Day 68: Lights, camera, Alva! (Crystal Rock Campground to Akron)

Despite the storm, the tent was actually dry in the morning, and a clear blue Ohio day lay itself out before us, ready for some heavy pedaling.

The night before, a camper van had pulled in, one of those rentals covered in pixelated murals. Turns out, it was a dad taking his three young kids on a road trip, and the youngest, a four-year-old with a thin elfin-like face and the saddest blue eyes you've ever seen, was homesick for mom. 

There's nothing like science to cheer you up right? I grabbed our box of science and she helped put together Sunny, a purple sol cycle we've had since the beginning of the trip. She giggled as it zoomed through the oatmeal and tin cans and coffee and raced to catch it on the other side. We left Sunny with her and took off toward Akron.

We wanted to make it to Pittsburgh in three days, so we decided to head for a Warm Showers 80 miles away, since the weather was good (ie no lightning). We took a pretty zig-zagging route from the bay to Hwy 303. None of the roads had much of a shoulder to speak of, but they had plenty of traffic and repair reroutes.

About 20 miles in, up a hill on a highway with the only shoulder we'll see all day, I spotted little grey sign that reads "Thomas Edison's Birthplace -->". 

What!

 A blown-out picture of the birthplace of TE, what a guy. 

A blown-out picture of the birthplace of TE, what a guy. 

Out of all the routes and all the tiny towns, we found Milan, Ohio, birthplace of the father of modern light, sound and cinema. (Also, research labs and modern utilities). 

I made myself a PB and honey sandwich in front of his little brick childhood home, gape in adoration and try to absorb some neural plasticity, or whatever it was that enabled his 1,093 patents.

 Gary and Marilyn, avid cyclists themselves 

Gary and Marilyn, avid cyclists themselves 

We rolled into Gary and Marilyn's right around 8, a gorgeous home tucked away at the end of a cul de sac on the edge of the Cayahoga Valley National Park, the evening cool for once, light. Marilyn wasn't home yet but Gary fed us homemade pesto and linguini, deviled eggs, fresh cherries and limeade. A literature professor, we peppered him with questions about what to read for the rest of our trip. He suggested Gibson - if you haven't, go pick up a copy of Neuromancer now, it'll roil your world- and Pym, by Matt Johnson, about a guy who decides Edgar Allen Poe's only novel is actually a true account, and sets out to retrace its surreal adventure. 

Then Marilyn showed up with thick slices of chocolate cake and we were done for.   

Rachel and I got our own rooms for the night, space being one of those simple but tremendous luxuries you can't find on a trip like this.

And when I went to turn off the lights, I looked up - and the whole ceiling was covered in a universe of tasteful of glow-in-the-dark stars: finally, the night sky we've been missing these last few months. 

Day 67: Chased by Storms (working book title) (Napoleon to Crystal Rock Campground)

 Ohio has 88 of these stylin' courthouses

Ohio has 88 of these stylin' courthouses

MWe left the soft grass of Napoleon to the French and Frosty Boy, on a mission to ID Rachel. Birth certificate in hand, we headed for Bowling Green, for coffee and for a post office with a visa counter. 

We intended to take county road P in, were rerouted by more construction (as on every other useful road in Ohio), but the riding was good and easy, on roads that were mostly empty. I'm listening to Garden of the Beasts, an account of the lives of the American ambassador to Berlin and his daughter Martha during Hitler's rise to power. So most of my memories of the ride, addled by decaffeination, have overtones of 1930s Nazi Germany. The road took us 27 miles straight into Bowling Green though, a decidedly more docile town. 

 Newwwttt

Newwwttt

I hunkered down at Grounds for Thought, a coffee shop with great coffee, decent lemonade, and no outlets. It is also a used book store.  Because I have no self control, I picked out two more (a Gibson; an account of the early Iraq war); in the process discovering a sci fi novel by Newt Gingrich.

I also dove deep into the Warm Showers listings for Pittsburgh, and stumbled upon Ellis', who I did the AAAS mass media fellowship with. He's no longer in Pittsburgh, but he reached out to some friends and came through 250%, I say, prescient since I'm writing this in the future.

Once the passport application was filled out in black (not blue) ink, signed, stamped and submitted to the U.S. Government, we took off toward a private campground in eastern Ohio. Only we found that it's closed on Mondays, so we turned our wheels north toward Sandusky Bay and headed to Crystal Rock. Highway 6 turned into this mega busy road being repaved and otherwise improved in 17 different spots. Maybe 5 miles in, Rachel stops and says something about getting off the road and I thought it was because of all the road work. But she motions for me to turn around and there's this grey, immense cloud bank racing behind us, literally a wall of darkness, rain visible as it blurs the countryside. We decide to pull over to the gas station ahead to wait out the storm, though it's still so hot and humid I'm in my token Hawaiian shirt. In fifteen minutes, after a Kit Kat bar, it's clear the storm is going to pass by on the west side without even touching the blue sky above us. 

We stop in Fremont for groceries, Fremont, Ohio, also the home of President Hayes' presidential library. It is fenced off. For the last hour to the campgrounds, I listen to Sarah Vowell try to find some family history in a five-day road trip on the Trail of Tears. 

The campground is pretty, you know, commercial. Mowed grass. A few RVs. Close to the scenery, but not close enough to see the scenery. Whatever it's 8:30 pm and I'm hungry so we binge on an entire family can of baked beans, accompanied by corn and pre-cooked wild rice. We also take some very long, hot showers. 

The whole northern US is supposed to be able to see the aurora that night. A Slate article declares that most of those states expect clear skies. Ohio's is almost completely clouded over. We bike down to the Bay but can't tell if the flashes we see are lightning or electrical storms. After failing to uncork the wine, then dropping it on the ground, we give up and head back to the campground. 

It rains all night. 

Day 64: Book it to the Library (La Porte)

Our seventh class had been booked early in our trip. I think the La Porte Public Library contacted us through Twitter, or email maybe. Anyways, it's another one of those places that's been on the map for a while, and it's always kind of an event for us to show up at these amorphous red Google pins.

We had a leisurely morning full of eggs, cantaloupe, hot, fresh coffee, and easy Sol Cycle repairs. The training wheel forks break often. Wanna try to fix that? The link's right up top! We just posted the .stl 3D file. It will take you to Tinkercad, a free online tool where you can 3D model to your heart's content.

Anyways, the two library classes were pretty great. The kids in the first one, ages 8 through 17, were really enthusiastic - along with some parents and Faith, who participated too. Because the class was so small, we were able to give a Sol Cycle to every 2-3 kids. That made it a lot more hands on than we've been able to be in the past. 

 Instafamous

Instafamous

The later class, a middle school tech camp, was a lot quieter at first. But it's pretty rewarding to coax the kids who want to talk, but are too shy, to speak up. And we had a couple that really opened up, volunteering with great answers and better questions.

 Earl, the library volunteer heading it's 3D printing push, made us these amazing necklackes

Earl, the library volunteer heading it's 3D printing push, made us these amazing necklackes

Plus, although it was cloudy, we had enough sunshine to make the bicycles move! Those thunderstorms follow us to campsites and classrooms without fail. How nice for solar panels to actually have something to work with.

We ran some errands (I got my ukelele repaired, Rachel got some hawt passport photos taken), then Faith picked us up and we nestled into the farmhouse for the night. She made an apple pie straight from their orchard! We'd given up on pie since we've been woefully underwhelmed by the bakeries so far on this trip. But who needs a bakery when Faith and Rachel bake fresh bread too. 

Before the trip, Faith had reached out to the bike club to let them know we'd be coming by. Usually, we love meeting fellow cyclists (like Faith and her whole biking family), since they can a) empathize and b) always have a good couple of stories. So this one guy stopped by right as we were sitting down for dinner and we handed him some bread thinking he's going to stay a minute and share a few jokes and stay he does. For sixty minutes or ninety, some impossibly long time. And he just talked and talked about himself in the dullest possible manner, expounding trip upon trip in minute detail. No conversation, no story arcs, just lectern. Kevin did his damnedest to politely ask us questions to try to steer the discussion anywhere, but our esteemed guest, he went on and on, oblivious to the quiet, intense discomfort obvious to everyone else. I don't want to hang on the guy, we all have our faults, but Rachel and I talked afterwards and we just had no idea what to do in the moment. For we felt responsible for his ceaseless visit; but for us, he wouldn't be there and Kevin and Faith could have had a quiet, easy Friday night.

 Pie so good! 

Pie so good! 

Well, we weren't going to cede the pie, so after he left, we dug in. And  it was tremendous: perfect golden flakey crust wrapped around bits of apple both tart and sweet. Maybe the best apple pie I've ever had.

I thought I was going to get another perfect 10:30 to 6:30 night but I tossed and turned for hours, destroyed both sets of covers on the top and bottom bunk. I think I finally fell into an uneasy truce around 2. 





Day 64: Book it to the Library (La Porte)

Our seventh class had been booked early in our trip. I think the La Porte Public Library contacted us through Twitter, or email maybe. Anyways, it's another one of those places that's been on the map for a while, and it's always kind of an event for us to show up at these amorphous red Google pins.

We had a leisurely morning full of eggs, cantaloupe, hot, fresh coffee, and easy Sol Cycle repairs. The training wheel forks break often. Wanna try to fix that? The link's right up top! We just posted the .stl 3D file. It will take you to Tinkercad, a free online tool where you can 3D model to your heart's content.

Anyways, the two library classes were pretty great. The kids in the first one, ages 8 through 17, were really enthusiastic - along with some parents and Faith, who participated too. Because the class was so small, we were able to give a Sol Cycle to every 2-3 kids. That made it a lot more hands on than we've been able to be in the past. 

 Instafamous

Instafamous

The later class, a middle school tech camp, was a lot quieter at first. But it's pretty rewarding to coax the kids who want to talk, but are too shy, to speak up. And we had a couple that really opened up, volunteering with great answers and better questions.

 Earl, the library volunteer heading it's 3D printing push, made us these amazing necklackes

Earl, the library volunteer heading it's 3D printing push, made us these amazing necklackes

Plus, although it was cloudy, we had enough sunshine to make the bicycles move! Those thunderstorms follow us to campsites and classrooms without fail. How nice for solar panels to actually have something to work with.

We ran some errands (I got my ukelele repaired, Rachel got some hawt passport photos taken), then Faith picked us up and we nestled into the farmhouse for the night. She made an apple pie straight from their orchard! We'd given up on pie since we've been woefully underwhelmed by the bakeries so far on this trip. But who needs a bakery when Faith and Rachel bake fresh bread too. 

Before the trip, Faith had reached out to the bike club to let them know we'd be coming by. Usually, we love meeting fellow cyclists (like Faith and her whole biking family), since they can a) empathize and b) always have a good couple of stories. So this one guy stopped by right as we were sitting down for dinner and we handed him some bread thinking he's going to stay a minute and share a few jokes and stay he does. For sixty minutes or ninety, some impossibly long time. And he just talked and talked about himself in the dullest possible manner, expounding trip upon trip in minute detail. No conversation, no story arcs, just lectern. Kevin did his damnedest to politely ask us questions to try to steer the discussion anywhere, but our esteemed guest, he went on and on, oblivious to the quiet, intense discomfort obvious to everyone else. I don't want to hang on the guy, we all have our faults, but Rachel and I talked afterwards and we just had no idea what to do in the moment. For we felt responsible for his ceaseless visit; but for us, he wouldn't be there and Kevin and Faith could have had a quiet, easy Friday night.

 Pie so good! 

Pie so good! 

Well, we weren't going to cede the pie, so after he left, we dug in. And  it was tremendous: perfect golden flakey crust wrapped around bits of apple both tart and sweet. Maybe the best apple pie I've ever had.

I thought I was going to get another perfect 10:30 to 6:30 night but I tossed and turned for hours, destroyed both sets of covers on the top and bottom bunk. I think I finally fell into an uneasy truce around 2. 





Day 62: Two-month-aversary! (Coal Hollow to Channahon)

We've been out two months. Two months on the road. Deep into this, there's no turning back now, just a thousand more miles, we've got this in the bag. 

Woah two months. 

image.jpg

There's not a lot to say about our ride from Brian's front yard to Channahon, but long story short, Rachel had a tire replaced, I ate a bagel with butter, and we celebrated with take-out Chinese food, Lagunitas, and a jacuzzi suite at the Manor Motel which sounds like pure $$$ but then you have to remember we are in Illinois. But it had a street lamp inside. Yup. 

For whatever reason, be it the media or my internal conviction I'm actually a hobbit reborn, the image I had of this trip before I left was a third-person view of an indistinct cyclist atop and leaning over a ridge like this. 

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image.jpg

Or this. 

To be fair, riding out of Grand Teton was actually pretty close to this.

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Anyways, before we left on this trip, there was nothing concrete to hold on to about it. Two months in the saddle of a bicycle, pedaling more miles each day than I had ever pedaled in one day, witness to a nation and to nature I'd never seen.

Our daily lives are kind of like this: wake up to the Kooks, boil water (or don't), pull on dirty spandex (or wait until after breakfast), pack up again (just like yesterday), dry everything off (it has inevitably rained), do little meaningless things that take another half an hour, head out.

And then we're pretty much on our own for eight or ten hours a day, since we ride pretty far apart. Often, I fill the space with music or podcasts or, more recently, audiobooks since I finally bought some headphones that actually stay on my ears (currently re-listening to Sarah Vowell's Partly Cloud Patriot. Her humor comes from obsession and my aspiration in life is to find people, objects, places, ideas to obsess about). 

Or I don't fill it and I just let the sounds be what they are. It feels like my brain's only just begun to be able to cope with stretches unfilled by anything but road sans external stimulation. I talk to myself by having conversations in my head with the people I've met, the only way I can get around the weirdness of internal debate. Anyone else do that? Oh and one of my favorite continuous transitions on this trip that requires me to cut the noise is the birds, watching and hearing them change from one species to another. Their calls become common for a week or longer, then rarer and rarer and new distinct chirps take their place. The first place I remember matching a bird to its call, it was sitting on a power line in the bucolic high desert of northeastern California. They seem more colorful here as we move east, some with bright orange breasts, and the dark red cardinals, which I can only name because Naomi mentioned it.

Other indulgent reflections:

I think this is true for Rachel too but I can only speak for myself - though we spend most of our days on blacktop and indeed seek out the best roads - we've deacclimated to the concrete of the cities, which are loud and hard and grey and busy. Before this trip, the constant busy of the city was a source of comfort and creativity, the bustling helping along my mind too. But for 95% of our trip, we've been bordered by nature (preserves) or farms, and the ground around is soft and the dirt's right there and wet and you can grab a clump of it and you can stop to pee in the grass and eat lunch watching some sheep and there's not so much in-your-face stimulation that's ever present in urbana.

Not that we won't learn to love cities again or don't love cities anymore but they are so overwhelming right now, even the small ones, even the 50-minute-commute Chicago suburbs we passed through the other day. 

And:

One of the most finally-put-into-words moments of podcast.. from an episode of Strangers.. told the story of a Alfred Corchado, a journalist who immigrated from Mexico in the 50s or 60s. And when he was in high school, his biggest dream was to be a crew leader at the farm he worked at and buy a car. 

And not to imply there is anything small there - Corchado had ambition - but his ability to apply that drive was limited to the world he knew. His family had different dreams for him, so his mother convinced him to go to college by promising the car. He talked to an adviser there for the first time, and Corchado told him he wanted to be a hairdresser. The counselor has him take an aptitude test - whether those are any good isn't the point, the point is the adviser suggested he try to be a foreign correspondent. He became the editor of the student paper, took an internship at a paper in Utah (over NYT), and started working on a story about migrants there. 

"That's when I understood how powerful this profession could be... being able to find people who took me back to when I arrived in California and suddenly you're giving them a voice."

I usually don't like commentary on stories, but I love host Lea's conclusion:

"When a kid grows up .. and can't see much a future for themselves, let's not write that off as a failure of imagination on their part."

You know best what you grow up knowing. And while some find a way to face a world of unknowns and find a path that is big and bold and fulfilling, others can't do it on their own because that outside world doesn't really exist for them. Maybe. I don't know, my parents have made sure my world of opportunity has been petty big. I'm lucky. 

But my idea of what a futur can hold has grown a lot on this trip. Like you'd expect, we have met so many people on this trip whose normal is substantially different than ours. Whose expectations, habits, childhoods, and futures dreams really do seem otherworldly. We live in the same country, speak the same language, and more often than not, really like each other. But our paths never would have crossed save for the happenstance required by a journey like this one and that's been exhausting and worth remembering - that people dream of different paradises largely dependent on what they already know. 

Enough for now I need some coffee. 

Day 58: Pave America with bike trails (Cedar Falls to Cedar Rapids)

Woke up feeling fresh this morning, stomach seems to be all healed up. John made us Scottish oatmeal with raisins and vanilla almond milk with a touch of honey. Plus the best coffee we've had this trip. Well. I've had. Rachel's cutting her addiction loose and reverting to tea.

 Goodbye goodbye!

Goodbye goodbye!

Goodbye's are always bittersweet and this one especially so. Naomi and John took such good care of us, so that while this could have been an extraordinarily low couple of days, it wasn't. Instead it was a treat to spend an extra day in a house full of art, adventure, clean sheets and generous meals. But pedal on we must so off we went.

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We rode bike trails along the Iowa river almost the whole way to Cedar Rapids. The first segment, to Waterloo, was all paved, green light filtering through the veil of cedars (I assume, I don't know trees) that bowed over the path. Every so often we caught a glimpse of the river, of an old man with a cap and his fishing rod, of a couple of happy kids out on boats. 

Construction blocked the bit of trail from Waterloo to Evanston, where we caught back up with it and rode an easy 20-something miles on a blacktop path through the riparian forest. The pavement gave way to gravel, then to dirt, sometimes totally grown over with grass, until 10 or 15 miles out from Cedar Rapids. Sometimes the mud got real sticky, catching the tires and making each pedal a slog. But for the most part, it was incredible to be off the road. One of the pieces of this trip I didn't really think through was that the best roads are often the most traveled.. or at least well traveled. So on a bike, we can only really access places you can access by car - until now. It looks like we're going to have trails almost clear to La Porte, Indiana, our next teaching spot. 

Day 55: When 50 miles seems easy (Iowa Falls to Cedar Falls)

Inches out of the sleeping bag at 9:12 and met Sherrie for coffee and the Coffee Attic. We are two breakfast sandwiches and gave an interview to the town paper too.

Then she took us on a tour of Iowa Falls: to the bike shop (home of the Super Tuned tuneup), Ricky T sr's garage (the Ricky's are not related) to see Sherrie and his decked out bicycles, stereo systems and all, the hospital to actually visit Ricky T, where Rachel got some advice about her knees, then finally back to Mark's house to pack up. Sherrie offered to drive most of our stuff to Rachel's family at Cedar Falls, so we only had to carry a few bags. We didn't leave until 1:30 but weren't worried cause 47 miles seemed breezy after yesterday. Or not breezy. We're just finally confident we can make it any distance 60 and under with no real difficulty, assured of our strength. It's a deep kind of comfort that we only just learned.

We had a headwind the whole way, but no detours. We even stopped for a road whiskey at Grumpy's in Ackley. We made it to Cedar Falls by 6:30 or 7, welcomed by Naomi and John, Rachel's dad's cousin and her husband. They cooked us an incredible meal of Iowa State Fair food (no deep fried butter, don't worry).

Then, while unpacking, Rachel realized she couldn't find either of her rain jackets, which had been tied to the back of the tent. Worse, her wallet was in one of the pockets. So we called in our Iowa Falls reinforcements, but, no luck. The jackets are gone, along with her wallet, so we're trying to figure out how to get her an ID. Turns out California is the only state that doesn't allow you to apply via mail, you have to go in in person. But she can't. Cause she's in Iowa. There's traveler IDs, but those require an itinerary, which we don't have, cause we're science vagabonds. And expedited passports take forever and also take you for all your worth. Any ideas?

Day 54: Iowa Falls aka magicwonderbikeland (Nemaha to Iowa Falls)

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I used to find it impossible to get up early in the morning, the world soupy, thick and heavy, but that's shifted substantially in the last two years. Anjali started me a little at school, and in Davis, I'd get up before work to run because the summer days there are brutally hot. Now, on this trip, I love waking up at 6:30, getting out before 8. No flies, the air is cool and sweet, the sun's up but not fiery and there's nothing like putting 50 miles behind you before noon.

So I left Jim's place early, before Rachel woke up. And this splendid day rose before us and the tailwinds propelled us and there were those 50 miles by noon. I also don't do well with heat so I stopped for lunch in a cemetery (only place in Fort Dodge with shade on the way out). Rachel and I decided we could do 100 mile, our first century, so we plugged Iowa Falls into the GPS. Best decision ever.

It's this sweet little town that feels bigger than its 5200 residents. We figured we could camp in Assembly Park, which was right on the Iowa River without getting kicked out so long as we hid ourselves kind of well. Cooked up some lettuce wraps filled with kielbasa, quinoa, mushrooms and onions and basked in the glory of the evening and how easy the day felt despite the distance.

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The evening was so warm, I decided to clean up in the river. I ran up the swinging bridge and down the road to the river, interrupting the migration of twelve mama gooses and their goslings. I wasn't sure if the river was safe.. It seemed a special kind of crazy that on such a gorgeous evening, there was no one else swimming in the river. So I flagged down a guy driving a boat and asked if the water was safe. He assured me it was. 

I jumped in with all my clothes on ... double duty, washing machines are few and far between. While I scrubbed off the thick cake of sweat, dirt, sunscreen and bug spray, the guy on the boat, Mark, docked his boat right there next to the shore. When he found out Rachel and I were cyclists, he called up his friend Sherrie. It was Tuesday and Tuesday's are bike nights in Iowa falls. She's loud and blonde, Mark said, you're gonna love her. 

 Rachel's in there somewhere 

Rachel's in there somewhere 

Sherrie was awesome and kind of adopted us for the night. She took us to Alden, where the cyclists were grabbing some brews before heading back. And the first song Burchfield plays when we arrive is Wait So Long by Trampled by Turtles! I went crazy like always; that was a good introduction.

Anyways, we stayed there for a while, then Sherrie drove us back to town to meet Mark, Chow neè Kevin and Ricky T jr at Woody's, where Rachel was proposed to and then had the world's second worst beer (the first can be found on tap in Sundance). Old Legion: don't do it. 

We ran outside at midnight to look for the ISS but it was too bright, or we got the time wrong. As the night wound down, Ricky T convinced Mark to take us out on his boat on the river. And out there you could see the stars. We've had the universe stolen from us by weather for the last two months so to finally see them speckled up there was, well, kind of magical. Mark got a call from a guy in England about an engine failure in a commercial airplane we could see flashing in the sky from the deck of the boat. Turns out he's a machine genius.

We didn't end up camping in the park today, we slept on the couch in Mark's basement which is the most classic man cave I've ever had the opportunity to invade. The plane was fine, made it safe all the way across the nation. Now we just have to do that.