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BOOM! Down he goes again!

If you read this blog, you know how I  feel about cars and their drivers.

My main complaint is drivers don’t realize how easy it  is for a cyclist to fall.  Yesterday was a case in point.  Alissa and I were riding down the towpath.  We had gone about two miles and came upon a sign that said the path was closed.  Workers were grinding stumps and moving dirt with bulldozers

The stump grinders were especially scary. They consist of a whirling dervish type of thing mounted on an arm that made the stumps  disappear in seconds.   Ahead we could see more workers operating heavy equipment such as  bulldozers and stump grinders.  The workers motioned for us to turn around.  It seemed like a prudent idea so we did.

We knew there was a bridge  about a mile back which would put us on a road that ran parallel to the towpath.  We road back to the bridge.  Spanning the bridge length was a heavy cable. put there to prevent traffic.  The cable had fallen years ago, and now consisted of right and left halves separated by a piece of concrete. Alissa made the 90º turn and went across the cable without  problem.  I set up for the turn a little later than she did  and the piece of cable I tried to cross  had a large piece of rubber hose on it to make it more visible.  Of course now that it lay on the ground, t served no real purpose. When I crossed it slipped to the outside, and BAAM! Down I went.  I scrapped up my elbow, knee, and hurt my right shoulder.

Alissa heard me hit the ground and ran up to me asking if I was OK.   I told  her I was and we continued the ride. I felt quite lucky because if that cable and hose had been on the road, It could have meant the end to these wonderful posts.

Excerpt 5: Lions, tigers, and bears.

I checked my miles again and noticed I only had about five more miles before I’d see a rest stop. Right at that moment though on this particular ride the heat had drained me so badly the last few miles I had just covered felt more like twenty miles. With every crank of the pedals I produced a silent groan, and within that groan I moaned a prayer for my endless effort and pain would stop.  I swear to God, I thought I was dying from the heat.

It was at this most agonizing moment, as I was sure I was feeling my own life slipping away being melted by the heat, that I saw a dead mountain lion on the road. Its carcass was squished flat like more than one 18-wheeler had run over it. It had been run over so many times that it wasn’t much thicker than a fur coat, but the head’s features made it unmistakably a mountain lion. Even smashed against the asphalt like it was, the sucker was huge! From the tip of its tail to its nose, I’d guess it was at least five feet. More, maybe less? Who knows? It was big, and for what it was worth, I was glad I was seeing it dead.

Bicyclists are one of the mountain lion’s favorite food groups. That’s not a joke. More than one rider has died from a mountain lion attack! In 2004, one such unlucky cyclist, a 35-year-old riding alone in the foothills of Orange County, was attached and killed by a 110-pound mountain lion. He had been missing for several days when authorities found his mauled body. Authorities surmised that he was probably in a crouching position, fixing a flat, which may have attracted the mountain lion. They pointed out there really isn’t much difference between a cyclist crouching to fix a flat tire and a small animal.  I could just imagine that thing ripping into me. I wouldn’t stand a chance. I wondered how it managed to get hit. You would think a big cat like that would be able to avoid vehicles. But maybe someone hit it on purpose.  I had seen people do that with house cats.  Perhaps it was just like any other cat in that respect. Who knows?  After a quick survey of the surrounding area, I decided it would be best to be on my way. No sense in tempting fate.

Finally, around noon, I completed my 26 miles in hell and was richly rewarded: I made it to the service station and restaurant.  I parked my bike, and I dragged myself inside. The waitress looked at me like she was witnessing the arrival of an alien. I probably looked at her the same way. She looked to be in her early forties, but was trending towards the matronly. Her “uniform” consisted of an apron over her skirt and t-shirt, and cowboy boots. The boots pushed the outfit over the top. I’m sure she saw me ride up on my bike. She looked me up and down, with one hand in her apron pocket while she leaned on the lunch counter, and said the obvious, “Pretty hot out there, ain’t it hon?”

“Yep.”  I was short with her. I didn’t want to talk; I just wanted to absorb the cool air.  I wanted to suck in every BTU of coolness.  It was as if I had jumped into a swimming pool.  It was so wonderfully cool.  I found a booth and looked over the menu, while my cowboy boot waitress watched from a distance. She tapped over to my table after a few minutes and asked what I’d like to eat.

I ordered a ham sandwich with Swiss cheese and extra crispy French fries for lunch.  Washed it down with a diet Coke.  It was one of the few times in my life in which I drank an entire beverage serving.  I had chocolate cream pie for dessert.  After lunch, I began to feel a little friendlier and struck up a conversation with my cowboy boot wearing waitress.  I asked her if Snowville had a motel. She said yes.

“Should I make reservations?”

She started laughing. “No honey, it’s trashy and no one ever stays there. Not even truckers.”

This was not the best news. I had been hoping for a cool place to spend the night. In a disappointed daze, I thanked her and left the coolness of the restaurant for the blistering heat. Just as I was about to get on my bike, the waitress came running out.

“Don’t you want these?”  She had my water bottle and hat in her hands. My brain was still fried; I was already tired and starting to make mistakes. This day couldn’t be over soon enough.

I started riding again. As soon as I was on the highway I saw a sign that said: Next Services 38 Miles. That would be Snowville.

“Damn!”  This was turning into a tough ride.  I hadn’t expected it to be this hard.   I never thought that it would be a cake-walk, but a nearly forty mile follow up to the twenty-six-mile outdoor oven I had just ridden through was outside of my comfort zone.

Making it a little tougher just ahead of was my first mountain pass. It climbed to a little over 5,500 feet, which really is not too bad.  In fact, I was surprised by how easy it was.  When I saw the sign announcing the summit I thought, “You call that a pass? Huh! I spit upon your pass!” But I didn’t really spit, because I think spitting is gross and disgusting.

It was a nice ride down:  I did about 40 mph for over a mile. By now it was late afternoon and I had another tail wind. Boy, I liked that!  I had only travelled a little over 200 miles since the beginning of the trip, but the desert was really beating me up, especially because I was lugging all my gear, so I enjoyed any break from the drudgery of riding that I could get.  I also started hoping that the waitress was right about no one staying at the motel.  Though I had my tent and sleeping bag, I really wanted a room!  Oh yeah, and even  wearing the three pairs of shorts, my butt was killing me. I kept squirming on the saddle trying to find a position that didn’t hurt. I’d shift all my weight to the saddle back for a while. I’d get tired, so I’d place my right thigh across the saddle, awkwardly pedaling.  It was sort of like riding side-saddle on a horse.  That could only last so long and I’d get tired again, so I’d shift my left thigh across the saddle. Then get tired again and shift my weight to the saddles’ front. Honestly, nothing really helped. Once you have blisters, riding is just pain in the butt.  Literally!  I knew that going into the ride.  I just had to accept that it was going to hurt.  But everyone has limits and I was approaching mine. I was fast approaching a milestone too; I was nearly to Utah.

When I was two miles from Snowville, I crossed the border into Utah.  There was a rest area there so I pulled in and took a break.  The temperature seemed to have dropped a bit, and that in conjunction with the shade, made for a pleasant stop.  To say it felt heavenly is an understatement.  I was ready to drop.  I sat there, contemplating my navel, to borrow an expression that my dad sometimes used, and I thought about my Parkinson’s.

Allan Watts wrote a book entitled The Wisdom of Insecurity. In it he basically encourages people to accept the moment, whatever it is. Change is inevitable and instead of fighting it, he argues, we should embrace it. I accept his philosophy in dealing with my Parkinson’s, but tonight while accepting the moment, I really just wanted a bed. It had been a long ride, and all I could hope for was that the hotel in Snowville was cool and had a reasonably comfortable bed for me to get some rest.

I couldn’t sit in the shade all day, so I reluctantly got back on the bike and started cranking the pedals.  I could see the exit ahead of me. I just wanted to stop riding. This was not fun. Every time I saw a car or truck get off at the exit, I worried they were going to take the motel’s last room.  In fact, I was sure they were going to take the last room. Which would really have been no big deal; I had brought along a tent and sleeping bag, and I knew Snowville had a city park I could camp in, but I wanted a shower and soft bed. I’m getting on in my years and a bed does not seem like too big of a concession to Old Man Time.

I rode into Snowville, passing a “Flying J” truck stop and then a burned down building. A sign outside the burned building said “Motel”. I cursed my bad luck! The only motel was burned down! Why hadn’t the waitress warned me?! I went back to the truck stop and asked a woman if there was another motel.

She pointed to the burned building saying,

“Go back there. They still have a few rooms open. There’s a plastic box by the office, take a key out, fill in the registration, and put it in the office drop box.”

I could understand why the motel’s business was slow. Nothing says Not Open like a building that looks like it had a major fire. While I wasn’t sure, the lure of a bed, any bed, and a shower pushed me back to the burned-out hotel.  The price was right, twenty bucks a night.

I rode back to the motel and she was right, there was a box full of keys and applications. I pulled lucky room number seven from the box. No air conditioning, no phone, no cable, no remote-control TV. The TV was so old it had knobs for UHF and VFH. The beds were pretty worn out too, the springs having bounced their last lovers to nirvana a long time ago, but the linens were clean. The room was clean and the shower wonderful!

After my shower, I walked across the street and ate at the “Ranch House.”  More than a few flies buzzing around inside, but the owner was doing her best to kill them. Swat! Swat! Swat!  She proudly counted her kills.  I just hoped the bodies did not go into the food.

Scene 2, Act 2: Boom! Down he goes!

Ok, I fell again.  But this time it had nothing to do with PD.

Last night Alissa and I went out for a training ride, about a ten-mile round trip.  As we rode from the driveway to the road, I felt the bike shimmy.  It didn’t happen again, so I thought it was my imagination or something.

Big Mistake!

I’ve always thought that sometimes people are warned about things.  For example, I once saw some kids playing on a large inflatable swimming pool,  The pool looked like a giant donut, and was located on a concrete pad.  Kids were playing on the top of the donut, and in my mind’s eye, I could see them slipping and falling on the concrete.  Eventually, that is exactly what happened and a kid knocked a tooth out.

So we start the ride, the end of which is down a steep hill.  Alissa waits for me at the bottom; I get a drink of water and we start uphill.  I push down on the pedal and it won’t move.  I haven’t locked my foot in the toe clips, so I hop off the bike.   I look at the wheel and don’t see anything  wrong with it.  So I hop on again.  This time I get both feet locked into the clips.

And I can’t crank the pedals, as hard as I try.  They don’t budge.  I start falling to my left.

Now my left arm is the one with the artificial joint, and I am deathly afraid of breaking it. But I’m falling and there is nothing to do, except stick my arm out and hit the ground.  Which is exactly what I do.  I hit hard, scratching up my knee and just laying there in shock, hoping a car doesn’t run me over.  Thankfully, my left arm does not shatter.  Alissa, always the fast rider, doesn’t see any of this.

Alissa finally looks for me, and turns around.  I see a truck coming down the road.  It stops.  Emily is driving it.

Alissa is there now. Emily offers a ride to the top, Alissa rides her bike to the top.  At the top, I look at my bike and see the problem: The skewer that holds the wheel to the frame is loose.

The chain is on the right side of the wheel, and the wheel is bound against the left tube stay.  The harder you push the pedal, the harder it locks.

I reset the wheel, lock the skewer nice and tight.  Soon I see Alissa, charging up the hill.

We ride home without further incident, Alissa following me.

Excerpt 4

As I rode up the exit ramp, I saw a guy with a bicycle at the top watching me. My first thought was that he was touring on a bike like me, but as I came closer I could see he was just riding a mountain bike. And definitely not a biker: no biking shorts or shoes. Just some guy on a bike. He was muscular and heavily tattooed, a combination that always makes me a wee bit nervous, but I sized him up and decided that he seemed to be more or less ok. That assessment was soon called into question. He called out:

“Hey, do you have an Allen wrench I can use to fix my brakes?  They’re really loose and don’t work very well.”

“I’m sure I do.” I said, but not wanting to adjust brakes on an exit ramp with cars and trucks speeding past us, I said “Let’s ride over to that truck stop. We’ll adjust them there.”

He thanked me, and introduced himself to me as Chris. The truck stop was about one quarter mile west. We rode up to it, single file, me following him. It was a fairly big truck stop, like “The Iron Skillet” or a “T and A”.  There were about twelve trucks parked in the lot, so while not dead, it wasn’t exactly a throbbing place.  As we entered the truck stop, a thin, blond haired woman in her mid-twenties came out of the door.  She was not happy to see Chris, and her screaming sounded like a frozen motor bearing:

“Chris!”

She screamed as soon as he was in earshot. She told him in terms that no one could mistake that she did not want him in her parking lot. She made it pretty clear that if he didn’t leave she was calling the cops. She screeched it again, “I’m going to call the  f&^$#?! cops!”

She sounded like she meant business to me. For good measure, she called him an expletive that no one should say in polite company, and which cemented my nervousness to be seen in his company. And that was the good part of what she had to say. No kidding. She called him a liar, a murderer, an escaped felon, a child molester, (more swearing), and just about every other type of bad person you can think of. I wondered if any of what she said was true, and worried about what I had bumbled into. Was this guy setting me up for some nefarious purpose?

Chris verbally brushed her off. He was actually seemed to be pretty level-headed; he must have heard it before. He told her he was just here to fix his brakes, but she continued her ranting and screaming. Chris turned to me and genuinely apologized, “I’m sorry about this.” He said. His apology disarmed me. I wasn’t sure how to respond, so I just stuck to the business at hand, getting his brakes tightened up.

I pulled the wrench from my pannier and handed it to him. “It’s none of my business. Here’s the wrench.” I didn’t want it to be any of my business.

As he adjusted the brake cable, she went back inside the truck stop. Standing outside, twenty feet from the door, I could hear her muffled voice complaining about him to a coworker.  Yes.  She was that loud.

I really didn’t know what was going on, but from my standpoint she seemed totally in the wrong. I don’t know their past history, but what I saw was a guy ride up to a gas station and attempt to fix his bike.  A woman comes out and without provocation on his part, she lets him have it with both barrels, figuratively speaking.

But I’m sure she didn’t see it that way.

Chris finished with his repairs, handed me the wrench, and thanked me. I went inside to new shades.  I nervously looked around for Blondie; I didn’t want her flying off the buy some handle at me!

I tried on a couple of different pairs of sunglasses and finally settled on a pair that seemed mechanically stronger than my previous pair yet were reasonably priced.  Blondie was nowhere to be heard.

Excerpt three

But mostly, I’m in it for the speed. I love speed. I live for it.

On one of my many bicycling trips, as I was pushing the pedals down one more time, with my mind somewhere between God and the road, I asked myself: “Why not ride all the way across the United States?”

The first time I rode out to Oregon was in 1975, and I had done it almost on a whim. I had been accepted at Case Western Reserve University, but before I went I started thinking about a bike road trip. At first this trip was supposed to be from Bowling Green to Texas to visit my roommate’s (also named Doug) sister. When that didn’t pan out, another friend, living in Portland Maine seemed like a likely recipient of a visit from me via a long bike road trip. But as was the case in those days, this trip did not happen either. The trip that did happen is probably responsible for the long-distance riding I’m still doing today.

My dad, a professor at Case Western Reserve University, had a student, John, who needed someone to drive his car out to Oregon while he finished some business in Cleveland. John said he’d give me $200 to drive his car to Portland, Oregon. He then said he’d give me an extra $50, if I’d stop in Boulder, Colorado on my way to Oregon, and pick up some of his stuff that was being stored in a garage. Always the opportunist, I remembered a buddy of mine who had moved to Boulder, and I thought this was a great time to pay him a visit. Who knows, I thought, maybe Bryan might want to join me on my bicycle adventure. I said to John, “make it $100 and it’s a deal.” He acquiesced.

This became the reason for the first trip from Oregon. My original plan was to take the car to John, and then ride all the way back to Cleveland. But I simply did not fathom the enormity of that ambition. I made up the route as I rode along.  No one knew where I was or where I was going. If I had been injured no one would have ever known. And I failed to realize that I could get tired, that I would want to bathe or eat a home cooked meal. I certainly did not realize the effect on my body of climbing mountains, lugging 40 pounds of gear, day after day.  After two weeks of riding, Boise, Idaho began to seem like a more practical goal.

That was how far I made it in 1975 before calling it quits and catching a plane back to my uncle’s house in St. Louis, Missouri. From St. Louis, after a few days rest and my aunt’s home cooking, I rode back to Ohio.

In 2005 I made the ride across Oregon a second time. I took the same route as I had taken in 1975, but this time I told everyone about my route, so they’d be able to find my body if I never came back. Older and wiser.

Those two rides, across Oregon and then from St. Louis to Cleveland, had a big impact on my life at the time, and many times throughout my life my thoughts have turned towards those adventures, and the thought of repeating the rides always haunted me. Those rides gave me the confidence to believe I could do anything I really wanted to do.

I’ve also ridden to Boise, Idaho three times, but always stopped there; why not go on? I started to think of a long ride that could be done in five stages: Portland, Oregon to Boise, Idaho (stage one); Boise to Denver, Colorado (stage two); Denver to St. Louis, Missouri (stage three); St. Louis to Cleveland, Ohio (stage four); and finally, Cleveland to the east coast (stage five).

Stages one and four were complete, and so I reasoned there were only three stages to go, so why not try it again.

Why not indeed?

The White Line to Denver, excerpt 2

While attending Bowling Green State University I majored in physics, and my favorite topic was astrophysics. The enormity of the Universe is a concept that is difficult for almost anyone to grasp. Realizing that a million earths can fit inside the sun makes one begin to grasp the smallness of the planet we live on. Further, to think on the billions of stars in our Milky Way Galaxy alone is even more staggering, not to mention what might be beyond our galaxy, and the vast empty regions between galaxies. When I think about these things, I am even clearer in my thinking about how tiny we as humans are in the scheme of all of these planets, stars, and galaxies. No more significant than a grain of sand on a beach really.   And I’m talking about a really big beach.

But wait, back to bicycles.

I mention all this universe thinking because it makes me understand how truly lucky I am to be alive, lucky to have been born in the United States, and lucky to have a job that allows me to ride when and wherever I want to go. Ride bicycles that is.

It didn’t take me long to scout out the best places to ride in BG (this is what the locals call Bowling Green). One of my favorite places to ride were the back roads that crossed Route 6, a west to east road that is a corridor from the west coast in Bishop, California to Provincetown, Massachusetts on the east coast. The stretch of Route 6 in Bowling Green is mostly a trucking route. One of my favorite games, albeit dangerous, was racing trucks coming down Route 6. I’d ride from my apartment on West Wooster to Liberty Hi Road. Liberty Hi crossed Route 6. I could see this intersection from quite far back on Liberty Hi, maybe from 1,500 feet or more because of how flat the land is. The traffic on Liberty Hi had a stop sign; traffic on Route 6 did not. Yeah, I’d stop. In your dreams.

What I took great delight in was racing trucks to the intersection. You’re right if you are thinking this was dangerous. But there it is. This is the kind of thing that got my blood racing when I was in college. I’d cruise down Liberty Hi and scan ahead for trucks coming down Route 6. When I saw one that looked like it might reach the intersection at the same time as me, the race was on!  I would stand up and start cranking, throwing the bike back and forth.  I’d tightly hold the handlebars, pulling on them as I cranked down. Even my chest muscles came into play, tightening as I gave the bike my all. At the same time, I’d closely monitor intersection because even though most of the trucks were east bound, occasionally there would be a west bound one as well. I sure didn’t want to get blindsided by a truck traveling in the opposite direction.

If a trucker gave me a warning blast with his horn that was a good thing because it told me he was watching me. While there were more than a few times I pissed off a trucker, I’d almost always win. Of course, if I didn’t think I was going to beat them, I’d slam on the brakes! While I was into the danger element of this game, I wanted to live to play again the next time.

Book Excerpts from “The White Line to Denver”

I’ve mentioned I wrote a book.  I’m trying to self publish it, but that’s a lot easier said than done.  So periodically I’ll show you some excerpts .   Your feedback is appreciated.  Here’s the first.

One of the best things bicycles have given me is freedom, and the ability to go just about anywhere I could point to on the map. I could just pick two cities on a map, follow the white line on the road’s right edge between the two, and I’d reach the second city. Certainly it would be faster in a car, but for me cars lack the magic of reaching a destination on a bicycle.  You expect a car to be able to travel a long distance.  Bicycles, not so much. I believed and still do believe that the simplicity, durability and versatility of bicycles endow them with a power unmatched by automobiles.   Whenever I look at a bicycle I think “I could ride that thing across the United States.”

I know, because I’ve done it.

A similar thought never enters my mind when looking at a car.  Cars need gas, oil and money.  Bicycles just need less.  When I was very young, my bike gave me the freedom to ride to the park and hang out with my friends. Now, as a mature adult, they give me the ability to dream of new adventures. This is their magic.