportive people with access to all the crucial information I need. The facilities help me keep in touch and provide some escape from the often challenging weather conditions--islands of calm and repose in the ever-changing world of the nomadic cyclist. A blessing on all of them!

I'll be in the library most of the day as there is nothing else going on in Monroeville. This is small town rural America. This new library is one of the biggest things to happen in a while, made possible by dedicated tax dollars that go only to libraries. In most of the rest of the country it seems to be a battle royal for public funds, librarians going to the ropes with fire fighters, the police (who have guns), and other necessary public services. Indiana had the good sense to acknowledge the value of the free public library. Well done.

Chris, the main librarian, related a humorous story of how the library was constructed. There was an old building next door to the soon-to-be constructed library that needed to be taken down. The town, working on some kind of draconian budget, hired a blind demolitionist, "Blind Bruce" they called him. He drove a bulldozer and truck--obviously not too far, but that he was allowed behind the wheel at all leaves one wondering, eh? Chris informed me that the entire two-story structure was taken down by hand, sledge hammers and crowbars. Pounding and yelling would issue fourth from the site day after day. A crash! Someone yells in pain. His co-worker yells back: "Shake if off, dude, shake it off." Finally, OSHA showed up, put hard hats on the workers and took the keys away from Blind Bruce. The building finally came down without any serious injury.

So today is going to be a mixed bag, rants and raves, tech reviews, forays into the twisted mind of a bent cyclist left alone to his own devices with a continent to cross. Proceed at your own risk. Lock the children in a darkened room. Helmet and kevlar vest recommended.

Tech Time:

I'd like to say a few things about my gear because many readers or gearheads like me, and some are thinking of long-distance touring. Here's a run down of some of the main equipage at this time:

The bike: As I expected, the Street Machine, set up so expertly by Dana and Fernando at Bent Up Cycles in Van Nuys, California, has been a nearly flawless performer. I've had only two ultra minor problems: 1) The rear wheel developed a tiny squeak that I could only hear during slow speed climbs when there was almost no other sound. I'd be grinding up some killer hill, trying to "Zen-out," and this little squeak, squeak, squeak would pierce my lactic acid enhanced meditation. In Palmyra, NY, Jeff, the son of my hosts Dale and Nina, Dale and I took off the wheel, and Jeff checked the tightness of this and that, cleaned off some gunk. After we put Mr. Wheel back on, no more squeak. Sanity restored. 2) The kickstand poked through the rubber tip so that it was rendered useless. Now, on grassy, soft or tilted areas, I place a squashed beer can under the foot of the stand. I'll carry that can across the country. I can recycle it when I get home AND I got to consume the contents before giving it a second life. Can't beat that. Other than those two things, no problems in almost 1,400 miles. No flats on the solid Schwalbe Marathon tires (new version--not the racers). The wide (1.5 in) tires and suspension of the bike have been superb assets. I'm hitting chuck holes, ratty pavement, errant barnyard animals, you name it, and the bike stays solid. I'm especially happy when I've got to cross railroad tracks, which I do frequently. Thump, thump, and it's all over. By the way, God, Shimano, and HP Velotechnik have yet to invent shifting/steering/ergonomic bliss better than my under seat bars with bar-end shifters.

Camping gear: The alcohol stove continues to be one of my favorite pieces of gear. Easy, fun, silent. Go make one. My tent, a Sierra Designs "Light Year," has been perfect for little ol' me. Just three stakes and she's ready for the storm (likely scenario tomorrow, by the way). This model is especially nice because I can sit up to change clothes, read, arrange my life. When the bugs are swarming or the rain coming down, that means a lot. Sleeping in these hot, humid conditions has been a challenge, however. In the closed space of the tent, the temperature is even higher and the air, mostly still in the evenings, doesn't seem to move. Indeed, it seems to have left entirely, maybe vacationing in Pismo Beach, who knows? So I lie there, sweat pouring off me, and try to relax. Slowly, bit by bit, the conditions ease, and I can drift off to sleep. When it's bad, those first 30 or 40 minutes are just plain nasty. I question my sanity and look forward to the arid West in the fall with a passion you might well call immoderate, excessive, pick-yer-adjective-get-me-the-hell-out-of-here-now intense. Adversity provides spice to the journey, but sometimes you just choke on that fistful of minced jalapeno. Gimme bland, bland I tell you! I want white bread and mayo--okay, maybe not, but you get the analogy.

Monroeville, Indiana:

It's hard to overstate what this backwater place means to long distance cyclists. They roll in from all over the country, all over the world and find refuge from the rigors of the road. Joe Clem, who recently passed on, was a founder of the cycling-only refuge. He enjoyed talking to all the different people and had a huge, giving heart. This same energy is found in the whole town, friendly people who are just happy to see you and give whatever help they can. Warren Fluttrow and Jennifer Yoquelet are two other key players in the refuge, but it's supported by the park service, too. Cyclists, free of charge, get access to air conditioning, full shower and laundry facilities, full kitchen, cots, access to the library and everything else in town within a few minutes walk. For a couple of nights, I'll get a bug-free, sweat-free sleep. I can lock my bike in the living area and walk around. Also a tradition in the center is to invite any cyclists to whatever functions might be going on in the hall adjacent to the living area. Mostly the building serves as a community center, housing weddings, family reunions and the like. We need more places like Monroeville.
One interesting exchange I had occurred at the local market (minimal resources here, so don't expect fresh veggies). A fine old gentleman, standing straight, was hanging around the front of the store, and we got talking a bit about my travels and such. It turns out I was having the honor of talking to Harold, a veteran of the Battle of the Bulge. Evidently, he survived. Considering the battle was over 60 years ago, he was doing quite well. He said the army always made sure they had tobacco: "They gave us cigarettes before they gave us food!" He was a member of an armored battalion, and his tank had a tread blown off when they hit a landmine. They stuck with the tank and kept firing, providing cover for the advancing infantry. "We fired every last round of ammo!" he said. Feeling humbled by this man's service and experience, I bid him farewell and trundled off to the library. Encounters like this will not be possible in the near future.
That's all for now. Since I can now upload photos and video more easily, you'll be seeing more visual additions. Looks like some wet work for tomorrow, but the heatwave is set to break. I'll be looking at a long string of days in the 70's and nights in the 50's. The World Champion Recumbent Cyclo-Tourist lives again. Your correspondent signing off from the frontier of eastern Indiana, Monroeville, a haven for the wayward, pedal-powered lunatics on the backroads of the Great American Outback.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

A few photos to catch up...

I'm camped out for a couple of nights in Monroeville, Indiana. The riding has been very hot in the afternoon, so I've been getting up at obscene hours--like 4am--to be on the road before 6am. I need to ride with lights at that early hour, but I find I've knocked off 20 miles before I'm even fully awake. How cool is that?

Today I'm going to just post some photos with a caption/explanation of each to give you a little visual input. I finally figured out that libraries with security lockouts will allow me to upload directly to the blog but not through, which I've been using to resize for the blog. What this means is that, depending on the connection, when you go to enlarge a photo, it may be HUGE if it had to go directly to the blog from my camera. Oh well, at least I can now always add a photo or two.

This is the grand moment when my secondary counter rolled over to all zeros! That's 1,000 miles to you folks out there in Internet land:

Labor Day parade, vintage Jeepsters and vintage drivers, Freemont, Ohio:

Freemont cuties all tarted up for the event:

Rock 'n' Roll museum in Cleveland, Ohio:

Far out church in Napoleon, Ohio:

Motoring through central Ohio:

This kid was soooo excited about my bike and my tour that he needed to have his picture taken with me and the bike. This is at a vintage tractor show I stumbled into in Gibsonburg, Ohio:

Some of the hardware:

This is Steven Kraft, recently out of a twenty year stint with the US Marines. Way to go, Steve. His new civilian life fit him well. We met over the Internet after he responded to some of my stories. We made "plans" to meet up somewhere in the middle of the country as he was starting from the west coast and I from the east. Damn it all if we didn't find each other in the middle of corn fields a bit east of Bowling Green.

Detail of art guitar at Rock and Roll museum:

Tuesday, September 4, 2007


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 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, 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.