Tuesday, June 16, 2009

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!.... So...you're going to Oregon, right now?"

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

"Toledo...I see...you 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.

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