Yeah, we made it. Yeah, we’re broke. Yeah, we’re still gonna ride bicycles.

10 Oct

shout out to shanti

til the end

10 Oct

Bear Country on the Road to Yellowstone

22 Sep

In bear country there is a constant reality planted in the back of your mind: that somewhere out there moving fluidly through the pines is a half-ton carnivore.  It could be 10 yards away and you’d never notice, and then across a mountain range and looking back over its shoulder in 10 minutes.  They seem to move at all hours through any terrain, and they are always hungry at this time of year.  East of Yellowstone in the Shoshone national forest there have been two fatal attacks from grizzlies this year, and a few more serious maulings.  Headlines from articles warning of man-eating bears short on their natural food supplies were running through my mind as it got dark, and I realized I was alone.

After leaving Cody the road parallels the Shoshone River, which cuts canyons and flows clear and proud.  I had to stop and fish it so I told the boys to leave me and get to Buffalo Bill state campground some 4 miles away.  As is usually the case I lingered too long-frustrated by the crosswind hanging up my casts just short of a school of feeding trout.  I hooked four beauties, all over a pound on 2 lb test tippet, which had my reel singing as I played them up and down the river, clutching onto rocks and leaping around the slopes of the canyon all-the-while.  Adding to my frustration, each wily fish broke the line on the same underwater rock ledge, and evenning was advancing.

Right away I realized my back rack had come apart and was rubbing on my brake.  I was biking uphill into the wind and by the time I crossed under a mile long tunnel and reached the other side my surroundings were shrouded in darkness.  My headlamp finally decided to die, leaving me with nothing to see between passing headlights other than the hulking masses of potential bears in the night.  Struggling at 5 miles per hour with food attached externally to my bags and outside the safety of the group, I imagined myself to be an easy and obvious target.

I gathered that I had reached some sort of day-use area associated with Buffalo Bill, but entrance roads to any campground were invisible to me, so i took back to the road with little other choice.  I f they were ahead of me I’d have to reach them, and I figured overshooting would make reuniting easier in the morning besides.  Stay calm-okay to be nervous but formulate a plan.  I pointed towards some lights far off on the shores of what I assumed to be the areas massive reservoir.  When I reached the lights there was a campground but no squalor boys.  The few people were in bear proof enclosures.  I was without a tent.

A public campground bathroom was my bastion of security.  It smelled about as bad as most nights, but it was out of the wind and impenetrable to marauders.  My last thoughts of sleeping outside were dashed when I realized the wind would conceal a bears approach, even with my tendency to sleep lightly when need arises.  In a moment of inspiration I tore out a page from my journal and wrote: Out Of Order-please use different restroom, thank you-the staff.  It worked. I was undisturbed until I awoke at dawn and set off to find my friends.  After back-tracking 7 miles I found the entrance road I’d missed in the night, and there they were sleeping like infants, Seth sprawled out and grumbling on the picnic table.  “Good morning poopy pants!”.  “What the hell, thank god”.

Jaunts and Journeys on America’s Public Land

22 Sep

Bighorn National Forest

U.S. Department of Agriculture

Sibley Lake; Prune Creek  Dam

Constructed Spring 1934,   CCC Company 853, Texans

Climbed 15 mileds out of Sheridan Wyoming to 8 347 feet above sea level; atop Cutler Hill.  So far the bike has been built in sound accordance with outlandish western terrain.  Only hit lowest gears for the last few miles.  Otherwise slow and steady.  Cranking.  Legs tired this morning.  Creaky in the lingering cold of morning. 

Caught my first cutthroat trout- east slope cutthroat-.  Golden, rainbow-like body with spots around tail fins.  Many bites in the mountain lake created by the dam.  Throwing around a silver phoebe.  Trying to get lucky. 

One 11 inch, One 9 inch

Fried in Crisco ’til white and flaky.  Eaten straight up. Hot. Oily. Bones came out nice and clean. A smooth pull from the thick vertabrae behind the removed gill plates, peeled out all the way down to the tail. 

Temperatrures  dropped significantly last night.  Vents zipped and fly on. Slept with socks for the first time.  About to finish packing up and ascend the remaining distance to Medicine Wheel Pass.

Departure from Bighorn National Forest

At an elevation of 9430 ft we checked our brakes before dropping into the continuous 10% grades of Medicine Wheel Pass.

Cycling along the plateau roads of the National Forest, we bore witness to the utilitarian mission of our federal lands.

“Livestock at Large” , “Open Range” read the yellow signs adjacent to the impassible perforations of cattle guards laid flush, spanning the blacktop.

With leather over my knuckles and sleeves over elbows I pedaled hard with anxiety and excitement, yearning for the reward of our previous day’s climb.

Speed built quickly. “Use Lower Gear” read the yellow.  Escalation. Momentum rapid from the intentional roadway blasphemy.  The switchbacks began. Falling 20 feet per second.  I tuck my head forward and point my chin out creating an airfoil with my helmet, the rush streaming across my flattened back. Fingers rest lightly on the brake levers.  Fender rattling.  Freewheel whirring viciously like a fishing reel with a running bull shark on line.  I ease the bike to the yellow parallels dividing the narrow road and lean right, peeling into the turn- praying no semi with a deer-deflecting brush guard is snaking up and around.

I clear the turn whooping. 30 feet per second. Lean hard left. Knee pointed towards the ground. Tires grasping the pavement on the edge of their last tread.  At the apex of the turn a runaway truck ramp points off to the sky.  I straighten.  Steve bombing smoothly ahead of me.  Rolling on the middle of the tread again and bank right. Harder. HARDER. A touch of the break. A hundred and eighty degrees. Screaming, crying. The adrenaline roar stunning in my ears.  A mile in under two flat. Bearings whirring, the clatter of the load frightening but ignorable.  Needs to be ignored. A car passes. Winding up the road slowly. Tightly constrained between the lines because of its obesity. I am vaguely aware of its threatless presence.  A cattle grate stretches across the road ahead.  Brake hard fast. 15 feet per second. The tires drum roughtly, sounding above the loads hellish clatter; a briefly troubling sound over the syncapation. 

“Rain Damage 20 mph” wails the yellow.  I stand up on the pedals slightly, clamping the top tube of the frame with my thighs. Elbows loose in my suspension stance and prepare to lean and weave with the road’s fluctuating curvature, duck with the gusts of easterly winds.  At the next grate I do not brake but pull upwards on the handlebars, haul up the rear, to float the jangling jalopy over the metal disturbance.

10% gives way to 8 and 14 miles have passed in under a quarter of an hour. The road towers behind on the mountain slope.  I’m alive and sweating-and strip off the gloves and shirt stuck to my warm body, steaming bicycle.

At dusk we made our way over the eerie, irrigation depleted waters of Lake Bighorn through the drier western climes of the Bighorns’  rain shadow. 

Yellowstone National Park

U.S. Department of the Interior

East Gate entrance from Cody, Wyo.

After passing through the gate (east) and flirting with the toll booth woman about her sweater, we climbed the 1000 foot pass onto the plateau of the park.  Natural springs that capitalists would beg to bottle gurgled joyously from the rocks walls of the roadside. 

Steve and I caught up with the gang outside of the recently closed store at Fishing Bridge.  While the RV crowd discussed such backcountry issues as water pressure and generator run-times we were scrambling to find place to pitch our tents.

Alex and Matt had bought a dozen eggs, slab of bacon, and a loaf of sliced white Wonder Bread for dinner.  We were not allowed to pitch our soft-sided shelters in bear country. 

In familiar surroundings we cooked dinner in a baseball field, behind a gas station.  How we consistently gravitate to such spaces, even in the midst of the country’s first and most presitgious national park, is a pattern lost to the knowledge of the cosmos.

As bacon wafted through the air we kept a cautious eye and ear for the snorts and footsteps of the feared large animal lurking in the Whitebark pines at  field’s edge. 

The sun dipped out of sight beyond some far off mountains.  The Fishing Bridge baseball diamond began to grey.

We looked longingly at the rows of rustic cabins used to house the park’s workers.  In particular was the “poker cabin”, a vacant recreation cabin the gas station attendant had told us about.  Bear proof.  Inviting. Warm. The sun set faster. Pants and headlamps. Steve scrubbed the badly burnt eggs off the bottom of our pot and we kicked dust over the food scraps on the ground.

The Kid that worked at the filling station must have seen our hopeless lights and he came outside, across the parking lot  towards us.

“Well what’s yer guyses plan? Ya gonna ride err?….”

-“We’re thinkin about throwing up our tents across the street behind that museum”

“ya mean the Ranger station?”

-“that’s the Ranger station?”

“ya….well I called my manager and there’s a empty cabin…”

“YEAH?!”

“….she said you guys could stay in for fifty bucks.”

-“oh.    no we don’t have the money”

“okay well good luck then.”

Don’t hate the employee, hate the employer.  Perhaps we have been too accustomed to good fortune and the graces of people.  Too selfish in our expectation of aid.  Perhaps we ought to be shot for such selfish acts, likes the bears that insisnt upon eating human food.  Equality in the animal kingdom. 

We debated the merits of seeking advice from the Ranger station, and then decided to bike across the street to the Visitor Center/Museum.  A parked car and fear of bears and citations drove us from the site quickly.  We turned out onto the blackened road underneath endless constellations of dispair and uncertainty.  Each clump of sagebrush and toddler Lodgepole pine looking like the shadowy mass of a hulking bear.

Like an oceanliner at sea, the glimmering windows of  the Lake Lodge Hotel flahsed warmly through the standing dead, fire burnt trees.  Veering left we pedaled through the cold.  Rigid and Frigid. Carelessly hitting potholes.  Ignoring the risks of tire damage.  In fear of greater ills.

Outside the main entrance of the turn-of-the-century hotel we gazed in, stupified by the merry yuppies.  Cheeks flush with wine.  Blushing with thoughtless financial embarassment, when their eyes met ours on the other side of the glass.

Steve and I walked inside.  To our right a fireplace ringed with claw-footed couches crackled within its 15 foot mantle.  A lounge pianist played softly with elegance for the guests spaced comfortably about the extensive lobby floor.  the tinkling of wine glasses and forks on china faintly permeated the piano’s wholesome tone.

An impressive staff bustled with the late hours of operation.  Black bottoms and burgundy tops. Carrying laundry, empty wine glasses, pushing buffet tables, running towels, moving chairs.  Each efficient and obedient in hospitable excitement, disappearing suddenly through hidden doorways to curse off the facade of their servitude.

At the counter Steve and I were greeted with smiles of disbelief.  Eyes of the concierges moved down from our frosty helmets to our cracked lips, mottled, sporadic facial hair, dirty necks, and layers of putrid clothing.  We asked where the Ranger Station was.

“It’s closed” an inkling of sympathy, a seed of compassion was sewn.

We explained about the campground closure…the bears.

“yeah that one closed today…yeah the Ranger Station closed…we’re not sure where you would camp…at this hour.” a budding bulb of pity.

Suddenly a young man in the back row of concierge computers, who appeared to be in some sort of control said, “you guys just hang around here, I’ll see what I can do.”  a sprout of philanthropy.

Steve and I perused a display board theat demonstrated the history of the hotel and hospitality in Yellowstone. “Savages” referred to hospitality servants and “pearl divers” referred to dishwashers in days of yore. 

Matt and Alex burst through the door, disrupting the calm of the lobby.  Eyes at the front desk connected the pair to us immediately.  We explained and then walked over to the clawfooted couches by the fire and sat down.

Our faces, accustomed to the humid-arid, hot-cold extremes of the real environment grew red in the static comfort of the indoor temperature.  As guests and servants walked by us we became increasingly aware of the smell of our feet and grease and char marks dotting our clothing.  A couple came and sat down on a couch across from us.  They crossed their legs and drank wine and issued reserved unimpassioned spurts of laughter.  The man gushed over photography of wildlife, displayed on the woman’s compact digital camera.

The young man from behind the counter came over to us.  Our muscles and attention sharpened with his coming message.

“You guys have sleeping bags and stuff like that right?”

-“yes”

“Well I’m trying to stick you somewhere”

“yeah? oh yeah we’ll sleep anywhere…laundry room”

“I’ve tried a couple things and I’ve got one more option…just hold tight”

-“yeah! sure! thank you!”

“Where are you guys staying tomorrow night?”

-“norris”

“Okay well we’re gonna make sure that’s open for ya”

Waiting. Not wanting to get our hopes up.  No expectation. Patience. We’ve been too lucky.  Only one more option?  An hour rolled by.  Used the restroom.  Heard a rich guy shit. Back on the couch, watched him rejoin his boa constricted wife.  The lobby cleared out. Piano covered. Down in the dining room china and glasses and silver cutlery tinkled and crashed carelessly now that the guests were bedded down.  The workers preparing the hall for tomorrow’s breakfast.  Behind the walls tablecloths fell through chutes to the churning laundry rooms and pearl divers stacked the last dishes and were picking bits of food out of the great drained sinks.

“Five more minutes guys”

A young asian kid about our age walked slugglishly down the stairs tucking in his burgunday pol0.  “Good morning” said the concierge smiling.  The changing of the guard.

“Okay so we’ve got you a room, do you want to get your stuff first or go up and see it?”

“Lesgo up and see it!  Thank you! Thanks man!  

-how old is this hotel?”

“1891…your room is part of the original hotel too”.

We climbed three flights of wide carpeted stairs.  Ornate wooden railings. Paintings of the park on the wall.  Two chairs and a lamplit table between them at each landing.

We arrived at door 215.  A normal door that perfectly matched each of the others in the hall. 

“Now this isn’t a hotel room” he said reasurringly.  He unlocked the door and we walked in.  Two twin beds, a desk with a single serve coffee maker on it between them.  A shelf with some pillows and blankets in the corner. A table below the corner shelf with a fan on it.  A small bathroom with its threshold adjacent to the corner of things.  High ceilings. Old windows and drapes.  Cracked off white paint by the seam where wall meets roof.  Wonderful lodgings.  Outstanding accomodations.  A flower of hospitality had bloomed.

-“what’s this room used for”
“well it’s what we call a ‘transient’ room for people moving about jobs within the park”

-“well that suits us”

“The room is free, we’re not going to charge you.  There’s only one key.  Check out is at 11.  You got a fan and yes coffee…anything else I can do for you guys?” he asked professionally.

-“Are you kidding?! thanks man you’re really helping us out”

Handshakes and thanks with Christopher of Xanterra Resorts.  Hospitable concessionaire of Yellowstone National Park.

He walked out, the door shut, and we were in fits of joyous, gratitudinal laughter.  We’re way too lucky.  Outside we unloaded our bikes and hauled our motley clip on baggage past the asian kid organizing chairs.  Up the stairs panting. 

The last shower ened at 12:30 and we fell into an uninterruptable sleep beneath the boundaryless comfort of actual blankets….arms and legs outstretched and feeling…a rare sensation after sleeping in a sac for so long.

We awoke, rested the next morning.  The coldness of Cody gone from my bones.  We biked away from our prestigious lodgings feeling ridiculous and accomplished.  We pressed through the throngs of RV’s in the park and gazed uponthe marvelous spectacle that is the lower Yellowstone falls.  I couldn’t help but imagine what it would have been like to come upon this immaculate display of power during Yellowstone’s discovery.  To walk out and sit on the rocks…legs dangling over the edge.  The cloud of mist dampening the surface of your trousers.  A high of vertigo and maybe even an awesome fear of the divine.

We pressed on to Norris campground after stopping at Canyon Village-another gas station, gift shop blemish and reminder of Yellowstone’s inseparable history with tourism and hospitality culture.

Bureau of Land Management

U.S. Department of Interior

Palisades Recreation Area

After freeing ourselves from the clutches of the West Yellowstone tourist trap we made it out into Montana territory.  Passing through Earthquake Lake Canyon, Gallatin National Forest (Dept of Ag.) we followed the trout famous Madison River on 287, cycling through valleys bordered by endless peaks that gave this magnificent state its name.

Palisades Rec. Area abutts the swift waters of the Madison. Sites were simple, low maintenance much like all of the government owned and operated camps.  Standardized picnic tabe. Standard issue fire ring with attached cooking grate.  A brown painted box over a shit cave.  No hand sanitation. Please do NOT throw trash in the toilet it is EXTREMELY difficult to remove” tacked up on the wall.  The seldom used Pay Station by the entrance: a steel box, painted the same fecal brown as the toilet shed, standing upright in front of the standard bulletein board. “Be Bear Aware”, “Fireworks Prohibited”, “$8.00 per site $3.00 per additional vehicle Senior and Golden Access 1/2 fee” “Pack out all trash”.

The rules fairly simple. The amenities even more finite.  There is a comfort I find in such places.  Monastic, such development.  Finally a piece of the government with no bullshit.

-seth

YELLOWSTONED

21 Sep

Not much to tell about Cody, Wyoming and the ride into the park except we got McMungled at the silver dollar bar. A newlywed couple from milwaukee sat and listened to us tell stories about Alex’s fall, the night out in Madison, and sketch the various characters we had met along the way. They gave us 40$ before they left and made us promise not to spend it on weed… well that was easy enough but we were in a bar… maybe they missed the obvious. And when they left a pitcher showed up for us from an admirer at the bar. Uh oh. The football game ended and we hadn’t watched more than 5 minutes of it. Someone said Favre played a good game. I couldn’t have cared less. Half the conversations we’ve been hearing these days are about Bretty Favre. If he wants to play football, let him. Anyway, we got torn up on donated beer, and like I said there’s not much to say except we played some pool against the locals and almost got our asses kicked… who knows what for, maybe it was all the spandex we were wearing still but the baretender eventually kicked us out for our own safety and then we rode teetering and swerving through the streets of the wild west Cody night, Matt and I finding refuge beneath an awning in the park in front of the high-school, deliberating angrily over the drama in the bar, reframing and repeating our same drunken arguments over and over again for a half hour before realizing we lost the other two. And we have to find them because they rode off screaming curses and drunken oaths at one another and Seth tends to climb mountains on nights like these and we all agreed when we got in here that we have to get YELLOWSTONED soon or else we’re never going to make it to Port Angeles. They had only made it around to the other side of the high school and Alex had tipped over and his rack was bent in half or something, Seth’s chain had fallen off and he was stuck full of prickly pear needles from searching for a high place to put the tent and finding only a hill of cacti. It wasn’t a night to be proud of but one to remember. Everything was quiet except the cold wind blowing down from the rockies and through the main street of this city, scattering the dust from the “retrofied” old-west facades of the buildings, made so to appease the romantic expectations of the tourists here on their way to the park… We fall asleep under an awning in the park.

Seth and I wake up completely soaked on top of the picnic tables… What the hell? Not realizing until we get sprayed each in the face with water like from a rogue shower head that the damn sprinklers are going in 30 degree weather. And then we’re screaming in anguish (we’ll be cold for three days) WHY!!!?? Moving from the tables to the doors of the public bathrooms and pounding on them in vain, cursing them for being locked. At some point we each return to the tables and wrap ourselves up. Tyhe next morning a police officer is there and he’s wondering whose barf is next to us. We told him it was there when we got in last night and he says, okay well you guys gotta pack up. There’s no free camping in Cody, WY.

Continuing the tradition

21 Sep

A Day in the Life of a Squalor Boy

20 Aug

“What I am seeking is not so much fulfillment of idle curiosity or of a hankering for worldly life, but experience without reservations. I do not want to go out into the world with insurance in my pocket, in case I am disappointed. I don’t want to be a prudent traveler taking a bit of a look at the world. On the contrary, I crave risk, difficulty, and danger; I am hungry for reality, for tasks and deeds, and also for deprivations and suffering…” Joseph Knecht in Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game

Stop for a second wherever you are reading this and listen. What kind of sounds do you hear? Where are they all coming from? Try to separate each sound from the collective cacophony of noise that is reaching you right now. Which is the predominate sound? The one that you first became consious of a moment ago. The hum of your computer? Traffic outside your window? Which is the next strongest? Is there someone watching television in the next room? Or maybe the shower is running downstairs. Imagine each of these sounds as a physical, harmonic layer – a different level in your consciousness of the audible world around you. Try to seperate each one from the whole again and concentrate on it individually, it’s source, the way it feels in your ears, and the character of the object that is producing it. It’s a nice meditation, no?

This is how I like to start my days on the road. I find it far easier to reach the “sound onion,” the place where I can close my eyes and visualize each sound, its colors, textures, and the object(s) that are producing it, when I am in an almost completely novel environment. Home is (ideally) a place of comfort and relative serenity, of refuge from the sometimes overwhelming amount of stimuli out in the chaotic world. Our house or apartment, as well as our yard, building, block and even places like our workplace and the corner cafe we frequent on the weekends – they all take on an element of predictability as we become routinized in the way we relate to these spaces and the objects we come into contact there be it people, machines, animals or weather. And so we become desensitized to the sounds that are familiar to us. This is simple and functional, and it allows us all to operate in these different places of routine, as well as relax without being drawn towards distraction by an unexpected stimulus.

But riding a bicycle from place to place, travelling on the highways and byways of the  United States at 10 miles an hour, and laying your head down and waking up in a different environment everyday is the exact opposite. The one small corner of the world that a squalor boy becomes acclimated to consists of his saddle and the tent he shares with the stinking carcass of his buddy. The desensitizations are limited to the smell of Matt’s feet, the pain in his knees, back and wrists, the gold tops of corn stalks and the sour stench of hogs.

In Prairie du Chien I awoke at 8:30 to the sound of an eighteen-wheeler engine breaking as it trounced down the bridge from the Iowa side of the Mississippi and into Prairie’s rustic town center. I was dreaming about big dogs. My brain must be easing me into bear country. Roused from slumber the rumble of the engine break faded off down the river but rang for what seemed like minutes in my ears as I got my morning bearings. Then all was calm. A few more trucks rumbled down but I tuned them out so I could hear the birds. Six different species, indeterminable (for me) how many of each were calling to one another. I only know the mourning dove “whooooo-hooo-hooo-hooo-hooo.” Appropriately named, but it always reminds me of safety, consistency, Gaston St. in Medford where we could hear them at night in the summer, so it’s not a melancholy sound for me. I listen to each of the other birds in their turn as I lay with my head propped up on my sweatshirt and sneakers and one of my legs dangling out of the side of the tent whose flap I have unzippered quietly to purge the hot putrid air. We are surrounded by about 120 degrees of trees to the East and the sun sends down shafts of light that catch on their breezing leaves and refract through the dusty haze of lifting river fog. I try to place each of the birds I can hear in this web of trees and brush, imagining with pretty much no ornothological knowledge for reference, what they could possibly look like. Then I listen for trains. We heard their horns wailing as we lay down to sleep last night but there are none. I push my ear a bit further off toward the river and listen for the water, but instead there is the humming of a generator. Standing up and gently extracting myself from the tent inside of which Seth is still snoring lightly, I look off across the water and see a barge with a cherry picker extended up under the support beams of the concrete bridge. They must be doing some work. The generator is rough and asthmatic, not a pleasant morning sound so I lay back down with the birds.

After about twenty minutes in my book I get up again but this time I am not so gentle with the zipper on the tent. And I pick up all the truck from my side: my sleeping bag, the shoes and sweatshirt and the tent bag I use for a pillow, my book, my headlamp, and the radio I keep behind my head where it stays dry enough. I more or less throw all these things in a heap next to my bike so that it will disturb at least one of the others and set the chain of packing up in motion.

Ten minutes later things are rolled up, packed down and strapped in and we are drowsily bouncing along the gravel truck path next to the railroad, watching the river running the other direction, under the bridge that also seems to run down the river as we pass the baseball fields, the Union Pacific trucks, the old dilapidated station and the clean brick and wrought iron park on the riverbank. There are a couple of acres of park and field, campground (not free), and paths on this islet. We cross an offshoot of the river and are a block from downtown, but we hang a quick right, blink the film from our eyes and ride swiftly to the backside of the AmericInn and Suites where we prop our bikes, glance nervously at one another inspecting for sure signs of vagrancy – an obvious stain on the shorts, chain grease on the calf, or dirt on the cheek – yup, all these are present. But this is AmericInn and our founding fathers would turn over in their graves if they knew earnest travellers were being refused a continental breakfast on the simple grounds that there is no one checked in under “The Howards.” So we walk in like we own the place and – Good Gracious! It’s omelette day!

No one stares you in the eye but if you turn around real fast as you reach in the plastic cabinet for your sixth blueberry muffin you can catch three or four farmer’s wives casting suspicious glances in your direction. I tend to think people mind their own business in these places – either that or they assume the most devious human tendencies so they figure its safer not to intervene. Anyway, the AmericInn is the SPOT. When we roll into a city with one of these babies we try to pitch tents as close as possible. The woman making the omelettes cooks us an extra platter of eggs with ham and cheese and brings it into the conference room we have occupied along with two half gallons of orange juice fresh from the cooler. I’m having a hard time getting around to a good description of this so I’ll try this: Think Waffle Bar people. Think fully stocked pastry cabinet WITH bagels and three kinds of bread. Dual quad slice toasters with independent temperature controls. Think juice machine. Think medium roast, dark roast AND flavored if that’s your bag. Think condiment bar with jams, jellies, creamcheese, butter AND margarine, ketchup, mustard, and the all-important mayo packets that you gotta stock up on for the dry gas station sandwich you know you’ll be eating three hours later on the side of highway 9. Think never-ending trays of flaky, buttery biscuits. Think crock pots full of sausage gravy. Fresh fruit. Cereal. Think local AND national newspapers. The best part is the pool is right off the lobby and it has a shower if you don’t want to get chlorine in your eyes. The other day in Okoboji I washed my shorts in the hot tub.

Then you’re out on the road. The local bike shop had the tubes you needed, the owner was stoked to see you out on your bike so his sticker is on your top tube now. This conversation happened four times between breakfast, four people unleashing last night’s McDonalds into one toilet, filling the water bottles and riding around looking for the bike shop:

“Where you all riding from?”

“Vermont.”

“What?”

“Vermont – the state.”

“What…”

“Why the hell are you doing that?”

Stock answers include: “For fun.” “To see the country” “Sex appeal.” “We just graduated from college together and we want to do it while we can.” “We honestly don’t know either.” “We really just love biking.” “No reason.” ” Why not?

“Where you all headed?”

“Washington.”

“D.C.?”

“State.”

“Wow, well it sure is a nice day to be riding. Good luck!”

“Yeah thanks!”

Oops, I’m about to get kicked off the library computer here. I’ll throw this up for now but it’s a work in progress. Miss and love all of you,

Steve

if you thought you were starting to understand

20 Aug

Day 36 August 13

We decided to stay in Decorah for another night with Deek because of hangovers and leg fatigue. All the guys worked on their bikes with Deek’s guidance. We eventually went trout fishing where Seth caught the first trout of the trip. We spent the night in the Haymarket bar, which was full of college-aged Iowans who were confused by our presence.

Day 37 August 14

Decorah, IA to Elma, IA. It’s beginning to feel as if we are finally getting somewhere. We started our day with Tom, a homeless, alcoholic biker who has been riding his bike across the country for the last 20 years, making ends meet with labor ready, loafs of bread, and a pint of whiskey for breakfeast. Deek told us about him the night before, without a clue he would show up the next day, as an example of how we were fine compared to other bikers he helps. Deek also said tom bikes more than anyone he knows. But, though his story could be that of a prophetic man, the drinking made him into a bit of an asshole. We arrived in the small town of Elma in the evening and found a nice park to rest in. The groundskeeper of the park arrived soon after us to examine the half-done paint job on the field’s grandstand. We asked him if it would be ok to sleep there, and he essentially gave us the rights to all the park’s ammenities, which included bathrooms, a makeshift shower, and the field lights. Earlier in the day I broke another spoke.

Day 38 August 15

Elma to SW of Bolan, IA. Middle of nowhere- slept at the base of a wind turbine.

Day 39 August 16

Bolan to Bancroft, IA. Slept behind home run wall of town baseball field.

Day 40 Augsut 17

Bancroft, IA to Okoboji, IA. Tough day for me. I didn’t really have the desire to bike, which is expected to happen at least sometimes over the duration of this trip. In the morning we got interviewed for Bancroft’s local newspaper by a sweet 84 yr. old woman (her b-day was on Sunday), however it was less of a Q and A. More of us just describing the trip. After about 30 miles of biking, I broke another spoke and, thereafter, was frustrated by fatigue and every bump in the road, feeling even more exhausted having to peddle through the wobble of the wheel. Threw up my 1st middle finger of the trip to a trucker who was riding the ass of a minivan. She, the driver, was trying to ease around us but the trucker was laying on the horn, eventually speeding around us and forcing us off the road onto some gravel- another bump my bike didn’t need. We finally got to our destination, an unattractive tourist town in the “Iowa great lakes region”, where the upper eschelon of tacky seems to thrive. I finally fixed my wheel and felt a weight lifted off my shoulders. We slept in a field off of a bike path that we were cued in on by the young manager of a McDonalds.

Day 41 August 18

Okoboji, IA to George, IA. Hoping to get out of Iowa today, but it seems more difficult to ride long distances when all you see is corn all day and hear the wind blow past your ears. Iowa is strange, and mystifying, in the sense that things feel like a mirage. Whether it be a town, a group of tress, or even a water tower- a destination of some sort to strive for- the distance makes it feel unreachable. It can feel like hours before you reach the landmark that seemed within reach. It’s this that makes leaving those places when you finally reach them tougher, and it’s this same feeling that keeps us in George, IA for the night. George is a small town, about 1000 people, and, like most of the small towns we’ve passed in the last couple weeks, everyone is incredibly friendly and eager to hear what brings us to their town. How kind the people of middle America have been to us has made the redundant scenery harder to hate, and therefore all the more frustrating. So much has already happened on this trip- meeting interesting people, feeling a part of a new place (even for a day), the juxtaposition of the city to the countryside where we go from almost unnoticed to the next great wonder of the world, growing internally and as a group, anticipating the future- that it’s hard to believe this trip is more or less only halfway done, and that there’s no reason to anticipate or expect anything other than the moment.

Day 42 August 19

George, IA to Sioux Falls, IA. I’m sitting in the Sioux Falls public library writing this during an evening that feels like what summer always stood out to me as. It’s warm, though a breeze seems to rescue everyone’s brow from perspiration when needed most, and people find whatever excuse they can to be outside. I finally smell like the homeless guys who used to use the computers and read the newspapers in the UVM library. I’m exhausted and can tell that everyone’s in a rough spot. What’s difficult about a several month long bicycle trip is the constant awareness you have of what you don’t have. When we are travelling, it seems like every other question is, “why are you doing this?” often followed up with, “are you crazy?” Well this next paragraph is an answer for all the people who have asked us that, or settled on the idea that we are crazy without even feeling the need to talk to us. for the people who’ve seen our blog’s address scribbled in chalk or pen in a bathroom stall, or the people who’ve picked up one of the book’s I’ve finished reading from a park bench or beach that has squalortour.wordpress.com written in the inside front cover. for the people who have met us and wanted to know more, but only got this website on a piece of scrap paper handed to them:

the last few days have been incredibly tough. everything has looked the same, i haven’t been as eager to get on my bike and peddle all day, i’m starting to miss all the ammenities i really cherish, like having music i love reflect my emotions when i need it most or wanting to eat a salad of organic vegetables when the only thing around is gas station pizza, the book i’m reading makes me wish I was in love, and things that often feel unimportant to me are putting me on the edge of frustration. But none of that matters. I’m in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Yesterday I found out while sitting on the curb of a Casey’s general store that there is a town every 15 miles in Iowa because when the telegraph was first invented that was the maximum distance it could cover. I now know that in George, IA a girl who just graduated high school desires to differentiate herself from her peers and move on from the small town life by going to college in a different state, but that at night she still thinks its funny to drive around town with her friends, past the campsite where four bikers in their early-20s are camping, and yell indecipherable language at us as they laugh and pull away. I know that an 84 year old journalist in Bancroft, IA will forever be loyal to the scones in the town’s cafe, that there is a saint disguised as a bike shop owner in Decorah. That out in the middle of nowhere Wisconsin, there is a couple that gets their kicks from flying around town on their harley, listening to their friends play music, and that they feel just as strongly as I do that it is necessary to start thinking differently about how we handle ourselves as people. that the only way to stop a homeless man from following you in chicago is to stop, slowly turn around, and yell that you don’t have shit. That if you stand in the correct latitude and longitude coordinates in campsite number 1 in George, IA you can hear some of the best jazz on the radio for hundreds of miles, but if you step one way or accidentally bump the antennae another way it can become heavy metal or pop rock. i know that out there, there is a person who honestly believes Geronimo rules the world. I know that you can learn more about a town by sitting on the curb of it’s gas station than you can by looking at it’s wikipedia page. I know that if you test them, the mosquitoes of Wisconsin will suck your eyes dry. And I know that after 6 weeks of foul smells, tent living, physical exhaustion, a tent collapse, thunderstorms, and a swanky hotel that these 3 guys are more than just my friends. And that no matter how squalor I am, I can walk into a library, put Bud Powell on my headphones, think about what I’m doing and how I’m doing it, and feel like a million fucking bucks.

til Next time,

Matt

Since Chicago

13 Aug

Things are getting weirder…

13 Aug

Day 31

Lake Mills, WI to Madison, WI. It only took the inhalation of Madison air for us to agree on staying the night and going out on the town.  After eating dinner and drinking good beer again, we went to find a good place to camp and store our stuff, so there would be less chaos and confusion when we were coming back late night. we thought. we found a park on the outskirts of downtown Madison and, riding around, found some willow trees in a patch of grass to the side of an exhibition center’s parking lot. We thought we’d be romantics and set up camp within the draperies of the willow tree, failing to consider that the elegant branches only created a paradise for insects. Still, we figured things would get better the darker and colder it got. When we rode back into the city we found a dive bar on the hippie/hipster street of Madison, as a local described it to us. We were excited to be in a bar, with air conditioning, and a roomful of faces that seemed to be guarding stories. We followed up on these stories with a few interesting people. Most memorable being a transient looking fellow who was surprisingly anti-homeless. His ears perked on hearing we were doing this trip as a pseudo-graduation gift, yet he was ultimately interested in the appearance of my beard which seemed to give him the idea that I was a smoker. He leaned in close to me and said “can I ask you a personal question?” I was excited to get deep with this man, though he just wanted to know if he could trade a shot for getting high. The bar continued in this fashion. We seemed to get into conversation with people on all ends of the character spectrum, but eventually felt that we had to leave when a young woman felt assured we had stole her keys. Eventually steve and I got lost from Seth and Alex. After indulging in late night pizza, Steve and I made the trek back to the willow tree. Though we spent a while wondering where the other guys could be, we still found it pretty easy to get inside our tents and drift off. Though rain seemed destined, it was too humid to leave the rain tarp on the tent. As I was about to slip into dreams of more ideal adventures rain drops started to seep through the tent. As I got out to put on the fly, it started to pour and the wind picked up. In a matter of minutes, the poles to Alex and I’s tent snapped in half and I was left standing there, half-naked, being thrashed by windy rain, and hoping tree branches would fair better than our tent poles. The eureka finally met its demise after making it across the country with me twice. I took shelter in Steve’s tent as all my important things sat outside to bathe. We joked about how this sucked, and how Seth and Alex probably got invited into a warm house to sleep in. At least we were hoping that since their return would mean four people shoving into one tent like a clown car. But  of course as I began to drift off for a second time, I hear the sound of bikes riding up to the tree. They got back around 4 am. Alex sporting a new haircut, which made no sense at the time. We tried to all fit in the tent and realized in minutes that it was too claustrophobic. So Alex and I took off into the rainy night, having slept zero hours, and still holding on to a strong buzz from before. We walked to the exhibition center where we sat under an awning, fighting off mosquitoes, until the sun came up. We laughed about how unfortunate things can sometimes get, and reminisced on watching the sunrise during our first few years of college, when nothing felt important and we could stay up all night. When the rain started to fade we packed up our stuff and head out at 6 30am to find an open diner, where we could wallow in despair until the other guys got up.

Day 33

Country park outside Madison to Dodgeville, WI. Slept in a pine grove at Dodgeville nature trail and arboretum. After riding the military ridge bike trail, I had a broken spoke, leaving me again stranded in a strange town with no bike shop for miles and miles. We sat outside a Piggly Wiggly grocery store trying to fix the problem, but Seth’s tool was stripped and we couldn’t get the grip we needed to take the cassette off the back wheel. I was dreading having to go through another situation like in Erie, PA. However, we were sprawled out before the entrance of the store like a zoo exhibit. There was empathy from many people, but no one really had a clue what to do, until a man knew a guy in town who did bike repair in his basement. He gave me a ride to this guy’s house, who, with the right tools, was able to make the fix in seconds. Again saved.

Day 34

Dodgeville, WI to Prarie du Chien, WI. We should be in Iowa, but I need to check what could be the last bike store for weeks to see if they have this tool that caused us problems the day before. We camped in a grassy area below a highway underpass, with only railroad tracks between our tents and the Mississippi river. It was more beautiful than it sounds.

Day 35 August 12.

Prarie du Chien, WI to Decorah, Iowa. Lounging beside, what feels like, the first river of the west. Occassionally swatting away the bite of mosquitoes, but feeling pleasant that it’s less of a distraction than the last few days. Things are starting to feel more unexpected. Whereas up until this point each town, every passer-by, and even a lot of the scenery held a connection to the areas we are most accustomed to. The trips I’ve done across the country gave me an unimmersed view of the regions that we are now pushing towards. We left Prarie du Chien after sleeping next to the Mississippi and railroad tracks, where the allegory of old blues’ myths felt alive. We went to a continental breakfast at a nearby motel and slyly snuck into their pool area to wash the grit off our bodies. In Iowa we started the day with a large climb. With the humidity and the sun’s intense rays it felt giant. It was enough to drink most of our water during. Up to this point, we haven’t gone too long without passing by a gas station or store or public water fountain. But in Iowa they are far less frequent. After riding dehydrated for almost 30 miles we finally got to the town of Decorah, Iowa. Decorah is a gem. It has a midwestern Burlington feel in the sense that people are artsy, liberal, and feel a social responsibility to themselves and their community. Immediately it was a very comforting place to be. Here we met Richard, or Deekster as we would later learn and laugh about. Deek owns a bike shop in town and quickly after meeting us, offered his roof deck to sleep on. His apartment is above the bike shop, is well-decorated, and sports an attractive taste. He’s told us he has done plenty of tours and plenty of people helped him out, so this is repayment. We traded stories over beer for awhile. Deek told us of his misadventures biking and rock climbing, of the “fat ass house” he used to have up on the hill and how rewarding it feels to be out of it, and of his 3 previous Australian shepherds and his decision to get a mini shepherd as his 4th. Deek seems more sure of things in his life than many of the people we’ve met. He told us he used to be stuck in the mentality that bigger is better- owning a few stores, having a bunch of employees, etc.. But he told us that selling his shops and dwindling down to this one small shop, where his intentions are more towards keeping people on bikes than making a profit, was the best decision he’s ever made. This resonates pretty strongly as I feel really eager to not lose myself in a lifestyle I don’t really desire. Deek eventually got pretty drunk with the rest of us not far behind, and the conversation took a more humorous twist. We ended the night participating in a load of green team activities with Deek and his friend Jono. This morning we awoke to the first drops of a thunderstorm hitting our faces, another reality smack, and quickly ran all are things to dry areas. Now we are escaping the rain in a coffeshop, where my 3 comrades are chatting up a beautiful woman. I’m looking forward to becoming a part of a new community when this is all said and done with, but more so am anticipating lying in an Iowa prarie tonight watching the stars.

-Matt

Here’s an update on what we’ve read and are reading:

Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Magister Ludi by Hermann Hesse

Confedaracy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon

Flappers and Philosophers by F. Scott Fitzgerald

People’s History of the US by Howard Zinn

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

These are some of the tapes we just bought:

D’angelo- Voodoo, Boyz II Men- cooleyhigh, TLC- CrazySexyCool, Prince- Purple Rain, Jermaine Dupri

if anyone has good reading suggestions, make it known