Monday, September 7, 2015

Mileage Totals and Mapping Advice

Before setting out on this excursion, I made a fairly detailed plan - where I would sleep each night, how many miles I would ride and on which roads, and a list of possible things to do in each city.

Then I proceeded to ignore the plan almost completely. The only things that stayed the same were the people I was visiting and the states through which I drove. The atlas was an infinitely better resource than a stack of printed Google Maps, even when it occasionally directed me to a campsite that seemed not to exist.

It turned out my endurance was better than I had anticipated, so even after leaving three days late, I caught up to the plan by the time I reached Colorado. Here are the final mileage calcuations for each day, and the total trip.

Day 1: Home to the Catskills, NY (114 miles)
Day 2: to Pittsburgh, PA (428 miles)
Day 3: to Indian Lake State Park, Avondale, OH (273 miles)
Day 4: to Kankakee River State Park, Bourbonnais, IL (316 miles)
Day 5: to Cedar Rapids, IA (313 miles)
Day 6: to Pammel State Park, Winterset, IA (226 miles)
Day 7: to Holdrege, NE (353 miles)
Day 8: to Littleton, CO (377 miles)
Day 9: around Boulder, CO (125 miles)
Day 10: to Pine, CO (38 miles)
Day 11: around Pine and Denver, CO (92 miles)
Day 12: to Rocky Mountain State Park (223 miles)
Day 13: to Conejos, CO (298 miles)
Day 14: to Las Vegas, NM (218 miles)
Day 15: to Sterling City, TX (620 miles)
Day 16: to Austin, TX (270 miles)
Day 17-18: 0 bike miles
Day 19: to Tyler, TX (334 miles)
Day 20: to Winnfield, LA (210 miles)
Day 21: to Marathon Lake State Park, Forest, MS (315 miles)
Day 22: to Piney Grove Campground, New Site, MS (272 miles)
Day 23: to Nashville, TN (190 miles)
Day 24: to Morehead, KY (309 miles)
Day 25: to Pittsburgh, PA (351 miles)
Day 26: 0 bike miles
Day 27: to Salt Springs State Park, Montrose, PA (363 miles)
Day 28: to home (243 miles)

Grand Total: 6,871 miles in 25 riding days, for a daily average of 275 miles.

Why an atlas and not a GPS? Firstly, because many, many places along my route lacked cell reception. And secondly, because of this:

It knew where Planet Fitness was. It dropped me in the middle of that mobile home park in the bottom right corner and told me I had arrived at my destination. What?

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Salt Springs to Home

I awoke at dawn, wishing I could have a little more sleep, and crawled out of my realize that it was a brilliant moon casting all that light, and it was still the middle of the night. I crawled back in and went back to sleep.

The next time I woke, the sun was really up. I packed up my tent, sucked down some coffee, and hit the road. There were no bars of cell, so I hadn't checked in the night before, and I stopped near Binghamton, NY to let home know that I was alive and check the atlas. I texted Abel and suggested he ride Kestrel out to meet me so we could ride home together.

There was a giant cloud settled over Binghamton, and the riding became damp and foggy. I got on I88 east and rode back out into the sun, and then into another cloud bank in the next valley. I stopped for warmer gloves and then moved on.

At a gas station in Oneonta, where I picked up 23 from I88, I finally ate the peppermint Luna bar I'd brought from home. The first one got eaten on the first day, the second one on the last day. I should've called them Peppermint Parenthesis Bars.

Route 23 was gorgeous, but I already knew that, having taken some of it nearly a month ago in the other direction. I had some spotty recognition of a few sights, but it may as well have been new until I reached Great Barrington. A text from Abel told me where he was waiting, and I pulled into a parking lot and up beside Kestrel. I'd nearly forgotten what she looked like.

We hugged for so long that a woman gardening in the plaza said, "You two aren't married, are you?" I just stared at her, baffled, until she said, "You wouldn't be kissing if you were."

I let Abel lead, since as of that moment he had done 90 miles on a bike ever and I didn't want to lose him in traffic. Kestrel has also been displaying some shutting-down-while-riding issues, and we had to stop a couple of times to coax her into going again.

That ride was not the best of the trip, and it had nothing to do with a problem bike or a new rider. I was worried about going home. I'd stopped missing home somewhere in Iowa, and that fact had me concerned that I would never want to be there again, and that the homecoming process would be a terribly awkward series of interactions that would have me moving my things out of the house in short order.

Coming home from a big trip to people who have not been on a big trip is strange. When Sheila asked me if it was good to be home, I wasn't sure what to say. "No" is not right but "yes" is not quite right either. It's a pinch of everything, like seasoning soup. It'll be nice having company whenever I want it, and real homecooked food, and a shower every day. It'll be annoying sometimes having company even when I don't want it, and other people to factor into my decisions, and people depending on me to complete random tasks that I'll procrastinate on or forget about entirely. I'm looking forward to giving my clutch hand and my eardrums a rest. I'm sad to lose my new dusk-to-dawn sleep cycle. Talking to other people instead of myself will make me feel a bit less insane. Losing the subtle rhythms of life on the road will be impossible to explain or prevent but somehow unpleasant.

It was awkward at first, but some chatting, a shower, and some dinner helped smooth it out. I neither attempted to leave nor got kicked out. Abel opened the box of things I'd mailed home from Louisiana, and I gave him and Sheila the souvenirs I'd picked up for them, and showed off the ones I'd found for myself. I unpacked a good number of my things, spread them all over the house that was clean when I arrived, and then had to clean up the mess I made. Some of the things are still on the bike, because I wasn't all that inspired to deconstruct the last month of my life in one night. One of the weirder nice things about living in a minimalist fashion is that I never misplaced anything. Now that I live in a house again, I'll be regularly searching for objects that have gone walkabout. Perhaps if I get rid of some objects I can minimize the problem. That should be an easier task now that I've successfully lived without almost all of them for significant length of time. Salt Springs

Anyway, where was I? Oh, right, leaving a biker bar after lunch in Cross Forks. I took 144 to route 6 east, and by the time I was in Wellsboro, the sleepiness had really set in. I debated getting a coffee, but decided I'd rather be sleepy now than awake at 2am.

I attempted to camp at Mount Pisgah State Park, but in my tiredness had misread my map, and they didn't have camping. I moved on to Wyalusing, stopped for gas, and was about to set off for the next campsite when I saw a bike loaded for touring parked at the bar across the street.

I moved Hades into the next space and went inside. At the bar, I found a couple with helmets, and asked if that was their bike. They said yes. I sat down and ordered a hard cider, and we got to bike talking. They were from Michigan, on their way to see the east for the first time, having already seen a lot of the western and central parts of the country.

I said I was camping, and they said they had attempted to camp the night before but didn't know what they were doing and were now looking for a motel. I wondered what knowledge they had come up lacking but didn't get a chance to ask. Questioned about my origin, I was about to explain that the western and eastern parts of Massachusetts are quite different when the woman interrupted me and said, "Boston! Why don't you sound black?"

"Ah, you mean, why don't I have a Boston accent?" I asked.

"Yeah, that!" She was very enthusiastic, but perhaps not as bright as many other people.

I again started to explain that the western part of the state is not the eastern part, and she talked over me. The conversation turned to milage, and the guy suddenly looked like he wanted to hide.

"How many miles have we done today?" she asked him. He mumbled. "It's at least a hundred," she said, laughing.

"I'd like to make a hundred today," he said to his beer, looking guilty.

"Are you kidding me!" she said, punching him lightly in the arm. "Don't fuck with me."

I didn't mention my own mileage, since he seemed to have decided that I was there to challenge him. In thirty seconds they had picked up their things, and he said he was going to look at my bike. I would've gone with him, but couldn't pay my tab and finish my cider in time, so I just stayed. It didn't seem like a conversation worth chasing.

I camped in the boonies that night, up route 706 in Salt Springs State Park. The campsite was lovely, right next to a stream, under a tree, with a fire ring. I had a roaring campfire for only the third time since I've been gone. It seemed a fitting end to a wonderful trip, and I went to sleep grateful that I had decided to camp one more night and not force myself to drive home from Pittsburgh in one day.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Pittsburgh to a Soapbox

Driving into the sun still feels strange. I programmed myself to go west when I started out, and apparently it stuck. I have to remind myself to put on my dark goggles in the morning now, instead of changing into them in the afternoon.

I buzzed out of Pittsburgh on 22, stopping at a Sheetz to get coffee and inspect the atlas. A passing biker asked me if I was lost, and I realized that sitting at a table with an open map, a phone, and my head in my hands probably made me look exactly that.

"No, just tired," I said with a smile. "Thanks." The no-sleep-in-Nashville situation was still wearing on me; this was my second coffee of the morning.

From 22, I took 53 north to 144 north, and stopped in Cross Forks for lunch. Everyone at Deb's was very friendly, including a pair of bikers at the bar, one of whom was a woman. She was only the second lady biker I've talked to in an entire month on the road, which blows my mind. She said her experience of other lady bikers is that most of them aren't friendly. She and Isabella were both wonderful, and they are the complete extent of my experience with female strangers operating motorcycles.

I've had lots of people, both men and women, say things like, "I'd be too scared to do that!" when I tell them about my trip. I've had several friends and relatives say they're proud of me for what I'm doing. I've gotten many, many comments along the lines of, "By yourself?!" and "On that?!"

I don't honestly understand what's so difficult about this project. Leaving home was the hardest part. Everything else, in comparison, has been cake. It doesn't require months of planning. It doesn't require thousands of dollars. It doesn't require four weeks of vacation; you can have an awesome experience in a few days. I just chose to make it longer because I had the opportunity.

In that same vein, I don't understand why more women don't ride motorcycles. There is no reason that biking should be a man's world. You don't have to be able to bench 200 pounds to ride a bike (I can't). You don't have to spend an assload of money to own one (I didn't). You really don't need to be special in any way to get a motorcycle license, get on a bike, and go on the road.

It makes me wonder what this fear-mongering in society is trying to accomplish. People love to tell dark stories, but what's it doing to us on a large scale? It's killing the adventurous spirit. It's killing our willingness to see and learn new things, to meet new people, to have new experiences. It's taking away that which could make us a more peaceful society: meeting each other. In person. Face to face, not over the internet.

If you are even slightly interested in going on a trip, do it. Get out there. You don't have to go today, but if you don't take a step toward it today, how will you ever get there?

People will tell you all kinds of awful things in advance. They'll say you won't make it. That you'll get run over in traffic, eaten by a bear, and mugged by a criminal. Possibly all at once. They will raise their eyebrows, waiting for you to come crawling home in pieces, admitting that your venture was ill-conceived.

It was not. Sure, something bad may happen. Take reasonable precautions. Ride with care and carry some pepper spray and a backup phone. But don't stay home. Approximately 99.9% of the hundreds of people I met were wonderful, and even the .1% didn't present big problems for me.

Most of the people I spoke to seemed worried about all the other people. You know who wasn't worried? The long-distance bikers. They already had the experience to have learned otherwise. They didn't say, "Oh my god, you're doing what?" They said, "Ride safe."

The awful crap on the news every day has corrupted us into thinking that the world is a horrible place. It's easy to forget that the news media's job is to sensationalize, and that the stories they show us are news precisely because they are rare events. "Man Wishes Woman Well at Gas Station" wouldn't get them any viewers.

Doubt me? Check your confirmation bias. Stop looking for evidence that people are horrible and start looking for examples that they're awesome. You'll find it. You'll find more than you know what to do with. I promise.

Pittsburgh, Round 2

I'm back in the northeast, at cousin Carl's place in Pittsburgh. I've now officially made a full loop. It's strange to know I'm this close to home again; within 500 miles. It doesn't feel like it's been nearly a month.

Carl, Alisia and I went to breakfast this morning at the Square Café, which oddly enough is decorated mostly with circles.

After brunch, we dropped Carl off at work, and Alisia showed me some of her favorite places in the city. She has memberships to the Phipps botanical garden and the Carnegie museums, and with some quick walking, we managed to see quite a bit before picking up Viv from her first day of preschool.

All of us were tired by dinner time, so we ate and hung out and looked at my trip photos before going to bed at an entirely reasonable hour.