Friday, July 22, 2016

Rolling Home

I got up with the alarm clock on Monday morning and got ready for one last day. Cider stayed in bed and hit snooze so many times I almost hit his phone against the wall. I'd done enough electronic damage in the preceding ten days to last a couple of years, though, so I settled for turning on the overhead light. He made angry noises and covered his face.

"Time to go," I said.

"There's no need to be a dick about it," he groused.

"So get up," I said. I turned the light off again (my nod to non-dickishness) and went down to the kitchen, where I dug around in the cabinets until I found cups for the brewer.

"I see you found the coffee," Carl said, appearing behind me as I added milk to my cup.

"I can always find coffee," I said.

"I didn't think you'd be the first one up," he said.

I rolled my eyes. "I don't know," I said, gesturing vaguely upstairs. "I think he went back to sleep."

"No, he's awake," Carl assured me. "I saw him."

"Oh good." My opportunity to further ruin Grumpy's morning by jumping on the bed had disappeared, probably for everyone's good.

Alisia brought Vivi out to the bikes with us so we could update last year's photo of her on my bike.

Traffic was quiet, since we were opposing the natural direction of rush hour, and we headed into the rising sun and beautiful weather.

"Trying to cut out a gas stop today?" I asked at our first break, which was nearly 140 miles from Carl's.

"I'm not thinking," Cider said. "I'm just driving." He looked exhausted, and I couldn't disagree. We parked the bikes by a curb at the edge of the Sheetz and lay down on the sidewalk, he on his back and me on my stomach. I think we were both trying to pretend that we had some other choice than to get back on the bikes and do another 400 miles.

After a few minutes I got up and bought some french fries and espresso. While I was eating, some guys who had parked an electric truck behind us came over to chat.

"You don't build power line, do you?" one of them asked Cider.

"Yeah, I do," he replied.

"No way!" the guy said. "I could tell by your boots." We chatted with them for a few minutes, but eventually could no longer deny the fact that it was time to leave. I stored my extra can of espresso in my bag and off we went.

The music player in my brain was on as it usually is, but with no external iPod to change tracks for me, it got stuck. I listened to Like I Roll by Black Stone Cherry for that entire day, and I don't think I'll ever associate that song with anything but driving through Pennsylvania. It's quite appropriate, really; it talks about rolling through the hills under the sun, which is exactly what I was doing.

I was snacking on jerky at our next stop when a pickup truck pulled in and parked awkwardly at the curb by the store.

"The hell kind of parking is that?" Cider wanted to know.

"And he's shirtless," I said. Anything can seem relevant to anything else when you're tired enough. The driver got out and headed for the air pump, which at least explained the odd location of his vehicle.

"Not really the kind of shirtless I look for in a dude, though," I said. "Or, you know, something."

"Not the kind of dude you look for in a shirtless?" Cider offered.

"Yeah. That."

At that moment another Vaquero pulled in, also towing a trailer, ridden by an older couple. They parked behind us and Cider approached the guy to inquire about his trailer hitch. I tried to remember if I'd seen him approach anyone for conversation at any other stop. We ended up chatting with them for a while. The woman used to ride, but was having an issue with her hands that had forced her to passenger instead.

At the far edge of Pennsylvania we took a break at a welcome center. They had nothing that I considered food, just a vending machine full of cookies, so I pulled out the summer sausage I'd brought from home and sliced it up with my pocket knife.

I was chilling on the sidewalk, munching on my emergency sausage and admiring the trees, when a woman pulled in on a motorcycle and parked some twenty feet away. She was loaded down with gear and clearly on a long trip. I waited for her to get off the bike, but she appeared to have stopped only to manage her GPS and not to take a rest. Eventually I wandered over.

"Hey, where you from?" I asked.

"Massachusetts," she said.

"Where?" I asked.

"Um, outside of Springfield?"

"No way," I said. "I'm from West Springfield!"


She was riding an old police bike, on her way to Virginia to visit her son and to look for a job. I told her to look me up on Facebook so we could do some riding when she returned, and she pulled out her phone.

"Roller derby?" she asked, clearly having found my profile. "That's so funny...I was skating with derby until I hurt myself last fall."

It was my turn for the "What!"

Before we parted ways, I invited her to our fresh meat night, since she was healing from her injury and looking to skate again.

"She's from Westside," I told Cider when I returned to the bikes.

"What?" he said, raising an eyebrow.

"And she does derby."


"Leave it to me to recruit for us in freaking Pennsylvania."

Our second-to-last stop was somewhere south of the Taconic Parkway in New York. Cider said something about waving to me from the highway.

"You're not dropping me off at home?" I asked. "You're not even going to give me a hug?!"

"I'll give you a hug at the last gas stop," he said. "Your place is 45 minutes out of my way and I want to get home."

"Oh," I said. "I didn't realize it was that far for you. That's fair."

We sailed up the Taconic, a beautiful four-lane piece of road where the halves are separated by trees, and the rest of the world is drowned out by more trees. It's reminiscent of the Trace but more interesting, since there are hills and curves. I found myself trying to enjoy it extra, knowing it was the last run of the trip. Some part of me hoped that if I focused hard enough I could make it last forever.

At a point in the road that felt oddly random, we turned off and dove into a small town. A lovely twisty back road lined with trees and pretty houses took us approximately north. Since Cider had told me the secret of the bikes - that the Hornet, as I'd started calling her, could easily take any curve that the Vaquero could make it through - I challenged myself to keep up with him, and I managed.

Just before the Mass border, we stopped one last time. I bought an ice cream sandwich, as much to lengthen the stop as to enjoy the treat.

"I can almost see it," Cider said, gesturing at Massachusetts. "So close..."

"Too close," I said sadly. "What are you going to do when you get home?"

"Shave this animal off my face," he said. "Take a nap. You?"

"Shower," I said. "Unpack."

"Meh. Unpacking can wait."

"Meh. What else am I gonna do?"

Finally I couldn't drag it out any longer. I wrapped my arms around him.

"Thank you thank you thank you," I said. "This has been amazing."

"I'm glad it was what you needed," he said.

We took 90 together as far as 91, where he went north and I went south. I passed him on the ramp, waved inappropriately, and took off. After a short, hot battle with the usual traffic, I was back in my driveway. Sass was just leaving.

"I unlocked your door," she said as we hugged. I'd had Cider message her to do just that, since my keys were theoretically locked in the house.

While unpacking that night, I found my keys - exactly where I had expected them to be. Exactly where I had in fact searched for them before we ever left my driveway. They'd been with me the whole time, all 4,412 miles of the trip.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Grumpy Cat and Nyan Cat Go to Pittsburgh

On Sunday morning, after 830 miles on Saturday and about five hours of sleep, the road crazies really set in. I dragged myself awake, cruised the hotel's breakfast bar, checked out, and met Cider at the bikes. We gassed up and cleaned our face shields across the street and then got back on I70.

I had coffee and music, and I was wired. The first hundred miles flew by as I rocked out to Bif Naked, glad to be wearing a full-face helmet so I could sing without eating bugs. Had I been on my own, I would've skipped that first gas stop entirely; I felt amazing, full of the joy of the open road. The air was pleasant, the sun beautiful, the traffic quiet.

The agreement (and requirement of the Vaquero's tank) was to stop about every hundred miles, so we pulled into a gas station somewhere in eastern Illinois. I parked at the edge, left my gloves and helmet on my seat, and went to pester Cider. After all, what else did I have to do?

"Hi!" I chirped, jumping over the curb and landing next to him.

He turned to look at me, wearing the expression of someone who was asleep but somehow still standing. "No," he said.

"Yes!" I said, grinning and bouncing.



He put his hand in my face and gently pushed me backward, glaring while I laughed. I stepped away and hopped up on a railing. Cider moved his bike from the pump and then went inside. I considered getting a snack but thought it might mess with the perfect energetic equilibrium I had going, so I leaned back against the pump to wait.

I didn't realize I was grinning absently at the ceiling like a maniac until Cider returned and stopped several feet away from me. I turned to look at him and was met with a suspicious stare.

"What?" I demanded, then started cackling and slid sideways off my perch. He just shook his head and went to get a Red Bull from the trailer. I followed.

"There is something wrong with you," he said as I bounced up and down.

"Nothing's wrong," I said. "Are you kidding? This is amazing. The weather is great. I feel so good."

We got to talking about riding weather in New England, and I said most of the year wasn't good for riding.

"Most days in New England are great," he argued.

"No," I said. "Most of the days are cold."

"That's because you're a popsicle," he told me, and I broke my ten-second streak of calm and started laughing again.

"That's us," I said. "Lollipop and Popsicle, the Motorcycle Maniacs." Once back on the road, I realized we were really Grumpy Cat and Nyan Cat.

Very little of the rest of the day sticks in my head. There was one gas stop at a creepy, dirty gas station where I was serenaded by a woman screaming at her sister from the cab of a truck. Cider somehow missed the whole exchange.

At the last stop before hitting the Pittsburgh area, I tried to fill my Camelbak but the station didn't seem to have water. We were making good time and Cider was texting my cousin Carl with updates, since my phone hadn't come back to life. My iPod was dead again, refusing to take a charge.

The concrete skirt around the pump was tilted left. The bike leaned toward me as I dismounted, and I knew I'd need help uprighting her again when it was time to move. But by the time my tank was full, Cider had already pulled away and disappeared to another part of the parking lot. I decided to get on and try, and without interference from my brain, my body figured it out - I pushed her upright with my thigh before I was fully in the saddle, and we were off like nothing had happened. It only took me 3,500 miles to figure out the trick.

Still on 70 at the edge of the city, we hit a traffic jam. After ten minutes or so of walking, we took an exit for 470. Then we hit another traffic jam. That one took a bit longer to get out of. Eventually we made freedom, and then hit more traffic on 376. Headed toward the Fort Pitt tunnel we hit a fourth snarl, and that one was by far the worst. It took probably half an hour to get from the top of the hill into the tunnel. It was hot and sunny, and shady spots were few and far between. I killed the engine and walked the bike most of the way down using the momentum of the hill to carry me. I ran out of water and wished for more.

The tunnel itself took another ten minutes, and when we reached the bridge at the end, the problem became clear: someone had crashed their car in the middle of the bridge, closing two of the four lanes and forcing traffic to take the far left or far right lanes. I couldn't understand how someone had gained enough speed in that area to do the amount of damage that the car had taken. I thought some curse words at them for crashing where they had, then moved on.

Past the next exit ramp we finally got an opening, and we zipped out of the line of crawling cars and opened our throttles. That was when I felt a small but alarming tug on the cable plugged into my helmet. I didn't have to see it bouncing away to know my iPod was gone. We were in the middle of a curving bridge with no shoulder, so I didn't even try to stop; it wasn't worth my life or the bike. My shopping list lengthened to two iPods and a cell phone.

We arrived at Carl's in the late afternoon and invaded the house with our sweaty, sticky, gross selves. I introduced Cider to Carl and Alisia, and Vivi came running out with even more bounce than I'd had that morning. We sat at the dining room table and talked about travel and kids while Vivi climbed into our laps, poking at my labret and sticking her fingers through the tunnels in Cider's ears. She leaned toward him and made a ridiculous evil face, and he made one back.

"I like munchkins about your age," he said, and she giggled.

I killed three glasses of water in short order and then actually killed the glass by dropping it on the tile floor in the kitchen. Cider put his hand over his face.

"She's a disaster," he told Carl, and I had no grounds to deny it. I swallowed my hysterical laughter long enough to help him sweep the glass off the floor and soak up the puddle of water. Then I got myself a plastic cup.

"You sure you don't need a sippy cup?" Cider asked.

"I bet I can find one," Carl offered.

"I think...I think I can handle it," I said, not entirely certain I wouldn't be cleaning water off the furniture in the not-too-distant future.

Carl set out a selection of zucchini pasta, fish sticks, and dumplings for dinner, and we dug in. After we ate, the conversation turned to work, and Alisia told a story about one of her patients who had been dubbed The Naked Man after he bolted out of his room without clothes, ran circles around the table in the common area, and finally grabbed the documents she was carrying and took a large bite out of them. Carl followed that with a story of someone who had built "Stonehenge" out of potato chips and his own excrement. By that point I was resting my forehead on the table and nearly crying with laughter.

I realized after a very welcome shower that I'd left my sweatpants in Colorado, so I came downstairs and eventually went to bed dressed in a grey Rugged Maniac t-shirt, a blue tie-dyed skirt, and pink wool socks. It seemed like an accurate representation of the inside of my brain that day.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Bike Talk in St. Louis

I don't know exactly what time we hit the hotel, but it felt reasonable; it definitely wasn't the next morning, at least. I threw my gear in the corner, stripped down to my sports bra and padded shorts, and flopped onto one of the beds. Cider started to remove his shirt, then stopped.

"Augh!" he protested. "Oh god. OW. Fuck." He got the shirt off and put his hands over his sunburn, wincing.

I crossed my arms. "No sympathy here," I said. I plugged my phone into the wall in the hope that it would come back to life, but it got stuck in a boot loop and still refused to take a charge. After a few minutes its constant flashing and vibrating got annoying, so I unplugged it and tossed it in a corner.

Cider disappeared to the ice machine, then returned, poured something into a hotel cup, and sat next to me.

"How are you feeling?" he asked.

"Great, actually," I responded, surprised that that was the answer. "I mean, I'm tired, but...this is amazing. I'm having so much fun. What about you?"

"I'm miserable," he answered. "I hate this."

"Then why do you do it?"

"It's about getting there with the bike," he said. "I just hate doing these long days."

"I thought you liked riding," I said.

"I've been doing this for eleven years," he said.

"Maybe I'll hate it in ten more years, too," I acknowledged.

"There's McGillicuddy's on the desk," he said, and headed off to shower.

"That explains why you're drinking water out of a hotel cup," I said. "Because you're not."

I don't actually like drinking mouthwash, but it was more entertaining than water. I poured myself a drink and picked up my iPod. By the time he returned, I had pried the stubborn device apart with my knife and was poking around the inside. He looked at me askance as I stuck the blade into the hold switch. After a moment I found what I was looking for and released the actual hold switch, which was no longer connected to the button on the outside.

"Fixed," I explained, holding it up. Then I plugged it in and was happy to find that it actually took a charge, which it had refused to do earlier in the day.

"This has been interesting for me," I said, returning to the topic of motorcycling. "Riding with you has pointed out the edges of my skills. I've always ridden either alone or with people about as skilled or less skilled than I am."

"You're doing fine," he said.

"Yeah, I'm keeping up," I said. "But that road to Rye scared the shit outta me."

"Are you fucking kidding me?" he demanded, leaning away like I had told him I'd eaten dog shit.

"Um, no," I said. "I don't do a lot of mountain riding. That was really the outer limit of my skills."

"That was about the slowest I could possibly have done that ride," he said, and it was my turn to raise my eyebrows.

"I see." We ended up agreeing to go ride some twisties near home when we were there again.

"So here's the secret," he said. "That bike can do more than the Vaquero can. So if you see me do something on this bike, you can definitely do it on that one. I mean, the bike will do it."

"That's all I need to know," I said. "I trust you, and the bike."

I went to sleep without finishing my mouthwash, looking forward to riding with music the next day.

Kansas and Misery

Saturday began at 5am; miles don't happen without putting in the time. I put on the padded shorts I'd been ignoring since arriving in Colorado, then my leather and my rain suit, as it was pretty chilly. By the time I got outside, Cider had already moved my bike out of the gravel and hooked up the trailer. We packed the last of our things in, made the hugging rounds, and headed into the rising sun.

He had warned me that Kansas was a terribly boring way to go home, and that normally he'd take the extra hundred miles to go via I80 instead of I70. But I wanted to see my cousin in Pittsburgh, and besides, I'd get to add both Kansas and Missouri to my list of states I've ridden in, so Kansas it was.

The first stop, still in Colorado, was warm enough to remove my rain gear and hoodie. I got a coffee. A group of touring bikers with trailers came through the station at the same time, but I didn't get to talk to them. I've noticed that when I appear to be traveling with Cider, I almost never get approached for conversation. When I was traveling on my own, it was a rare stop that I didn't chat up some random stranger about bikes and road life. This time around, it was a rare stop that I spoke to anyone other than my road companion.

Part of it is that I approach others less often; there was more of a push to make time on this trip, so I didn't want to hold us up by getting chatty. But it's something else, too, that keeps other people from opening a conversation with me. Maybe it's just that I don't look lonely, or maybe it's that Cider's big-black-bike-and-sleeved-out-tats look scares people off. It's the only downside I've identified to traveling with company.

When I mentioned it to Cider, he said that he actually tries to look as grumpy as possible so that people don't approach him, because he hates talking to strangers.

"And it's always the little old ladies who come up to me," he said, "And ask about my tattoos! What the hell." He mimed someone pointing at his arms and imitated an old voice. "What's this one? And this one?"

I cracked up and hoped that I would get to see this sight for myself.

Kansas was exactly as promised: long, flat, straight, and boring. Also hotter than the ovens of hell. My bike registered 93 to 96 degrees for at least eight straight hours, and there weren't even scraps of clouds to hide the sun. I sun screened my neck and shoulders, the only parts of me that were available for burning, and warned Cider to do the same. He said he'd be fine.

The first Kansas stop I spent hiding in the shade and eating jerky (after the horrified realization upon purchase that their sales tax is over 10%. Holy crap, Kansas). This particular gas station had a sign we both appreciated.

The next stop necessitated going inside a building for air conditioning and a milkshake (Cider) and fried might-be-chicken pieces (me). He slumped in his chair and looked downtrodden.

"You okay?" I asked.

"Miserable," he replied. "How are you doing?"

"Great!" I responded, licking honey mustard off my fingers. "I love the heat."

"I forget that about you," he said, shaking his head.

"Yeah, I may be native to New England," I said, "But I'm not really built like it. I hate winter. I'm built more like I'm from Texas."

"Why do you still live there?" he asked.

"It's home," I said. Then, as we were getting back on our machines, "Do you want some sunscreen?"


My iPod had died during the morning's riding; the hold switch that locks the buttons wouldn't release, so I couldn't operate it. Cider pointed out that I could download an FM tuner for my phone, so I did, only to discover at the next gas stop that it was actually eating my data at an alarming pace. Annoyed, I turned it off and rode without music.

We continued to rack up the miles as we baked our way through the afternoon, and eventually it was time for me to book a hotel. I picked one on the eastern edge of St. Louis so we could start the morning headed away from rush hour.

Cider's arms had gotten so red by that time that his tattoos almost seemed to be disappearing under the shell of a lobster.

"Can I please put some sunscreen on you?" I asked, waving the tube.


"That's gonna hurt."


"That's why I wear sleeves."

"I guess I could put the long-sleeved shirt on."

"That counts as sunscreen!" I encouraged him. He applied the sleeves and we rolled out again.

Around sunset we got Subway sandwiches for dinner, and I sucked down my third canned coffee drink of the day.

"How many of those have you had today?" Cider asked, and I told him. He gave me side-eye. "So you've had more of those than I've had Red Bulls. But half a Red Bull makes you hallucinate?"

"All I can think is it was the interaction of the Red Bull and the Tylenol," I said, shrugging. "I know it makes no sense. Maybe Red Bull alone is fine. But the other thing that doesn't make sense is trying it again when I'm still out here riding."

"True," he agreed.

Our last gas stop of the day was at the tail end of a beautiful sunset. I parked behind Cider, since it wasn't my gas stop, and got off the bike to take a picture. Then I looked at the front of the building and poked Cider in the shoulder.

"Did you see where we stopped?" I asked.

"What? No." He looked up and started laughing. The store was called Abel's Quik Shop. I took a picture of that too before going inside.

"Did you mean to do that?" Cider asked when we were back at the bikes. He was pointing to the spot where my hand guard was touching the top edge of his trailer.

"What can I say, I know where my corners are," I said. "I'm that good."

"It's only good if you meant to," he said.

"I meant to," I said, grinning.

"Nah. You didn't mean to if it's touching."

"Shut up."

We got back on the road to St. Louis as dark fell for real. Traffic got heavier as we closed in on the city, and I had to shorten the distance between us so we didn't get separated. My phone had decided that it would no longer boot or take a charge, so if I got lost, it would be tough to find either Cider or the hotel.

We'd done enough miles together at that point that I could read his mind about traffic decisions. I didn't have to wait for the turn signal anymore to know what the next move was going to be. It started to feel like having a good blocking partner in derby, when the communication is so fluid that you appear to move together magically, like the flock of sparrows that all change direction at once with no sound and no apparent leader. We zipped through traffic with efficiency, leaving the cars and trucks in our collective dust.

In the last fifty or so miles, I was reading his impatience and could almost hear the things he was saying to the cars blocking our open-road freedom. I tucked myself up against the corner of the trailer and waited for him to dodge into the other lane. And waited. Finally I ducked over and sped up, taking the open block to the right of the slow car hanging around in the left lane. I looked over my shoulder, encouraging him to take the space next to me, but he didn't.

"You don't understand," he explained to me later. "Once I start that shit, I don't stop."

"What, you think I can't keep up?" I demanded.

"I know you will," he said. "That's why I didn't."

I had no argument. That's a responsible friend.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Royal Gorge and Rum

Friday morning, Cider took Kimmy to the airport; her work schedule demanded that she leave a little early. Alan, Julie, and Dave were off to see the Royal Gorge, so I jumped in their car too and we headed south.

Route 115 took us along the edge of Fort Carson, where the installed military seemed to be running maneuvers. An Apache helicopter was circling the area, and Dave spotted a tank hiding beside a small hill. I didn't see it; I guess it was well-hidden.

On route 50 we turned west and shortly entered Cañon City. As we drove toward the parking lot for the Gorge, Dave mentioned that he had been here before, but not since the seventies. In 2013, a fire had destroyed most of the infrastructure at the Gorge, and they had rebuilt the bridge and visitors' center. Some of the boards from the old bridge survived, and they used them as siding on the new building.

Dave asked me if I wanted to do the zip line with him, and I said hell no.

"Wait, let me get this straight," he said. "Wrecker - is not going to go on the zip line?"

"Nope," I said. "I didn't bring clean pants. But thanks."

Alan was willing, though. The four of us set off across the bridge, admiring the slightly terrifying view and taking pictures. I accosted a random tourist to take a photo of us, and we in turn were accosted by another tourist, who politely offered to photobomb us. Julie said that was a great idea, on the grounds that he was adorable. Here we are with Spence, who promptly disappeared after the picture was taken, never to be seen again.

When we reached the end, the two guys took off to the zip line and Julie and I sat down to watch a band performing near the bridge. They were an Irish Gaelic rock band called Potcheen (apparently a type of whiskey) and they were amazing; I've got a video that I'll post in a future entry. I could have stayed all day, tapping my toes and singing.

But we wanted to get back to the other side in time to photograph Alan and Dave as they zipped across the gorge, so we walked back, stopped for ice cream, and parked ourselves on the balcony in the shade. That was when I realized my camera was missing.

I was pretty sure I'd left it on the bench in front of Potcheen. The visitors' center didn't have it, so I walked the bridge again and checked the stage area, giving a wave and a holler to Alan and Dave as they sailed through the air a few hundred feet away. The camera wasn't there, but the drummer, who was on break, said an employee had picked it up. After giving him a hug and a compliment on his band's music, I went to the movie theater, who called the visitors' center. This time they had my camera, so I walked back again.

By the time I was reunited with my technology, my three friends were sitting at a table indoors, discussing their ride. It was short, they said, but had a great view.

On the way back to Cañon City, Alan took us over Skyline Drive, a short one-way piece of road that runs the crest of a ridge. It's several hundred feet over the surrounding flats, with steep sides and only enough width for a single car. The view is just amazing, and there are dinosaur tracks on the northern end.

We returned to the house in the mid-afternoon, to find everyone sitting around the kitchen table, chatting and drinking.

"Make me one?" I asked Cider, who was refreshing his drink, and he nodded.

I got out the baking ingredients again and set about making more pie crust. I knew I had enough filling this time, having bought an entire bag of apples, and I found cinnamon and nutmeg in the cupboard (this rental house was stocked amazingly well, both with ingredients and with tools).

Dave and Alan set about peeling and slicing apples, and Cider handed me a glass that was at least half rum. I cut butter and divided dough and drank, and by the time the crust was chilling in the fridge, I realized I'd forgotten to eat lunch. But we had nowhere to be for the rest of the night, and I wasn't the first one into the booze, so it didn't matter.

Drunken baking is actually a skill I practice with some regularity, so the pie came out great. The human amoeba moved to the back patio, where Tracy announced that getting back together with this group every year was just like slipping back into a pair of dirty underwear. We all agreed we couldn't wait to do it again.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Pike's, Pie, and One Green Muppet

Everyone comes to Colorado to get high, or so they say. Most of us don't smoke, though, so we went for a natural high: the top of Pike's Peak.

My butt was sore from so much time in the saddle, so I jumped into the empty space in Dawn's van. Dawn, Kelly, Scotty, Danielle, Alan, Julie, and myself filled the van, and Cider and Kimmy followed on the bike. We formed a spontaneous news crew, Kelly calling out the temperature as we rose in altitude, Dawn giving traffic reports, and Julie taking on world news and events.

We stopped at the reservoir to take pictures and feel how cold the water was. It was definitely chilly, but honestly, I would have gone in it. The sun was high and the air was still summery.

Our next stop was the peak, but getting there was a trial. The driver two cars ahead of us seemed to be unfamiliar with mountain driving, and slowed down to walking speed for every single curve (and there were many of them). Julie started fretting about Cider and whether he could keep the bike upright at this speed. We craned our necks around at every turn to make sure he was still there.

"I need to calm down," Julie finally said. "There's nothing I can do about this."

Someone decided there was actually something we could do: express our frustrations to that driver very loudly.



It quickly became a contest.




Scotty put on a New York accent and quoted South Park. "You're worse than a pussy!" he called out. "You're just a pussy faht! Fuckin' queef!"

"Haha, queefahhh."

"Fuck face."



"Dick salad!"

Eventually we made it to the top and found parking. Cider got off the bike long enough to say they were going back down, as the altitude was getting to him, and he and Kimmy took off.

I took some obligatory tourist pictures with the sign, admired the scenery, and wandered through the gift shop. Dawn and I found each other near the front door and made a loop of the peak together, stopping to admire the rail car as it went by. For being in such a small area, the group dispersed with remarkable effectiveness, and it took us a while to put everyone back together again. Several people were having issues with the altitude, so we headed back down to thicker air. Scotty had bought donuts for all of us, and I spent half the ride down noshing and pulling crumbs out of my lap. At one of the stops, we pulled over so that Kelly and Dawn could see snow. The rest of us were nonplussed and stayed in the van, but the two Arizona girls were excited.

Back in town, we headed to Pizzeria Rustica for lunch. We sat outside, where they provided water for the dogs, and we did an awkward dance trying to move the umbrellas around for maximum shade. The patio was uncomfortably hot, but the food was excellent. I was especially impressed by Dave's pesto.

After regrouping at the house, a handful of people went off shopping and a few more went to Seven Falls. I watched Kimmy and Cider play cards for a while, then went up to the kitchen and started making pie crust. During a discussion on food and cooking the day before, I'd admitted that my specialty was pie, and some smart person had said they doubted me. There's no better way to get me to do something. Besides, other people had been showing off their cooking skills at breakfast and dinner; Dawn had made frittata and breakfast burritos, and Gene even converted me to biscuits and gravy. I felt it was my turn to pitch in.

I'd gotten ingredients the night before but underestimated the amount of filling the house's pie dish would hold. I looked around for filler but found nothing satisfactory. I was relaxed and wearing sandals and really didn't feel like going to the effort of pulling the bike out of the gravel patch just to go buy berries. After debating for a moment, I asked Gene and Bekah if I could borrow their car.

Gene ended up driving me to the store, because their "car" is a behemoth with very poor visibility. I was puzzled by how he even got it to fit down the side streets in the neighborhood. When we arrived at the grocery three blocks later, I felt like an idiot and wished I had Googled the location of the store before asking for help; I could have walked. Partly to justify the use of the vehicle, I bought ice cream.

Cider and Kimmy had gone to dinner in an airplane (a decommissioned aircraft turned into a restaurant), and the three others left in the house were chilling out. With the kitchen to myself, I had nothing better to do than lattice the pie, something I almost never bother with. I'd done the crust from memory and the filling from invention, and was hoping for the best.

When the diners, the shoppers, and the sight-seers returned home, they all announced how good the house smelled. Everyone gathered in the kitchen.

"Who wants a piece of Wrecker's pie?" Cider asked, and suddenly the pie jokes were flying. They continued until the pie was just a memory and the dish a mess of crumbs. Kelly found something sticky on the floor and asked what had been spilled.

"Wrecker's pie," Cider answered. Then, "Hey, I warned you I don't have an off switch."

After pie there was more fire play, and then Scotty got out his guitar. I'd heard tale of his version of the Rainbow Connection, and it was everything it was cracked up to be (which is saying something, given how favorite stories can grow with time). If I closed my eyes, I swore I was sitting next to Kermit the Frog.

As we talked and sang and enjoyed the fire, thunderheads were forming on the northern horizon, and flashes of lightning started to make themselves seen over the flickering of the fire. A few people packed it in and went to bed, and a few of us moved our chairs into the middle of the lawn to enjoy Mother Nature's show. It never actually rained where we were, so we sat out for quite a while, taking pictures of the sky, before finally turning in.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Bishop's Castle and a Family Visit

In Rye, Colorado there's a place called Bishop's Castle. One man has been building it by himself since 1992, and he allows people to explore and take pictures and climb into the towers, asking for voluntary cash donations in return. Kimmy heard about the place while looking for things to do, so on Wednesday the three of us got on the bikes and headed out there.

We headed south on 115, then turned left. I hadn't bothered to map the route or learn anything about the road; I was so accustomed to following Cider that it just seemed unnecessary. What hadn't occurred to me was that I was accustomed to following him on the highway. We sailed into the first hairpin turn doing the same speed, and halfway through it I had the bike in a deeper lean than I was comfortable with, and I was forcing myself to breathe. We made it through, and not half a mile later there was another one. After another five seconds of pants-shitting terror, I made it through that one as well, and I decided to slow down and inspect the turns for myself.

The road to Rye was quite fun, really. There were sweepers and switchbacks and nice long runs with a mountain view. I pushed myself carefully, reminding myself that there was nothing wrong with hanging back and taking my time, and that if we got too far from each other he'd find a place to wait for me.

We reached the castle together, no waiting necessary, and the three of us climbed into the drawbridge tower and photographed the great hall and ascended the hand-built wrought iron staircase into the iron cage above the dragon's head. I didn't make it all the way to the top level, but came down again from one level below. The tower was shaking with our movement, and I felt that pushing myself to go all the way to the top might sap some of the focus I needed for the ride back.

We met John Bishop, the builder of the castle, briefly. He was carrying a bucket and looking very hurried. He gave us a gruff hello on his way to whatever the day's task was.

We went back to the house, and Mike showed up not long afterward. He asked if we had witnessed him nearly drop his bike trying to park it in the driveway. We hadn't, but I assured him that if he had, he wouldn't have been the first.

I was sorry to miss out on the rest of the group's evening, but I had my own plans in Denver. After stopping for wine, I arrived at Steve and Ann's almost on time. There were hugs all around, and when Ann asked how my drive from the Springs had been, Steve said, "What? You drove here all the way from Colorado Springs?"

I raised an eyebrow. "I drove here from Massachusetts."

Ann laughed. "Sometimes we forget the relevant facts," she said.

Steve grilled steaks for dinner, which were so good that I actually had seconds. My food habits on the road basically consist of "eat very little," but occasionally I can be coaxed into eating more normally. After dinner we went up to the porch, where Steve directed me to his favorite chair and told me to slouch until I couldn't see the houses anymore. I understood his excitement over this view; the porch rail blocked off the rooftops, and all that was left in my field of vision were trees and mountains. I could easily imagine watching the sun rise with a cup of coffee in hand, pretending the rest of the city didn't exist.

Steve not only allowed but encouraged us to sit on his kitchen counter for this photo. I'm pretty sure Hell has frozen over. (Steve, if you're reading, I love you guys!)

On my way south again, I stopped for gas and found a text from Cider saying that everyone was going to bed but the back door would be left unlocked for me, and would I please remember to lock it before bed. I said no problem.

I made it into the driveway this time without incident, and unloaded my things and walked around to the back door. It was locked. I jiggled the handle a few times to be sure, then left my things on the porch and walked around to the front door. That was also locked. I sent messages to both Cider and Kimmy, but either they were asleep or their phones were off.

Ditching my jacket with the rest of my things, I started inspecting a window into the kitchen. The screen raised without a problem, but the window itself was locked. I tried another one, and another one; same situation. I tried sliding a credit card into the jamb of the back door, but the weather seal foiled that plan. Finally I decided to knock and hope that either a human or a dog would hear me.

I should have tried that first; Julie was awake and let me in immediately. An hour later, I had taken a shower and was chilling on the couch when Cider walked in from the kitchen and gave me a confused look. Poor cell reception in the basement meant that my message had just gotten through and he thought I was still outside. He shook his head at my apparent nonsense and returned to bed.

Exploring the Springs

The Manitou Springs Cliff Dwellings were first on Tuesday morning's agenda. A short caravan of cars and bikes brought us out route 24 to the site. We wandered around and climbed through the dwellings and hid from the heat in the museum. I realized when I pulled out my camera for the first time that week that it was wet. It seemed the rain had leaked into my luggage after all. Most of the photos I took were a little blurry, but once it had time to dry out, it returned to normal.

On the road east, traffic slowed to a crawl, and the two of us on the bikes found ourselves alternately walking and rolling through the crush of cars and the heat. In a few minutes we came upon an accident scene where a cruiser had shrunk the road to one lane. As we picked up speed and rolled through the area, we could clearly see a body lying in the middle of the right lane, an arm and a foot sticking out from underneath a green plaid jacket that had been thrown over the face and chest. One foot was sneakered, and the other sneaker was lying some fifteen feet away on the pavement. A tanker truck was stopped at an angle at the front of the scene.

Kimmy and I looked at each other and shook our heads. My first guess was suicide by truck, and the news confirmed later that that was the case. Around the fire that night, we commiserated about the poor trucker who had been forced to take someone else's life and will forever have to live with that image. Our little group had been fortunate enough to miss the incident by minutes.

From there we went to Garden of the Gods. The parking lot was full, and so were the next one and the next one. Cider and I wandered through the roads and parking lots at a snail's pace, the kind of speed that bikes don't really go because they'd rather fall over. We finally found a space to share after exploring several lots, and we parked and spent a moment flexing our left hands to relieve the strain from so much clutch use. We dismounted, and that was when Kimmy discovered that her camera had also found water while tucked away in the saddle bag.

The two of them took off to the store to get rice, and I went my own way and found a bike shop. I'd busted through my riding gloves somewhere between Massachusetts and Nebraska, and I wanted a set of highway pegs to relieve the pain in my knees. I also wanted a partial helmet, since wandering through town in a full-face was awfully warm, and a cell phone mount so I could use my GPS.

The gloves and the phone mount were an easy find. The pegs turned out to be a millimeter too large for the engine guards on which I wanted to mount them, and when I told the salesman what I wanted in a helmet, he proceeded to talk me right out of it. Apparently studies done with temperature probes have proven that full-face helmets are actually cooler than half or shell helmets. The rider also avoids sunburn and stays better hydrated. He also told me that every crash he's ever been in has resulted in a landing on the chin, because of the human tendency to look at what we're going to hit.

From there I went to a department store to pick up a charging battery for my electronics, and then to a pet store to have my dog tag remade. I don't like being on the road without it. Then I had to go to a craft store for a chain to hang it on, and finally I wandered through several other department and hardware stores looking for breathing fuel. The particular kind I needed was strangely elusive, but eventually I turned it up at an Ace and headed home.

The driveway at the house is narrow and sloped, with a water bar at the street and a gravel patch next to it where we parked the bikes. I approached it cautiously, taking a wide turn and then stopping and backing to get myself properly lined up. All the cars were home, leaving me only just enough space to maneuver. I lined up the bike, checked the ground around me, and started slipping the clutch at walking speed toward the gravel patch. Things looked good and I was confident we were going to make it, when suddenly the left saddle bag bounced off the taillight of the rear car, and the bike leaned right. I couldn't save it, so I dove off into the gravel on my hands and knees. There was a lovely crunch as the side of the bike touched down.

I hit the kill switch, ripped off my helmet, and said a few nasty things. Then I went to the front door, where Danielle appeared.

"Can I have some help?" I asked. "I dropped the bike again."

She looked at it and made a face. "We're going to need some boys for this," she said. "That's a bad angle." The top of the bike was facing down the hill and the wheels were in the air.

I turned off the ignition while Danielle got Cider. The three of us managed to upright her without too much trouble, and I apologized again for dropping the bike again.

"It's an adventure bike," Cider said, patting me on the back. "It's meant to be dropped. Don't worry about it. Now come have a drink." I got myself sorted out and changed into shorts, then joined the clan in the back yard with a plate of pulled pork and cheesecake and a glass of wine. I sat next to Kimmy, and we talked derby and coaching until the sky got dark.

"I think it's time to light this fire," someone said.

"Let me go get some toys," I replied, and went inside. I found an empty rum bottle to hold my fuel and removed the label so no one would think it was good with orange juice. I gave Kimmy a quick explanation of what to do if things went terribly wrong, then returned to the ring of chairs around the unlit fire.

I arranged my towels, tested the wind, checked the distance of the chairs, and added a touch of fuel to the fire pit. Using a long-stemmed lighter, since there was no way I could make a decent torch, I took a knee and let my inner dragon out.

The noise of the explosion panicked the dogs, who scrambled and barked and ran in circles. The fire lit instantly, and I did a few more breaths for show before shutting it down for the evening so I could shower off the fuel and get into the rum.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Red Rocks and Old Friends

On Monday morning we availed ourselves of the hotel's hot tub, probably the most welcome amenity they could have provided to the friendly not-so-local endurance bikers. Then we piled into cars and onto bikes and headed for the Red Rocks Amphitheatre.

I had seen the theater last year with Ann when we went to an Alabama Shakes concert, but this time we walked down to the trailhead center and walked the 1.4 mile loop below it. Dawn, Kelly, Scotty, and I grouped up by our pace. It was beautiful but hot, and we'd had fewer than 24 hours to adjust to the altitude. By the time we arrived back at the visitors' center, we were ready for a break. But I had plans in Boulder, so I walked back up the road, discovering that it was longer than I remembered. By the time I was halfway up the stairs to the main parking lot, I felt like I'd run a race. Fortunately Kimmy and Cider chose that moment to appear and ask me where the rest of the group was, and I took a break to chat.

"Oh hey," I said to Cider as they went on their way again, "Can you help me upright the bike so I can leave?" I'd parked it with a lean toward the left again, and I knew I'd need a hand.

"I could," he said, "But you can't leave."

"Why not?"

"Your helmet is in Scotty's car."

"Fuck." No longer in a hurry, I wandered to the parking lot, had a snack, and waited for Scotty. He appeared pretty shortly, jogging and out of breath.

"I hope you didn't run for me!" I said.

"Nah," he panted. "Dawn and I had a deal. We ran."

He gave me back my helmet, and by the time I was ready to go, the group was starting to filter back. Cider helped me upright the bike (after the necessary moment to laugh at me, of course), and I was off to Boulder.

I found my destination with relatively few wrong turns, and soon I was sitting on a wicker bench on the porch of a beautiful corner house, waiting for the occupants to come home. There was a breeze rustling the plants and trees in the yard, and I was grateful just to be sitting still in the shade.

It wasn't long before I heard a voice calling from around the corner in the front yard, and Jayne appeared. I jumped up from the bench and down the steps to give her a hug. When I stopped to do the math later, I realized we hadn't seen each other in sixteen years.

I'd followed her inside when another voice called hello from the yard, and I realized that Jon was there, too. I returned to the outdoors for another hug.

Jon brought me a giant mug of iced tea, and we sat in the living room and tried to catch up on a decade and a half of news. It took us all evening, a walk with the dog around Pearl Street, and a wonderful dinner prepared by Jon. I had all but forgotten it was a holiday, and I couldn't have spent it in a better way.

As I geared up to roll at the end of the evening, big thunderheads were appearing toward the south and along the mountain ridge, teasing me with lightning. I did up my rain gear, with a promise not to wait another sixteen years to get together again, and took off south.

The rain stayed in the foothills, and my drive down I25 through Denver was clear, hot, and spangled with fireworks in every corner of my vision. I must have seen twenty different shows happen, red and green and blue sparkling flowers blooming everywhere as nighttime took over the sky and celebration of independence exploded over the city.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Arrival in Colorado

Sunday's miles were so easy in comparison to Saturday's that I barely remember them. With only 350 to go, our morning at Norm's was relaxed and our gas stops were long. Rumor had it that we would hit more rain, but rumor was blessedly wrong. It was dry and cloudy, then dry and sunny. Somewhere in western Nebraska, we sat on a sidewalk and talked derby for half an hour while eating protein bars. I put away the rain suit.

The air was hot by the time we saw WELCOME TO COLORFUL COLORADO. Cider shot me a thumbs up, and I sped by him to pump my fist in the air. Just like last year, an overwhelming sense of accomplishment came with the sight of that sign. Goal: met.

At the next stop, I met a pair of friendly bikers (currently in a car because the wife had suffered an accident that broke 14 ribs and several of her vertebrae; ironically, it happened not on a bike but in the back of an ambulance while she was working as an EMT). I asked them to take our picture, the two nutty bikers who actually made it to Colorado together. After some chatting, I locked my jacket away, replaced it with my long-sleeved shirt, and we began the last leg.

The weather was my kind of perfect, probably a little too warm for my riding buddy but just right for me. The miles disappeared like fog under sunlight, and when we crested a hill and the road opened up in front of us, straight and bright and flat for a solid mile, I couldn't resist. I tucked my feet back on the rear pegs, flattened myself to the tank, and opened the throttle. I took the other lane and blew by Cider, passed a car, and kept going. The wind and the steady vibration were exhilarating, and I grinned to myself inside the helmet.

Eventually the bike stopped accelerating, and after noting her top speed (with bags, at least) I sat up and slowed down. I was startled to realize that I couldn't even see Cider anymore, but that car I had passed was still with me. Suddenly concerned that it was an unmarked cruiser, I kept a sharp eye on it, but eventually it passed. Cider caught up a minute later and gave me another thumbs up as he returned to the lead position.

A little north of Denver, we landed at his friend Mike's house. Mike and his wife Freida invited us in and fed us cold drinks, and we sat on the couch and talked and played with their two goofy chihuahuas. The boys reminisced about rides they'd done, and Mike said he'd make time to come ride with us this week.

Our lengthy gas stops had eaten up some of the day, and it wasn't long before Mike glanced at his phone and told us we should go.

"We've got time," Cider said, checking his GPS to be sure.

"No," Mike said, "There's hail coming in. You guys should go now."

I've never ridden in hail myself, but I saw the pictures of Cider after his last ride through the stuff, and I'd informed him before we left that if we hit hail I'd be stopping to wait it out. I felt no need to be covered in golf-ball-sized welted bruises. We said our goodbyes to Mike and Freida and got back on I25.

From there it was an hour or so to Aurora, where we found the hotel and several more friends. I had Facebook stalked the group enough to be able to keep the faces with the names, so by the time we were having drinks in the lobby, I could actually identify everyone around me.

We piled into the van and went to Sam's Number 3 for dinner, where I asked get-to-know-you questions and tried to keep everyone's stories straight. Other than asking Dave where he was from three different times, I didn't do too badly.

When dinner was done, I was last in line to pay my check, and the rest of the group had gone outside. As the cashier handed me back my credit card, a woman walked behind me with her hands over her mouth and spewed vomit over 20 feet of floor. One of the servers scooted behind the desk and said, with a shell-shocked look, "I just got puked on. I just got puked on. I just got puked on." She missed me by a scant foot.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Evening in Holdrege

Norm greeted us with hugs, and we talked about the ride while peeling off layer after layer of sopping wet gear. We hung jackets and pants from the bikes and made a pile of things to put in the dryer. Then I escaped to the shower to finally get warm.

When I returned to the living room, we took our mound of wet things and separated them into "normal clothes" and "things that might not like being in a dryer." The latter group included gloves and rain suits, and they went in on Super Delicate. Then Norm poured us drinks, and we sat down and started catching up.

Norm had bought a new truck and a fifth-wheel camper, having sold his house to do some traveling. The camper hadn't been retrieved yet, but we went in the other garage and drooled over the shiny new truck, a Chevy doolie that barely fit in the space. He described all the features and told us about a friend of his who makes his living delivering new campers to customers. Cider was suddenly animated and full of questions, wanting to know if there might be another job opening in that field. Norm promised to get him some info.

When the dryer beeped, I went to check on the gear. The first thing I found was a small wrist band.

"Fuck," I announced.

"What happened?" Cider asked from the kitchen, sounding concerned. "Did we melt the gear?"

"Nope," I answered, walking out of the laundry and hanging my head. "But your iPod is very dry now."

It had been in pocket of my rain jacket and I'd completely forgotten. It didn't come to life.

"I owe you an iPod," I said. "I'm sorry!"

I'd love to post a picture of the three of us, but nobody thought to take one. Norm did get one of me and Cider, captioning us the newest guests at Norm's B and B.

The rain suits fortunately survived, unlike the iPod. After throwing in the other clothes, we left the house (in the new truck, of course) and went to visit Judy, Norm's wife. I'd missed meeting her last year by arriving too late, and I was glad to make up for that. The four of us chatted about road travel and the truck and the quality of the sandwiches her staff was serving.

After a few minutes we headed for dinner. Norm took us to The Speakeasy in Sacramento, a ghost town that seems to have nothing living in it outside the restaurant. On the way in, four people were making their way out, and every one of them greeted us politely. Norm greeted them all in return, and Cider and I exchanged a look.

"We're not in New England anymore," I said, and he just shook his head.

In the restaurant, I made up for another lost opportunity by getting prime rib; what else can you eat while in Nebraska but beef? It was wonderful, as were the company and the conversation (and the finally being warm). Sixteen hundred miles in 36 hours made the relaxation feel so good.

We stopped for booze and then went back to the house. The night ended after only one drink, though, as we were falling asleep in our chairs. A full night's sleep was calling, and I couldn't help but answer.

Water, Water Everywhere

When the alarm went off on Saturday morning, I wanted to punch someone, but I was too tired. Instead I grumbled for several minutes, then hauled myself out of bed and stumbled my way into my pants and boots. I stopped in the lobby for a quick coffee, just enough to wash down the ibuprofen.

"You going to eat anything?" Cider asked while we were packing up the bikes.

"Nah," I answered. "Too early."

"Did you take pain pills?"


"What happened to what you said yesterday about protecting your stomach?"

"I had some orange juice," I said.

He gave me a Look. "So the orange juice and the coffee are going to help by making your stomach more acidic?"

"Who are you to be lecturing me about breakfast?" I demanded.

"Rogue told me to make sure you eat," he said. "She didn't tell me to keep you alive; just to make sure you eat."

"Fine," I said. "I'll have a snack while you gas up."

He rode to the gas station next door, and I set about finding the extra key that I suddenly realized wasn't in my hand. After a couple of panicked moments I found it in the pocket of my hoodie, which I was wearing underneath two jackets. Then I found the gas station and dutifully stuffed down some beef jerky.

Only two days have passed between living this experience and writing about it, but so many miles in so little time is starting to blur together in my memory. I don't actually remember when the phone moment occurred, but I'll put it here.

We were flying down I80 in the passing lane when Cider reached sideways suddenly, and then I saw a small black box that was probably his phone go bouncing away across the pavement and land on the shoulder. We pulled over to the left shoulder, and he started walking back. I sat on the bike for a moment, then decided I didn't want to be a target for a sleepy truck driver, so I dismounted too and stood on the shoulder to wait.

Slowing from the speed we'd been going had taken a while, and he probably had to walk half a mile to find the escaped device. Eventually he returned with a phone that was fortunately still working. We exchanged ready-to-go thumbs up and I got back on the bike. That's when I realized how far the crown of the road had tipped us, and after several valiant attempts to pull the bike off the kickstand, I realized it wasn't going to happen.

"Cider," I yelled, hoping he could hear me through my helmet and his earplugs. He turned around. "Help!" I said, and he walked back and pushed me upright, laughing.

"Don't die getting back on the road," he said, and I nodded. "Seriously. Don't die."

We returned to speed with no death and continued west.

It was cool and cloudy as we headed for Iowa. After two or three gas stops it started to rain. I was already wearing my gear because I get cold easily, but Cider had to stop and put his on under a bridge. The unfamiliarity of new boots and new rain pants kept him doing the Awkward Pants Dance for nearly ten minutes, while I sat in my saddle and watched the show, grinning. Laughing at each other's dumbassery is good fun as long as we both take turns.

At the next gas stop, we griped about the rain. It wasn't pouring, but my shield was fogging and making visibility difficult, and he had zipped his jacket incorrectly and soaked all of his shirts. He changed into dry clothes, I snacked, and we were off again.

My rain gear wasn't working particularly well. When gear fails while riding, it almost always starts with the crotch, as the rain is funneled down the bike's seat and into the rider's nether regions. Not long after that began, my boots started to squish, and then my gloves. By the time we stopped again, I was wringing out my gloves and my neck fleece, and I refused to even take my helmet off. Cider's new pants had failed too, and we were both soaked and freezing. With 200 miles still to go, we had no way to get dry, so we made pained faces at each other and just rode on.

My iPod had died and Cider lent me his extra, but that quit after about twenty miles and I rode in silence. Desperately needing a distraction from the cold, I started playing the picnic game with myself.

"I'm going to a picnic, and I'm bringing... An apple. A banana. A cookie." And so on through the alphabet. It takes a while because you have to repeat everything you've already said before adding a new item. It's supposed to be played with multiple people. I discovered that one round by myself occupied about twenty miles.

After 300 miles of miserable wet and cold, at long last we landed in Holdrege, Nebraska, in Norm's blessedly dry garage.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Saddle Sore (1000 in 24)

I've been in physical therapy for the past couple of months for a herniated disc in my low back. When I told my PTA I was going on this trip, she raised her eyebrows and said, "Well that'll be a test of your back." I bought a back brace and lots of ibuprofen and Tylenol, and the PTA gave me some stretches to do at gas stops.

Our first stop was 145 miles in. My back was cramping, so I did some stretching and took some ibuprofen. After that the stops started to run together. 260 miles, 370, 470...I put gas in the bike every other (the joy of a huge tank), snacked, stretched, and took pain pills. I played with different riding positions and discovered that depending on where I rest my feet, I have a choice between back pain or knee pain. Infinitely preferable to being forced into one of the two.

At 600-something miles, Cider said, "So here's the deal... We can make Joliet tonight. We'll get there about 10:30 and have a little over 900 miles. But." He looked at me sideways. "Do you want to hit a thousand?"

I grinned. "You know I do."

He calculated the mileage and booked a hotel in Peru, IL. "That's it. We don't have a choice now. I'm going there, and I hope you're coming with me."

"Oh, I'll be there," I said. But I'd been feeling sleepy for the last fifty miles. "I never thought I'd say this, but can I have one of your Red Bulls?"

"Of course. There a cold one in the cooler."

I drank half, took some Tylenol, and we were back on the road.

Maybe twenty miles later, I started to feel strange. Tired, unsteady, and stupid. I wondered if the exhaust fumes were getting to me, and zigged back and forth in my lane, trying to position myself where I couldn't smell Cider's bike. I couldn't seem to control my speed, though, and I kept finding myself tailgating his trailer.

So this is what happens to me when road exhaustion sets in. I thought about stopping, but figured I should get as many miles done as I could while I still could, since I was probably just going to keep getting worse. Besides, the thought of stopping was actually terrifying. I could keep the bike going on the road, but when I imagined trying to do complicated things like take an exit and come to a stop, all I could picture was stumbling off the bike and dropping it on myself. So I rode on.

I was wondering how other bikers do it. Why was I more affected by the exhaust fumes than most other people? We overtook yet another tractor trailer, and as we went by, I saw it wobble and start to tip over. Alarmed, I scooted sideways to get away. Cider showed no sign of having noticed anything unusual, and as we completed the pass, I realized the truck was fine and the only problem was in my head.

Eventually we stopped for gas. "You ready for some dinner?" he asked.

"I'm ready to do something other than ride this damn bike," I answered.

"Me too," he agreed. But the diner we had found was closed for renovation, so after filling up the bikes, we hopped back on the road. Twenty miles further on, we hit a rest stop and actually had dinner. Even before we sat down, I was already feeling better. By the time I finished my stromboli, I was ready to ride again. In fifty more miles, my head was completely clear, and I realized it wasn't road fumes but in fact something about the Red Bull (possibly combined with the Tylenol) that had messed with my head. I swore not to drink any more, and was grateful I'd only had half the can.

Miles 600-700 weren't bad at all. By 900, I was cold, and by 970 I was sleepy again. I've never had a problem with being sleepy on a bike before, but I felt about ready to topple off into the road. I started singing to myself to keep my eyes open.

At mile 1010, we finally arrived at the hotel. We parked under the portico (something many hotels apparently allow bikers to do if you ask), grabbed our things, and wandered inside in a fog. At least, I was in a fog. I have a vague memory of taking a shower before falling face-first into the bed and passing out cold.

On the Road Again

After last year's success, I really wanted to go on the road again this year. Abel and I started planning a road trip, but broke up before it could happen. That same week, my friend Cider had posted a picture of his new bike all kitted out for touring in preparation for his yearly adventure to the West.

"Wish I was going with you!" I commented.

The reply came back, "So come along."

I laughed. Six days' notice to go on a cross-country road trip? "And if you're doing those crazy 800-mile days, I can't handle that," I said. Then I forgot about it.

The next evening, he messaged me to say hi, and picked up on the fact that I wasn't doing too well.

"You should come with me," he said.

"Are you serious?"

"Yeah, why not?"

I dismissed the idea, and five minutes later was figuring out what I'd need to pack.

I saw him the next day at one of our games, and he asked, "So how serious are you?"

"Yes," I answered. "Please. I need to get the hell out of Dodge." And with that I joined the adventure.

He asked if I wanted to borrow his extra bike, expressing some concern about the state of Hades. "I'd hate to leave you stranded in the middle of the country if yours breaks down," he said. "But, ya know, I will if I have to."

"Does this extra bike have a windshield?"

It turned out this extra bike not only has a windshield, but is brand new, with only 2000 miles on it, gets 50mpg in a 6.3 gallon tank, and has giant locking hard bags. I met up with him in the middle of the week to take it for a test ride.

"Why aren't you riding it?" I asked.

He looked sheepish. "Cuz it'll get me in trouble."

I was puzzled by that, at least until I drove it home. It wasn't until I saw blue lights that I realized I was doing 80 in a 50, down a twisty, hilly state route where I'd normally stick to 60. When I got home, I texted him: "I get it now. I'm gonna get in so much trouble on this thing."

It also has a very high seat and center of gravity, a long fork travel, and touchy brakes. I nearly dumped it while parking at work the next morning, but managed not to. I figured that with a little more time, the bike and I would become good friends.

Thursday night I packed, finding that all my things fit in the hard bags with room to spare (made easier by the fact that we weren't planning to camp). Friday morning at 6:15, he showed up in my driveway, as I was realizing that I'd misplaced my dog tag, the one I always wear while biking that has my emergency contact info on it. I gave up on it, locked the house, and realized my house keys were missing, too. I decided I'd worry about it when I returned. By 6:30 we were rolling out.

I noticed after I left the driveway that there wasn't as much gas in the tank as I thought, so I gestured at the gas station and pulled in. I was excited, jittery, and not focused, and I pulled up to the pump too fast and grabbed at the brakes. The next thing I knew, the bike was leaning hard left. I fought it with everything I had, but my leverage was wrong and down she went.

Cursing, I hit the kill switch and immediately started trying to walk her upright. Cider pulled in next to me and was parking when a stranger came running over from somewhere, grabbed the bike, and helped me pull it upright. I didn't even have time to thank him before he disappeared again.

"Fuck," I said to Cider, who was now standing next to me, grinning.

"You're okay," he said.

"Yup. I got that out of the way," I said, trying to hide how hard I was shaking. "We're done with that, now things can go right. Every jam is a new jam."

"Yup," he agreed.

"I swear I haven't done that before!" I said.

"It's okay," he told me.

I stopped blathering and put gas in the tank, then gave him directions to the highway. We pulled back into the street while I tried to ignore the voice in my head calling me a clueless, clumsy idiot.

We got on 91 and then 90, and he wedged himself into traffic in front of a tractor trailer. I saw the truck's brake lights come on and immediately lost him in traffic.

Well, I thought, Now we've each had our stupid moment. Hopefully we've used them up.

I darted around the cars clogging the entrance ramp area - that bike really does dart quite well - sped up, and found Cider ahead of the mess. I fell into formation behind him, and we were off into the great wide open.