Friday, July 31, 2009

Lusk and Douglas

After I left Dick and Joyce, I tried to find my way back to where I pitched my tent, but it was too dark for me to see anything. I followed the road for a bit, adjusting my course when I walked off onto grass, then looked up at the stars and realized I had been turned around completely and was heading eastward (I knew my tent was somewhere to the southwest). After following the stars westward for a bit, I found a gravel road leading in what seemed to be the right direction, but as I began walking down it, I heard a growl. I stopped and growled back, but I couldn't see the animal and I didn't want to get much louder so as not to wake anyone at the nearby campground.

I backed up a bit without turning around, but, realizing I had nowhere else to go, walked forward again. And again I heard the growl. I needed to see my opponent. With a growl of my own, I turned on the cell phone. It didn't give much light, but it was better than nothing. As soon as the screen lit up, I heard a rustle, and whatever was growling was gone. I guess the key is to be as unfamiliar as possible.

I lit up my boots as I walked and soon came to the first stream over the road. I recalled a wooden plank across it a bit upstream, so I walked up into the grass, found it, and, teetering a bit in the blackness, crossed to the other side. The next stream I forded, but the water never went above the top of my boots. I walked across the grass and finally, the phone illuminated my tent. I got in, unrolled the sleeping bag and lay down.

If I looked directly east, all I saw was pitch darkness, but I knew what was there: a barbed-wire fence, and beyond it, the pale gravestones of soldiers killed here by Indians a century and a half ago.


I woke up in the middle of the night to rain pounding the tent, with flashes of lightning and thunder, first in rumbles, then in claps. One thing about Nebraska is that, it being mostly grass, wherever you are in a thunderstorm, it's difficult not to be the tallest object around. At least there wasn't anyone out there explicitly trying to kill me. With every lightning strike, I calculated the distance. The closest strike still came nearly a mile away, and then they started getting farther. I went back to sleep.

I slept in until about 7, which is late when I'm in the tent. And just as I got out and started packing up, I came to regret it. Ominous clouds formed in the western sky and a new storm came in. I put on a rain coat, but as the water started coming down in buckets, it got miserable very quickly. I realized my bungee cords had disappeared, and started wondering how I was going to transport my luggage, even if I did manage to pack it now that it was getting soaked. Then I realized my pump was missing. I must have forgotten it in Chadron.

So on top of packing up in miserable rain, I now had a bad tire, flimsy patch kit and no pump, and 150 miles to go to a bike shop.

Oh, please, I thought. Couldn't something go right?

Then I drew my breath and kept packing.

Next thing I knew, a large pickup pulled up and Dick jumped out. Instantly getting soaked, he jumped back in, then came out with a towel over his head.

"Need any help?"

"If you have any bungee cords, I'll gladly buy them off of you."

Dick nodded and produced a pair of bungee cords. He wouldn't take any money. Then he silently helped me pack.

"Did you manage to pack your own stuff before the storm came?"

He shook his head. "Nah, it's still out there. We'll get a room at the lodge and pack it up when the storm passes."

With some difficulty, we managed to pack all my stuff. I was already more content. It had been soaked before, and I knew it dries well.

"You want to get in the pickup for a bit? It's dry in there, and I've got the heat on."

It sounded good.

"In fact, toss all your stuff in the back, we'll take you over to the lodge and get some breakfast."

We went over to the lodge, and Dick reserved a room.

"Eat as much as you want, it's on me."

"I appreciate it," I said, "but you really don't have to. My money situation is OK."

Dick looked insulted. "We feel blessed to be able to help a member of God's chosen people. Don't take that blessing away from us."

I really didn't have a proper response.


"I heard it's going to rain all day," said Dick, "so here is the plan. We're going to get you a room here at the lodge, and you can leave tomorrow."

"I'd love to take you up on that, but I really need to get to Casper as soon as possible. The earlier I get there, the more likelihood that they'll have what I need in stock and I don't have to wait until the next order."

Dick frowned. "Well, all right. Then I'll go cancel the room I reserved for you."

They said they'll pray for me and insisted on me taking $20. That's another $20 I intend to donate to some good cause on the west coast. Meanwhile, I have more cash in my wallet.

I insisted on helping them pack everything of their own and carrying it all upstairs for them.


Nebraska was never flat, but it had changed now. Instead of hills, I was starting to see buttes.

There were also more trees, though this turned out to be a very temporary thing (they later all but disappeared). Pretty soon, I was looking back at Nebraska and bidding it farewell.

Before I knew it, I was in Wyoming, and in the city of Lusk. I turned on my phone to check the weather, and found, to my dismay, that there was no signal. I saw what looked like a cheap food place and walked up. A girl opened the window.

"Can I help you?"

I smiled. "First off, do you know what the weather is going to be like?"

She gave me an impatient look. I couldn't understand why; there were no other customers. "Rain."

"Figures. What about tomorrow?"


I looked at the menu boards. "Not great ice cream weather. You guys sell anything else?"

She looked even more impatient. "Just what's on the menu."

I looked around a bit more and realized that far in the back, there were more menu boards with normal food items; I wished she'd pointed them out. When I don't like the personnel, it makes me really not want to buy.

I smiled at her again. "Long day?"

She didn't answer.

"....or are you always this unfriendly?"

"....can I help you?"

That was it. "I'm all good, thanks." I got my bike and went over to Subway across the street.

"What's up with not having phone signal in your town?"

At least here the girl behind the counter was smiling. "I don't know what the deal is here! I can get signal in Casper, but here, it's dead. A lot of stupid things like that about this town. I really want to leave Wyoming. I mean....I do love it here, it's beautiful, the land of big open spaces and all that, but you have to deal with this crap day in and day out."


I left Lusk in the morning and first got a real feel for the fact that I was in Wyoming.

Deer and antelope scuttled away from me as I rode.

("They get a bit spooked near the highway," Bruce had said. "Some people around here will just shoot them. Not even for food, just for fun. If you ask me, that's just mean. Though I have nothing against hunting and eating them. I hunt them myself with a bow and arrow. I made a helmet with antlers. I just lie down near somewhere where there's water and move my head the way they do when they're lying down. They walk right over, and I shoot them. It's going to be hard this season, though. It's been raining so much, there's water everywhere, you can't just lie down at the watering hole.")

Among the road kill, I started noticing wolves. Among the debris in the breakdown lane, I started noticing gun holsters. I rounded a bend and suddenly saw the Rocky Mountains, misty in the distance.

There were towns along the route on the map, but those that didn't have a population of 1 were abandoned completely. There would be a couple of streets with a few houses that now had gaping holes instead of windows, and maybe, somewhere deep in the grass, an RV without an engine or headlights. Sometimes you'd find a beautiful specimen of something that would have been razed long ago if people still lived in the area, like this schoolhouse with a bell tower in Shawnee:

I noticed that the landscape had changed again, and now looked like a desert. If I had been dropped here and not told my location, I may well have assumed eastern California, or New Mexico.

Except for the grass. But the grass was now shorter and brown, almost resembling the sand of the desert.


I arrived in Douglas early in the afternoon. Despite my thin tire, I had mercifully not gotten any flats. (If I had, I wouldn't have been able to fix them without a pump, and, all the towns being ghost towns with no gas stations, there were no pumps anywhere to speak of.) I was liking that thick tube I had gotten in Chadron. I made a mental note to get a couple of spare thick tubes when I got my armored tire.

Toward evening, I met Jay. Born in Utah, and having lived in Connecticut for a while, he moved back to Utah for college and now lived in Douglas doing IT for a hospital. We went out for Mexican food ("the only decent restaurant around here," Jay said), and he insisted on paying for me. I guess I'll just enjoy and appreciate it while it's happening and pay it forward later. After we finished eating, we just sat at the table and talked for a while.

"So," said Jay, "you'd probably want to check out the Douglas bar scene?"

"Sure, I'd go for that."

He rattled off a list of bars with short descriptions, I picked one, and we went. Jay quickly bumped into a bunch of people he knew, and we hung out and talked for a long time.

Jay let me sleep on a giant bean bag in his apartment.


The next morning, Jay went to work, and I walked around looking for a place to finally get a haircut. Jay had suggested one, but I wandered around that intersection and was apparently blind. Lunchtime came around and I still hadn't found it, so I met up with Jay at the hospital, where he was eating in the cafeteria because it was free employee lunch day.

"You can be an employee for the day," I was told with a smile.

"Works for me," I said.

After lunch with Jay and his boss, I finally found the barbershop Jay had suggested. It turned out to be a relatively large salon—certainly larger than anything I'd have expected in a place like Douglas, WY—and they were all booked up for the day. Now that was impressive.

I rode to the place Jay had suggested for buying bear spray. It looked like a small garage painted bright yellow.

"Can I help you with anything?"

"Yeah, do you carry bear spray?"

"Nope. Bears really aren't an issue here. You'd have to go up to Casper to get that stuff."

"Oh, that works, that's the way I'm headed."

"Well, then you can try Sportsman's Warehouse, that's right as you come into Casper. Rocky Mountain Sports probably has it too, but that's clear on the other end of town."

"Sportsman's Warehouse and Rocky Mountain Sports. That's perfect, thank you very much."

"You're welcome, and good luck."

"Oh, totally unrelated question. Do you know of a place where I could get a haircut in this town?"

He looked surprised for a second. "Go back out onto Yellowstone Highway and take a right. It goes over the bridge, zig-zags and takes you downtown. At the first light, there's a barbershop on the left there. And if you go up to the second light, on the right, there's another one. You can walk in and ask for Mary-Ellen. That's where my family and I always go."

I stopped by the first one, and since the barber there readily cut my hair, I didn't end up getting to ask for Mary-Ellen. Instead, having overheard some conversation, I sat down and started out with

"Did you say you caught seven fish, the smallest of which was 18 pounds?"

"That's what I said! It was a nice day."

"Where'd you find fish like that?"

"Flaming Gorge."

"Is that nearby here?"

"Wish it were closer. It's about five hours away."

"Oh, yeah?"

"In the southwestern corner. Part of the lake is in Wyoming, part in Utah."

"Oh, must be way up in the mountains."

"What are you talking about? It's all grass. Where are you from, anyway?"

After the haircut, I thanked him, paid him, walked out, then walked right back in.

"Completely unrelated question. Do you know where I could find a grocery store around here?"

"One block up, two blocks over."

And so I bounced around Douglas, again enjoying a bike with no luggage, getting everything I needed and, at each stop, getting directions to the next place.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Western Nebraska

The road to Chadron was long and didn't really change. Bruce, an avid cyclist himself, told me there was no bike shop in Valentine that could do much for me, but that in Chadron, where he lived, the bike shop might be able to do something. He said he'll help me out, but that I'd need to do some work for him. I agreed to it.

Few people knew as much about the sandhills of Nebraska as Bruce did—his father had written an authoritative book on the history of the region—and I'd been guided as far as what to look for while passing by. It's a fascinating region.

Once I was in Chadron, Bruce gave me a day to rest and then took me up to South Dakota to work on an aspen stand.

"You'll get to see the Black Hills!" he said excitedly. As we headed up, he pointed out antelope and told me all about the history of the area.

We ended up on a private dirt road. When we got to the house on the private property, we met the owner, took a look at his greenhouse, and then drove up to the aspen stand, where I helped Bruce take leaves for DNA sampling and take GPS readings.


The next day I went to the bike shop. It was a bike shop and a barbershop in one.

"Hello!" said the owner.

"How are you doing?"


"I was wondering if you could take a look at the bulge in my tire."

He took a look. He deflated it and re-inflated it. He had me inflate it while he held it with his hands.

"Well, I'm not sure what to tell you. I think you've got a s___ty tire."

"I wouldn't be surprised at all. It's been traveling with me for nearly 2,000 miles, all folded up most of the way."

"Yeah, feel here, and then feel here. See how it's not uniform?"

"Yeah. I'm thinking I'll just get a new tire."

"No-can-do. I don't have any in your size."

"..." I'd been afraid of this.

"Do you know where I could get one?"

"The nearest bike shop will be in Casper."

Casper is in Wyoming, some 200 miles from Chadron. "You think I could make it that far?"

"Let me see what I can do."

He took the wheel to the bathroom and struggled for a while with soap and water.

"I think I've removed most of the bulge, take a look."

"Thanks. Let me try riding on it. Oh, could I buy a multi spoke wrench off of you, by any chance?"

"Don't have any."

"OK. Then could I at least get a patch kit?"

"I don't carry patch kits."

I almost wanted to ask what kind of a bike shop this was, but I knew the answer already—the best in the region.

He sent me back. He didn't take any money. I rode the bike over to the shop later in the day.

"How's it riding?"

"Seems all right so far, without luggage. But I'm feeling a little queasy about this. What do you think of that green slime they sell at Wal-Mart to seal the tube?"

"Weak. I have some much better stuff here, with better granules."

"Ooh, could you put some in?"

"No-can-do! Can't put it into Presta valves!"


"Tell you what," he said. "I've got a thick, thorn-proof tube that's not quite your size but will fit. Heavier, but stronger. Want it as a spare?"

I liked the sound of it, but wondered whether it would actually fit. "Could we put it in now?"

"Sure!" He put it in. I paid him $10. I rode it back and it rode fine.

Too bad he was closing. I'd wanted a haircut, too. As my hair gets longer, it gets harder and harder to meet people and elicit an immediate positive reaction.


In return for having picked me up after 30 hours of unsuccessful hitchhiking, I sanded the rust off of Bruce's '63 Jeep.

I helped him with a couple more aspen stands. Bruce discovered an insect he had never seen before (I can attest to the fact that that would truly be a rarity) that he suspected was stressing the aspens in some way, so he trapped two of them and took them home for analysis.


Then I rode to Fort Robinson, past Crow Butte. When Crow Indians invaded a white settlement, the whites alerted the Sioux, who sent hundreds of warriors to drive them out. The Crow braves had climbed onto Crow Butte and would repel any attempt at an ascent by the Sioux by throwing rocks at them from the top and taunting them.

Bruce had told me everyone hated the Crow—both whites and other Indian tribes. He said that even now, a Crow could never hitchhike successfully in that area.


I arrived at Fort Robinson as it was getting dark. I pitched my tent in the middle of nowhere, at the end of a road that went through two large streams with no bridge (one of these streams had a board across it a bit upstream from the road). After pitching the tent, I went up to the campground to plug my phone in and make some calls and use the internet. No signal. I left it plugged in and started eating donuts, but I was lonely again. I saw a campfire in the distance.

I felt it would be rude to interrupt people at a campfire, but whatever. So what if I was rude to people I'd never see again. I walked over.

"Hey, how are you doing?"


"I have more donuts than I could carry or eat here, so I thought I'd offer you some."

"Oh," said a middle-aged woman, "I don't eat sweets. Oh, and don't worry about the plastic on my head, that's just so I don't get smoke in my hair. I don't want you to think it's going to rain."

"Actually," I said, "I heard it was going to tonight."

"Oh, no! I hope not!"

I stood around and talked. The woman's husband came back. She told him my story. They had me sit down with them at the campfire. Their names were Dick and Joyce.

We talked mostly about taboo topics like religion and politics, deep into the night. Even without knowing what was coming, I was glad I'd risked being rude.

Saturday, July 25, 2009


"You'll cross the Missouri," the RAGBRAI biker had told me, "and you'll enter Nebraska. And then you'll go insane. It's boring, and it's flat as a pancake."

When I left South Sioux City, it was, in fact, flat as a pancake. And I loved it. There wasn't much of a headwind, so it was some very easy riding, for once. I wondered about the woman who had biked away in the other direction earlier that morning, once I told her where to find the bridge. A few things had concerned me, among them:

  • She had no tent
  • She had no phone
  • She carried only one water bottle
  • She didn't know how to fix a flat

On the last of these, I regretted having let her leave before I left, because when I departed, I immediately discovered a flat and had to stop and fix it, and I thought it would have been very valuable for her to watch. Of course, she had pointed out that there should be cause for concern for anyone who observes me as well:

  • I carry no maps
  • I have nothing for cooking food, and my diet when I'm alone is candy
  • I carry dress shoes
  • I left my pepper spray back in New York and never replaced it, and have to scare off dogs just by being aggressive myself
  • I bike into the wind
  • I'd admitted to her that my first time fixing a flat was in fact once I got on the road for this trip, and I'd never seen anyone do it before

"You're clearly an idiot," she had said, "but you seem to be an invincible one."

"I hope I'll be able to say the same about you," I said.

She got me dinner and made me breakfast, so I hadn't eaten candy that night. But now I was biking on this flat road and realized I was going to need it. I saw hills in the distance, but, like over flat water, everything over flat land is farther than it looks, and as I pedaled, they didn't get much closer.

For a few miles, at least. Then I got to Jacksonville and bought candy.

"How far is the next town going west?" I asked the girl.

She looked confused. "There's not much there. But if you go 30 miles, you'll reach Laurel, that's really the next thing you'll notice, other than grass."

I bought a bunch more candy and refilled all my water bottles. I got into the hills. And for the first time, really, I just went over hill after hill and saw nothing besides grass. I just meditated (what else was I to do?) and the 30 miles passed relatively quickly. I'd used up about one third of the candy to keep my blood sugar levels up (otherwise my blood pressure drops too low sometimes), so I stopped to get more, and decided to get a sub to eat right there.

"You're in for some beautiful scenery," said the woman. "But don't ride on the dirt roads like you did in Iowa, unless you're ready to be charged by a bull."

I had been charged by a bull on a back road in Mexico a few years earlier, and was definitely not ready to be charged by one again.

"What's the next town over, going west?" I asked.

"You'll pass Belden, but you probably won't see a single person there, just an elevator. Randolph is really your next town, it's about 16 or 17 miles from here."

When people say "elevator" here, they mean a grain elevator. I took off to Randolph, where I stopped for more candy, to put some air in my tire, and to refill my water bottle. Since I had refilled in Laurel, I only had one to refill.

"What's the next town over, going west?"

"You'll hit Osmond in about eight or ten miles."

Nice. It was actually 12 miles, but that was fine.

"What's the next town over, going west?" I asked the girl.

"There's Plainview, it's about ten miles away. You're going to bike all the way to Plainview?"

Another girl chimed in. "He probably came from hundreds of miles away, look at him! Where are you from?"

The first girl laughed. "What do you know, Juanita?"

I grinned. (You'll notice I do a lot of grinning.) "Juanita, huh? How did you know that? Have you been stalking me since I was in Iowa?"

I debated whether I should try to get Juanita to offer me a place to stay in Osmond, but the sun was still high, and I felt like I might not have covered even 70 miles. So I eventually told them it's time for me to be off to Plainview, went out, and got on my bike.

Flat tire.

I pulled over immediately and found myself at an auto repair shop.

"You mind if I fix my blowout here?"

"Not at all."

I popped off the tire and started looking for the puncture in the tube. A worker walked over.

"I've never seen someone patch a bike tire, mind if I watch?"

"Not at all," I said. "See, I just popped off the tire with these irons, and now I'm inflating the tube a little to try to find the puncture."

"You want me to bring over the air pump so you don't have to pump it by hand?"

"That would be awesome, actually, thanks!" I popped Kenbob's converter onto the valve so that the air hose would fit on it.

But when I inflated it, I found that the leak was so slow that I couldn't locate it.

"I know something that will work," said the worker, and got a big canister with a hose on it.

"Oh, is that the foam you put into flat tires? Don't give me that, that's no good for me unless there's a bike shop within a few miles."

"It's just soap and water," he said, and started spraying it on the tube. And sure enough, in one spot, little bubbles appeared. He had located the puncture.

I dried the punctured section of the tube in the sun (it was about 100 degrees out), then showed him how I sanded it, applied a film of vulcanizing fluid, and then applied a patch.

"You guys getting anywhere?" It was the owner of the repair shop.

"I think it's pretty much set," I said. I had noticed the puncture was in the same place as a previous one, and on the inside, so I was checking the rim. I realized that the rim strip had slipped off and gotten glued to the side, and I couldn't get it back with the tools I had.

"Oh, wow, I see," said the owner. He brought me some tape and taped the rim. We hoped that would avoid punctures until I got to a place where I got my hands on the right tool (I ended up fixing it at a gas station with a big pair of scissors).

"How far are you planning on going today?"

"Well, I'm told Plainview is about ten miles away, and the sun is still high. What's the next place after Plainvew?"

"That would be Orchard, but you don't want to go there. It's a good 30 miles from here."

30 miles didn't sound bad, but when I checked the time, I found I had an hour and a half until sunset, and, what with flats, I didn't want to bet on holding 20 MPH the entire time.

The owner continued trying to talk me into not going past Plainview. "They've got a really nice city park. I really think you should stay there tonight."

I smiled. "Sounds good. That's where I'll head then." I figured I'd make my decision once I got there.

"You know what you need?" he suddenly said. "You need a motor on that bike."

Ha, ha. Like I don't hear that one every hundred miles.


I got to Plainview, and it was as if they had planned on my arrival.

I was tired and decided to check out the free camping they had. They had lights, power outlets, a bathroom—I didn't even look any further; I just relaxed in the park, charging my phone and using it to access what internet I could. I pitched the tent after dark, but I didn't care, because I just flipped on the lights.


The next morning, I went across the street to grab breakfast ($1.19). As I walked out, a man in a dress shirt and slacks walked over to me.

"Hello!" he said.

"How are you?"

"I'm having a great day! And I hope you do too. Here's my business card."

Then he walked inside without even a good-bye.


I rode out to Orchard. I realized I hadn't even noticed how slowly, over about 1,000 miles, trees had gone from being the rule to being the exception. First it had been just forests back in Massachusetts, with small fields appearing as I went west and then through New York. Ohio and Indiana had much bigger fields, but you could always see trees on the end. Then, after Chicago, the cornfields had appeared, and you could see only islands of trees. Now the corn was mostly gone and trees were quite rare.

The $1.19 breakfast hadn't been enough, so I walked into a small shack that had the inscription "The Lunch Box," where I ordered a small steak. It was set up like a small diner with tables and no booths. I sat at a table, and the people at the next table over started talking to me right away.

"Is that your bike out there? Where are you coming from? Where are you going? Has it been fun so far?"

I tried to get them to tell me about their own lives. A big man with a mustache walked over and sat down across from me at my table.

"You don't mind if I sit at your table, do you?"

"Go right ahead."

His name was Ryan. He gave me his last name too, which I won't post here. I noticed that people here always give their name with their last name, and always expect me to give my full name too, which still makes me a little uncomfortable. Last names here will often tell people what town somebody is from and what people they mutually know. My last name being completely unfamiliar, people often mis-hear it and identify me as being related to somebody from some nearby town, which I guess I don't mind. I even occasionally say that I'm a very distant cousin, which, in the scheme of things, is, in a way, likely true.

Ryan asked about jobs I used to do before I took this trip. There were a lot of those, too, and I talked about some of them, and some of the kinds of business I tried to do.

"Oh, you translated? I could have used that. Maybe I wouldn't fight so much with my girlfriend."

As always, I grinned. "Would you have needed me to translate into some national language, or just woman-speak?"

He shook his head. "Spanish."

"Oh, yeah?"

"Yeah, let me show you." He took out his phone. "That's her. She's beautiful, isn't she? But we've been fighting a lot lately. Her brother and cousin don't like me. Just because I wouldn't get them a cell phone. But, you know, I don't want my credit f___ed up. And they could just take off anytime. You understand, right? See, and I feel like she should, too. Her cousin back in Guatemala is a cop, and he understands. He likes me. But she was calling me all sorts of bad words in Spanish and beating me over the head with a bible. Some of those people pretend to be religious and righteous, but....I don't know, you know how it goes." He laughed. "All I know is I'm going to bible study tonight, and she'll probably be there, and I'll try to be nice to her and see where it goes. It's about all I can do."

I thought it was amazing what some people are willing to put up with.

"Sometimes I wish I could just take off like you, but I can't just leave her here alone. Not to mention I'm a single father. I've got an eight-year-old son. Here, take a look, this is him. He's the only joy in my life."


It was 11 miles to Inman, but for some reason, now that I'd eaten the steak, those 11 miles felt longer than 30 miles would have earlier, and less pleasant. I made a mental note not to ride so soon after I eat. I stopped in O'Neill, went to a grocery store, and snatched up 12 Little Debbie cookies.

"How far is the next town over going west?"

"Atkinson is a smaller town about 20 miles from here."

I checked the calories on the cookies, counted off 3,000 calories and ate them. I put the rest in my pack. Then I found a place in the shade with an outdoor plug, plugged in my phone, and checked my E-mail and responded to a bunch before taking off again. It really did work out better.

I stopped in Atkinson, got more candy, washed my face, refilled my water bottle. The next town was Stuart. I shot over there, washed my face again, and refilled my water bottle. Newport was another 10 miles down the road.

I started riding and got a flat tire. I fixed it, rode for two more minutes, and got another flat. I fixed that. I had one patch left. I knew of no nearby bike shops. It was starting to get dark. I started riding. It was bumpy, but I figured it would get me to the next town and I'd check it out in the morning. Then there was a pop as the tube exploded.

Suddenly, my morale was completely gone. Who had gotten the idiotic idea of making inflatable tires, anyway? Why not just make a solid rubber one that is a little less smooth but doesn't go flat?

I started walking with my bike, but I didn't know whether I was closer to Newport or Stuart. I tried to flag down a car, just to ask which town was closer. I wanted to minimize the distance I had to walk on the highway in the dark, carrying my luggage and my bike (which no longer rolled). Several cars went by. Then I saw a small one and when I flagged it, it instantly pulled over. As it did, I looked at the side and realized why: "NEBRASKA STATE POLICE"

"Something wrong?"

"Just blew out a tire and it's a little late to be taking care of it now. You know if I'm closer to Newport or Stuart?"

He thought for a minute. "Did you check which dirt road that is over there?"

I had. "463rd."

"Well, s__t. I'd say you're right about in the middle. Five miles either this way or that way. Pick your poison."

And then I realized I had forgotten to eat candy. My head got really light. I had dropped my pack and I realized that by the time I'd reach it, my blood pressure would be low enough that I'd pass out. I grabbed a water bottle and drank, hoping the water would still be cold enough to jolt me, which would give me enough time to reach a candy bar.

Next thing I knew, I was seeing pleasant but completely unrelated visions. They were like two-second dreams, one after another, and I was thoroughly enjoying them. And then one came up that was a little weird. In it, I opened my eyes and I saw pavement within an inch of them. I realized I was lying down at the side of a highway. I raised my head.

"Sir! Don't move! You need an ambulance?"

It was a frightened police officer. Oh, s__t, this one wasn't a dream. I sat up.

"Nah, I'm fine, I just need some sugar."

The cop perfunctorily patted his pockets and looked around. "S__t! I don't have any!"

"I do. Here, they're in my pack." I took out three Snickers bars (for some reason in Jacksonville they'd been cheaper than Milky Way, which I prefer).

"Are you sure you're OK?"

"Yeah, I'm fine now, I just needed the sugar. Sometimes when I get stressed out, I forget."



"Then you must be....what's that other thing called?"

"Hypoglycemic," I suggested. I actually don't think that's my condition—I've never really identified it—but it satisfied him.

"Yeah, that's it! Hypoglycemic."

"Sorry I scared you."

He laughed. "Oh, it's fine. I have friends in the force who are diabetic, so I've seen stuff like this happen before. You want to take a seat in the cruiser for a bit, with the A/C?"

"Yeah, honestly, I wouldn't mind at all." Ever since Ohio and Indiana, most days had been sunny and close to 100 degrees.

"I have to pat down anyone I let into the cruiser though. You don't have any firearms or knives on you, do you?"

"Nope, but feel free to pat me down."

As he patted my pockets, I identified the items he was touching out loud. I realized hours later that I did, in fact, have a knife in my vest pocket, but I'd forgotten and he hadn't patted any of the pockets on my vest.

I sat down in the front seat of the cruiser and he sat down next to me. "What's your name?"


"Greg...." Oh, s__t. I'd forgotten people here always expect a full name.

"It's a weird last name. Here, I usually just let people look at my license."

He took my license and a jolt came over him as if he had just remembered something. "You don't have any outstanding warrants or anything, do you?"

I laughed. "No, but feel free to check."

As he ran it over his walkie-talkie, I caught myself wishing I did have an outstanding warrant. It would have meant a ride to a solid roof over my head, with no need to pitch a tent. When I realized this was my thought process, I decided I would shell out the money for a motel.

"You know," said the cop, "I just thought of something. I'm not allowed to give people rides, but since you passed out, I might be able to get permission to take you back to Stuart. The only thing would be your bike—I can't fit it in the cage, I don't think—but we can leave it at the side of the highway and take the rest of your luggage, and I'll find someone with a pickup to bring it to you." It sounded good to me. He pushed the button on his walkie-talkie, gave the mileage on his odometer, and said he was giving a ride to a hypoglycemic man who had passed out on the highway. Whatever works, I guess.

"I don't know what anybody else says," he said, "but I love Nebraska. I was born and raised here. It's a pretty boring job to be a night shift trooper here, but that says good things about a place."

"What kinds of stuff do you usually get to do?"

"A lot of speeding tickets. Early in the night, usually some DUIs. Later in the night I'll get called to break up a fight. Basically just cleanup crew. So thanks for making tonight a little more exciting."


"Well, you know, that's not entirely fair either. My family lives around here, and I feel like every drunk I get off the road, they're that much safer."

He helped me carry my luggage into the motel. Within the hour, a woman officer came by with my bike. "You sure you're OK?"

I smiled. "I'll be perfectly fine."


The next morning, I called Jilly and Kenbob and asked for any advice I could get on misbehaving tires. Then I fixed my rim strip, put in a completely new tube and a completely new tire. (This was actually a sad moment, as the tire had been with me for about 1,500 miles now, and the tube for about 1,000. The history of my flats was recorded on the tube, which was pockmarked irregularly with patches all around it.)

But when I started inflating it, I got the dreaded bulge that I had gotten on my front wheel in Dubuque. The difference was that there was no bike shop here. I called up Charlee and asked if he could give any advice on a bulge. He said it would require tools he was pretty sure I didn't have, because it would be heavy stuff you can't carry. He told me to hitch a ride to a bike shop.

The only "bike shop" around was the furniture store, I was told. I went there, and it turned out that one of the members of the family that ran it did, in fact, love bikes, and did repair them. But he had died a while earlier.

"We do have some solid rubber tubes left over from back when he was here, if you want to check if any of them fit. I won't be able to help you, but if you know your stuff, have at it."

I almost couldn't contain my shock. Just the night before, I'd been wondering why no one else had thought of solid rubber tubes and tires, and here we were. I went back to the motel (which was the same building and same family as the gas station) and asked if they wouldn't mind me staying a bit past checkout time to fix my bike. They didn't. I brought back my wheel. None of the tubes fit.

"Hold on, let me call my sister in Atkinson and see if she's got anything."

The woman at the furniture store made a call. No luck.

"Well, she said her brother in law in O'Neill might have some."

She made another call. No luck. She made several more calls to nearby towns. No luck.

"All right," I said, "I'll figure something out. But do you carry patch kits? I'm just about out of patches."

"No, but let me call my sister." She called again. "She's got patches, let me see if my husband is driving by Atkinson right now, he might be able to get them and bring them here." He wasn't, and neither were a few other people she called, but eventually, she reached someone distantly related by marriage who planned to pass through Atkinson in half an hour. I bought all the patches in the store.


But the problem of the bulge remained, and I needed a bike shop, so I got my stuff out of the motel and prepared to hitchhike to Valentine, where I thought there might be a bike shop. I stood out on the highway for a bit, but I realized that cars didn't seem to go past this town. The very rare car that appeared would either be leaving Stuart going the other way, or be coming from the other way and going to Stuart.

I went to the city offices. The only person there was the town clerk.

"Oh, wow, you are stuck! The problem is the county line is between here and Newport, and people tend to work within the county. It's not often that you'll have someone driving between counties. Here, let me take your phone number down. I'll call some people and I'll give you a call if anyone is headed that way. They won't take you all the way to Valentine, but partway wouldn't be bad, either, would it?"

I went back to the gas station.

The woman there apologized to me. "I called a few people I know who drive fertilizer trucks and whatnot, but they're not going out there until next Tuesday."

Wow, these roads got virtually no traffic. I smiled because I had nothing else to do. "Guess I'll pitch my tent here tonight, then."

She smiled too. "Well, there's not much else you can do, is there?"

"You know of a place I can get dinner?"

"Go downtown by the watertower, there's a bar there."


I took a walk. When I'm biking, it's OK to be alone, because I can meditate. When I'm stuck in a tiny town in the middle of Nebraska and don't know when I'll be able to get out, it suddenly gets really lonely. I walked around. Everyone knew who I was. Everyone waved to me. People stopped to talk. But there was no one here I really connected with (amazingly, in other places I've passed through, there have occasionally been such people), and I suddenly felt utterly alone. I desperately wanted to get out of this town, and I couldn't do it.

I walked by a small store, and the door immediately opened and the woman who was running it walked out.

"Did you manage to get your bike fixed?"

I had never seen her before in my life. "I don't have the right tools. I'm working on hitching a ride."

"I heard your issue was the tires. My kids haven't been riding much, you might be able to use their tires."

I was pretty sure they wouldn't fit, and tried to just answer politely, but a man who turned out to be her husband walked up, shook my hand, and introduced himself by first and last name.

"Lou," said the woman, "could you drive him down to check the kids' bikes?"

Before I knew it, I was in his car. We drove to a small trailer home.

"How does this tire look?"

"Bit too small and too wide."

He looked surprised. "If this one's too wide, you're SOL." (Note for foreign readers: that means "s__t out of luck.")

"That's what I figured."

He drove me back downtown (it was about three blocks away) and dropped me off in front of the bar. I went in and ordered three double burgers; with the bars out here, that's become my usual.

The sky had been blue when I walked in, but within about ten minutes, some girl walked in and as she opened the door, I heard rain pounding the ground and hailstones clinking loudly.

"Does this kind of stuff happen out here all the time?" I asked her.

She smiled and nodded. "Are you glad you're not on your bike now?"

I might not have known these people, but they sure knew who I was.


By the time I left the bar, the rain had stopped and you could see the storm moving away.

I walked back to the gas station slowly, still craving companionship. It reminded me of a novella I had wanted to write as a child about the Earth getting destroyed and one man being left alive (oh, how original), and about the subsequent mental breakdown he endures from the lack of socialization. I had planned to end it with him finding a payphone and dialing a number and hearing a semi-human voice on the other end saying "We're sorry, your call cannot be completed as dialed...", and, that being the closest thing to human contact that he was going to get, have him, in the final paragraph, holding the phone and just dialing that number, over and over, listening to the voice on the other end.

Now, walking through Stuart, I realized the story, although it hadn't been written, was already technologically dated. I got back to the gas station.



The next day, I was picked up by Bruce. He lived way out in Western Nebraska, and was driving up to Smith Falls to check on the aspens there.

"Aspens are amazing trees," he said once I was in the car with him. "Once they grow, they bring everything else. They grow in stands. The whole stand is one living organism with one root system. The stand by Smith Falls is about 12,000 years old. And it's going to die if we don't take care of it."

I just listened and watched the plains of Nebraska shoot by.

"In western Nebraska, we have one of the biggest uranium mines in the world. 800,000 tons of yellowcake per year. Can you imagine? We're working hard to close them down. I'm actually really upset with the current administration. Their energy policy is just not tough enough. And they're allowing nuclear. It's like they've never seen Chernobyl. I've been to Chernobyl. Twice. And nuclear is the most expensive energy in the world. More expensive than any other way to generate electricity. There's no reason why we should be using it."

I don't know why I didn't ask why the market wouldn't adjust to the expense by itself.

We got to Smith Falls via a long and completely desolate road, the last four miles of which were dirt.

"Man, look at these cedars. All over the place. I wish I could just take a machine gun and—boom, boom, boom!—gun them all down. We're working on cutting them all down. We'll have them all eradicated from here someday. See, here's a bunch we cut down. The good thing is that once you cut down cedar, unlike other plants, it never grows back."

It crossed my mind that in some sense, environmentalism often ends up being related to eugenics. But it's really not like life has ever allowed for much else: someone, or something, is going to die. The question is whether we choose to meddle, but the choice not to is just as much of a life-and-death decision.

It then struck me that humans, as well as all animals, seem to always feel a need to alter the surrounding environment, just on different levels. At first, we alter it to survive. Once we're set with that, we alter it for our comfort. And once we're set with that, we alter it to our heart's content, however we feel appropriate, to whatever seems nice to us. Bruce's constant travels around Nebraska and South Dakota to preserve the aspen stands were a sign that he lived somewhere with a very high quality of life.

We checked on the aspens, making our way through the tall grass along the Niobrara River.

Bruce walked ahead, so I knew how my footing would be, whereas he regularly fell in. He also cleared out all the ticks for me, as they all jumped onto him.

When we got back to the car, we checked each other for ticks (I only had one on my clothes, whereas he had at least 15 I counted), and I found to my delight that there was someone else who hated ticks as much as I did. He made sure to rip each tick in half as he removed it.

"At home, I have a pair of pliers to crush them. Or else, if you're feeling really mean, you can toss them into a jar of acid and just watch."

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


In Iowa, it seemed every single day the headwind got stronger. When I left Galva, it was particularly nasty, and it started getting hilly again. I came back out onto Highway 20, and slowly made my way to Sioux City, often getting off the bike to walk. I reached Sioux City by late afternoon, and met Kevin and Mary, who let me take a shower, get online, and have a bed to sleep in.

These were truly my kind of people, who had run business after business from their own home. Kevin had even run a mortgage business, something I couldn't imagine dealing with. Because Kevin enjoyed remodeling so much, the house was constantly being remodeled, and I observed some very impressive additions in progress.

The next morning, Kevin and Mary left for Kansas City, leaving me at the house. There's really no danger of having anything stolen by me; the absolute last thing I need is extra weight. And I wasn't alone, anyway. Their son Riley would come by pretty regularly with his friends, and then there was Yeonji, a student from South Korea who had been living with them for the better part of a year.

I spent most of the time sleeping. On my last day, after Kevin and Mary returned and made some amazing chicken on the grill, Yeonji convinced me to actually get up and go outside (I hadn't been outdoors for days) to hang out with some of her friends, who first gave me the idea that if I'm in desperate need of a lantern and have a jar, I can catch a bunch of lightning bugs out here, and as long as I make holes in the lid so they have air, they will light up every time I shake the jar.


The next morning I left, hoping to maybe cover the 125 miles or so to Inman, NE. However, while I was still riding through Sioux City, it started to rain. And the rain got stronger. Fast. By the time I was crossing the Missouri River, I was soaked.

I managed to get to Nebraska, but barely. No matter how nice I managed to make it look in the photos, it was getting really nasty out.

I still rode for a while, but I quickly gave up. I dove under an awning, turned on my phone, and checked the yellow pages for a motel. I found one for $40/night. That's a day of work right there, and sometimes more, but there was no way I was staying out in this weather. I started heading over.

"Excuse me, sir!"

It was a woman in an official-looking fluorescent yellow reflecting jacket. I assumed I was in trouble for whatever reason and, without thinking, stopped short and jumped off my bike. Laden with luggage as it was, it started to fall over, and she helped me catch it.

"Sorry about that," she said.

I still assumed she wanted to cite me for biking on the sidewalk, on the left side of the road, or through a red light, all of which I had done. "What's up?"

"I'm a bicyclist too. What are you doing about the rain?"

Weird, I didn't see a bike. "Just heading to a motel right now."

"How much is it?"


She paused only for a fraction of a second. "Want to split a room?"

I didn't pause at all. "Sure."

As it turns out, we both had the exact same thought go through our heads: Well, that was easy.

She was riding from South Dakota to Vermont, and this was her first day, on which she had swung south to see a bit of Nebraska. The last thing she could have on her mind was citing me, as she had accidentally ridden on Interstate 129 earlier in the day. Her bike was at the library, so we hung out there for a while discussing other potential options. We checked the weather, and the rain was definitely not going away or getting any lighter. We got completely soaked just getting to a motel.

After taking a hot shower and jumping onto a real mattress, something I hadn't expected for possibly over a week, I watched with pleasure as it poured all night. And here I was, in safety and warmth, for $20. Exploring "real" Nebraska would wait until the next day.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Cresting the Horizon

With pops that had once stopped my heart, but that I was getting used to, the rocks flew out from under my tires. As the roads all turned to gravel, I was going to learn to ignore it. After all, outside of my imagination, the sound and feeling were nothing like those of getting a flat. (My most disturbing dreams now were about flat tires.)

Just the day before, in the cozy Lampost (which, it turns out, is spelt with only one "p"), I had been Algernon Moncrieff (to whose personality, they say, mine bears a striking resemblance) in a pretty random reading of Oscar Wilde, and now I was back at this. It wasn't quite flat, but it was hard to tell out here, unless I looked at the horizon. As I rode towards it, it often wouldn't actually move away. I'd get closer and closer and realize I was approaching the crest of a very gentle-grade hill. And only once I'd reach that horizon would another suddenly appear in the distance.

Sometimes, by sheer luck, I chose the "right" gravel road, which apparently saw more traffic than most (though one wouldn't notice by observing cars, of which there were none). Like the time I rode down one that had a rest area.

Other times, I didn't choose a very good one. Riding down one of them, I heard, then saw, two dogs charging out at me, barking as if I were coming to kill them but they could take me on. It no longer even surprised me when dogs were suspicious of me on my bike. Native Americans had originally thought that a horse and a mounted man were one animal. How could I ever expect a dog to discern that I'm just a human on a bike? I jumped off my bike and tried to look aggressive. Then I saw two more dogs behind them. A big black one was within a few feet of me now, and still charging.

I spread my arms and puffed out my chest. I saw it flinch and slow down, but barely. I thrust a finger in its face and barked "NO!" My bark was significantly louder than that of any of the dogs. They all stopped. I kicked some gravel at the black one and took a step toward it. It took a step back but kept barking.

"Get back here, all of you!" It was a woman coming out toward the road. "I'm awfully sorry. None of them bite."

"Oh, really?" I dropped my hands and relaxed. The dogs all came within a foot of me and started jumping and barking threateningly, but indeed, if I walked in any direction, the dog that was in my way would flinch and jump aside. I pretty much knew the next thing was going to be a question: either where I'm headed (60% chance) or where I'm coming from (30% chance).

"Where are you headed?"

"Oregon." OK, if I got one of those, the next question was almost certainly going to be the other one.

"Get out of here! Where are you coming from?"


"God bless you! What in the world are you doing on this road?"

I shrugged. "Couldn't find a paved one."

"Well, I've got good news for you! In a mile and a half, you'll hit blacktop."

This did, in fact, make me pretty happy.

"Do you need your water bottles filled?"

"If you're offering, I'll take you up."

"Sure, come on over! Sorry about the dogs."

I grinned. "Oh, that's quite all right, I like dogs. Just never know about them when they're charging out at me. Much like people, you know?"

"You want some ice in your water?"

"Don't bother. In those bottles, any ice will be warm water in 15 minutes."

"Really? Then let me get you a glass of ice water now so you can enjoy it. Here, have a seat at the table on the porch. Let me move it over so it's in the shade. Get out of here, you stupid dog!"

I sat down, thinking—you guessed it—My kind of state, Iowa. "Thanks!"

"Actually, you want some iced tea?"


"Let me get you that. Oh, and check that box, I made some cookies, there should be some left. Feel free to finish them."

The box had no fewer than 30 cookies (probably more like 40). She came out with my iced tea and then sat down and asked all the usual questions. A man came out onto the porch and I stood up to shake his hand.

"I'm Greg."

He shook it. "Paul."

"And I'm Judy."

I had gotten so into the hospitality I'd forgotten to introduce myself previously. "Nice to meet you both."

"He's biking across the US," said Judy.

Paul raised an eyebrow. "You're insane."

I grinned. "You're probably right."

"How much did you pay for that bike?"

Back in Freeport, Jilly had been reading a book about how people don't talk about money. I admired the straightforwardness. Judy filled all my bottles from the hose.

"Well," I said, "all your cookies are gone."

"Good! How many calories do you think you got out of that?"

"I have no idea and it doesn't matter. They were delicious."

"You know, I bet you can do this more easily than other people. You're a pretty good-looking guy, I bet wherever you go women are all over you."

I wanted to say that's not fair and I've met all sorts of people who have helped me just because they were kind. But I figured at the moment there was no importance to being earnest, so I shrugged and said "Probably factors in."

"In fact—and I don't mean anything by this—but you know who you look like?"


"Like one of those terrorists. From one of those countries like....Israel. Or Egypt."

Dangerous political territory, of course. Again, the first response that formed in my head was to ask her when she had last heard of a terrorist from Israel, but I held my tongue (figuratively) and grinned. "Is that the definition of a good-looking guy for you?"

Pretty soon we parted amicably. I really needed to get some distance in that day.

"Safe travels!" yelled Judy as I rolled away. "Don't hijack any planes!" But not before she packed me some meatloaf sandwiches and chips for the road.


Dozens of miles west of there, my back started to hurt, to the point where I couldn't take it anymore. Hundreds of miles back now, Kenbob had told me the one thing I do that he couldn't is carry a backpack. He said he would much rather have had a trailer. I was feeling it now. Anytime I changed posture, it would move up or down and chafe against the skin of my back. I couldn't understand why, for well over 1,000 miles, this didn't bother me at all, and suddenly it was so painful.

A common method of torture is to administer the same pain over and over again at regular intervals. This is precisely what cracked pavement did to me (for some reason, I noticed cracks in fact tend to come at regular intervals), and within a few miles of me first noticing it, it was driving me insane. I was ready to do almost anything to stop it. I got off the bike.

I immediately thought of putting the backpack on the rack on the back of the bike. I attached it with the bungee cords that were already there and started riding. It was OK until stuff started falling off. Too much tension on the cords from the pack, it was pulling them off of the other stuff. I took a spare cord out of my pocket and secured it with that. After some experimentation, I found what I thought was the best setup, though it still fishtailed horribly and made it much harder to stay balanced on the bike. It put more strain on everything and was in general a horrible idea, but my back just couldn't take it anymore that day.


I pushed onward and onward, trying to get as much distance behind me as I could, but when the sun turned red and its bottom dipped below the horizon, I knew it was time to stop. I pitched my tent in the tall grass and put on another layer of clothing to block out the mosquitoes, which were just insane. I ate all of Judy's chips. I wolfed down all of her meatloaf sandwiches. I went through more or the enormous loaf of bread Emily had given me to take with me. I dove into the tent and watched with satisfaction as the mosquitoes, detecting the heat and CO2, tried their hardest to get in and failed. As I went to sleep, I remembered saying good-bye to Emily.

"Would you mind if I pray that you be safe?" she had asked.

I had smiled and rolled my eyes. "Because I might be insulted that someone wants me to be well?"

She had smiled, almost sheepishly but not quite. "Well, you know, some people can be weird about that stuff..."


It rained overnight. I had no time to dry stuff off, so I packed the wet tent and raced off down the road. Another ominous cloud appeared in the west. It rained. Then it hailed. Within 15 minutes the sky was blue again, but the winds remained storm-quality for the rest of the day. I only stopped once in the morning, to eat some of Jilly's granola.

(How's that for a miracle? I was given a small, roughly half-cup plastic zip-loc baggie of Jilly's granola in western Illinois. I have used it as my breakfast every single day on the road, eating and eating until I felt full. I'm now poised to enter Nebraska, and there is still plenty left.)

On a dirt road, I saw what in the distance looked like a strange piece of a tree. It moved a bit, and it struck me that the motion wasn't consistent with that of bark in the wind. I rode toward it, but by the time I realized it was a hawk, it had taken off, it had taken off, yielding its prey to me, ever the large and dominant animal. I rode off without touching it, hoping the hawk will come back and finish it rather than leaving it to rot. I was more interested in the deer that had stood in the field and watched it all go down.

Within 20 miles my back was killing me again. I couldn't take it anymore. I entered Fort Dodge and found a bike shop (after a bit of circling due to the fact that 27th St. had been renamed to Martin Luther King, Jr., St.). I found it and went in.

"How can I help you?"

I explained the situation.

"Get this BOB trailer, all good cyclists use those." He said it and walked away.

I chased him down. "Got anything for under $350?"

"No." He walked away again.

Suddenly I really didn't want to give him my business. Out of curiosity, I went to Google Products on my phone and checked out trailers. The same trailer could be had for $120. I walked out. The total market will decide whether he stays in business, but my vote had been cast.

The good news is that bad service can inspire one in ways good service can't. Now that I wanted to avoid the trailer solution, I tried rearranging the stuff in my pack until what was against my back was all of the same consistency, not too soft and not too firm. Then I tried molding it to my back. That didn't work so well, but what did work was finding where my back was hurting, taking off the pack, and punching it repeatedly in that spot. With the new consistency, that would make a dent that would remain for a while, leaving that section of my back alone.

So far, no real back problems since. For less money than I'd have spent if I'd gotten good service.


It emptied out again pretty quickly after Fort Dodge. I was back in the sea of green, and would now get excited every time I'd see a farmhouse in the distance. (Spotting this one, as the textbook proverbially says, has been left as an exercise.)

I followed one street alone (called 190th St) for about 65 miles, over both pavement and gravel, passing on rare occasion through one-intersection towns that that had flashy signs, but where I wouldn't see a single person.

But mostly it was just fields. Fields, fields, fields to every horizon and beyond. I passed many, many horizons that day, but the corn didn't end. The one thing that broke the monotony was something I started thinking about when I noticed that the composition of the "road kill" I was avoiding had changed to largely birds. I quickly linked it to the fact that I was passing a wind farm. Those tall, majestic windmills, ever the symbol of eco-friendliness when looking up at the sky, were the source of the chopped birds on the road.

By the time it was getting dark, with all the detours I'd taken, I estimated that I'd gone right about 100 miles. Yeah, baby, I caught myself thinking, the words directed to cyclists who ride west to east. Century! You always brag about them. Now try one into an unrelenting headwind! Then I wondered what had happened to me telling myself this trip isn't about athletics.

I was on a gravel road again. There were strips and grooves where car wheels had removed the gravel, exposing the dirt underneath, and it was safer and faster to ride on them, but they appeared and disappeared randomly, so I would have to "jump" from one to the other through piles of loose gravel—no easy task on a road bike. I found myself using an arsenal of advanced mountain biking techniques, normally used in steep mud or clay, mini-avalanche sites, etc. It actually took a surprising amount of work to keep moving and not fall, and to use the fact that the wheels kept slipping and skidding sideways to my advantage.

Just as the sun went down, I hit pavement again and followed it into Galva.

The sign was similar to that for Nemaha, but larger and more austere, and the additional note on it was "A FRIENDLY TOWN." I liked the sound of that. As soon as I rode in, I saw a couple in their yard, pulled over, and asked if there was a place where I could get food. They pointed me to the Lumber Inn (as I soon realized, a cousin of that worn cliche, the Dew Drop Inn). The Lumber Inn was a bar that didn't let rooms at all, and one of thing I didn't figure out during my stay in Galva was why it was called an inn.

I entered and everyone turned to stare. I smiled and nodded to nobody in particular and sat down at the bar. The woman behind it came over.

"What can I get for you?"

"Do you guys serve food?"


"Could I see a menu?"

"Pizza and burgers."

"Cool, how much is a large pizza?"


"Awesome, that's what I'll get."

"What kind?"

"What kinds of toppings do you have?"

"Right now I've got a combo, a beef, a beef and pepper and a pepperoni."

"That's cool, I'll just have a plain cheese then."

"I ain't got plain cheese right now."

I grinned. "I'm not very good at listening to my choices, huh?"

She smiled. "But I've got pepperoni."

I shook my head. "I can't have pepperoni. What's in the combo?"

"Peppers, olives, little bit of everything."

"Beef too, I suppose?"

"I think so, yeah."

"Blast. How much is a burger?"

"With chips or without?"

"How much is it with?"


"Hmm, how about without?"


"Cool, I'll have three of those."

She nodded and turned away, then abruptly turned back. "....three?"


"I'll have to wait until the range is clear, it might take a while."

"That's cool, I'm in no hurry."

"So what brings you to Galva?"

I told her.

" want some water?"


She poured me a glass ice water, which I downed in one gulp. "You want cheese on your burgers?"

"Actually, could I have the cheese on the side?"


I grinned. "I know I'm weird."

"Anyone who is from Massachusetts and passing through Galva is probably weird."

"Well, then," I said. "What brings you to Galva?"

"I was born in Schaller, seven miles east of here. My husband is from Galva, so I moved here."

I smiled again. "That'll do it."

"I work as the city clerk," she quickly added. "This is my night gig."

I couldn't hide my surprise. " clerk?"

"City clerk, yeah."

"What city?"

"According to the last census, our population is 350."

I let it rest at that. It really was more than I would have expected. "Could you possibly bring me that cheese on the side right now? I'm starving."

She nodded and went for the cheese. Another woman came to the bar to get watermelon schnapps.

"I'm Greg," I said.

"I'm Amy."

"You look like you're a regular here."

"We all are."

I grinned. "I hope you're including me in that. I've been a regular here for almost ten minutes."

She laughed. "How did you find this place?"

"I was biking along and saw a sign saying that Galva is a friendly town."

That one drew looks and laughter from the several other people at the bar.

Amy turned around. "Hey, Gina! Gina! Is Galva a friendly town?"

A girl in a blue tanktop turned around. "No!"

"You don't count," said the bartender, coming out with my cheese. "You don't live here anymore."

A guy came up and ordered two Buds and an Amstel. "Hey, so that bike out there....?"

"Yep, that's me!"

Another girl walked up. "Wait, so where are you from?"


"And you're in Galva, Iowa?"

It was already dark, so, needless to say, I hung out at the bar until it closed and spent the night in Galva.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Cedar Falls

Pitching a tent takes time. Taking it down and packing it up takes longer. Rolling up the sleeping bag and pad generally takes at least several frustrating attempts before I succeed in catching them without giving them a chance to unroll. I saw a picnic table with a small shelter built over it and decided that there's no need to waste my time on any of this. I lay down on the picnic table and tried to go to sleep.

"That is f___ed up, man," I heard some kid saying in the distance. "That is F___ED UP."

It wasn't a wooden picnic table. It was made of a thick but sparse wire mesh that made it uncomfortable in the extreme. For the first time since New York, I took out my hat and non-cycling gloves and put them under my head for a pillow. It still hurt to remain in one position long enough to go to sleep. I took out more spare layers of clothing (which had been getting zero action for well over a month now) and padded the table enough that I went to sleep, though I'd still have to wake up anytime I wanted to change positions.

Hours had passed, but I could still hear the same kid's voice. "Dude, you and that girl, that's just f___ed up. I'd'a nailed her months ago."

Around 4 AM, I woke up and realized my issue wasn't that I needed to change my position. Dew had started collecting on me. I'd thought body temperature was too warm for that to happen. Weird.

I got up and packed slowly, taking my time. It was about 5 by the time I left. I walked out of town, rolling the bike alongside me. The houses ended and the cornfields were visible again in the early dawn. A sign said Jesup was eight miles away. Another sign said the road was closed. I walked around it and kept going. Colors began to appear. The fields became green again, touching a blue sky in every direction except the northeast, where the sky became a deep red. Dew drops sparkled on the corn.

The road was under construction, which was better than gravel but worse than being paved. I'd thought I'd walk through the closed section and then ride, but then I realized it was taking longer than I'd thought and got on the bike. I'm glad I did, because the closed section was eight miles long, all the way to Jesup. I rode at a slow, leisurely pace, dodging holes, cracks and piles of gravel without much of a problem, there being no traffic. After Jesup, I just cranked the pedals and enjoyed myself, watching the corn go by.

I couldn't help but smile at the occasional (for now rare) bales of hay I passed by. I noticed that like I had laces with which to keep my sleeping bag under control, so the bales were tied together with wires. In the 1920s, the most common—and cheapest—way to fix a broken piece of machinery was just to tie whatever broke together with that wire. The problem with the approach was that the wire had a bit too much elasticity, causing machines to behave in erratic, and often very strange, ways. That behavior was really the only association I had with the word "haywire."

By 8:30 AM, I was 30 miles away, in Cedar Falls. Not having known about the paved bike trail that leads right into it, I went up a pretty nasty road to get there (once you get into Waterloo, everything goes downhill VERY rapidly), and even though it was still morning and relatively early, I was glad I was there because I'd had quite enough.

I met Emily up by the University of Northern Iowa. Pretty much the first thing I did after coming to her place was take a shower. Then she made me breakfast. Her friend Hillary came over for breakfast too, so when Emily went to work after that, Hillary and I got on our bikes and she showed me around town. It was once again a real pleasure to be biking with no luggage.

I realized that the wood strewn all over the ground was not due to anything man had made and then poorly cleaned up. I was in the real midwest now, where there were harsh storms and massive debris afterwards. Hillary showed me a house where she and Emily had once lived as roommates, and I don't know how the current tenants planned to exit or enter that day.

When Emily got off work, we went to pick some berries and lettuce, and then to the Lamppost, a coffeeshop. Instead of making money, the people who worked at the Lamppost simply lived upstairs, and there, on the second floor, we added our berries and lettuce to the salad the tenants were making, and we all sat down to dinner together.

After dinner, I joined Krystal, one of the tenants of the Lamppost, for a run along the Cedar River. (I cheated and rode my bike alongside.) Then we walked, and now it became easier for Krystal, because I was dragging a bike. There was an incredible number of hissing geese, but like with all animals, if you respond aggressively, they back off very, very fast.

As it got dark, we all got together in a park and just sat around and talked. Then, when it got really late, we drove a ways out of town to an old bridge over a set of railroad tracks, where there was a better night sky. There, in the near-pitch darkness, save for the sparkle of the lightning bugs, and in the near-silence, save for the bullfrogs, we sat with a bottle of wine, eating bread with the pesto Krystal had made that day and telling stories. I pointed out Venus, at which I'd been staring most of the previous night, while lying on the picnic table.

A light appeared way off in the distance and as it started gradually getting brighter, we identified it as a train. As it got closer, it became blinding, like a spotlight. We did a dance for the driver. I realized I need to work on my improvised interpretive dance skills. When the train was about 20 feet in front of the bridge, the driver honked the horn, which was so sudden and loud we almost all fell over.


I slept in, and the final time I woke up, the apartment was ostensibly empty. Emily had left me a note on the table along with an enormous breakfast. But when I went into the kitchen to look for something in which to boil water, I scared an unfamiliar girl to the point where I thought she'd need to go to the hospital. Before anyone had come home, she had walked into the unlocked door, walked into a bedroom, and gone to sleep. Neither Emily nor I had known she was there all night, and she certainly hadn't expected me. She joined me for breakfast.

My kind of state, Iowa.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

My Kind of State

As I prepared to ride away this morning, I discovered my front tire
was flat. I patched it, but found that when I'd pump it up, there was
a huge bulge in the bead, to the point where I was afraid the tire
wouldn't stay in the rim. I waited for the shop to open and took it
in. The guy insisted on inflating it to its rating, and, sure enough,
with a deafening pop, the whole thing exploded. I got a new tube and

Dubuque, because of its bluffs, has some of the steepest streets I've
ever seen. I moaned and groaned over these, then got sick of it and
walked. Until in Centralia a bunch of bikers practicing for the
RAGBRAI passed me. I didn't want to embarrass myself and rode with
them and talked, panting up hills (they didn't have luggage, and said
they could never bike with it; I told them to borrow some of mine for
a few miles, but no takers). They turned around at Dyersville and I
was alone again.

It was flattening out. I was enjoying the fields, the sea of lush
green to every horizon. The view no longer changed as I pedaled, so
every time I'd pass a town, I'd be stunned at how far I'd gone.

I rode alongside a car and the woman rolled down her window.

"You need to wear something bright. What you're doing is dangerous."

She seemed to enjoy lessons, so I offered one. "You must have not
noticed any of my reflectors, probably because we're heading into the
setting sun and your headlights are off, so there's nothing to
reflect. You should have your lights on when driving into the sun."

She rolled up the window. Oh, well.

I pulled into Independence and found a park and some people walking
through. "Hey, do you know where I could pitch a tent so no one would

They looked confused, and I got worried, but the confusion was the
opposite of what I'd thought. "I can't imagine a place where someone
would care."

My kind of state, Iowa.


I'm getting ready for some emptiness, so I made what I could of Dubuque. For the first time since I left for this trip, I went to bars. Every night. I went to a gay wedding reception and cut myself by far the biggest piece of cake of anyone there, which got me noticed (I knew pretty much everybody by the time I left). I then scoured for someone as far from my views as possible and started a conversation about politics, which I survived. A huge thanks to Hannah and her roommate Jack; not only did I live in their apartment, but they showed me where to go. And Hannah took me along the Mississippi riverfront and pointed out pretty much everything within eyeshot.

As I rode through the east, I constantly attempted to obtain a solar panel for my phone. Everywhere, people told me they don't carry them, and for some reason, the response to that particular request was always particularly rude. By Chicago, I was completely sick of it, so I did what Shaya had recommended back in Indiana and went online and got a solar panel drop-shipped to Iowa. But the manufacturer had been so afraid of damaging a cell phone that the panel is extremely finicky, and as soon as it senses a slight change in current or voltage, it stops charging. And when I plug my phone in, the screen automatically goes on, which means that once it goes back off 15 seconds later, the charging stops. And if I turn the phone off first, it charges until it begins displaying that it's charging, at which point the charging stops. I have yet to test whether I can talk on it and keep the flow of electricity constant enough to keep it charging in that situation. But it may well be that I'll need to find work for a day to cover the cost of the solar panel, but that I won't be able to use it. That also means that on the very loneliest part of my trek, my phone will have to be kept off.

Those people who read this who know me personally should feel encouraged to text me any random thing they feel like, anytime; I'll pick up the texts whenever I turn on my phone and have signal, and will likely respond. (Calls will likely not be returned because of battery considerations; I need to still be able to check weather forecasts.) I don't know quite how bad it will get, but don't be surprised if in a later post I make my phone number public.

Friday, July 10, 2009

To Iowa

Kenbob helped me get the bike ready for the relative emptiness that lay ahead. He gave me zip ties and spare spokes and trued my front wheel. I told him that about 1,000 miles ago, in Johnstown, NY, I was told that wheel had about 1,000 miles left, which would have meant it's right at its end right now.

Kenbob nearly bristled. "Whoever it was didn't know what he was talking about. Your front wheel is holding up fine. You can't ever know how long it'll hold up." (I've ridden on it since and it really is fine.)

The most noticeable change we made was adding waterbottle holders. It doesn't look wonderful, but I'm now carrying seven water bottles (plus another 2-liter pack if I need it), and though I rode through relative emptiness the next day, I had plenty of water to carry me through.

Jilly took one look at the route I'd planned for myself to get out of Freeport and went to print me out some maps. The way I was going to go would be very hilly and almost entirely unpaved, which would mean walking, and walking as many miles as I try to go in a day would take a LONG time.

She showed me a slightly longer route that still had unpaved sections, but was mostly paved. I thanked her for everything, took a bunch of banana bread and granola that she had made (she makes awesome granola in enormous quantities), and took off through the fields.

Before I hit the midwest, there were constant sights to be seen, people to be met, cars and potholes to be dodged. Biking through was like exploration. Now it was more like meditation. It's wonderful to have a continent that lets you alternate things like this.

That said, when I depart a place and immediately hit endless fields, there's a sharp tinge of loneliness that always seems to appear. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I'll never again—or certainly not for a very long time—see the vast majority of the people I meet, and I now have time to think about that as I ride. I meet people and know them for one day, two days, three days, and then they are gone, washed away by the flood of fields that seems to sweep everything to the east and behind me every time I crank the pedals. And I wonder if that's what it would feel like to live forever—to forge relationship after relationship, only to have each whisked away by the inexorable rush of time.

But my job was to keep cranking the pedals, and crank them I did, up and down the little roads, westward, westward, westward, a taste of the gnawing bitterness of eternal life.


Every now and then I would get dumped out into a little town. These were usually comprised of just a few barns. Sometimes there would also be some houses and a church. One town had a bar.

It got hillier and hillier as I approached the river, but finally, after groaning and panting over the final bluffs, I crossed the bridge over the Mississippi into Iowa.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Some Humility is Healthy

I went with Kenbob down to the garbage transfer station today, where I got some firsthand experience with dumping garbage

and compressing it as it explodes.

Then I was sent to haul rocks, which I did the rest of the work day. It was an amazingly hard workout, which I'm glad I got, because while my lower body is fine with the biking, these kinds of jobs are currently my only way to exercise my upper body.


Then Kenbob put me on a motorcycle. Having had experience with both bikes and stick shifts, it wasn't too bad. Starting it was the biggest pain—the 1984 Honda had to be kick-started, and I would have to try over and over and over again, often breaking a sweat before the engine would actually get going. It was also easy to accidentally flood it while you tried to start it, which in turn would make it even harder to start, causing a vicious cycle.

For the first few minutes, I went through a "jerky" phase, staying in first gear and learning to apply the gas smoothly while dodging trees. I'm glad to say I didn't hit any. I found that Kenbob was exactly right when he told me engine braking was the way to go. I got more comfortable and started shifting gears and got out onto the road.

Pretty quickly, I was flying around among the cornfields and soybean fields, taking sharp turns over loose gravel without worrying about wiping out. I would still occasionally see a bump ahead and brace myself as I would on my bike, and feel momentarily stunned when I wouldn't even feel it.

At Kenbob's suggestion, I veered off the road and shot along a tiny path, with corn on my right and a stream on my left. I zipped through mud and slid down a steep slope. I was loving it. I got sassy.

At one point, flying down a path between corn and trees, shooting mud backward from the rear wheel, I realized I was about to hit a wooden power line pole. Without even bothering to go for the clutch, I tried to hit the rear brake (which is a pedal). I missed it. I had about a tenth of a second left. There wasn't time to poke around for it. I slammed on the front brake (on the handlebar like on a bike).

The motorcycle wiped out, turning left side forward, and stalled. I felt myself get thrown and let go of the handlebars. My head hit the ground, but thanks to the helmet (motorcycle helmets are amazing), I didn't feel that at all. Then my hands came down. I felt my left wrist get twisted sideways and my left thumb get pushed back. Then I felt my right knee smash into the mud. Before I could blink, I felt the entire weight of the motorcycle come down onto my left foot.

All this happened within about a quarter of a second. For the next 30 seconds or so, I just lay on the ground, quietly whimpering to myself. The words that came out were "It's all fine, I can feel it. Just lie here for a bit and the pain will go away." Then I moved on to "Oh, God. Oh, f__k. Make it stop."

After a while, I successfully got up and hobbled back and forth a bit. I managed to stand up straight. I started to laugh and realized my mouth was full of dirt. In a classic move I had seen many times but never understood before, I removed the helmet with my left hand, turned my face to the right and spit on the ground.

It took me a while before I managed to lift the motorcycle and place it back on its wheels. It was much heavier than my bike, even when my bike was loaded with all the luggage. It took me forever to kick-start it because I didn't realize that in the confusion as I got thrown, my hand brushed and flipped the emergency kill switch. Finally, I started it back up and rode back.

Feeling much better, I told Kenbob I didn't want to stop, so he briefed me on a more difficult (or, in his words, "fun") route to take.

One thing I love about Kenbob is his belief in personal responsibility. No matter how stupid I decide to be, it's my decision and my responsibility. I took the route he suggested, right through a cornfield, with very sharp and muddy turns. I got whacked in the helmet with corn, but otherwise emerged fine.


I went back and took a shower. Everything was better except the foot on which the motorcycle had landed, which hurt a lot when moved in certain ways. I tried relaxing the muscles and moving it around with my hands, and the pain went away, so I knew there were no fractures and it was all muscle stress. I further determined which muscle was stressed, and will try to massage it and get it to work better again. If it doesn't get better quickly, I may have to skip work tomorrow, which would be seriously annoying. Thursday, I have every intention to get on my bike and keep pedaling. I'm pretty sure I can do that even if my foot still hurts.

I'm not taking any pain killers, though. I want to make sure I learn everything possible from today.

"A humbling fall is the best thing you can get the first day you ride," said Kenbob.

Monday, July 6, 2009

So Casey and I took off to Kenosha, WI, to set up the Bristol Rennaisance Faire. Everyone who wasn't part of that community would ask us both what we do.

"I'm the production stage manager," Casey would say.

"I do absolutely nothing," I would say.

But the guy who came by to set up the sound system didn't ask that question. "You!" he pointed to me. Then he ordered me to set up a ladder, climb up into the treetops with cables, and connect a bunch of speakers on the tops of poles. That's how it seems to work with jobs. If you ask for work, people mutter about liability. If you don't, they find you and order you to do it. Thankful that I discovered this new method, I climbed up the ladder and set things up.

Then I was sent to set hidden anetnnae into Faire structures to pick up signals from the microphones. Casey helped me with everything. I actually didn't mind being an insta-employee at all.

By the end of the day, I was wiped, though it was mostly from the fact that I'd walked miles and miles back and forth around the property and, when it came to lugging boxes from one place to another, was given the dolly with flat tires. I grumbled about how easy the issue would have been to fix, given that the dolly had completely standard Schrader valves.

A few days later, we went to see the Neo-Futurists. They were doing a series of shows based on movies that flopped, and I was lucky enough to be in Chicago in time for Cruising. In case Casey's theater troupe, The Plagiarists, is as good, I'll probably ask her if they're performing next time I'm in Chicago.


By the 4th of July I was gone, having snatched up all the food I could carry as well as some lip gloss. Believe it or not, when you bike 90 miles into a headwind, you could definitely use that stuff. But I didn't bike 90 miles when I left (I saved that for the next ride). I took a mini-tour of the Chicago suburbs. I took it easy. I spent two hours on a bench in Elk Grove eating the lunch Casey packed for me. I walked the bike for miles and talked on my phone until it died. I figured I should go no farther than Elgin, because by that point, I would be out in the cornfields.

I arrived in Elgin and stopped with Monica. Monica arrived from Spain seven years ago and has been here ever since.

"People in my country call me a traitor sometimes, but there was nothing for me in my country. At least here, I have a job."

She works at the high school, teaching kids. In Spanish.

"Over 50% of Elgin speaks Spanish, and 30% of those are illegal."

I asked how safe it is. She said she wouldn't go outside at night.

"Over here," she pointed as we passed by in her red VW convertible, "it's fine. You cross that street, and it's ghetto, psh, psh!" She made gun shapes with her hands for the shooting sound effects.

We went to the mall. Everything was in Spanish. No signs in English. There was no English to be heard. Monica saw a girl and chatted amiably for a minute, only letting herself look uncomfortable when she walked away.

"I failed her," she whispered in my ear.

Illegal immigrants in Illinois have no obstacles to sending their kids to school, where they can study in Spanish. The kids also not only get free healthcare up to age 18, but free dental and optical care. The last time I was an employee, a significant part of my paycheck went to health and dental insurance, and optical care for me was completely out of pocket.

"Illegal immigrants get very upset when a service isn't provided," said Monica.

All the service at the mall was very polite, especially when I spoke Spanish. The fact that you could bargain on the price was nice, too.


For the Fourth of July, Monica took me to the parade. The Mexican population of Elgin largely didn't do anything for the Fourth, which, although I felt it was in bad taste, was convenient because their businesses were open. It also meant the parade was conducted entirely in English.

A large part of the parade involved businesses sending their little parade additions—particularly those who were in the business of "fun."

Then there were various organizations, nearly all of them either gymnastics organizations that had their students do fancy tricks, or else random organizations named after animals, some of which I'd heard of and some of which I hadn't: the Elgin Lions, the Elgin Elks, the Elgin Sharks, the Elgin Ducks.

The Elks were my favorite for obvious reasons.

Among all of these were scattered random groups toting signs screaming about anything from tea parties to "healthcare for America NOW." I got the feeling that the politics there are pretty well-balanced, though of course the parade might not reflect anything real, not to mention it's a subjective matter anyway.


Monica took me on a tour of everything from watch factories to windmills, and then took me to Streamwood to watch the fireworks. (She was somewhat bitter about the fact that while Elgin had the money to support "20-year-old Mexicans with five kids," it claimed not to have the money for its own fireworks this year.)


The next day, I rode off into the brutal westerly wind, finally through endless cornfields.

For a while now, I had been in contact with Jilly and Kenbob, of Freeport, IL—serious and experienced cyclists. When I was in Elgin, I called Jilly and she sent me detailed directions for the final 30 miles of getting to them, and rode toward the town of Byron, where the detailed directions began.

It started getting hilly. Despite having been on the Mississippi so many times, I'd forgotten about the steep bluffs surrounding it, and the hills, from what I can tell now that I'm biking in the area, extend about 100 miles from the river. About 70 miles from Elgin, on the top of one of these corn-covered hills, I was waved down by Jilly and Kenbob, who had ridden out to meet me, and the final 17 miles were my first experience on this trip of biking with others and talking as we went.

The most common sentence I hear from cyclists who do it as a sport and invest a lot of money in it is "I couldn't do it the way you do." Jilly and Kenbob, unlike others, looked at everything in pieces. Jilly said she couldn't ride in long pants. Kenbob said he couldn't ride with a backpack.

"Those must be hot," said Kenbob of my steel-toed boots, "but I bet the hard soles are good for cycling."

"They're definitely hot," I said, "but if you weigh them, you'll see they're better on my feet than in my backpack."

"It's mad," said Kenbob, "but there's definitely a method to your madness."

In eatern Massachusetts, getting flat after flat, it was hard to be taken seriously by passing cyclists when they'd ask where I'm going. Now, well over 1,000 miles from home, it's much easier, though I think a lot of it is that, using the experience I've gained while biking through the east, I've changed how I do some things, and now actually travel in a way that hopefully will work.


"Do you have any professional painting experience?" asked Kenbob.

"Professional? None. I painted a kitchen for someone I stayed with on this trip, that's about it."

"That's the extent of your experience?"

"That's it."

"Then you're out of luck. Or rather, I'm out of luck."

That said, bright and early the next morning, Kenbob loaded me into his car and took me to a job site where I promptly not only climbed a ladder onto a roof, but began tearing out the very roof I was standing on and throwing torn pieces of it over the edge into the back of a truck.

It reminded me of a time last summer in South Boston, when I climbed out of a fifth floor window with my friend Hagan. I remembered pulling ourselves up onto the roof and sitting there, looking at the Boston skyline, enjoying the view but feeling the constant tinge of terror because of the slope and the gaping one-sided chasm at the end of it (although I have to say the worst feeling was putting my feet over the edge when it was time to climb back down). That roof was solid. I felt much calmer on this roof, which I was tearing out, and parts of which were rotten, probably because the surrounding workers were so calm and so used to it.


"You have a motorcycle license?" asked Kenbob.

This sounded like a job I'd have wanted to do, so it was with enormous reluctance that I answered "Nope."

"You ever ride one at all?"

Was there still a chance to do something? Unfortunately, the answer to Kenbob's question was still "Nope."

"Well, then," Kenbob smiled, "we're going to have to fix that."

Very briefly, the plan had been for me to learn everything quickly and grab an Illinois license while I'm here. Unfortunately, though with good reason, there's no way for me to prove I'm a resident of Illinois, so the knowledge will have to suffice until I get to somewhere where I actually live.