Thursday, June 25, 2009

If one doesn't count the fact that I paid a dinner visit to some family friends in Rochester, NY (an old classmate of my father's and his family), Shaya in South Bend had the distinction of being the first person I've stopped to see on this trip whom I actually knew beforehand. It had been about five years since I'd last seen him, before he moved out to Indiana. When I last saw him and his wife Samara, they had two children. Now they had a fifth on the way.

The job of raising that many children that close in age is beyond heroic. It is hard for me to put into words the respect I have for people who pull this off. It is an unbelievably difficult task.

Shaya lives, from what I can tell, in the neighborhood that contains pretty much in its entirety South Bend's surprisingly large Jewish community. It was a good chance to stop for a while and study Talmud with some of the impressively knowledgeable and erudite students there. Talmud is so complex that an hour or two of seriously studying it tends to give me a headache. After a study session like that, I'm likely to go to sleep. And so, at Shaya's, I slept a lot as well. Peppered throughout was stuff like riding go-karts with the kids. I was paid for some of the Talmud study, as well as for some backyard work, which will help me a lot along the way.

On Sunday morning, I departed, and the kids all got on their bikes and rode to the end of the street with me to see me off.


I rode to Michigan City, and then to Indiana Dunes. The headwind was brutal, and the 50 miles I rode ended up unexpectedly being a full day's work. I was finally on Lake Michigan though. The next day, I headed onward, to a section that I was worried about. I had been told stories by various people, ranging from "you'll get shot" to "there's not a single bikeable or walkable road through there."

The first statement was completely overblown, but the second was absolutely true, and I wouldn't recommend that one try this as his first bike trip; he would end up hating Chicago and hating biking. For cyclists who are interested, I'm going to provide a detailed description here.

From downtown Gary, IN, I went west on 4th Ave (US-12) until 12 went off to the left, but I went straight onto a bridge over railroad tracks. That dumped me out onto Industrial Highway, which I followed for a few miles, past an airfield. The airfield, being devoid of trees and completely flat, had such a nasty wind that I had to get off and walk for a while. Most of the passing cars were trucks, and the amount of dirt blowing around in the wind was something I wouldn't have believed if I hadn't seen it.

I passed under Route 912 (labeled on signs as Cline Ave), and then turned right onto the next road, also called Cline Ave, which I didn't really understand. That was when I first realized I was in East Chicago and on the Chicago grid, passing 140th St. Cline Ave turned diagonally and I started seeing signs labeling it as Guthrie St. Then the signs seemed to say it was King St. I took a left onto 136th St. It dead-ended into a park, which I rode through, and continued along 136th a few more blocks. Then I took a right onto Hemlock St.

At its end, the grid temporarily ended, and all there was was a diagonal street called Dickey Rd. The neighborhood disappeared and once again there were no normal cars, just trucks and dirt in the wind. I went over a bridge. Dickey Rd ended and I took a left onto 129th St.

I went by a BP oil refinery, with some interesting railroad tracks crossing the road into closed gates with very heavy security. I took a right onto Indianapolis Blvd. I followed it through Whiting and over a bridge. The road spent about a mile under an I-90 overpass. It took some dodging to avoid merging onto it. Finally, a bike path appeared alongside the road, and I followed it for about another mile until, around 100th St, it ended and the road forked.

I took a right, walking my bike through a tunnel on a dirty sidewalk that I felt like I may well have been the first person to ever use. I came out in what didn't seem like a great neighborhood, but wasn't too terrible either. I was on Ewing Ave. I followed it over a bridge, and caught another glimpse of Lake Michigan on my right. The road forked again and I went north on Mackinaw Ave which ended at 87th St. I went left and right (Burley Ave), then left and around, onto S. Shore Dr.

I followed that to 79th St, at which point I saw a park along the lake and went into it. THIS WAS A MISTAKE. I'd have done better to stay on S. Shore Dr. The path was very bikeable, until it ran into a dune and ended. I dragged my bike over the dune. This was where I got my first view of the Chicago skyline, still way in the distance. I ended up on some other street in the upper 70s. I got back out onto S. Shore Dr.

At 71st St, I finally found another "legitimate" bike path. It took me out along the lake again and now continued uninterrupted toward the city.

Easy ride downtown from there.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

While I was working with the computers, Justin and Amanda went up to Goshen to see friends. So when I finished, I got into the little white truck with the streering wheel on the right (of course, I went to the wrong door first) and started driving toward Goshen. I was starting to seriously love this truck. Driving it made me inexplicably happy. I sang opera (mostly the Duke's arias from Rigoletto). I turned on some music. I rolled the windows down. I had a private dance party.

As I rolled into Goshen, people would turn and smile and wave to me. If I couldn't cross the continent on my bike, this would be my next vehicle of choice.

The friends were avid bikers who also knew the way to my heart (she made me food). Amanda read one of my blog posts out loud, because apparently it was that funny. I talked about how the quality of the blog suffers because the people I write about are often also readers.


This morning, after eating yet another of Amanda's meals (even if not for everything else, those meals alone would have made it difficult to leave) and having yet another deep and long conversation with Justin, I headed for the stairs to pack the last of my stuff.

"Oh, Greg, do me a favor," said Justin.

"What's that?"

"If you write anything else about me, please don't sugar-coat it. I really want to read what you really thought."

The fact is, though, that I really haven't had anything negative to write because I haven't met anybody I didn't like. That's not the issue. The issue is that certain conversations I have, which would have been deeply moving—and easy to empathize with—had they been repeated verbatim by fictional characters, when attributed to real people and read by people they know end up being a nasty form of gossip.

I've had a conversation with a man that involved the quote "He doesn't like to work hard—but don't tell him I said that." I can't publish a conversation like that, for obvious reasons. Many of the best conversations are about deeply private inner struggles that people revealed to me because I was passing through—because I would listen and then be gone. Publishing those conversations for the world to read would be a violation of epic proportions for these people.

That's why I make do without the putting the best conversations on the blog. And there's no question that the quality suffers.


Temperatures reached nearly 100 today, and it was humid. When passing trees, I would take breaks in the shade. So I moved slowly, but was feeling surprisingly good. And I wasn't going through the water too fast. Still, I was careful. I had only finished one of my four bottles when I got to Goshen, but I refilled it at a gas station anyway. 10 more miles up a county road, I stopped in the shade to finish that first water bottle again, and a woman who was watering her lawn offered to refill it for me. By the time I finished that first bottle for the third time, I was almost in South Bend, where my friend Shaya lives.

I dove into his air-conditioned house. Easy, easy day.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Computers: Always a Form of Income

I usually try to keep a low profile everywhere I go, but it's difficult in small towns, where everybody is curious about an unfamiliar face. And so, before I knew it, Bryan had me cornered in exactly the kind of redneck drama I hadn't wanted to be involved in. (Feel welcome to ask me the details in person.) So I bought Harley a $1 burger to assemble a posse to safely escort me out of town. They stopped at the city limits where the sidewalks ended, but I got on my bike and rode on. (Harley even called me in half an hour to check that I'd found County Road C.) Since most of these people had felonies on their records and couldn't leave the state of Ohio, my first target was obvious.

I then continued along small county roads westward, westward, westward. When they would end, I would jog alternately north and south and then take the next westward road I could find. The sun was killing me (it was right about summer solstice, so the sun was at the most scorching angle possible). It was humid and muggy. I ran out of water and rode dry for a while—which was beyond unpleasant—until I passed a church where they gave me water to fill my bottles.

While the constant westerly wind is annoying, this makes me glad I'm biking east to west. This way, civilization slowly, gently loosens its grip on me, allowing me to get used to new conditions gradually. In Chicago, I will try to obtain more containers for water that will be comfortable to carry. It will also soon be time for bear canisters and spray, water purification filters, and possibly a solar-powered phone charger.

By evening I was in Syracuse, IN, where I met Justin and Amanda. They gave me water and let me take a shower, which alone was enough to make me quite happy. They also fed me the best dinner I'd had in a while. Then I got a good night's sleep on a real bed, which was doubly nice given that Harley had woken me at 5 AM and had me listen to his music. I slept until almost noon.

When I woke up, I found that Justin had patiently waited for me. He then patiently waited as I did laundry and had breakfast, and then we went to harvest radishes and spinach.

Then we made lunch.

This morning, Justin found me work. A friend of theirs needed help with computers. Computers are a real nightmare for most people, and I'm glad I'm able to help at least with that. It's also some money for the road.

So I got into Justin's truck,

and, after some trouble due to the fact that the steering wheel was on the right and the stick shift was on the left, took off to do some work.

Friday, June 19, 2009

I left Sylvania yesterday. I'd slept in the basement, and when I woke up and came upstairs, no one was home. Just a note:

That basically solidified an easy day. I did as the note said and left a thank-you note.

The roads in western Ohio are on a grid. Every block is a mile by a mile. East-west roads have letters, north-south roads have numbers. Today I was able to spoil myself and stop regularly for snacks. My first was at the intersection of roads 4 and M.

Since they were rapidly getting beaten up in the backpack—not to mention it was 80 degrees out—I immediately ate all three of the apples I'd packed. I tossed the seeds into a ditch by the intersection. Perhaps there will someday be an apple tree in Fulton County at the intersection of 4 and M.

I followed M for miles. Ten miles down, at 14 and M, which looked absolutely identical to 4 and M, I ate some more granola bars. Then M ended, rather unceremoniously, at its intersection with 17.

No problem. I jogged over to L and continued westward along the grid. Eventually I got onto a state highway and took it to an actual city: Bryan.

I had heard of Bryan because it has an Amtrak station. All the trains pass through in the middle of the night, so I'd never actually been awake for it. When I pulled in, it looked decently nice, much like other small Ohio cities I'd passed.

I met Joel here, and brought my bike into the apartment where he lives with his brother Nick and his friend Harley (short for Harlan). I rolled my bike into the small, dingy apartment and let myself collapse on the couch. One of its sides had fallen off, and the sitting area on it was significantly tilted.

We just sat and talked for a bit. Then a door I hadn't even noticed opened up, and Harley came out, in a stupor as if he had just woken up. It was 7 PM.

"I'm gonna sit down next to you."

I shrugged. "Go for it."

"Harley, this guy's biking across the country, he's from Massachusetts."

"Oh, dude," said Harley, slowly, still in a stupor. "I know someone in Massachusetts."

"Oh, yeah? Where?"

"I don't know. You want to know his name?"

"Well, sure, I guess."

"Caravan. It was Caravan."

"Don't know him."

"No, wait, it was Corovan. We just called him Caravan because he was an ass." Harley's voice trailed off. He lit a pipe. "You smoke?"

I shook my head. "No pot, just occasional tobacco."

The room filled with uproarious laughter. "No one here has the money for pot, dude. This is tobacco. You want to smell?"

I wasn't going to be a snot about it and tell them I only buy tobacco at Leavitt & Pierce in Cambridge and can't stand anything cheaper. "Sure, I'll smell it," I said.

He shoved a container in my face and I actually sniffed it before realizing it was filled with old cigarette butts. Harley took a butt out, unwrapped it, and shook the tobacco into his pipe.

"I wish I could afford new cigarettes."


Later in the night, he came by again.

"You want some food? I got some burgers and bacon."

"Burgers would be awesome, but skip the bacon."

He paused. "You allergic....or a Jew?"

I paused too, wondering if it's really a wise idea to tell him, but the pause had already given it away. "Jew."

He thought for a little while. Then he said "Oh, huh. Well, if anyone makes fun of ya, you know what you say? Say 'Oh, yeah? Well, I killed your God. And he ain't coming back!' Funny, huh?"

I shrugged. "Why would anyone make fun of me about it? I've got plenty of easier targets."

"That's cool, dude, that's cool." He looked at me approvingly, and slapped my shoulder, as if giving a compliment. "You don't look Jewish, anyway."

I grinned. "Neither do you."

"You want to talk religion, dude, I'm all up. I can talk about religion or politics all night. I took theology."

"Oh, yeah? How much of it?"

"Just our prison class. I took a cooking class too. I'm a certified chef."


"I been tryin' to get as much out of life as I can. I have lymphoma, man. I know I'm gonna die. So I get the most out of everything. Get locked up all the time. Got 15 kids. Another on the way."

I couldn't contain my curiosity. "Are any two of your kids from the same mom?"



"So what did you go to jail for?"

"Which time?"

"How many times did you go?"

"Been locked up 43 times. Only been to prison twice."

"Then how about the first time you went to prison?"

"Armed robbery."

"What did you hit up?"

His face fell. He gave me a fine, judge me look. Then he turned away and quietly muttered "A school."

"Just needed the money that badly?"

"I guess. I didn't even remember I done it until they told me the next day."

"Were you in prison here in Ohio?"

"You wanna see where I was in prison?"


He handed me his wallet and opened it. All it had was a Florida driver's license. Pensacola.

"Wanna see where I was born?"


He handed me an Alabama birth certificate. 1989. Some rural town I'd never heard of. Father aged 30, driver for a wrecking service. Mother aged 22, unemployed.

"And that's my life."


"Let's go to the jubilee, man," said Harley. "It's so much fun. You got any money? Maybe you could get us tickets for the berry-go-round?"

"It's been rough with work, dude," I said to him.

"Yeah, dude, I know, I'm joking. We'll just walk around. Hey, you mind if I stop by my friend's house? He's got my knife."

This was no good. Last thing I wanted was to be arrested in Bryan, OH.

"Dude, let's just go to the jubilee, you can get the knife later, what are you going to use it for there?"

"Fine, but we're stopping by my brother's, OK?"

"OK, cool."

Harley's brother had seven or so earrings in each ear and some very impressive tattoos on his arms.

"You're from Massachusetts, man? That's awesome. I've been there. Cape Cod and stuff. I partied in Hyannis. Once I was lying around, totally f___ed up on the beach, and these girls come over and start tugging on me and are like 'you wanna party?' and I'm like 'hell's YEAH!'"

Harley interrupted. "Hey, man, you got cigarettes?"

"Yeah, just got a pack."

"Can I have one?"


Harley got his cigarette and we were off.


At the jubilee, he went straight over to a girl he knew.

"You've got to meet this guy. He's biking across the country."

The girl didn't blink. "What the f__k was up with that s__t you were up to yesterday?"

Drama ensued. I looked around at the other people, but didn't want to wander too far, since I couldn't get back into the apartment by myself.

"Hey, Greg. Come here, lemme introduce you. We've got a weird relationship. My name's Harley, her name's Harley, an' I have a daughter named Harley. But no kids from her. She's my ex, but I still consider her kids my nephews." She had three kids. She'll be 18 in August.


"Hey, Greg, you don't mind if I bring Harley home?"

"Dude, I don't care."

"You have good hearing? If you do, make sure you cover your ears."

"Dude, I biked all day and now it's midnight and I'm out here with you. I'm going to pass out and not hear anything."


I woke up in the middle of the night to thunder, lightning and hail. So much for leaving in the morning.


"Hey, do you guys know a good barber?"

Harley and Harley argued for a while (Harley the guy claimed he'd learned to cut hair professionally in prison school), and then we went with Harley the girl's suggestion and I got a cheap haircut. I really needed it already. Harley and Harley came with me. Harley the guy got dressed up for the occasion.

"So," I asked Harley the guy, "what are we going to do about food?"

He just shook his head. "Ain't got no food at home. I'll just wait until I find some somewhere."

"You plan to find any today?"


"Well, I can't just not eat for a day if I plan to bike later. Come on, we're going to Wal-Mart."


"You need to earn your keep though, if I'm buying you food. What do you know how to make?"

"I'm a certified chef from prison school, dude. I make awesome burgers."

"Good, take me to the aisle with the cheapest meat."

"OK. See here? That's the processed meat. This here is how much meat to how much other stuff. This is 80/20, you can see the price on that. This is 73/27, you can see it's much cheaper."

"73/27 it is, grab the big $5 thing. What else do we need?"


Harley the girl chimed in. "They had white for $1.18."

We went to the bread aisle. Sure enough. We got some.

"Anything else?"

"A bit of stir-fry would be good to go along with it."

"Just noodles?"

"Well, yeah, and some spices and cayenne peppers would be good. And some soy sauce."

I looked at him. "Dude, if you're starving, why are you thinking about spices? This entire trip I've been so hungry, I haven't given a s__t about taste."

He shrugged. "That's how they taught us to think in prison school."

We skipped the spices and got plain stir fry.

"Please," pleaded Harley. "Could you afford to toss in a bag of these for 89 cents? It'll taste totally different."

"What have you got at home?"

"Just some ketchup."

"OK, I'll toss that in, but we're also using your ketchup."


We went home. Harley had forgotten to take a key, so he had to break in by pushing in his air conditioner. It drained all over his bed, which he didn't care about because he had no sheets.

He just flipped the mattress over. Then he made burgers.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


I jogged over to Sylvania today—about a 10-mile run through the Toledo suburbs—and I'll be staying with Mike. The one I was working for. Tomorrow I plan to cover pretty much all of what remains of western Ohio.

I got a pro to toss my banner text around the picture for a few minutes. I think it looks better than when I did the same. Anyone else care to tell me what they think?

I got some questions about what "Hello, Toledo!" is supposed to mean. It's from a Brak song Leslie in Cleveland showed me, which has been stuck in my head for a large chunk of the ride through this state.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Work, At Last

I didn't talk much today. I worked all by myself, and my change in geographic location was reflected in the nature of the work.

I also realized I had gone insane with rounding up. I had assumed a massive crisis in deficit spending on my part. I thought that between Springfield, MA and now, my spending had added up to about $850. The real amount? More like $350. At this rate, I may actually make it on the work I'm doing.

Hello, Toledo!

Wait, I'm getting ahead of myself.


It was getting late, and the landscape wasn't changing.

I hadn't left Cleveland until the afternoon, and though I had gone only about 75 miles, because of the lateness, it felt like a lot.

It is out of nowhere, in the fields several miles south of Bellevue, that a bright digital billboard appears. It stands in front of a church, displaying things like Mass times.

I rode up the long drive, listening to the chapel bells play a Baroque tune that made me nostalgic (wow, that just made me sound old1). At this church, I met Seth, the organist.

I told him about how much I loved Bach's Trio Sonatas. He told me about how difficult they were to play, because the left hand wants to follow the foot, and those sonatas convolute all that2. I told him I'd never had that issue, because I played only the piano, so I had to play the foot part with the left hand, the left hand part with the right hand, and whistle the right hand part.

We went into the chapel, where he played the organ while I walked around listening to how it sounds from different locations. The organist, up on the balcony, where he cannot be seen, actually gets by far the lowest quality sound; all the good stuff gets projected into the hall. However, he said that because of the acoustics, he can hear old ladies whispering below as if they're right behind him. He said that the first time he sat at the organ, he actually turned around to see who that was behind him.


Seth made chicken and vegetable kabobs for dinner, and over his dinner table, we talked about his travels with priests through Poland and Ukraine. Then we drove out to Sandusky to catch what may end up being my final glimpse of Lake Erie for the time being. It was nice to walk around it, too; another city I'd never been to. I got a comfortable night's sleep on his couch.


I got up pretty late again, but took off a couple of hours earlier than I had from Cleveland—minus my wallet. As I rode up the long, straight, unchanging road, a car passed me, pulled into a driveway, and out came Seth with my wallet. I really appreciate him chasing me down; I don't know what I would have done without the thing.


I got back onto US-20—the route I'm basically taking all the way across—and continued westward. Clyde. Freemont. I realized I absolutely hate grooved pavement. I have to avoid it at all costs. If I hit it, stuff starts falling off my bike, and too much of it would damage the wheels, too. They were not making it easy for me. A little past Hessville, I dove off onto a side road that seemed decently paved,

and took it until it dumped me out in a small town called Elmore. I needed a break. I leaned my bike against a tree in front of a house and stood in the shade, eating some of the granola bars Seth had given me for the road. Three kids—two girls and a boy, all around eight years old—were riding little bikes on the other side of the street.

A man walked out of the house and yelled to them.

"Y'all are not supposed to cross the street!"

The kids began to sulk and got back on their bikes to cross the street back to the house. Just then, the man glimpsed me in the shade of the tree.

"Where are you going?"


"Oregon?—Y'all get over here right now!.... Yes, I said right now!....'re going to Oregon, right now?"

"Yeah. Well, today I'm only aiming for Toledo."

"Toledo...I want something cold to drink?"

Those who know me know I don't refuse. He told me to hold on and went inside. The kids crossed the street and stood around me.

"Who are you?" asked the boy.

I smiled at him. "Who am I?"


"I'm just a guy riding his bike. A lot like you." I pointed to his bike.

"Where are you going?" Asked one of the girls.

"To Oregon. You know where it is?"


"It's way out west. On the ocean."

"Can't you drive?"

"Sure. But then I miss everything in between. I've driven through Ohio before, but it's my first time really being here."

The man came out with a bottle and a plastic cup. The bottle had ice in it. The cup had Gatorade.

"Here, drink what's in the cup, and then save what's in the bottle until it starts melting."

I took the bottle and the cup. "Thank you so much!"

He held out his hand. "I'm Danny."

I took both the bottle and the full cup into my left hand so I could shake it. "I'm Greg."

"Greg...hmm.... Well, you have a good trip, Greg." He went into the house, trailed by the boy and the other girl, who had remained silent the entire time. The girl who had been talking to me stayed.

"Where are you from?"

"Massachusetts. Have you ever heard of it?" I gulped down the Gatorade.

She widened her eyes. "You came here all the way from Massa-tujes?" (I'm pretty sure she hadn't, and had no idea where it was.)

"I did. And I have a long way to go, so it's probably time for me to be off. What's your name?"


"It was a pleasure, Hannah."

She stood there and watched me ride away.


Riding from Elmore, the country road soon widened. Franchises appeared. Then strip malls. Traffic went from zero to very heavy. I crossed a bridge over a freeway and residential homes appeared. Then I crossed a much larger bridge over the Maumee river, and I was in Toledo.

Here I met Heather. She told me her friend Mike works for his father, and that their business might have work for me. Before I knew it, I had eaten huge amounts of food and was in a car with her, heading for the Michigan border.

The Ohio-Michigan border here is a stretch of power lines. Mike and Josh, another guy Heather knew, were setting up a campfire among those power lines when we arrived.

We sat there, with beers. It got dark. A couple more people arrived. I got a lot of questions about my trip.

"Sure, I could give you something," said Mike. "There's always a ton to do. Just show up tomorrow, I'll have something for you."

I plan to be there.


1Over 400 years old.

2According to Seth, Bach made them difficult on purpose, so that one of his rowdier sons, Carl Phillip Emanuel, would have to spend more time practicing the organ, and thus stay out of trouble.

Saturday, June 13, 2009


I had trouble believing Cleveland would be as rough as they say. Ohio seemed completely harmless, besides the fact that I was ending up walking my bike down miles of dirt roads.

I eventually came out into a more suburban area, but then I biked for miles down a road called Old Johnnycake.

Mentor, Willoughby and Wickliffe all seemed like rich suburban areas. Once I hit Euclid, though, things began to deteriorate. Rapidly. I first noticed the grid begin at E 289th St. The pavement got worse, bus stations appeared with people who looked like it would probably be a good idea not to approach them, trees became fewer and farther between. Drivers became more reckless and some would get behind me, honk, and then try to pass me in a way so as not to give me enough room between the car and the curb.

I stopped at an intersection around where E 200th St should have been and ate the last of the cookies I'd bought at a gas station in Ashtabula a couple days earlier.

I passed a sign that I was entering Cleveland. Of course, I was entering from the east, so I was entering East Cleveland, but I didn't know the significance of that. I was pretty impressed though. I'd seen boarded up houses and empty lots before, but this was something special. I rode a couple more miles before finally getting on the sidewalk, having given up after a car pretty successfully ran me off the road.

On the sidewalk, I got some menacing looks—I saw no other white people the entire time, and I'm quite sure they were not a common sight in the area—but I insisted on smiling and being friendly, and what I found was that women responded in kind, while men proceeded to ignore me.

I got morbidly curious, so I got back on the bike and swung off onto a small side street. For some reason, the roads were curvy and not part of the grid. The pavement was horrible, but some trees appeared, which was nice. I passed houses with kids sitting on porches and waved to them. Only girls would wave back. This was really making me start to wonder.

I don't carry an mp3 player. If I tried to listen to music while biking, I wouldn't hear cars. However, East Cleveland was my chance to listen to music. Approximately every other car had its windows rolled down and was blasting music. Every single one of those was tuned to the same hiphop station. So even as they passed me, and then as they stopped at red lights and I zipped by them, I got to listen to that station quite smoothly.

I rode on. It was all uphill. Massive housing projects popped up out of nowhere. I checked the sun and took a few turns onto more side streets to make sure I continue bearing southwest and don't go in circles.

A few more miles down, where I estimated E 150th St should have been, the neighborhood suddenly improved. As I biked onward, I realized I was in a really nice area. Turns out it was the area where Rockefeller lived, and where he is buried.

It was here that I met Leslie. Leslie is the first woman I have met who enjoys the music of Brak and has it on her computer, which automatically made her cool in my eyes. She doesn't work on Fridays, which freed her up for the more important task of making me lots and lots of food. She then took me to an 80s store that carried Benjamin Franklin action figures and enormous Nintendo cartridges from my childhood. It also sold magazines at a 5,900% profit margin.

She also took me to see the building Frank Gehry designed on the Case Western campus. It further solidified my conviction that Frank Gehry has no taste, no interest in practicality (including whether a building is suitable to the climate at its location), and no regard for the feel and architecture of the surrounding buildings. I know I'm not alone, because I've really never heard anybody say anything positive about anything Frank Gehry has designed. Someday I will investigate the one thing about him that really interests me: how he manages to get commissioned for these things over, and over, and over again.

I managed to break through Leslie's hatred of Cleveland enough to convince her to take me to explore downtown at night. We walked along the clean, clean Cyuahoga River, which once caught on fire. We saw a bridge that was lit from the inside with a very nice hue of purple, and tried to climb inside it from various angles. Unfortunately, they'd taken precautions against teenagers (like us, apparently) and put bars and fencing in all the right places.

We tried to walk out to Lake Erie. Unsuccessfully. I know Cleveland has a waterfront, but they don't make it easy to find, and right downtown, there's a port that has no public access. This didn't stop us though, and we caught a glimpse of the water between the piers. There was nothing special about it.

We also checked out the Amtrak station, by which I'd ridden so many times on the train, but which I had never seen from the inside.

We decided we'll research the laws of Ohio and see how much trouble you can get into for trespassing. I hear Cleveland has some awesome abandoned buildings.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Rowing the Atlantic?

When I set out on this trip, the purpose was definitely not athletic. I wanted to take an extremely long, dirt-cheap vacation on which I met lots of cool new people and saw a lot of the country. Becoming a strong cyclist was an added bonus.

I encountered something cool but completely different when Galen told his friend Katie about me and she wanted to meet me. An extreme athlete, Katie plans to row across the South Atlantic, from Dakar, Senegal, to I think somewhere in French Guiana.

Unlike me, who didn't correlate the athletics with the geography at all—I'm traveling westward at a latitude where the winds always blow eastward—she's going through a section of ocean where the currents will carry her in the right direction, so she would theoretically arrive even if she didn't row.

Her trip is shorter (70-100 days), expensive ($80,000), and she's spending it entirely alone. We went to her house to check out the boat that will be her home for that period of time.

The compartment visible on the end is where she will sleep and hide from storms.

Katie kept wanting to know about my trip, and I kept trying to change the subject to hers (I already knew all about mine). Of course, her main issues were financial. While I'm able to keep a pretty low profile, she needs to constantly take her boat around and get media attention to attract sponsors and donors. (The sponsors, who will place their logos on the boats, will also be keenly interested in continued media attention later; they'll also want the proceeds from the resale of the boat afterward.)

I don't know how anyone would deal with that. Katie thought I was crazy to go without saving up any money, and to be using an old bike. I thought she was crazy to bring all her food with her and take no precautions against sharks. (My idea of crossing the Atlantic involves a kayak and a fishing pole; Katie was one of the first people I ever told that to, and she was definitely the first to say it was an awesome idea.)

Katie gave me a cape to remember her by. Cool as it would initially look, I'm not going to ride with it. It would first create drag, then get torn off. However, it's very compact and may serve me well on cold nights when I leave my luggage behind and am wearing only a T-shirt.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


Yesterday, in the late afternoon, it stopped sprinkling, and all the thunderstorms seemed to pass to the south. Galen's friend was having issues with his tractor, so we went over to try to jump-start it.

Then we went skeet shooting with Galen and his girlfriend. My experience being with handguns and non-moving targets, this was really, really hard. But with some training from Galen, I was able to hit enough skeet that I could tell that it wouldn't be too terribly hard to get good with moving targets. Just expensive. And cartridges seem to be going up in price. (Galen makes his own, though they don't pack quite as much punch as the ones from the factory.)

I had dinner with Galen, his parents, his brother Gavin and his sister Dixie. Then Gavin made a fire, Galen rolled up his pickup truck, opened the doors and put on some music. And we just sat around the fire with beers. It was very warm and very relaxing. The clouds parted, and the constellations were easily visible. It's late enough in the spring that crickets and fireflies are just starting to come out.


This morning, the weather looked nice, but when I checked the forecast, it said thunderstorms. I looked at the radar. Western Ohio looked nasty, and weather moves eastward. Galen walked by and shared his own analysis with me, which wasn't too different. He suggested I stay and wait the rain out.

I gladly agreed. A day of resting my legs and eating his mother's cooking didn't sound bad at all, not to mention that the forecast for tomorrow called (and still does) for beautiful weather.

We got in his pickup and went to Thompson, a very odd aberration in the middle of the flatness and occasional rolling hills of Ohio.

Galen is determined to party tonight. It should be a fun time.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


After hundreds of miles with no internet, I was passing through Madison, OH. Sprinkles of rain were beginning to come down, and I could hear thunder in the distance. I met Galen here, who brought me home to his family, where I am safe from the rain and have internet. At least until we leave to go shoot skeet.


I had a lot of fun hanging out with Mel. Enough that I decided to stay the weekend and hang out, even though I wasn't looking for work. Mel was a pretty big part of the local music scene, and with her, I met a lot of other musicians and saw a lot of cool bands. I have to say my favorite was the Pelicans, who formed on the spot to perform at a show we went to on Saturday night. I wish I could have gotten a video of them performing.

I left on Monday and started biking along lake Erie. It was a nice, easy ride. I could feel that I was getting stronger. I was zipping along and getting off to walk much, much less. Until suddenly, in Irving, the riding became rough. I stopped and felt the rear tire. Flat.

"Bummer!" It was a motorcyclist at a gas station right where I'd stopped.

"Yeah," I said, "happens all the time." I walked the bike over to a bench, took off all the luggage, turned it over, and started taking off the wheel.

"Where are you headed?"


"I'm from Santa Barbara, headed to Maine!"

"Oh, nice! You're almost there."

"Well, it's a little easier for me. Man, I thought I was vulnerable, riding on this thing, look at you!"

"It's been done before."

"You all by yourself?"



I walked into the gas station.

"What's up, man, you get a blowout?"

"Yeah, they happen all the time. Any chance I could just have some tap water?"

"Sure!" The guy grabbed a paper cup and showed me the back room where there was a sink. "Feel free to use the bathroom and stuff too. Check this guy out, guys, he's going to Oregon."

"Man. Where are you from?"

"Bit north of Boston."

"So you've got what, about 500 miles behind you?"

"Something like that."

"About 2,500 to go?"

"Sounds about right."

I brought the wheel into the station so I could keep talking.


By the time I fixed it, it had started to rain. I checked the weather on my phone. It wasn't going to get better. F__k.

"Hey, do you guys know a cheap place to stay around here? I really don't want to ride through the rain."

"I always see that motel just past the light. There's the garage, and then the motel. Looks like it ought to be cheap."

I went outside, where a kid was painting the station.

"Man, I hate the rain."

"You're telling me. Every time I paint this f___er, the rain washes it right off."

"You're not going to keep painting, are you?"

"Hell, no. I'm going home, cracking open a beer. I'd'a gone fishing, but again, the rain."

"Yeah, nice to be inside when it's raining. I'm just looking for a place to be inside myself."

"All right, man, I'm going home. Good luck with that."

I rode the half mile through the rain to the motel. It was quite cheap for a motel, but not as cheap as I'd hoped. Not that I had much choice. I didn't have any time to look for people to invite me anywhere, and the primary demographic that does—women in their early 20s—didn't seem to be present anyway.

I checked in around 2 PM. It was probably a good idea to spend one night in a motel. I fell on the bed immediately and went to sleep. I woke up in the late afternoon. The sun had come out again. I cursed myself and told myself I should have just ignored the forecast and waited out the rain at the gas station. Then I promptly fell asleep again.

I got a phone call around 11 PM that woke me up. It was pouring. There was thunder and lightning. I was again glad I'd checked into the motel; otherwise I'd have probably tried to pitch my tent under a bridge, and possibly gotten kicked out. I talked on the phone and promptly fell back asleep and slept until 5:30 AM.

I thought about it and realized I don't sleep much when I'm with other people. I had been really, really tired.


A little after 6, I dropped the key in the drop box and rode off. I only made it a few miles before I got a flat in front of a supermarket. I went in and bought a big box of cookies ($4) to make myself feel better. I ate as many as I could. Then I fixed the tire.

That was when I realized I'd broken a spoke. S__t. I had no spare spokes. I checked on my phone where the nearest bike shop was. Erie, PA. Guess that's where I'm going, I thought. 60 miles on one broken spoke isn't actually too awful, though I made a mental note to get a fiber spoke.

I rode another few miles. My tire went flat again. This time I got smarter and did two things right:

  1. I didn't take the wheel off the bike, nor the entire tire off the wheel. I just popped off the section where I heard the air leaking and pulled out that part of the tube. That saved me a lot of time as I patched up the puncture.
  2. I ran my fingers along the inside of the tire. And I found the culprit. A sharp object I couldn't identify that would have kept puncturing my tube, over and over.

From then on, the ride was fine. But I was suddenly, and inexplicably, feeling lonely. This caused me to think of all the people I'd already stayed with, and miss them. There was also an incredibly strong headwind, that made every mile seem like three. The wind never seems to blow from the east; always from the west.

To make myself feel a little better, I tried to address both issues by trying to write myself an epic poem in Russian as I rode, about how, though the winds may try to blow me back into the past, I must ride faithfully into the future. The key word being "trying."


Eventually, I reached a long-awaited point.

As I kept biking, I saw a sign that said "ERIE 15". Nice! I was going to get to that city with plenty of time to fix my bike, eat, and maybe do other stuff. So I thought until, several miles later, I passed another sign: "ERIE 15". OK.... I stopped and ate some cookies. I was starting to run out of water.

Several miles later, I saw another sign: "ERIE 15". Now I thought somebody was making fun of me. I rode onward. And onward. And onward. The road was completely empty, just fields and orchards as far as the eye could see. I couldn't even pinpoint myself on the map.

Finally, I pulled into a more populated area, with a long stretch uphill. I got off the bike, pulled out my phone, walked, and called my little brother. As we talked, I passed a road, and when I told him, he decided to find it on a map, and told me I was only five miles from Erie.

I got into the city, fixed my spoke, got some more helpful bike advice, replaced a spare tube, etc, etc. I got a sub, my first non-cookie food for the day. I met Kari, at whose place I stayed that night.


But right after getting the sub, I realized my phone battery was low. Crap. I needed to charge it. I wandered around a shopping plaza and noticed an outlet on the outdoor wall of a supermarket. I plugged the charger in. It was an active outlet. Sweet! The supermarket was selling plastic lawn chairs and had them on display. I pulled one up to the outlet and sat with my charging phone, eating my sub, checking my E-mail, calling my grandmother.

"Where are you coming from?" A man pulled up on a bike.

"Bit north of Boston."

"Nice. I always wanted to do something like that. I try to ride 300 to 400 miles a week."

I was genuinely surprised. "That's about what I'm doing."

We talked. For hours. And hours. And hours.

"So what do you do, stop at motels?"

"I can't afford those. I usually meet people one way or another. I'll probably stay with this girl Kari here, but she had to go for a while, her friend is in the hospital."

"Oh, yeah? You hang out with them, too?"

"Usually. I don't know about her, though, she seems to be a busy girl. Working a bunch of jobs so she can get out of Erie."

He laughed out loud. "She'll be back."


Erie didn't look promising work-wise either, and Kari really was busy, so the next morning, I took off and kept going. It had gotten flatter. I was positively flying. It was still morning when I hit the next state.

I was enjoying the speed so much that I didn't even stop when people called to me. In Ashtabula, I encountered a bunch of cyclists going the other way. One of them, a man with a big, gray beard, yelled out "Where are you headed?"


"Oregon, G_dd__n!"

And then we were mutually out of earshot. I just kept flying along.

...and here I am.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

On to the Next Lake

Now that I'm not looking for work for a bit, I've just been biking,
and reached Buffalo, on the shores of Lake Erie, yesterday.
Unfortunately, it looks like the beautiful weather is over for a
while, and I'll be hitting rain and storms, and, due to the low
population density, likely camping in them. I don't expect the
upcoming few days to be very pleasant.

Although I found a place to stay in Rochester and now in Buffalo, I
haven't been able to get access to a computer, and likely won't for a
while. Thus, no updates to the map, and no photos on the blog.

I was planning to write about what a boon for the traveler a gas
station is, what with cheap food, water for my bottles, bathrooms,
plugs to charge my phone, etc.

But I encountered another boon as I walked toward Batavia. As I go
west, the hills get smaller and I get stronger, the result being that
I don't need to get off the bike at all. This becomes, quite
literally, a pain in the ass. To mitigate that, I've been getting off
and walking a bit every now and then.

"You look like you're coming from a distance!" I suddenly heard. I
hadn't even realized I was passing a house. I walked over to the man
and we talked for a bit, starting with bikes and ending with the US
Constitution. His name was Bob.

"Would you like to come in for some sandwiches?"

"If you're offering, I'm taking."

We went inside. "It's a good thing my wife isn't home. She's skeptical
of strangers. She was robbed once."

I made myself one sandwich. I didn't want to overeat while still
biking. He had me make another and pack it for the road. I refilled my
water bottles.

Miles later, in Corfu, I saw a woman on a porch and asked if she'd
mind if I sat with her and ate my sandwich. She asked the usual
questions and told me about the new basketball hoop she got.

I got to Buffalo and met Mel, who took me out to dinner at an Indian
restaurant, and at whose place I'm comfortably staying right now.

But gas stations are far more dependable, and they let me retain my

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

At Last, The Great Lakes

I've reached Lake Ontario at Sodus Point. I have poor, intermittent
phone signal here, so I will attempt to post from the phone.

It was an amazingly easy ride. The perfunctory accident came in the
form of a pannier falling off. The rest was just too easy. When I was
passing through Wolcott--the ONLY village of any size today--I checked
out the pizza places, but, finding them too expensive, continued
onward and discovered a spot where I got more than I could eat, and
took the rest with me and ate it as dinner. The check? $2.49.

I've don't know if I'll ever grow up. Hundreds of miles ago, in the
Berkshires, I couldn't find my tent stakes. In Utica, Krista and
Howard took me to a store where instead, I gleefully bought four
enormous, extremely sharp spikes. I wanted to run around and stick
them into stuff, but when the time came to leave, the question arose
of how to pack them. They were sharp enough to puncture any container.
We found a way of taping the tips to make them behave. Then I found my
old stakes.

In Syracuse, I went to the store and bought almost exclusively food
that made me happy as a kid. The first day, I ate a whole box of Teddy
Grahams. It gave me a slight stomachache. I didn't care. The next day
I ate an entire box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. It gave me a bigger
stomachache. I didn't care.

Sometimes being a kid just makes me happy, though the stuff I end up
doing as an unstoppable adult is stuff my mother would never have
Eating an entire box of anything, for one thing. This trip, for another.

When looking at Sodus Point on a map, I, the east-coast boy, pictured
something like Cape Cod. When I arrived, I was surprised at how
run-down it was, and how empty, in the middle of tourist season. I met
Caroline, who lives right on the water, and asked what I could give
her in return for pitching a tent on her property. She said $10. I
liked the sound of that.

I wanted to write more and organize it better, but the phone is not
making this fun for me.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Time to Go

I like it here in Syracuse, but there's not much going on, and no real reason to hang around. I've decided to pick up the pace for a while. Since there doesn't seem to be much work in New York State at all1, I'm going to put a bit less effort into work for a while—until I get to Pennsylvania—and more into moving along and not spending money. On that note, I intend to pack up and leave Syracuse tomorrow. I will finally be approaching Lake Ontario, and if all goes according to plan, the day after tomorrow will be a leisurely ride along the lake, in beautiful, sunny weather. I doubt I'll have good internet out there, so I'm goign to go ahead and update the map right now to where I think I'll reach tomorrow.

1Actually, what happened was that I checked out the state tax code and employment regulations, and suddenly wasn't surprised at all. I wouldn't want to run a business here either. LESSON: Governments often have very intrusive regulations, and even if they don't apply to you directly, they will affect you. No matter how simple whatever you're trying to accomplish, if you don't have a lawyer and accountant you trust on your payroll, it's always worthwhile to go through the (horrendously boring) documents; you can save yourself a lot of time and effort and stress.


On an unrelated note, I was notified at 6:47 this morning that I'm an uncle. I hear my brother Fatso is an occasional reader, so congratulations, Fatso!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Before I left, Krista and Howard took me on a day of garage sales. Garage sales in upstate New York are different from what I'm used to. The variety of stuff is incredible, and if you know where to look, you can find pretty much anything—including urinals.

SKIPPABLE DORK PARAGRAPH: I found a Commodore 64 on sale. The garage next door was selling A/V cables that fit. For a moment, I was debating buying it and shipping it back to Massachusetts (I'm still a little bitter that my parents threw out my VIC 20 back when we moved when I was 13). Had I been able to find a fitting power cable, I probably would have purchased it. The shipping would have been more expensive than the purchase.

I was already preparing for my departure and the calories I would burn. We went to an Indian buffet, where I ate enough to start stretching my stomach. That night, Krista made pasta, and knew to put more on my plate. Just the same, I finished eating long before her or Howard, and she made another, even bigger batch of pasta, which I wolfed down in its entirety.

"I still owe you cash," said Krista. I had helped her and Howard paint the kitchen orange.

"You don't owe me anything," I said. "You let me stay at your place for over and a week and you fed me."

Krista threw her hands up in the air in exasperation. This wasn't the first time we'd had this discussion. "Fine! I don't owe you cash."

In the morning, Krista made pancakes. I ate the vast majority of them.


In keeping with the rule that no day is allowed to go completely smoothly, as soon as I rode 20 feet from the front of the house, my entire luggage rack fell off. Krista has photos; unfortunately, I don't. I was afraid it might mean going back to the bike shop, but I was able to fix it pretty easily, and put one of my spare bungee cords to use, giving the rack some more support. Yet another thing I'll need to check periodically.

The wind was some of the most brutal I have experienced so far. At one point, I was going about 30 miles per hour down a hill when a gust, over the course of about five seconds, brought the bike to a complete stop, despite the incline. Luckily, it's only 50 miles or so from Utica to Syracuse, so I just walked a large chunk of it. Even that was made more difficult by the wind.

But I did reach Syracuse, and I met Alicia, with whom I'll be living for a few days. I went out this morning and, unlike Utica, Syracuse looks like it won't be wasting my time. Everyone told me flat out that I simply will not find work. Nobody needs anything. I met Alicia's brother last night, who said he had some tasks that needed to be done that he had decided he was going to just pay someone to do. So that might be where it's at here.

I don't expect to stay long. I need to start moving faster anyway.