Sunday, June 14, 2015

Two Wheels To Hell: Part 1

Part 2 Here
I don't know if I've ever written the story of my bicycle trip across the country. I may have mentioned it a few times but I never really told the story and for some reason I'm inspired to write a summary account of it. The Lure of The Labrador Wild is a very interesting book and the way Dillon Hubbard keeps the suspense and also the essential recreation of the event makes me think about my bike trip. This is not one of my writing strengths, if you haven't figured that out. I usually am inspired to provide only the bare physical facts and get deep into the metaphysical ramifications, the emotion, the dirt. For instance, I may be working backwards through my life to the Santa Cruz time period that eludes me, although the bike trip preceded the Santa Cruz time period.
If anyone asks themselves, "I wonder why Oggy is so fucked up," let me answer that by saying it's my time in Santa Cruz. Before you smugly break your neck sucking your own cock that you may have warned me against such an adventure, your specific warning and subsequent cowardly reaction is also part of the trauma. See, the physical location and cast of characters in Santa Cruz are but one element of the whole tragi-comedy. Equally villainous were those who had no direct connection to Santa Cruz but were so blindingly ignorant of the events there, so completely self-absorbed and smug in their safe pockets on insolent pride that in my mind they became equally as villainous as the abusive cops clubbing pregnant women in the street, the pigeons mutated by hi-tech silicone valley industries that intentionally polluted the ground water with cadmium, infected millions, caused countless birth defects, cancerous epidemics, including the pigeons who became vampirous vermin, iridescent eyes, bleeding rectums, untouchable, hunted by robotic hit-squads because they spread disease. All of that was fact, yet the reaction of those outside the bubble was a profound disappointment to me and still is. It was then that I came to feel the futility of all human endeavor. But the futility would still be preferable to the humiliation of being mocked for caring in the first place. And that mockery only came from those outside the Santa Cruz bubble, that depth of ignorance is only possible by retarded horses with blinders on, starring straight ahead, dumb fucking assholes with shit-eating grins and clever quotes in their back pocket. So, my disgust and fear and loathing was directed at those in Santa Cruz but my undying betrayal is directed toward those who ignored the apocalypse, those I tried to warn and received mockery as an answer. They are all evil. How can I not wish them the worst humanity has to offer as a lesson? But even that is futile because one must not possess a prosthetic ego in order to recognize the awful truth. Shine a bright light in the eyes of a blind man and you get the same response as doing nothing. Emotions are insulated by sagging flab. But at least the blind man believes you are shining a bright light in his eyes. The dogs of the Walmart mentality snuggle conventionality like a fucking cathode ray tube computer monitor at the bottom of a pool of shit.

As with many stories, the Bicycle trip began a while before the bicycle trip. I was working in the Merchant Marines as a deckhand on offshore supply vessels. I think that one essay sums up that experience as well as I can, but the details are still missing and I don't want to deal with them right now. The cigarette ashtrays, the cement dust. Barite mud. cheese sandwiches. starvation. long nights watching the waves through a rain streaked window in the lonely wheelhouse, memorizing constellations and questions for the Able-Seaman test I never took. Back and forth to polluted Louisiana ports. 18 ft waves. Having my face slammed into the ceiling above the top bunk as we crested each wave. Living on egg rolls. As the essay points out I was losing money every time I went to work because the villainous employment agency was taking around 75% of my check and Uncle Sam was taking another 20%. So I was making around $2/hr. Maybe clearing 11$ a day...seriously, no more than $11 and if I bought even a Hustler magazine to look at pictures of naked women then that was most of my paycheck. Ridiculous. But the final month or two of the hellish job, the employment agents had taken all they could squeeze from me and I was getting the full $40, minus taxes and other fees that seemed to be half of the check. It takes a long time to save money when you make $20 a day working 16 hours in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico. But not forever. It took about...two months. And I saved a few hundred dollars. Quit the Merchant Marines in the Fall of 1992. Ah yes, it's coming back to me. I quit the Merchant Marines but I didn't have enough money except to get another job immediately, and I had it in my mind to plant Colorado Blue Spruce and Willow and Alder in the clear cut coal country of Kentucky starting in November 1993. Yes, and I did spend about 5 months planting trees. And that's another story that I can't really go into detail about right now. It was quite arduous and thankless and the pay was pretty bad. There's almost nothing good about planting trees in the winter in the Coal Country. I guess, pick the worst possible weather you can imagine, grab a coat and a shovel and dig small holes in the ground to the highest point you can reach in two hours. Then turn around and dig holes back to your house, and then turn around and go back up the mountain. You can not speak to anyone because when you plant trees you will be alone on the side of a clear cut mountain in an area only moonshiners and coal men have seen. And at the end of the day, after 12 hours of digging holes, I'll give you $90 but about $40 of that will be used for supplies. We start again at 6 am tomorrow rain or shine. I mean, Marine boot camp is only 13 weeks long. That's about 3 months. A season of planting trees is twice that long and at the end of it you will have a little chunk of change. I think I saved $1500

With that chunk of change I decided I was going to abandon my car, which was a 1981 Datsun 200sx named Poncho. It was reliable and had survived being submersed in a hurricane induced tide in Galveston, Texas, but I am not personally cut out for DMV bureaucracy. I don't like it and I usually neglect it. My van is currently unregistered and uninsured and my license has expired and I don't care. I think this was a similar situation in 1992. My license was expired. The car needed to be registered and I didn't have an address. I had no money for insurance. Furthermore, the experience of consecutive jobs in fossil fuel industries had impressed upon me the gravely precarious situation mankind was toying with. When I went from the Gulf of Mexico where the oil platforms are growing like trees...and I drove to an area that has been completely stripped of trees to access the coal and my job is to replant the trees at a rate equal to the rate oil platforms are being constructed in the Gulf of Mexico...and I witnessed the destruction of both the coastal habitat in Texas and Louisiana and I went immediately to witness far worse destruction in Kentucky, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, well, it gave me a perspective on the real cost of fossil fuels. Sure, the oil men will see their poisonous byproducts and the coal men will see their byproducts but those two characters are rarely the same men, except for me. I went from one fossil fuel industry that had run amok into another one that had run amok. It was a one-two punch to my environmental sentiments. Computers were relatively rare in 1994 so it would take me almost 20 years to complete the trifecta of environmental catastrophes by working in the silicone wafer cable harness manufacturing industry. Having working in coal, oil, natural gas, and hi-tech my conclusion is that you have to be a blind and fucking stoned piece of shit not to recognize the apocalypse we are headed toward. All those clever engineers I worked with are so fucking clever that they can't see their own nose melting off in front of their eyes. Oh, but they can manufacture magnets so large that they bend light and actually purify ion streams as they fly past so the ones that are injected into the silicone are pure as a virgin's pussy. Oh, SO FUCKING CLEVER! Real clever, guys! Real fucking clever. You gotta be a complete asshole to think that's going to improve the quality of life for more than a few decades at the cost of total habitat and environmental destruction. Oh, but it's so clever that you can't refrain from doing it! Sure, you assholes. No, the Fukishima power plan has nothing to do with silicone implanters. Of course. The fucking farmers and fishermen are the ones who need nuclear power! Right! To gut fish. Fucking assholes deliberately playing Frankenstein with humanity and we're going to get a few decades of interesting toys followed by a fucking millennia of ungodly environmental problems, cancer, tumors, deformities, refugees, pigeons with no wings like feathered rats living in homeless shelters. Fucking assholes got their engineering degrees at the Burning River College of Science. Shit, with engineers like this who needs war? We got all the crazy we can afford with these motherfuckers pouring radioactivity into the ocean. Fucking ISIS beheads a few people but we got enough radioactivity pouring into the ocean to kill everyone ten times over. Which is a big news story? Which gets all the press? Which problem has $9Million a day being thrown at it by clever politicians? Sure you can kill innocent people with drones and then give the families a bag with $100K in it, but what paper piece of shit are you going to print to pay off 7 Billion diseased zombies?

And that brings me to the point where I was bought my freedom from the tree planting company. It really was like cutting cane in 1840 Mississippi. I mean, we were basically sleeping in the forest with jars of peanut butter planting trees for months. People ask me if my back hurt from planting trees and I should mention that in the Merchant Marines I was passing a large 2'' line (rope) to another vessel. I don't know why we were being tied together but we were at sea, near an oil platform. It was dark, probably 3am in the morning, four huge vessel engines belching smoke and death on us. Probably raining too. And I get all ready to throw this line to him and it weighs probably 80 pounds and I've got it in two hands and I'm going to heave the line in my right hand across the four bulwarks somewhere near where he is standing. And I say, "Ready" and he says, "Ready." and I wind up to get ready to heave this fucking huge line to him and at the last fucking second he turns away and mutters something like, "Wait a second...." but the line is already in motion toward him and I should've let it fly and either hit that cocksucker in the head or else pitched it into the sea and pulled it back up and tried again. But no! Old Oggy decides to stop at the last second and try to hold onto all of the line. I remember that at that very moment I was nothing but muscle. I'm lean in general, but because we were doing physical labor 12 hours a day, hauling hose and buckets of cement and busting rust and swabbing the deck, you know, to earn my $2/hour, and also because I was a vegetarian and the only vegetarian option I was allowed to enjoy was water I had lost all body fat and the muscle I had was as defined as it could be. And this gave me false confidence that I could do anything. I had started in the Merchant Marines struggling with big tool chests and huge boxes of food but now I felt I could pick up anything. So I tried to hold onto that huge line and I didn't let it go and all the weight transferred to my right middle back muscle and I learned quickly that I had surpassed my limit as I was immediately crippled. The back muscle tore instantly and never before or since have I broken out in a fever because of so much pain. I've had fevers but always from something related to germs or food poisoning or flu or amoebas. This was the first fever I had from a muscle injury. Maybe I was in shock too because I crawled to the galley and curled up shivering like and old dying dog. I could not move for days, not a single muscle. I couldn't roll my eyes. I couldn't lick my lips. A large tender lump developed where the muscle tore that is still there 22 years later. If I were smart I would've applied for disability, but I've already said I don't like official paperwork for any reason. It's all bullshit. Then I learned the magic of muscle relaxers like Cyclobenzaprine and Carisoprodol. During one 7 day period on shore I took a whole Soma pill instead of breaking it in half and I woke up two days later, naked in a strange house with this pitifully weak air conditioner directly over my face and a small child looking at me from a doorway. I vaguely remembered climbing in through a window, into an abandoned house and believing my heart was going to simply stop as it was only beating once every two minutes. I was helpless as my muscles refused to respond, staring at the ceiling in the dying light, sweating from every pore in the 120 degree sweltering humidity of Galveston summer but I was paralyzed, my eyes barely focusing on a revolving fan far away. A captain had given me a key to the house he had once rented. I had understood that it was ok for me to stay there but the key didn't work. So I snuck in and took the muscle relaxer and slept for 40 hours until a maid and her son arrived unexpectedly to clean the house for the next renters and found me naked and comatose on the bed. It required all my wit to avoid a lengthy prison sentence but I managed to escape. My whole experience in Galveston was basically on the lip of prison or death.

I tell this story because by the time I planted trees the back injury had mostly healed. But planting tens of thousands of 7 inch trees involves wearing a backpack. I can't find a video of coal country planting in Kentucky because it's probably forbidden to take video, and the videos of planting in Canada are not consistent with my experience at all so I can't direct you to a video for some idea of what it was like. The Canadians seem to have good attitudes but their videos seem like a picnic compared to what I dealt with. Yes, I lived in my tent or my car, but I paid for a camping spot at a remote campground. See? I had one loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter. No refrigerator. No bathroom. Just a tent in 20 degree weather and a sleeping bag. And there were only 6 people on the crew. So we took two personal trucks into the coal country. The only support we got was the tree plugs were in a refrigerated trailer that was brought into the planting area. Everything else was dog eat dog. Even the Canadian planting tool isn't the same. Well, my point is that planting trees was hard on my back but the real problem was the hole that the backpack wore into my hip bone. I have very little cushion on my hips and that backpack actually wore a groove in my hip that became so swollen that I could barely walk by the end of the season. They give a money bonus if you survive the season so I self-medicated until I could leave. (I took about 5 trees with me. White pine and Colorado Blue Spruce and replanted them in NH where 3 of them still live.)

And that brings me to the Spring of 1993 and I felt I needed to get on a bicycle and ride in one direction for a long time. Some friends were living in California and I decided I would bicycle there as I wanted to live minimally. I wanted no encumbrances and no more fossil fuel dependence. I would move to California on a bicycle, taking only the essentials and start over on the coast, a sunny beach, easy living, simple. I had enough money to support myself on the bicycle for the Spring, Summer and Fall of 1993 and that would give me 7 months to pedal about 4000 miles. That works out to be 20 miles a day, and if I had stuck to that 20 miles/day average then everything would've worked out fine. 2 hours of pedaling a day. It doesn't seem that much. If you start in April then sometime in October or November you will reach 4000 miles. And that's all true, but if you take one day off then you will either be one day behind schedule or you will need to pedal 40 miles to make up that day. And if you take two days off then you need to pedal 60 miles. And if you delay your departure until late May like I did by 'training' then you will be entering the famed Donner Pass in the Sierra Nevada Mountains during cannibal season. So I decided to try to average 80 miles a day. I bicycled from the Seacoast of NH to the Capital of Concord and back every day for one week and that is a distance of 120 miles. Then I added some panniers and a backpack and jugs of water and I could still get about 95 miles in a full day. That training run back and forth to Concord was a good test because there are hills, traffic, rain, antique stores where I bought a military surplus backpack. It was a fair representation of everything but the Rocky Mountains so it was the best training I could invent.

I remember my first destination was Norwich Academy Graduation in Vermont because a friend was graduating. It may have occurred to me that friends I had graduated high school with were now graduating college while I had 8 below average college credits and one incomplete Biology credit, but I felt my energies were best spent on a fearless and searching investigation of American lifestyles and industries, as they actually existed in real life. Experience, not book learning, was what I wanted. Broad, fearless experience of the Jack Kerouac/Jack London variety. I suspected, and later confirmed, that public school had been a failure by design in my case. It was a complete failure to socialize me and either taught me nothing or complete garbage/indoctrination jingoistic nonsense. To this day I still have no idea why it would take 12 years to teach 6 months worth of Geometry and Biology. This is a massive, criminal waste of youth and points toward a larger social and cultural failure to design any kind of practical approach to sustainable living. Of course, if your society produces nuclear waste, genetic mutations, industrial pollution, apocalyptic climate change, then they will probably also fail at education. Of course! If the most basic common sense laws of not shitting where you drink are not obeyed then you can forget about a sensible approach to education. 

My distrust of conventional education was complete so I opted for a self-education. But most if not all of my friends from high school were graduating from college as I got on a bicycle to ride from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific and I wanted to congratulate one of my friends for seeing his goal through to the end. He had followed a family tradition of attending Norwich Military College but I'd actually established a tradition of visiting him out of the blue and while the camaraderie developed there was unmistakable I was welcomed as family. These young men were not the slackers of the world, not the drug dealers, the slothful dead beat artists living in their parent's basements. I'll bet that every one of that graduating class is currently employed. These were the practical, the focused. Some would probably become career soldiers, some probably died in Iraq or Afghanistan, but I would point out that Military University and Army are two different things. He was a military cadet and the training seemed identical to the boot camp atmosphere of Ft. Benning, where my brother learned to throw hand grenades. But Norwich does not automatically mean you are in the Army. My friend also went to boot camp but it was a separate program. Norwich is simply a university run like Officer's training school. Classes are probably similar but they marched to the cafeteria in rigid formation and saluted one another. I'd visited Norwich enough to feel it was appropriate to pedal up there during Graduation weekend on my way to California. This may be a disconnect on my part, but that's how I felt. I also gave him my car keys as a graduation present, signed the title over to him and wished him well. 

The distance was about 180 miles to that college and I covered it in two days of pedaling, camping somewhere around the NH, VT border. That's averaging 90 miles a day in tough hill country, dodging one moose, and navigating tricky back roads to avoid the highway. I was not yet in top shape, but I felt that my heart and legs were strong enough to take the abuse, to get stronger, to rise to the challenge. I left in late May...which is two months behind schedule but still would only require an average of 30 miles a day to travel 4000 in 5 months, putting me in California in October. 30 miles is an easy 3 hours of pedaling but in my desire to plateau my strength I aimed for 90 miles, carrying 80 pounds of gear and water. I did not carry frivolous items but I had what I would ordinarily take camping plus 4 x 40oz jugs of water. Water is heavy but I drank it like a drowning whale. And I've never eaten so much food in my life. I could easily eat a pound of peanuts, a block of cheese, a can of vegetarian chili, a large baguette and a stick of butter. Easily. And for desert I would eat an entire pecan pie. And not really feel full. It was obscene the amount I ate. 4000 calories a day no problem, but I was probably burning 5000 calories by pedaling from 6am to 5pm pretty much without pause. I was a vegetarian at that time and this really plagued my diet because outside of big cities the only source of protein is from cans of beans. I mean buying a can of black beans or kidney beans, heating it, and eating it with salt and bread. I ate a lot of baked beans. Vegetarian chili was an option in bigger cities with big grocery stores but that involved navigating a big city to find the grocery store. If I wanted to minimize the wandering then I needed to stay near the main road and I couldn't find any cans of vegetarian chili at a truck stop. So I ate a lot of macaroni and cheese. I remember going to a grocery store with a deli and I asked for the largest sandwich they could make and they brought out one of the huge novelty loafs they give to parties, like three feet long. And I had them make me a custom vegetarian sandwich with spinach and cheese and cucumbers and tomatoes and basically everything meatless in their deli including macaroni salad, egg salad, tabbouleh, eggplant. The thing was obscene. They had to weigh it to give me a price and it weighed 4 pounds. I said, "That will do it." and on top of that sandwich I bought several bananas, a box of crackers, apples, grapes, peanuts (I devoured peanuts), jelly. Several bars of chocolate and an entire apple pie and a pint of ice cream. I took all of that outside and slayed it post-haste. Maybe 8 pounds of food. 7000 calories. It's hard to eat that many calories without meat but I would wake up in the middle of the cold night still sweating because my body was burning so many calories. I had to have food and water all the time. I felt that I would have no problem crossing the continent.

May and June in New England is normally wet and the summer of 1993 was no different. It rained during my trip to Vermont and it rained on the graduation ceremony as I left after a day or two. I headed North to Canada because knew where I was going.

During the long months in the Gulf of Mexico I had been on one ship with a photo calender of pretty parks all over North America and one of them was Parque Gatineau on the Ontario/Quebec border. Night after night during my wheel watch I would study that one photo of green forests and peaceful meadows and compare it to the constantly belching hell of that offshore supply vessel and the oil platform literally showering the sea with sparks from never-ending welding projects, the non-stop booming of the awful drill pounding the sea floor, plunging pipe into the pocket of oil, the deadly flat sea, the perils of the industry and I'd keep myself partly in the world of the living by imagining a life in Parque Gatineau. French girls with brunette braids innocently buttering fresh baguettes, pedaling single speed bicycles, having picnics while children played Frisbee nearby. I imagined a scenario as far removed from the hellish black-bearded swamp dwelling fishermen and hunters I worked with, their unintelligible tongue, their ill-treatment of Yankees. They sincerely wanted to kill me. And I'd spent the whole winter planting trees in this desolate coal country where the mountains had been stripped of all life, depleted, sucked dry, men dying underground in caverns, for energy, always for more energy for more people fucking and shitting and driving cars everywhere, polluting the oceans like it's our fucking job. Was there a place in the world that was still clean? This question is one I often ask when my soul feels polluted by the day to day pain of living, the trash, the jerk off rags, the exploitation, children dying in streams, innocent men bombed, one evil is answered by twice as much evil. Parades for murderers. Medals. Policians with false plastic smiles, prosthetic pride. Never a pause in the destruction, more coal and more oil and natural gas, more more more, always a frenzy of consumption and I wanted a place that was less. Someplace that was not consumed daily by the endless hunger of snarling men. That place was Parque Gatineau.

The parque did not disappoint. It's indeed a glacial meadow, formed in the epoch of ice covering all of North America and it's been preserved. And Ontario, specifically Ottawa and Cornwall, are bicycle friendly. I did get overly confident on one pleasant bicycle path and a bicycle with 80 pounds of gear does not handle very well so when the path took a sharp right turn and I was cruising fast and gazing across the river at the noble copper roofed Parliament building in Ottawa I looked up and realized I was not going to turn in time and instead I was going to go off a cliff into the river. It was a hard choice but I instantly decided to lay the whole bike down and me along with it rather than go off the cliff. I had a bruised knee and broken side view mirror but I was not badly injured.
The last thing I saw before I crashed

Well, I bought a few boxes of macaroni and cheese and a few fresh baguettes from pretty French bakers with hair in pigtails and a pie or two and some garlic butter (yes, garlic infused butter), and I took all of this into the park and set up camp. Hubbard's book of his expedition into the Labrador Wild is significant because of the hunger that party experienced, and also their deprivation. Game simply eluded them or never strayed into that forsaken valley between Grand Lake and Lake Michikamau and so they lived on pea flour and a few fish and the infrequent goose. But trekking cross country with a canoe, portaging, hiking, tramping, burns calories and they could not replace them. In stark contrast, I did not have that problem. I was burning calories as never before but I was surrounded by food so I casually satisfied my hunger and ate the loaves of bread fried in garlic infused butter with boxes of macaroni and cheese and fried eggs and a whole apple pie and maybe a pound of chocolate and a bag of peanuts. This night in that pre-historic glacial meadow in Ontario was definitely one of the most pleasant of the entire journey, maybe the most content night I've spent in my life, the tent protected me from the mosquitoes but the moon shone through the forests growing on rich moraine soil, undeveloped, only crickets chirping harmony to the croaking frogs in the nearby marsh. Owls and loons ruled and nighthawks ruled the night. No sounds of pipes being drilled or bow thruster engines or coal trucks lumbering toward the energy plant. No more driving, no car, no gas gauge and tire tread and spark plugs, no insanity of men scrambling for energy. Only Oggy and the moon and the parque with a full belly, my bicycle nearby, my legs gaining strength. The continent spread before me welcoming with all magic and secrets for me to uncover.

On one everlasting Whisper day and night repeated—so: "Something hidden. Go and find it. Go and look behind the Ranges— 
Something lost behind the Ranges. Lost and waiting for you. Go!"          —Kipling's "The Explorer."

The quote above appears in Hubbard's tale of Labrador but for me the following passage from the same poem also fits:

Then I knew, the while I doubted -- knew His Hand was certain o'er me. 
Still -- it might be self-delusion -- scores of better men had died -- 
I could reach the township living, but....He knows what terror tore me...
 But I didn't... but I didn't. I went down the other side.

If you've seen the movie "The English Patient" then you know Kipling is to be recited deliberately, not too fast, each word given the same respect it's writer gave. I may have to record my recitation of "The Explorer" just because I can't find a video of someone reading that poem, and I think I deserve to recite it, but I will do it Oggy-style shortly. Stay tuned.

"I could reach the township living, but He knows what terror tore me.
But I didn't...but I didn't. I went down the other side."

It's a great writer summing up what thoughts an Explorer thinks when at a turning point. These thoughts definitely went through Hubbard's mind on his quest for Lake Michikamau. He knew he could turn back and reach Sheshatshiu alive and the terror was in him, but the quest was stronger and at that fateful pass he did not turn back. He went into the unknown. And so did I.
Park Gatineau in Ontario and NH have much in common.

Arguably, the two scenarios were not identical. Hubbard was in an uncharted river valley in Labrador and although he thought he was many miles to the north on a different river he was basically headed in the right direction. And the risks he faced were outweighed by the spirit of adventure. I, on the other hand, was fat and happy, sleeping in an Ontario glacial meadow not far from civilization. I didn't consider turning around. I was very content with the path before me. Shooting geese and fishing for trout was not on my agenda. I merely had to maintain a pedaling average of about 35 miles a day for the next 5 months and I would find myself in California where a new life could begin. Bicycling is easy. I could turn back to the township and make it to safety, to the known habitat of my youth, or continue west into mystery, down the other side, so to speak and the choice was easy

"The other side", in my case, was western Ontario so I left the comfort of bicycle friendly Ottawa and pedaled west.

A word should be written about my outfit such as living quarters. 
mine was blue

The tent was a single man Sierra Design unit that looked something like this picture. I forget the exact model but remember it was not freestanding and neither is the one in the picture. It had two poles and by staking the far front point into the ground that allowed it to stand upright. It was totally adequate and kept me dry while I was sleeping at least. It was light, came with a rain cover, had mesh that allowed air flow, pockets for a candle lantern to allow me to write poems and record my progress and entertain my demons. I had a thermarest inflatable sleeping pad that compacts quite small. And I had two rubberized bags suitable for whitewater rafting that I put paper items in to keep dry and lashed to the front and rear luggage racks. Also attached to my bike were 4 bicycle panniers/saddle bags with rain covers for socks, stove fuel. These were not permanently attached and they were merely hooked over the rack and a rubber cord and hook held them in place at the bottom so I could put them in the tent with ease. I had two different brands and both were quite well designed and I still have them somewhere and have pushed the limit of carrying capacity on all of them. I carried a MSR Stove, fuel, a stainless steel camping pot that I still carry with me. A fork. 1993 was before the digital revolution so I had none of that tech nonsense. I sort of regret not having brought a simple plastic camera because I don't have a single photo of the entire trip. I wasn't much of a photographer until I got a digital camera so I doubt the photos would be much different than any bicycle tour. Picture generic goofy grins near state border signs, national parks, nameless vistas, pans of soup, group photos of other bicycle touring nomads. Photos of me changing tires....

That reminds me of a period of time in NY after I left Vermont and before I got to Canada. I had three flat tires in a row. I had a spare tire stuffed into the spokes of my front wheel and three spare inner tubes. One tube went flat. I fixed it and the tube then blew a hole too big to fix. I replaced that tube and the next tube blew out quickly and that hole was also bigger than any patch. I really focused and felt all around the inside of the tire for any hint of wire or thorn. These were road tires of the 800cc variety on a Panasonic 18 Speed bike. Not very lightweight and it had cumbersome road handlebars and 'racing style' shifter levers on the downtube. I would advise against this style of levers for reasons I will detail later. But I've seen tourers use them without complaint. It wasn't the main problem but it didn't help either.
Almost identical except mine had three front gears and 6 rear gears.


 Well, I could not find any thorn or wire stuck in the tire so I put my last inner tube into the tire. Mind you, I'm miles from any town. This isn't like I'm peddling down to the local Walmart. No, if I lose that last inner tube then I'm walking or hitchhiking to the next town 30 miles up the road. No two ways about it. But the last inner tube holds until I stop in the next upstate NY village, this being after I crossed the Grand Isle causeway into NY. I stopped to orient myself in the new town whose name escapes me, and the last inner tube and tire explode like a shotgun. 4 flats and one tire blow out in one day! So, that was the end of peddling until I could find a bicycle shop that carried 800cc tubes. This last detail is another issue to consider when touring. Lots of shops will carry standard sized inner tubes and tires, but Panasonic is Japanese and uses metric...and the hunt for metric tubes and tires in upstate NY was a test. I eventually was picked up hitchhiking by a man who brought me back to his house and I remember this vividly because suddenly I was in this man's kitchen and it's a classic scene from a horror movie because this kitchen has not seen soap or a mop in a decade at least. The whole story, "Got the house after my mother died..." etc etc. "Do you want a back massage? Oooh, you're tense..."

God, I can pick 'em. Later on in this same expedition I would be picked up by a pretty 20-year old veterinarian in Alberta...and that was like a scene from a romantic comedy as she looked at me with grave concern and said I could 'recuperate' at the place where she was house sitting, some mansion near Banff, and what did I want for dinner and she hoped I was vegetarian? But the awful irony was that by that point I had gone well beyond Kipling's "Other Side" and so I said, "Let me out here," on some busy highway near Calgary, and I got out of her truck and limped on two torn groin tendons and a trashed ligament in my knee under a bridge to curl up with some trash. That's getting ahead of the story, but at this particular time when the timing would've been perfect to be picked up hitchhiking by a pretty Canadian vet who is house-sitting a mansion and wants to cook me dinner, instead I get a ride from an older gay black man who lives in Hannibal Lecter's abandoned apartment. The absolute classic meal of any single black gay man living in upstate NY, I can confirm, is a hamburger served between two pieces of un-toasted Wonder Bread. I was a vegetarian, but I also have some tact when it comes to free food so I said thank you and ate the hamburger. Nothing in the world looks or tastes like a hamburger that is served between pieces of wonder bread.
Take out the tomato and the onion and the cheese and that's what it looked like

The most important feature of the gay Black man's burger on wonder bread recipe is to keep the bread completely white. DO NOT toast the bread. It must be a hot, well-done burger without any condiments or toppings and the bread must come directly from the loaf bag. If the bread is toasted at all then it it far too fancy
You see how appetizing this is? It's all wrong. The paper plate is correct but the bread and condiments are super fancy. No, keep the bread perfectly white and do not slice it down the corners!

And it should be served either on a paper plate or a paper napkin but NEVER on actual ceramic or even plastic plate. Remember: untoasted bread, well done burger, no condiments, paper plate. And the kitchen table you eat it one MUST be one of those folding card tables covered with plastic cover. I could almost open a trendy hipster restaurant called "The Lonely Gay Man" and the decor would be 1979 Woolworth's card tables, paper plates, folding chairs, shag carpet, wallpaper with cars (or trains) on it. Dusty framed photos of fake smiling women in 1967. Draw the shades down so no natural light enters the restaurant. And the menu would have over-cooked burgers (cooked in a dirty skillet on an electric stove) on untoasted white bread, served with nothing....maybe a pickle from a ten-year old jar. A cup of generic no-name soda. And a Twinkie. The place would break records for hipsters dying for authentic culture. They have no idea how close they are to real culture but because they never leave the city they will never experience true undoctored despair.

I spent the night on his 1968 Sears Catalog couch and narrowly escaped that house with my manhood intact, he took me to a bike store, I replaced my tube and tire, bought two new spare tubes and a spare tire, and I promised to write him a postcard from California.

But that was back in NY and now I headed for western Ontario. Fortunately there is only one road, the Trans-Canadian highway, that goes to western Ontario. Even though I normally avoided highways I seem to recall that there was no way I could avoid that highway there and Canada had decided bicycles could legally ride on the shoulder. It was, I feel, far safer than riding your average city street because the shoulders on a highway are about 10 feet wide and put the bicyclist about 15 feet away from a car going 70mph. But on an average secondary road the shoulder is maybe 7 to 16 inches wide and a car going 52 mph is about 11 inches to your left. I've been missed by a logging truck going 60mph by about 5 inches and he probably missed the cars in the opposite lane by about that much. That's fucked up. I'll tell you right now which one I'll choose. Because I know a car going 52 mph is still going to kill me but there is almost no room for me and the car, but a car going 72 mph is going to miss me by 15 feet. 

Anyway, I met another solo bicyclist trying to cross all of Canada. He had no equipment and would rent a hotel at night. I normally looked around the forest or fields until I found a dry or secluded area. This man was putting 100 - 110 miles behind him every day and even though I had lots of equipment we lucked out during the unbroken chain of rain storms and the wind was coming from the East and pushed us hard, helping immensely for two days. The road was wet and the temperature was perfect for staying active so we pounded out the miles and I basically drafted behind him for 110 miles toward Sudbury, Ontario. One day over 100 miles is called "A Century" in bicycle parlance. I had maybe 3 centuries on this trip. Wind factors largely in achieving this milestone. I was tired but that was officially the physical apex of the trip for me. I remember thinking that I was unconquerable. 110 miles with 80 pounds through the rain on the Trans-Canadian Highway. At that rate I could be in California in a month. I felt no pain. My thigh muscles and calves were as hard as old English Oak. My back was strong. My arms were strong. I didn't ache at all. My heart was calm and preserved. I barely broke a sweat after pedaling for 5 hours. Physically, that was the peak.

He went on north toward Thunder Bay when we reached Sault St. Marie and I cut into Michigan and pedaled through what is known as the U.P. Upper Penninsula. There is the big thumb of Michigan that is obvious on maps and is known as the Lower Peninsula, but across Lake Michigan to the northwest is the Upper Peninsula where places like Hiawatha National Forest is. I was aiming for St. Paul/Minneapolis, Minnesota where the friend I had gone to Alaska now lived and was going to graduate from Diesel mechanic school. I thought I would say hello.

This is where the story gets ugly because while I might romanticize the Explorer's dilemma of being on a ridge with the safe haven township on one side and the untamed wilderness on the other, and his sense of adventure compels him to cross the ridge, to turn his back on safety and embrace he unknown...well, that comes at a cost Kipling sort of overlooks in his poem and I want to set the record straight. Dashing through Ontario did serve to cleanse me of any thoughts about turning back, oh, heroic explorer was Oggy, and it also drove me into a trance-like state. That's the only way to describe a life where pedaling a bicycle for 12 hours a day in the pouring rain and wind became routine. I would wake up at 6, the rain never ceased all night, put on damp or wet clothes and boots, eat a bowl of oatmeal and some bananas and dried fruit and peanuts and peanut butter and chocolate and apples and pecan pie and stretch my legs a little and pack up the panniers in the rain, put my rain coat and rain pants on and start to pedal. around noon I would stop, drink some water and eat an 8 pound sandwich, then pedal onward until 6 Pm when I would find a store to buy some groceries or a truck stop with a salad bar and eat and then hunt down a place to camp in the woods. I never paid for camping and was wet all the time so I didn't think I needed a shower. As soon as I put my clothes on they were wet so I didn't bother washing them. Everything was wet all the time. When I paused to reflect (and at the time I didn't pause to reflect) it had rained every single day since I left NH. It had rained for at least 20 straight days. I hadn't seen the sun since May. I had been bicycling in a steady downpour for over 20 days and I had not been completely dry since that hamburger in the white wonder bread back in New York. But, like I said, I didn't reflect on that. All that mattered was putting the miles behind me. My speedy dash through Ontario had pushed me to the level of an endurance rider who only focuses on the miles and puts all pain and obstacles and anguish out of mind. I put everything out of mind until about a 1/3 of the way through the U.P. when I stopped and thought, 

"What the fuck are you doing, Oggy? You have been pedaling for 20 straight days, staring at the 6 feet in front of your front tire since Vermont. You haven't said ten words to anyone in weeks, not since you told that gay dude to stop rubbing your shoulders. Your only notes in your journal are how many miles you rode."

I was really in a trance because part of me resisted any change, only concentrating on the miles more to cover. Thousands of miles to California, the Rocky Mountains, the Sierra Nevadas. 

"Hell, you was going to have to pedal across Idaho and you've never been to Idaho."

I had a point. These issues weighed on my mind all the way in the U.P. of Michigan. But I struggled back and tried to reason with myself (all the while having this conversation out loud as I pedaled in the pouring waves thrown up by logging trucks bound for Duluth.) 

"Now, Oggy, you came on this bicycle tour to meet the people, to see things you've never seen, and here you are day after day churning butter on this fucking bicycle. It's not healthy talking to yourself, mumbling, eating, shitting in the woods, sleeping, bicycling, camping, fixing flats in the mud like you're getting paid to make miles. Get your priorities straight, man."

"But, Oggy," I responded, "You're going to delay, you're going to drag ass, your going to cause yourself unspeakable grief trying to get over the Continental Divide in October. You are not disciplined. We all know this. You are lazy and don't like hard work. Everyone said you can not do this trip alone and now you want to toy around and fuck off and play video games and wander around the forest like Thoreau. But, Oggy, you are really in the shit now. There is no turning back. You are going to die in the Sierra Nevadas if you linger on these little roads."

"Ah, you make a good point," said I, "But what about a rest in a library? Just to sit and read. Something simple. And maybe see a movie at a theater. Remember when you went to see Aladdin and the cute popcorn girl gave you free Junior Mints? Remember how she flirted with you with the Tennessee accent and said she liked your white jeans?"

"Now, Oggy, you are dreaming again. None of that ever happened. You're living in a fucking fantasy. You went alone to that Aladdin movie and you were too shy to go buy popcorn because those girls were giggling at your torn clothes because you were planting trees. And you went alone into the movie and it was empty and you made up that whole scenario. You never talked to her."

"Are you sure? I'm pretty certain she was flirting with me."

"Flirting with you? You look like Charles Manson. No teen popcorn girl at a local two penny town theater with $1 Tuesday matinees is going to flirt with you, Oggy. You look insane, you talk to yourself. You're talking to yourself right now!"

"Am I? Or are you? I'm so confused."

"Of course you are confused. Have you seen a fucking map of South Dakota??"

"No."

"Well, it's huge. I mean, it's gigantic. It's like ten Vermonts all laid next to one another. And that's only South Dakota. Then it's Wyoming. Continental divide. Then Idaho. Nevada. Sierra Nevada Mountains. 13,000 ft. And you still haven't even reached Wisconsin."

"Ah, this whole this is falling apart. My feet are soaking wet and there's this ache in my shoulder, my collarbone especially. Something is wrong. And have you noticed that I can't straighten my back anymore?"

"You think this is going to be a fucking pretty panty parade? You think you are going to enjoy bicycling 4000 miles against a headwind in the pouring rain?"

"No, but I'm afraid something is going wrong. I can't straighten my back completely. It feels fuzed."

"Of course you can't. You've been going 80-100 miles every day for the last two weeks."

"Then why aren't I closer?"

"Because, genius, you're on a bicycle and you went through Canada. You probably added 800 miles to the trip with that detour."

"I thought it was the fastest route to Minnesota."

"It was the fastest route to that damn glacial parque where you were dreaming about meeting some cute Canadian park ranger."

"I was. It's true."

"You just keep repeating this insanity, Oggy. You are going to die on this bicycle if you don't keep putting the miles behind you. It's not going to feel good. You'll probably be sore from here to San Francisco but there's nothing that can be done now. You have to get on the bike and pedal."

"But I'm on the bike right now. I'm pedaling." And I was on the bike, talking to myself through a long beard, wet hair in my mouth and eyes, huge logging trucks missing me by inches so that my jowls flapped in the wind and back wash from their speeding tires.

"You're not going fast enough! Pedal. Pump those fucking legs or you are going to die in Wyoming. Wyoming has killed more worthy cowboys than you. GO GO GO GO!"

It was hellish, and endless struggle between my motivation to reach the destination and my desire to enjoy myself for even a few minutes. The insanity really took over in the U.P. and to prove that point I managed to convince myself to take a detour to Whitefish Point lighthouse where there is a Great Lakes shipwreck museum. Whitefish Bay is where the Edmund Fitzgerald was trying to reach during that storm that sank it in 1975. So, you might congratulate me on trying to get some enjoyment out of my bicycle tour by taking a fairly major detour due north up the coast of Whitefish Bay to Lake Superior. Oh, but you don't fully grasp the depths of insanity I had entered because the very fact that I had taken that detour, and added maybe 130 miles to my trip...that fact was used against me by my unforgiving alter-ego, and was used as further motivation to go even farther every day, to put even more miles behind me every day, to pedal harder, faster, start earlier, go later, sleep less, pedal more. Yes, my one attempt to make the tour something pleasurable was transformed into a reason to push even harder and suffer more. I swear that I pedaled up the coast of Whitefish Bay like the demons were chasing me, splitting the rainy asphalt, never looking left or right. I fairly ran in and out of the shipwreck museum like my flight was going to take off without me. This is a place almost no one visits since it is so far off the normal trail and you'll probably never meet someone who bicycled to it from the Atlantic Ocean. Even people with a car, retired, aimless, even they don't visit the shipwreck museum because it's such a frivolous detour. Like driving to the tip of Cape Cod to make a call from a pay phone and immediately drive back to Boston. The place was completely empty as I hobbled in and the docent smiled while I ran around the place as fast as I could, reading only the first few words of the plaques and information signs about the doomed sailors of the past. I probably only stayed long enough to listen to The Wreck of The Edmund Fitzgerald by Gordon Lightfoot (it plays endlessly), maybe one complete time.

The docent frowned and asked, "Are you in a hurry?"
She kind of gestured to the desolate point of land and beach we were on, the rain outside, as if to say, "Where are you going on your bicycle that's better than here?"

"Well," I babbled, "I'vegottogettoMinneapolisandthenbikethroughSouthDakotaand
WyomingandthatsahugestateandthentherearetheRockyMountains.
...blah."
I mean, it must've appeared I was snorting Crystal Meth because I could not relax. I had pedaled for three feverish days to visit the Shipwreck Museum and I probably stayed in the museum for 17 minutes.

"OhthanksIgottagoandpedaltoCalifornianow."

Madness, and my alter-ego was yelling the whole time, "Ignore the fact you are limping and can not walk straight. Ignore the pain in your legs, your knee, your shoulders, you collarbones. Ignore all that you worthless piece of shit. You are never ever going to reach California at this rate. Because you decided to detour to this pathetic shipwreck museum I am now going to ride your ass until I get at least 100 miles a day from you. I don't care."

"100 miles a day? But it's been raining so hard I can't see. My feet are always wet."

"BULLSHIT. Get on that bike and pedal, motherfucker. You are going to die in South Dakota or Wyoming if you don't make some miles."

"But the wind! Haven't you noticed the wind now is pushing right into my face? It's very strong. It was almost always blowing from the west but now it's like a constant gale right in my face. Sometimes I can't..."

"YOU ARE GOING TO DIE IN THE MOUNTAINS IF YOU DON'T OVERCOME THE PAIN. THE WIND WILL BLOW OVER YOUR GRAVE IF YOU DON'T MAN UP AND GROW SOME BALLS!"

This did it. I abandoned all hope of trying to enjoy myself. I put it completely out of my mind, renounced any pleasure or scenic value to the trip. I completely committed to getting to Minneapolis, saying hello to my friend for maybe half an hour, and then immediately getting back on the road. I was getting on my bicycle in Whitefish Point Shipwreck Museum, two states away from St. Paul, and I was already rehearsing how quickly I would say goodbye to my friend. I figured that if I was really deft then I could merely shake hands on his lawn and not have to go inside his house. I could just get some water from a faucet on the side of his house as we talked and then I'd get right back on the bike. Or wait, if I never got off the bike then that would save time.

That became the new mantra through the remainder of Michigan and all of Wisconsin: SAVE TIME. Everything that could be done to conserve time and maximize the amount of time spent pedaling was done. I slept with my boots on so I could simply get up and immediately pack the tent up and get on the bike. I left things strapped on the bike so I didn't have to put them back on. It saved time. I was a model of efficiency and effort.

This voice in my head isolated anything that was remotely antithetical to maximizing my mileage for the day. I figured out that if I rode on the painted shoulder line then I would gain a slight advantage because there was less friction.  That painted line is about 2 inches wide and the tire is 1 inch wide so I had to concentrate to keep the front wheel exactly on the painted line. That painted line is all I remember of Wisconsin. Farting gave me the momentary feeling that I was winning the war against the wind that barreled into my face. I didn't speak to anyone. I now could not get out of a crouching position, even when walking. I couldn't raise either arm above my head or turn my neck. So I used a shopping cart to help me navigate the grocery store. I hustled as fast as I could through the aisles, always wearing my bright purple bike helmet, eating food while waiting in line to save time. I shoveled my meals into my face and drank water while pedaling. I even remember taking a piss without getting off the bicycle. It took a little work but it saved time.

I didn't even pause to answer any questions about my journey. People surely like to talk to bicycle tourers but I have no memory of such conversations. I ignored everyone and eliminated everything from my day except pedaling. I stretched each day to the limit of light and no longer looked for secluded camping spots because that took time. I could save time by camping directly next to the road either behind a billboard or trash dumpster or abandoned building or simply in the drainage ditch. I had never been so wet, not even in the Merchant Marines, the wind was gale force every day, all day, right in my face, always raining, never sunny, Every item I carried was completely saturated, the inside of my tent was like a damp towel. My beard was dripping wet. I slept in my Spandex bike shorts and didn't even bother taking my gloves off because it used time when I had to put them back on. I believe somewhere in Wisconsin I probably looked like one of those triathlon athletes with that distant gaze, ignoring everything, machine-like plodding in one direction, no smile, no emotion, nothing but a mechanical cycle of pain. I spoke to no one. I did nothing but pedal. 30, maybe 35 days without sun, always raining, pedaling through flooded roads, rivers, wading with my bicycle like a man possessed. I actually cursed when the painted shoulder line stopped. I cursed because it was costing me time. I tackled hills with stoic attack. I would pick a point in the distance when I promised myself I would stop to rest and when I reached that point I would simply pick another point farther off in the distance and break my promise. "No, stop at that sign." On and on, I kept changing that resting spot and I never rested the entire day.  The rain sometimes turned to hail and I didn't pause. Ridiculous tornado force winds would throw me around and I would marshal myself and curse and fume and fight through the wind. It became an all-out war against the wind, merciless, constant, disheartening, always trying to hinder me. I screamed at the wind, "No, you won't win. I will pierce your heart. I will take all your punishment and more." I laughed and cried as the wind doubled its efforts so I could barely keep my eyes open, I was creeping along slower than a man could walk, but to prove I could tolerate anything the wind could give me I stayed on the bike. I wasn't even getting 20 miles a day. It was an awful, heartbreaking 15 miles of non-stop wind and rain. Gnashing my teeth, snot flowing from my nose, tears, drooling, pissing myself. Totally insane. Nothing mattered except defeating the wind, piercing it, making the miles. Making the miles. Making the miles. Reach that sign and then you can rest, no, reach that next mile marker, that next town. The wind can't stop you. It thinks it can beat you but you can take it, you will push and push, one more foot. You can do one more foot and if you can do one more foot then you can do one more mile. And if you can do one more mile then you can do ten more miles. No, there's still light, you can make it another mile. Stay on the bike and ride. Don't stop. Don't look left and don't look right. Pedal. Pedal. Make the fucking miles.

As I approached Minneapolis I actually could not get off the bicycle. I mean, I could come to a stop with both legs straddling the top post, hunched over the handlebars, but I could no longer get one leg to lift over the bike. I was actually stuck on the bicycle. This is when I first began to fall down. I couldn't help it, but when I tried to lift one leg over the bicycle to get off, the leg would not clear the seat and I would kick it and since I had become so immobile I couldn't recover so me and the bike would tumble to the ground, usually a brown puddle of mud. This happened over and over until I finally had to start dismounting while riding, fancy style, because I could use the pedals to gain some height. But I would still fall down because the effort of dismounting side saddle like that required more agility than I could muster with the heavy bike. My groin tendons were complete toast. They had lost all pliability. They felt like when you get a deep cut on your hand and you have to stretch the skin for some reason and the scab tears off. Every step felt like the scar tissue was tearing in my groin. As long as I was pedaling then I was OK although my ass was chronically sore to the point I stood up when I pedaled most of the day. But I could no longer get out of the crouch when off the bike, and I shuffled around like a hunchback, taking small steps with my arms stretched out like I was riding an invisible horse. Every step was agony, so I started to postpone everything but pedaling. I could not walk, but I could still ride, so I would extend every riding session until I was forced to stop. And then walking would be 10 times worse, almost impossible. But Wyoming loomed in the future and the fucking wind mocked my efforts to gain every inch west. The wind was merciless. Trees bowed to the East, the rain lashed my face. If I were going East I could make 200 miles a day with that wind at my back. Going into the teeth of the wind found me pedaling 10 hours through lakes for 10 miles, creeping across Wisconsin swamps. I found it hard to swallow because my neck muscles were so tense. My hands would not relax out of the grip on the handlebar. My right knee was audibly clicking every revolution of the pedals

"You thought this was going to be easy? No. You are bicycling solo across the continent. It hasn't stopped raining in 30 days. The wind is dead in your face as hard as you've ever felt it. Trucks are missing you by 3 inches from your whiskers. It's not easy. It's not fun. But you are going to do it. Just keep on this pace and you will get to California."

"But, this pace is killing me. It's honestly killing me. I can't walk. I know something is wrong with my shoulders. Those fucking gear shifters, every time I shift gears I put all my weight on one shoulder and it's beginning to do damage. I don't know what's happening."

"Let me ask you a question, Oggy. Do you want to die in the Rocky Mountains?"

"No. But...the wind. I haven't seen anyone going West against this fucking wind. It's even slowing down trucks. All day, every day a rainy wind right in my face. Never stops for even a minute. Not even at night. Otherwise I would bike at night to avoid the wind."

"But nothing...no, you're going to die. It's going to be winter and it will be freezing and you will get a flat tire and you will die on the side of the road and they'll find your body in the spring."

"I know, but my shoulders. It feels all wrong. And have you seen me try to walk up stairs? I can't do it. I had to crawl into that last truck stop. I have to use the handicapped toilet stall because I need the handle to grab or else I fall down. I fucking fall down in the bathroom because I can't support my own weight."

"And I'm going to tell you again that if you don't put 85 miles behind you every day then you'll die in The Sierra Nevadas and they will find your skeleton in April. Maybe wolves will eat you. Is that what you want? You have to overcome everything!"

"85 miles? I can barely get 20 against this fucking wind. It's gotta be some kind of weather phenomenon. It hasn't stopped raining since I left New Hampshire." (Indeed the summer of 1993 was a historic rainy season for the North. Historic rainfall, historic wind. One of the worst summers on record, but I had no access to those kinds of records so I told myself it was normal.)
 
I had these conversations all day long and that's how I reached Minneapolis, through pure will power against a wind that knocked down houses. I couldn't walk at all, I couldn't cough, I couldn't get off the ground if I fell down. I also fell down every time I tried to get off the bike because I couldn't get my left to lift over the seat. When I fell down I would lay there trying to lift my body with my chin.

I had it in my mind that I would only stay at my friend's house a few minutes, maybe ten minutes, get some water and get right back on the bike because "I had to get through South Dakota". I think it was late June so I'd been pedaling for 30 days non-stop but because of the wind and rain and detour to the shipwreck museum I was not averaging 80 miles a day. I felt time was heavily against me and dreaded a winter climb through the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I navigated the twin cities and found my friend's house. I crashed on his front lawn and crawled like a wounded soldier with my water bottle to a faucet. I couldn't get off the ground as he came outside.
"Oggy! Jesus! You look horrible. What's wrong?"
"I can't stay for long," I mumbled. "I gotta get to Wyoming before the snow. Where's you water faucet. I need water. Then I gotta go. I'm gonna go to South Dakota and then to Wyoming and then Idaho and Nevada and California. I'm moving to California because I want a simple life and I have to get there as soon as possible so I don't die in the mountains and get eaten by wolves. Ok. You doing good? Hey, congratulations on graduating. I gotta go now. Ok. See you in another 5 years!"

But it was not to be. I couldn't physically get off the ground. I couldn't even open the cap to my water bottle. It had taken all my energy to reach his house but when I crashed that last time something had snapped and although my will to continue was still strong I physically couldn't get up off the ground. I was stuck in a permanent bicycle crouch curled on the ground near the side of his house. My bicycle was on the ground on his front lawn. I rolled on my back and my legs actually remained bent in a grotesque rigor mortis posture.

"I just have one request," I whispered as my voice began to fade.
"What's that, Oggy?"
"Pick me up. And put me on the bike. And point me toward Wyoming. Please. The snow!" (It was late June.)

The spirit was willing but at that point my friend took over and shook his head.

"No, Oggy. You aren't leaving if I have to throw that bike in the dumpster. You're staying here. Oggy, you haven't changed at all."

The last time we had seen each other, he had dropped me off on the Alaskan Highway leading out of Fairbanks, Alaska. It was April and the landscape was either white snow, or dirty snow, grey skies, flurries in the air. Ice fog over the forest. I was going to hitchhike to Yosemite National Park in California for a summer job and wanted to hitchhike so I was giving myself 2 months to get there. It was still sub zero so I was taking all my subzero camping equipment with me, and an axe. We shook hands. I told him I'd send a postcard. Then a pickup truck pulled over; the man was going to the next town to the east and I threw my gear in the back and got in next to a dog and a rifle. I waved goodbye to my friend. That was 1990 and now it was 1993 and he took my hand and lifted me back to my feet. And I groaned in agony. The only position that was not complete agony was sitting on the bike, pedaling.

"Ok," I said. "I'll stay a few minutes. But I really gotta go, cause I got the two largest mountain ranges in North America to cross before winter closes the passes."

"You're a mess, old buddy. A real mess. But it's good to see you."

I caught a glimpse of my reflection in his front door glass and I looked like a hairy skeleton with a purple head.

"Who is that lunatic reflected in the door?"

It took me five minutes and all of his help to climb the three stairs to get in his house. My legs were absolutely ruined. Soon, I collapsed on a bed his mother had made for me and I slept and slept.

stay tuned for Part 2



"Take it easy, take it easy
don't let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy
lighten up while you still can
don't even try to understand
just find a place to make your stand
and take it easy" - The Eagles

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Man in the Van by Oggy Bleacher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.