Trip Log: Westfield, NY to Mentor, OH

I post this entry from White Bird, Idaho after traveling 3970 miles.

One of the best things about doing a bike tour is getting the opportunity to meet so many different people face-to-face. What I have found in people in all parts of the country, rural and urban, is completely contradictory to the mean spirits that haunt the media landscape, not to mention the current administration.

I’ve been riding through rural towns where, in most of them, support for that administration, and all of the jingoism that goes with it, is quite evident. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, it is not very encouraging. The ideological roots of it all appear to be irreconcilable. Some people seem to be talking seriously (and not seriously) about a second civil war. I hope people who consider the possibility and perhaps even relish it, also review the bloody history of the first one. And, may that give them pause.

Though I may appear somewhat urban and counter-culture—something that does raise eyebrows when I go through small towns now and then—my DNA is that of a white male. I doubt I would have had the same experiences if I were an African American male on this adventure. The fact that I can take a trip like this without too much fear of being harassed for the way I appear is an aspect of that reality.

Still, I hope that the people who have been so helpful to me on my journey would have extended the same kindnesses to me no matter how I appeared outwardly. In meeting them, I think that they would have. I offer a couple of entries from my trip log as evidence, anecdotal though it may be, that a foundation of such kindness still exists in this country.

Of course, the problem that people of color, transpersons, or anyone who does not fit a certain white conventional mold would have in many parts of the country is avoiding harassment, profiling, and brutality. Trump has nurtured that ugly side of the American character. That is what sociopathic despots have always done, probably as long has hominids have walked the earth.

Though the rabid dogs of hate run loose, foaming at the mouth with putrid bile, here is hoping that somehow love and the sentiment that we all must take care of each other in order to survive be the spirits that prevail.

Trip Log: May 10, Westfield, NY to Saegerstown, PA

That which I thought would be an easy 40-mile day turned out to be one of the most difficult days of the trip so far.

Though my campsite in the private campground I stayed in last night provided a great view of Lake Erie, the streetlight under which it was situated lit up the inside of my tent such that no headlamp was required for reading. Then a storm came through in the middle of the night with gusty wind and rain. The side of the tent kept pushing up against my head. I hardly slept a wink.

Once I got on the road, I found the friendly tailwind I enjoyed the day before had turned into a fierce headwind. That made the trip to Erie take a lot longer than I anticipated.

When I finally got to Erie at about 3 PM, I found a park bench at the side of the road. I decided to rest there and look up the directions for the AirBnB that I had reserved for the next two nights. It was Thursday and I planned to take my regular Friday rest the next day.

I expected the Seagertown “neighborhood” to be no more than 30 minutes away, somewhere at the southwest edge of Erie. When I pulled up the Google Map directions, they did indeed indicate 30 minutes way, by car! I pressed the bike direction button and 30 minutes turned into 3 hours and 30 minutes. It turns out that I had misjudged the scale on the Airbnb map when I made the reservation. Naturally, I freaked and panicked for several minutes. I can actually be quite stoic about things like this but sometimes it takes 5-10 minutes of neurotic thrashing before that first “OK. Deep breath” thought finally comes to mind.

Once I calmed down, I realized that I had to make the long trip to Saegertown because it was too late to cancel the reservation without losing the money I had already paid for it. So, off I rode traveling south of Erie, following Google Maps bike directions.

It was the first time I had used this feature of Google Maps. What I found out when I was still quite a few miles from my reservation was that what Google is thinking when you say bike is mountain bike. My next spell of freaking out was brought on by wondering if I would make it down some of the gravel roads down they were sending me. I imagined washed-out bridges and flying monkeys swooping down from the sky to drag me off to the Wicked Witch’s castle.

However, after several miles of cursing I finally arrived at my destination at about 8 PM. I then I had another spell of anxiety about the location. It was on a country road, seemingly far from any of the services that I was hoping to find conveniently located in the Saegertown “neighborhood”,  like a laundromat and grocery stores. My host came out to meet me while I was in the middle of a classic emotional meltdown, at this point really close to tears. Who’s f’ing idea was this trip anyway?

He was very calm and let me know that those things I needed were just down the road, less than a mile away. That set my mind at ease. I had to apologize to him for being such a baby. He was understanding. He said he had to run to the store anyway and invited me to ride along with him. And so I did. I was able to pick up a few things I needed myself. As we drove through the little town, we passed a laundromat.

Trip Log: May 11, Day off in Saegertown, PA

It turned out that it was a short walk down the hill to the center of Saegertown. I was able to do laundry. The wifi connection at my hosts’ home was excellent. And so, I was able to get quite a bit of work done.

I sat in the living room with my hosts at dinner time. We discussed our work and made small talk about various things. They both had really hard jobs associated with the auto industry.

It made me realize the degree to which that industry is so ingrained in our society, and how so many people depend on its existence. It seems especially true in this part of the country. That fact alone may be why it is has been so difficult to make any progress in making the changes we need to make in our transportation system.

Trip Log: May 12, Saegertown, PA to Mentor, OH

This was another challenging day. I was way off course from the Adventure Cycling Northern Tier route. From Erie, PA, it trended southwest along Lake Erie to Mentor, OH, just east of Cleveland. From Saegertown, PA, I needed to ride directly west toward Mentor.

Google Maps to the rescue again, I found myself riding 10-15 miles of gravel roads. Gravel makes for slow going, especially when it is soft from recent rains. But, so far I had encountered no flying monkeys.  So, I relaxed and went with it whatever the Google Map lady was offering.

When I left Saegertown, it was overcast. When I was a few miles into the ride, I could see the sky north of me getting dark. Before long, I could hear thunder in the distance.

At some point, I realized I was Ohio but I had no idea when I crossed the state line. Since I was traveling backroads, there were no “Welcome to Ohio” signs to let me know.

After riding about 25 miles, I realized that I was about to be caught in a heavy thunderstorm. There was nothing but open fields all around me and very few trees. Lighting with immediate cannon cracks and booms of thunder was just over my head. Rubber tires on a bicycle are supposed to keep one from being a path to ground (your basic lighting rod) but that thought was little comfort. I feared I was sure to go out like a golfer swinging away while high and in the open on the 7th tee.

There was one final flash of lighting and a blast of thunder. The downpour started. I had to find cover somewhere. Off to the right, there was a mobile home. Behind it was a garage with three bays. One bay had a door but the other two were covered with nothing but blue poly tarps. I pulled into the driveway, got off my bike, and knocked on the door to get permission to ride the storm out in the garage. No persons answered but there was a dog barking out of each window.

I decided to duck into the first of the tarp-covered bays anyway, permission or not. There was some kind of equipment behind the tarp and so I could only push my way in a couple of feet. However, it was enough to get out of the rain.

That is where I stood since there wasn’t any room or place to sit down, for a little over an hour, while the rain continued to come down heavily. I watched the time on my phone with concern since I still had 50 miles to ride in order to get to Mentor where I had reserved a cheap motel. Camping any place was out of the question considering the weather.

After around 90 minutes had passed, I peeked out from under a flap of frayed blue tarp that was helping to keep the rain off of me. Suddenly, I was surrounded by five dogs—chows—barking at me and a man in a raincoat. He was laughing. I explained my situation. He introduced himself and invited me to stay in the heated part of the garage.

He opened the garage door. I pulled my bike in. He turned on a heavy-duty heater. There were automotive tools and equipment all around. I guessed that he was an auto mechanic. Before heading back into to the house, he told me to just knock on the door if I needed anything and apologized that the television that he usually had out there was not working. I was very grateful just to have a warm place out of the rain and told him so.

After about 20 minutes, an older woman, which a kind face, came out with two pieces of pizza. I thanked her and told her about my trip. She told me that if I felt tired that I could stay the night. After thanking her, I told her I would probably try to make it to my destination once the rain stopped.

Finally, at about 4 PM, the rain slowed. I got back on my bike and started toward Mentor. It was a chilly wet ride that included another several miles of gravel road. I didn’t get to the motel until almost 9 PM.  But, the kindness of the people in the mobile home out in the middle of nowhere in Eastern Ohio, kept me warm the whole way.