On Monday I bought a bike. I had been looking for a bicycle for two weeks. I had been to six bike shops and still hadn’t found the perfect combination of strength and a light weight frame designed to go long distances weighed down with stuff. I didn’t even know REI sold bikes, I just wandered in with some friends after eating a cheesy mushroom burger at Shake Shack and lo and behold there she was.
I came back the next day sure that the steep purchase was going to be worth it and more resolute than ever that I’d cycle the 477 miles from Boston, Massachusetts to Masardis, Maine for bushcraft school in August. I bought my first pair of pedals (Shimano) and shoes (Pearl iZumi) and treated myself to a second pair of bike shorts as mine were a few years old. The rain poured down as I ate my second cheesy mushroom burger at Shake Shack in two days but the radar looked as optimistic as I felt. The lightened ceased, the rain stoped and I road my new Salsa Marrakesh 25 miles home from Beechwood to North Olmsted.
She’s dark blue with a matching blue leather Brooks saddle. My brother was driving back to Columbus Thursday so I asked if I could hitch a ride with the bike so I could cycle back to Cleveland. Friday morning he made a pot of coffee, offered me a granola bar and helped me load her up before he went to work. I took the Alum Creak Ohio to Erie Trail most of the day. The temperature was perfect in the 70s and the overcast sky gave way to clear blue when I stopped in Sunbury for lunch.
The waitress wasn’t helpful at first when I asked her where I could park my bike. She said there were no racks and I absolutely couldn’t bring it inside the restaurant. She suggested trying the bar down the street until a gentleman sitting on a park bench out front said other people locked their bikes to the street signs and that “no body will bother it.”
I talked to the guys on the line about what I was doing. They wanted to see the bike and told me about a cyclist from Columbus who rides up and back for breakfast every weekend. One of the cooks said he’d be worried about the types of people he might meet if he set out on his own. It seems to be the prevailing sentiment I’ve run into being back in the states: great suspicion of fellow Americans and fear of the unknown. I reassured him that almost everyone I encounter is kind and helpful. Another cook brought me out a slice of watermelon. I like being able to have a full conversation with people unencumbered by my clunky command of the language. There's a different connection to be made than those I made in Laos.
I spent the afternoon following the Heart of Ohio trail as it meandered north, crossing streets and finding itself again a quarter mile down the road. Park of the trail is on a ridge with farm land and open fields on either side. I went through Gambier, home of Kenyon College, which I hadn’t visited since I attended the Young Writer’s Workshop 15 years ago. I saw deer and their fawns, a huge snapping turtle and hawks.
The country smells like death. The ravaged carcasses of deer, raccoons, squirrels and other small mammals. A groundhog ran right in front of my tire. Being slow and on a bicycle I was able to stop to let him finish dashing across the road, but I see how he could have easily joined the dozen other road kill I saw. The only things that smell more like death than road kill are the living chickens in the enormous coops, longer than a football field. I can only imagine the conditions on the inside.
I stopped for dinner at Nancy Maria’s Pizza in Howard, Ohio. I ordered a coke and the super sized Vinny sub which turned out to be two regular sized Vinnys. I chatted with an employee with a speech impediment. He is a large man who says before he had health problems he too was a cycle tourist. He told me about a waterfall down the road and I thought about the importance of not judging people before you have a chance to hear them out. I met a group of 4 cyclists coming in as I came out who recommended I cycle Flat Top Mountain in Abington, Virginia. I left feeling particularly connected and full.
The final stretch of the 75 mile day was up and down paved road to Mohican state park. A long down hill was just what I needed to lift my spirits. My neighbors across from me at the camp site were beyond kind offering me a burger and corn and a chat. Guess where they were originally from? Yep. North Olmsted. Small world.
My friends Nathan and Caitrin were setting up a tent big enough for a family of 6 when I got back from the showers. I was so excited to see them. Nathan made a camp fire and we star gazed pointing our the constellations we knew and the milky way. It was a great ending to a beautiful, if exhausting day.