Remnantology

Dedicated to the examination of the remnants. Phil Levy's words in reference to history, archaeology, Judaism, academe, music, outdoorsing…

Category Archives: Landscape

Man Plans, God Laughs Tour, 2017. Last Day, Harpers Ferry.

Riding the C&O Canal Towpath.

The last day. What a thing to write. For around two months riding this bike and carrying this load has defined my existence. I am a cycle tourist. I am riding across the country. Any eyes that have seen me have seen me in this light. Any people I have met I have met in this context. Of course there are other contexts, but being out here day after day silences those. From time to time, other topics have emerged. Washington and history have come up, religion too. But these are always somehow encased in cycling. Sometimes that is because they only can happen during breaks. Other times, because I see them as momentary diversions from the routine—an intellectual break from the internal monkey chatter of my own mind. People ask why am I doing this. I have no good answer for that. Xander had one. He could hand over a card about Dago and that established some sort of context to which non-riders could relate. The cause justifies the effort in people’s eyes, and as a result the effort makes some sense to them. Without a cause, well, the whole thing seems nuts to so many. There is a good reason why the main online information clearing house is called Crazy Guy on a Bike. We are told we are crazy in almost every conversation.

One person somewhere asked me what cause had me out here riding and I answered “Mashiach—the coming of the messiah.” I am not sure why that was my answer although it could have been the music I was listening too. There was one point outside of Larned Kansas where I was inspired by Kobi Oz to throw my arms outward to heaven and yell at the top of my lungs “Ani rotzeh Mashiach!!” (I want the messiah). For Jews, this is a call for an end to human suffering, a unity of all humanity in the same one love, and the realization of the world’s project. It is a call for perfection and resolution—and not in some individuated elsewhere out of sight afterlife that some have access to and others do not, but rather it is a single universal shared real-time real-life real-world experience. When it happens it will be all over Twitter and your Facebook friends will be sharing the news.

Beller Messiah

Ilex Beller’s “Quand le Messie Viendra” (When the Messiah Will Come).

There is nothing out-of-world or particularly extra human about Mashiach—he is a dude, a living flesh and blood guy who you can fist bump when he reveals himself and sets about fixing the ills of the world. What is more, Mashiach is not something we just throw in there—some idle cosmic thought. Maimonides enjoins us to anticipate the revelation of Mashiach–may he come speedily in our days–at every moment, to live life in the full and confident knowledge of his impending arrival. It is pushed farther. In the old days, the sentiment was that Mashiach would arrive just as things got their worst. This way, each new suffering and persecution was itself a small step towards something better, the ultimate healing that would end all suffering. We have worked that desire into a thousand daily rituals. How we hold a cup on blessing wine or how we tie our little woolen strings are all small ways to bring about Mashiach. Each time we act with kindness, say the correct blessing, or notice and rejoice in the beauty of the earth and one another we push the world a tiny bit closer to Mashiach. And when we fail to act that way, we leave work undone. Shameful. The old idea that when things got bad enough Mashiach would reveal himself sort of died in the ovens, and it is far more common to hear people now say that we ourselves have to bring about Mashiach by making the world ready for him. I like this idea quite a bit. Ghandi said “if we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change.” That has been boiled down to a false bumper sticker “be the change” faux-taion, but the message is clear. It also pretty close to what our sages and saints say about Mashiach—we need to be it, we need to make it, we need to take the steps to make Mashiach happen, and in that way, we are all part of Mashiach. So, yeah, I guess in a way Mashiach is a reason for riding, but no more so than anything else.

So the alleged craziness ends today. I stayed last night in the Harpers Ferry Hostel. I have been at the Teahorse in Boliver many times before but somehow always managed to not find the HFH. It was easy to find though and easier to be in. Great people to chat with and a chance to wash the mud from my clothes and not have mosquitoes. In the morning all I faced was an easy 60 miles and I would be at Georgetown and done. Sarah and Rami would meet me there and we would figure out what next then. I know this section of trail very well having done it several times when I was at Mount Vernon and on other tours too. The ride up to HF, a night at the Teahorse, and back in the morning made for a nice pair of back to back century rides and a nice break from research. Sometimes though, knowing a trail can make it dull. Fortunately, this section of the C&O though is by far its loveliest. The navvies worked hard to cut some lovely passes through hard stone and the result for us are some quite haunting sections. My personal favorite (and I am sure I am not alone) is just south of Great Fall where the stones limit tree growth to scrubby pines and as a result it feels almost like a mountainside in Colorado—except of course for the heat and humidity.

I jumped off the C&O at the little boat ramp and got on the paved trail that runs parallel. It is only a few short miles and I am disgorged onto a street under a high overpass and well below Georgetown street level. There are cyclists and cars everywhere and I could not remember how to get up to street level. One guy pointed out the steps at the side and the little rail they have so that you can roll up a bike. The problem for me is that the rail bang against the wall and a bike with panniers is pretty wide. So I had to lean the bike away from the wall and push. One flight. Two flights. Then I was level with the C&O again making me feel pretty foolish for going on the paved trail. Sarah and Rami were making their way over the little bridge over the canal and we all smiled a lot. I had to push the bike up two more sets of stairs and by now it was close to 5 and all of DC was rushing to get home. More pushing and I was at the Ukrainian embassy next to Francis Scott Key Park that I consider the head of the C&O trail. I reached the street pushing and not riding and like that, it was over. I suddenly stopped being a guy who was crossing the country by bike and instead became just a sweaty guy in silly clothing. In a short instant I had lost my identity. My relationship to my bike suddenly changed and tomorrow seemed less distinct.

I had arrived—but unsurprisingly few seemed to care. When Mashiach comes the world will turn. When I arrived, we had to hurry to the car and rush to strip the bike down to fit in the back. The parking spots were transforming into a traffic lane and we needed to move. As we piled panniers into the back and pulled the wheels from the muddy frame a traffic cop came over to remind us of the obvious. “Lady! We are doing it now!” I exclaimed in a way that made Sarah laugh at my obvious New Yorkerness in the use of the word “lady.” Into the traffic, stop lights, challenging left turns, gas stations, the usual. I sat in the back of the car feeling a bit resentful and in denial, wearing souvenir garments and clutching my mud spattered pannier. I am not done–just paused. The clock ran me out and forced me to stop, for now. But time is an illusion and the tour goes on. I will be back on the road–speedily in our days, amen ve’amen!

 

 

 

Man Plans, God Laughs Tour, 2017. C&O Canal Lock 61

Riding the C&O Canal Towpath.

I had forgotten–Maryland  is this reason people don’t go camping. Think of it: make a little list in your mind of all the reasons you, or others of your acquaintance, spurn the out-of-doors. Incessant heat, clouds of mosquitos and black flies, air so humid that nothing ever dries, mud, rain–all of these probably top the list. Well, I am hiding in my tent at 8pm so as to get the bugs out of my ears and skin. It is not so bad while riding, but once you stop, they assault you. I got the tent up I am skipping cooking dinner so I can just hide in here. I did manage to do my comedy routine at the muddy river bank though. Clothes off, slipping, landing on my naked butt, getting up, slipping again–all quite dignified and of course just as I planned it. I got the collected trail dirt off me, but the slip and slide allowed me to collect some new mud. I went up–buck naked–to the water pump to clean up. Of course I had the campsite to myself, so my aggregious lapse of modesty was not seen–at least as far as I know. But just in case a small team of bird watchers were subjected to a rude surprise, or some stealth campers had their view ruined, all I can say is, I hope you enjoyed the tan lines. 

The Canal side campsites all have water pumps–the old style ones that require some vigorous pumping on the long handle before the water flows. These are wonderful, the water is fine (iodine does not bother me) and they are a boon. But they are annoying to work solo. You see, many humans come equipped with only the two arms. That means that if one arm is busy pumping, that leaves only one to take on other tasks. If the goal is only to fill a water bottle, then that is not too bad. But anything more complicated, such as washing a muddy set of riding shorts or cleaning mud from a naked backside can be rather more tricky. Operating the pump gets even trickier if you add to that the need to keep an eye up and down the trail lest a group of nuns come walking down the path or a string of Japanese tourists on all-terrain Segues whizzes past. These are purely hypothetical situations of course, but I share them here just in case the Park Service is considering a new water distribution system that more fully enables the cleansing of objects, appendages, and various fissures.

The towpath is its own special challenge. Whereas the Great Alleghaney Passage (GAP) and the Katy are packed crushed stone, and the various Ohio trails and the Motour are mostly paved, the C&O is nothing of the kind. It is made up mostly of mud, sticks, and bits of dead mules. At intervals, when a pot hole gets particularly deep or one of mules finds its way off, the park service brings in gravel to fill the void. Other sections have packed sand while still others are almost entirely fairly loose gravel. The whole 180 mile long track is prone to deep sticky potholes when wet. All of this means that the run is a constantly changing array of unpleasant surfaces. The rain I hid from in Ohio fell in Maryland and collected in nice deep puddle trap all the way from Cumberland, Maryland to DC.

The GAP was a singularly easy and pleasant ride. I climbed to the peak over about 85 miles and I had made the Divide and gone through the Big Savage Tunnel I loved the 20 mile descent to Cumberland. I won’t confess my speed, but it was fast. Somewhere along the line my rear shifter had rattled loose and stopped working. Nevermind. Speed did not require down shifting and the trail rolls right up to the Cumberland Trail Connection bike shop who have helped me on past tours and in whom I have total unfailing confidence. Once the shifter was back in the game (and I picked up one their pretty cool shop team jerseys) I was back on the road. I had been playing leap frog with a nice group of Ukrainian cyclists and I had just passed their whole line “on your left, on your left, on your left” when my rear inner tube popped like a gun shot. I was worried about possible Midan flashbacks, but only good cheer and humor at my perdicament resulted. Once the spare tube was patched and up and running it was off to hike over the closed Pawpaw tunnel–1.5 miles of what the park service called “steep and strenuous trails.” Don’t sugar coat it guys! 

The towpath ditches were frequent, deep, and flooded. Early on though, I became aware of the small elf sitting on my right shoulder. I don’t recall seeing him there before, but he made a sudden appearance as soon as I hit the C&O. Whatismore, I noticed that everyone else on the path had an elf too. This was new–and I am pretty sure no one really seemed to notice. 

I have never understood the whole elf thing. My sources tell me that people actually shelve these goblins in a ritualized way on some holidays. Now I say this coming from a religious tradition that bans bread for a week each year and has us all buying 100 dollar lemons each fall–so I  am no stranger to odd rituals. In fact, I love them. But housing a bizzare free-loading stocking-capped homunculus to spy on your comings and goings is a bit much. Given my lack of elven experience, I think I took his presence fairly well in my stride. No one else seemed to mind, so when in Rome… It was hard to get a good look at the elf while riding, but when I changed my tire, and the Ukrainians passed me as I had just passed them, each sporting their own elf attired in bright yellow and blue, my own elf just sat on a tree limb grinning at me. It was not a mean grin–it was oddly friendly rather like the look on the face of the Prussian officer right before he busts Barry Lyndon. I got a good look at him there. He was dressed in a green tunic trimmed with red satin. He had little curled toed boots topped with tiny bells on the ends and big green connicle cap topped with a red pompom. “What are you looking at?” I asked him testily. I think the noise of the CSX engine right there drowned me out though. He just sat there watching and smiling. Once was I was moving again, I could feel him on my shoulder though, sitting there, leaning forward a bit with his hand gripping my jersey where he sat. Sometimes his fingernails would scrape my collarbone when he adjusted himself or reached for better purchase. Mostly he was pretty easy to ignore. At one point, we met eyes and he just blinked and kept his silly little grin. I noticed that he had disproportionately large hands–big flat pale meat hooks that sort of dwarfed his already freaskishky small body. 

We rode on this way for a the first miles of the C&O. I had some music in my ear buds and the hitchhiker was not that heavy and seemed to be keeping to himself, so I fell into my hazy riding hypnosis in which I mostly formulate stupid things to write later when I am off the bike. But then the puddles started.

I keep my tire pressure pretty high compared to other touring riders. Many road evils can be mitigated by lower tire pressure giving some cushion to a ride. But I live in fear of pinch flats–when the tire gets squeezed so badly that it bursts. High pressure works against pinch flats, but at the expense of a hard ride. That means when a hard tire rolling at about 14mph and carrying a fully loaded touring bike, rider, and an uncertain weight of humuncullus suddenly drops 10 inches into a puddle and rams into a perpendicular puddle wall, the result is a powerful alarming threatening jolt. What is more, they often came in rapid succession so that the bike bounces, the panniers flap like a Bassett hound’s ears in full gallop, and control is for the moment lost. I felt my teeth clack like Teddy Roosevelt yelling at a moose, and my vision went all rattley. I did not fall, but I have before–I could feel the rear of the bike want to upend and throw me over the bars. The simple weight of panniers at least stopped that, but the jolt to my bouncing head was concerning. Fortunately, I did not lose too much speed and was well set up to repeat the whole procedure a few yards later. I was facing a full 180 miles of C&O at this point, and if a fair percentage of it was going to be killer puddles, I will need to rethink my schedule. 

The same thing happened a few more times–slam, basset hound, Teddy Roosevelt, levitating rear wheel. The main blow, and the most annoying part, was the persistent head wallop. Then it all fell into place. Every time I slammed into a puddle, the elf reached over with his big paddle-like mitt and slammed me on the side of the head. At first I couldn’t believe it, but I paid attention during the next puddle set, and sure enough, as soon as my wheel crashed into the unyielding ground, my green totmentor cracked me on the side of the head. This went on for miles–each time the bike took a hit, my puddle elf swatted me on the head. Sometimes he would smack the back of my head and as it lurched forward, he would quickly slam my face with his other hand. Other times he would crack it left or right. Sometimes he would slam the top of my head, and one time he gave it a gold forehand back hand one two. On and on we went playing this annoying game of elven rope-a-dope. I had no choice but to ride on and hope that I can lose the elf. But as long as I was slamming into puddles, the elf would be there smacking my head each and every time.

I fiannly saw my chance to ditch the goblin  when I got to the Pawpaw Tunnel. The climb over the hill was not his cup of tea–too slow and no good chances to land more blows on my poor head. I changed my shoes for the walk and the elf hopped off my shoulder and sat down by the trail. He mumbled angrily having been thwarted at his metier, and to placate himself picked up a stick and started digging into the ground to make a new puddle hole for the next rider. I set in to pushing my bike up the narrow rocky track the federal government promised would be horrible. It was, but it offered a nice view of Pawpaw and the Potomac, and at least I was able to get away from the elf. 

After the climb, the path smoothed out a bit and I made it to the next campsite with no sign of the elf. I set up my tent at the far end of the clearing behind the trees so I hope he does not see me by the time I leave tomorrow morning. So for now I will hide under canvas and screen and hope for an elf-free tomorrow. 

Man Plans, God Laughs Tour, 2017. Salesville, Ohio

Riding the ACA Chicago-NY Bicyle Route.

After a great catch up visit with Anthony in Columbus–which included driving around a really nice city looking for hot chocolate and bike shops–I hit the road once again. The end is in sight, and that is both motivating and frustrating, It is a mad dash to Wheeling, West Virginia. From there on it is almost entirely trails down to DC and victory. Getting there though has me riding a squirrelly network of state roads through lovely increasingly hilly eastern Ohio. The good news: there are views and small pretty hilly farms. The neutral news: hills are back. The undoubtedly bad news: pickup trucks. Each in order. Views. After so much flat it is interesting to suddenly have horizons that lift up and assert themselves. There are few farms, that industry having moved away from here long ago. But there are lots of low tree-clad hills and it is a nice change for the eyes. Hills. Most people would say “rolling” or “gentle.” That is fair enough, but then again most people are not riding them. These being small state roads, they rise and fall more or less as the ground does. Big highways carve their way through elevation changes they don’t like. I remember being a kid on family trips on New York’s interstate system and being really fascinated by the huge cuts Eisenhower’s navvies blasted, bulldozed, picked, and chewed through the “rolling” hills north of the big city left isolated by the ridiculously conceptialized paved spider web. But few states and no counties have the money to level their roads’ paths, and so they rise and fall as does the land itself. What planners can do though, is seek out the easiest passes over the hills. Of course the planners have had some of that work done for them already–first by the Native peoples who figured out all the good routes, and then by the colonial come-alongs who appropriated that network and massively expanded it. Eventually the roads were widened and later paved and graced with a charming array of numbers and occasionally stupid names. The steeper the grade on a road though, the less likely it is to have had Native origins. These were not stupid people–and despite some colossally inflated population numbers one hears from time to time–they were also not that numerous. A few million north of Mexico by the time Europeans arrived. That meant that their main paths were few and generally went the easy way, along river runs and seeking out the passes. So, every time I have to crawl up a 10% grade road or worse, I am suffering on a fairly recent path made viable only by the advent of non-human propulsion. The ACA reputedly seeks out the roads that score best on having low traffic, gentle grades, and good shoulders. Some score better than others. The route into and out of Zanesville has scored poorly on all three metrics, The hills are steep, but in truth they are not that long and actually are pretty fun to take on–even for a terrible climber such as your humble. The shoulders have been a mixed bag though. When they are there, they are a bit narrow and too often covered in inhibiting matter. This is a huge problem on the steep downhills which can rev one up to 40 mph. One time I had to rather suddenly stop thanks to a mass of gravel that had been dumped on the shoulder covering a length of easily ten feet. Even when a shoulder is not serving as an impromptu gravel storage patch, it is often deeply cracked, glass covered, or trailing off unevenly as if the road crews just got bored and walked away before the job was done. The third metric is traffic and so, Cars: Have I mentioned that I hate them? I know they are needed–our at least they are for now–and I do make use of them myself. But we have far too many and for too many terribly irresponsible people driving them. I know nothing is going to get better for some time to come, but I can dream. When you cycle, you get to see up close all the terrible habits of the modern clueless driver. Texting, running stop signs, tailgating, trying to pass a dump truck on an incline on a narrow road, cutting corners so that you drive on the shoulder, adorning their conveyance with all manner of idiotic images (skulls are very popular in this part of the world), and more, all dance and swirl before me at corners or on the occasional shoulder. The terrain here deamads that the ACA select roads that are a bit busy–there seems to be no other choice, and a detour today thanks to a closed bridge showed me that the non-ACA roads are worse. Riding into Zanesville yesterday at about 4:30, I stopped at a store to wait until about 6:30 when most of the cars had stopped zooming by. They come in pulses–five and six cars strung together. This is because the pace is set by the first car in the line and the others are pressing in close behind waiting to seize their chance to pass. I blame NASCAR. Too many of these people have exactly the wrong images in mind as they drive home from work or stop for 12 packs of beer at a road side convince. I say cars, but really it seems that most of the vehicles here are pickup trucks. And not just shining new suburbanite Silvarodos–these are beefy loaded monsters. Some have big flat platforms on the back instead of shiney new beds. Others are loaded with specialized boxes. Still other cart trailers with lawn mowers or other gassy things in tow. Some of those trailers can be twice as long as the truck itself and make for scary passing. Watching these trucks it seems that the whole economy here is about maintaining what exists. One guy repairs a house for a dollar which he hands to a guy who mows his lawn, who then hands it to the guy who does home visit pet grooming, who hands it to the guy who fixes his toilet, who hands it back to the first guy who builds him a new garage for his extra large pickup truck. It is not the worst model for an economy all in all–at least it is at some level sustainable. They all share a few things as drivers though. They are all completely unaware that one can actually slow down on a road–these are people who see speed limits as a challenge and not a safety measure. They are also convinced that their own masculinity is somehow connected to the speed and noise their vehicles can produce. They also hate cyclists. They blast their horns, cut close, pull out onto the road before they turn so that they can block your descent or force you into traffic, yell insults, and take an almost visible joy in imperiling others. So this is what I deal with–or at least what I have to deal with unti l I get to Wheeling. 

I made a paltry 46 miles today of car dodging, missing hidden turns and doubling back, extra hilly detours, and crawling up climbs before 

a storm formed at about 2pm. As I passed through a small crossroad town, I spied a large and friendly looking pavilion in a park of sorts. I decided to wait out the impending rain here. Rain is my foe, and I really have no intention of adding water to the problems already inherent in riding these shoulders. My pavilion has picnic tables, electrical outlets, and a porta-san. It has a spigot but it is dry and there is no phone signal. I took a nap and the rain came. I ate a bit after waking and a second round of rain came in. By 4pm I came to realize that I was sort of stuck here for the night since the world was now wet and my maps showed nowhere close worth the effort. I thought about going to the store about three miles away in Quaker City but it started raining again as the idea formed. No Wheeling today as I had hoped. That will happen tomorrow–and maybe it will have to be the Saturday layover spot. The way forward has many towns, but no places to stay–nothing until about 30 miles south on the GAP. Tonight I will sleep on a picnic table–no cycling tour is complete until one has slept on a picnic table (my nap does not count). Up at 5 through and done with roads by noon! Ya’alla!

Now and then comes the distinctive clip clop of an Amish buggy. I saw plenty of human Amish varieties at the convenience yesterday during my rush hour sheltering. Most were young guys packed into pickup trucks coming home from construction jobs. The Ohio Amish are a bit different from the more fetishized Lancaster churches. The Pennsylvania people survive on an eastern urban desire for organic vegitables. The Ohio people though took up dairying ages ago and so their family farm economies were obliterated by mechinaized massive agri-business. Their choice was simple–hold the old order line barring modern technology and lose the community, or, adapt and survive. They adapted, and now lots of guys with the distinctive thatch haircuts and those curious green or blue button down shirts pour into convenice stores to grab a quick corn dog and a Snapple before getting driven back to homes that usually lack the technology they use on the job. Many would see this sort of accommodation as just so much stupidity. Not me though–I love it. The brilliance of Jewish legal thought is exactly this kind of careful as deliberative accommodation, and I am glad to see others working the same sorts of levers. 

One straw-hatted Amish guy walking into the store was yelled at from a pickup. “Hey you Amish!” they shouted as if they wanted to beat the snot out of him. I looked over and all the guys in the truck were themselves Amish and visibly amused at the brilliance of their joke. Did they know him? Was this some inter-order hostility playing out in a parking lot? Maybe everyone just yells at one another here as a matter of course? At any rate, the entering guy did not seem to hear them and he just bought his Pepsi and Hostess unperturbed. Sitting here under my pavilion though, the passing buggies assume their usual imagined fetishized rural aspect–a charming hold over from a romanticized past–no hint of yelling at one another, the side cash puppy mills, or the horizons afforded by hard farm work and a sixth grade education. From where I sit, I can see the horses slow down noticeably when they hit the taxing road grade–I feel you brother! I also can see how the giant pickup trucks speed right up to the back of each buggy and then aggresively tailgate so the whole world can see just how distressed is this masculine driver at having to roll slower than just over the speed limit. “Hey you Amish!” they seem to yell from their pickups. “Get out of my way–there is a dollar I need to get so I can pass it along to another guy in another pickup!”

Man Plans, God Laughs Tour, 2017. Morris, Illinois. 

Riding the ACA Route 66 Trail and Google Map suggestions. 

What can I say about Illinois. It has a certain presence corn corn corn corn corn corn that really captures the eye corn corn corn corn corn corn and leave one with a pervasive corn corn corn corn corn corn sense of what this place is all about. The landscape is dominated corn corn corn corn corn corn corn by one or two stand out elements corn corn corn corn corn corn corn corn that really corn corn corn corn corn corn corn define the place. Oddly though, I am at a loss for a single word to describe it–one single stalk of a word with the kernal of meaning that can reach high as an elephant’s eye and cut through this maize. Cob dammit, I feel like a husk since I lack the grit to find the right word no matter hominy times I try! Aw shucks.  ​

​Another feature has been roads that are sprayed with tar and then graveled. In time this makes a rough but solid macadam, but when new, the way is sticky and slow, I spent many miles listening to my tires popping tar bubbles as I rolled over them. Much of Illinois looks quite a bit like western Kansas in that it is flat and farm-filled. But there is more housing here and it was of a more familiar eastern suburban/rural nature. I saw very little that caught my eye or looked old. Instead, there were lots of ranch houses with those well-mowed lawns and that big free whose base is surrounded by plants. But the fields really were endless. 

Part of our path to Chicago has us riding the old Route 66 run. I am at a total loss as to why there is some sentimental connection to this highway. Yes, there was song, and yes, it is now a sort of self-perpetuating nostalgia long detached from its original causes, but apart from that I am lost. I guess it mattered that it once was the main road between Chicago and LA, and as such it was the ribbon which bound up many a midwestern family vacation. And no doubt many a Hollywood culture maker had it as part of their psyche and so it became part of ours–sort of in the way the economy of the Planet Televison seems to rely disproportionally on the business of comedy and comedy writing. Oddly, no one can really explain to me why Route 66 should be so important. I missed my chance to go to the Route 66 museum in Pontiac–they might have explained it. The woman at the restored Historoic Gas Station in Ordell could not answer my question either. She confirmed though something I knew–that Europeans were more connected to the Route 66 idea than were Americans. For them, Route 66 connects to some romanticized Americanism whereas for us it is, umm, maybe a fantasy memory of the 50s? I dunno. How many people are left anyway with that Happy Days vision in place? It seems pretty clear to me that as a set of historical sites, Route 66 is fighting an uphill battle to stay relevant. Only a few sections still survive and here and there remain some kitschy motels and trinket shops, but since no one really travels there this way anymore there are no new memories being made. In a generation all of this will be even more mysterious. The whole thing seems linked to that confusing and ultimately unhealthy love of the automobile I saw in elderly riding gangs in Nevada. The romance of Route 66 then becomes something akin to an old racist song or those horrible 50s comedians, who, drink in hand, told jokes about or imitated drunk people: it might have been innocent enough in its day, but it is impossible for us to put the blinders back on and see through those eyes ever again. With that said, anything that leads to the preservation of an old and easily overlook vernacular building is a good thing. So, keep the motels and the gas stations say I–but let’s visit them by bicycle. We can pop tar bubble along the way and corn corn corn corn corn corn corn. 

 

Man Plans, God Laughs Tour, 2017. St Louis.

Finished the Katy Trail.

So here we are in St Louis, or “San loo-EE” as the locals call it, if they spoke French, and if they felt like it. We have spent the Saturday Zero Mile ritual with Robert “Buddy” Paulette (et famille), an old friend from grad school, a Rich Neck Alumnus, and as Sarah claims, one of the two or three funniest commentors on my Facebook feed–high praise given the level of the completion and the standards of the judge. She is right through–Buddy’s quick wit has given us all some true gems over the years. Buddy also is an accomplished scholar with a dynamic research agenda and some upcoming support from one of my favorite George Washington inflected institutions–ahem…. 

To get here, Xander and I finished off the Katy Trail in three days–two of them long ones. We hit the edge of some weather on the last day, but any delays were more due to my perennial quasi-rational fear of rain. All but one of my crashes have been rain-related and I am scarred. Again, Xander kindly indulged my hesitance once I felt a rain drop and saw a puddle, but in the end we still made 108 miles and slept in a nice Warm Showers home when done. We miscounted miles though and made the last 10 miles in the dark. The Katy is sort of hypnotizing already but under cover of darkness it is positively meditative. The next day was the ride into central San loo-EE–an urban ride with some fun hills and traffic dodging. Jews too! We passed a cemetery and a small party starting a burial. I stopped and hung at the back of the group to offer amens and wish the woman’s neshama an aliah in heaven. Having had to miss Gordon’s funeral, I was glad of the chance to pay some small set of respects here. The next Jew stop was a deli with a big blue and white star in the window. This was the first Jewish business I had seen in ages and in could not let it pass. Death and food–it sounds like a Woody Allen movie. 

Once in town, we found our way to Big Shark–the bike store which everyone directed us to. Xander needed a new tire and a small esoteric recumbent part problem addressed. Luck on the former and failure on the later. Recumbents are tricky beast and eventually Xander had to find a specializing shop and even they lacked the part but had a work around. While at Big Shark though, I also took the chance to replace my shoes–three tours seems to be the limit for a pair and my bad habit of unclipping heel inward have left a mark. But that is in the past–I now have a new pair of tourable shoes. Now I need to learn to clip outward. 

After Big Shark, we rode a few more streets and we were in the Shaw neighborhood where Buddy and Bridget raise their son Mack in a really nicely redone home in a neck of town filled with other great looking homes. It was then that Xander faced his biggest test thus far–even though unsuspecting callow youth that he is, he had no idea what lay in store. The question was can he survive a day in the company of two historians. That is no small challenge and one that has withered many weaker souls. All signs though point to Xander having made it through with only an acceptable level of recontextualization. 

Looking back from the banks of the Mighty Mrs. Ip, The Katy Trail itself is something of a blur to me. It was largely a species of green tunnel as I had expected and although there some trulylovely parts, a lot of it is just passing trees and a sandy white path. It was level level level and an easy ride– a great trail and a particularly good one for new cycle tourists. Camping was a bit unclear–so one area for improvement might be campsites along the way. The towns are a mixed bag and they get nicer and nicer as one moves east. And by nicer I mean they start to look more like Virginia towns–really, there were a few that were indistinguishable from Virginia counterparts. In one we talked with a local business owner who explained that the residents worked very hard to maintain the genuine charm of the town. Some of that included keeping out more “probelematic people”–an assessment around which she danced very carefully. I took her meaning though, and given the post-industrial meth and pitbull devastation we saw westward. She said they fought off a Missouri River tourist fish camp plan for the shoreline fearing that they would have no way to move people along when the fishes stopped biting. The issue as she presented it was the balance between possible income sources weighed against fears to maintain property values. Stranger danger vs stranger resources. Many towns with trails face this and there are many responses. I am not sure though this is the best one. Trails represent real sources of income and energy and the Katy in particular has some real state money behind it. Each trail head has a similarly designed information station and bathroom set–though not all have water. One level understands the value of these trails but as we saw in Cute Name Left Omitted Town, Missouri, there is still a strong fear of strangers–a fear strong enough to turn away their money. The irony of course is that each and every town along the Katy was a rail town, and as such its livelihood was dependent on the movement of goods and people up and down those now removed tracks. The original residents were themselves mostly strangers who relocated to be near the rails and in some cases the shells of their businesses are still there to be seen as well as ghost signs on the brick and the carved names of long-gone entrepreneurs. It is a bit late to go all xenophobic now–or at least it represents a curious case of amnesia. 

We paused for a quick swim in the Missouri to break the heat on our long day–making the day longer, but well worth it. The current was very strong and a big whirlpool carried a log around and around so that it looked like a sort of Loch Ness monster or renegade Twainian raft. The river is wide and the banks muddy and wild looking–nothing like an eastern river. The Corps of Discovery passed this way in the spring of 1804 and I don’t think the river looked all that different. These men were strangers then too–and bearing wallets in their own way.  The locals were of mixed minds about the strangers then too. Some saw advantage, others saw trouble. Both views were right then, and I guess both views are still right today. The more things change….

Man Plans, God Laughs Tour, 2017. Clinton, Missouri

Off the Grid Riding Magic Trails

So many miles. Kansas is over now–not for the people who live there–no worries, they are all fine. But for me, it is now a memory. Kansas was the place I knew least about when I planned this adventure, and so it was the place I was most curious about. It has not disappointed. The landscape was so much more varied than I might have imagined. The people too have been wonderful–with of course one notable exception in a white minivan. But now that that I am a border ruffian and have fled the state, it seems a good moment to reflect. First some background though.

I had said that I did not need to have a real plan until I got to eastern Kansas. Until then I was free to imagine continuing on the ACA Trans Am to Yorktown, or turn right and head down to Florida on some mix of roads. There also was the possibility of heading north to ride the Katy Trail across Missouri and then cobble something together to get to Pittsburgh and then sleepwalk down the GAP and C&O to DC–old home week. Well, as it happens the Dago gang ran into some trouble, and I arranged to meet up with Xander in Newton and then head up to Chicago with him. That is the plan, and we met at Newton where he cooled his heels waiting for Captian Slow. Xander took up a berth with a wonderful Warm Showers family in the most amazing Victorian mansion-ette! I wish Rami had seen it–it would now be his most favorite home on earth. My slow progress afforded Xander time to learn the town, settle in, find a job, marry a nice local girl, run for office–the lot. I am not sure he really pursued all those possibilities. At any rate, we set off a few days back to finish off Kansas and hit the Katy Trail–the 260 mile rail trail that cuts across Missouri avoiding both cars and Ozark hills. The Katy is not on the ACA route, but many many people do the detour north to make use of the land’s longest bike path. We worked out a route to the trail head in Clinton that took us along a small rail trail called the Prairie Spirit Trail on our way–a sort of narrower practice run for the Katy. We only needed it for about 30 miles, but it made a great break from road shoulders. 

So, here I am in Missouri, on my way to Chicago and ready to write things about Kanasas. First off, the land was very diverse. The western end was part of that vast plain that stretches out to the Rockies. But east and more east and it gradually became a more familiar farmscape. At one point there suddenly were lots of German names and we entered a Mennonite hot spot. It has been my experience that Mennonite-rooted communities are very friendly places, and indeed that was true in Kansas as well. The odd thing was that 70 miles farther east it was suddenly cowboys again–and not just cowboys, but cowboys in leather chaps and big spurs. In my order of the world, Cowboys were west of Mennonites–not EAST of them! The rules matter! Kansas was flat, but there always were rises and drops. As we got farther and farther east, the rises became more pronounced. Right at the border is became downright hilly. In fact, we rode through some very long climbs and crossed a ridge that would have been at home in Nevada. The reward was riding through the spine of the last surviving bit of tall grass prarie. We had one very hot afternoon in that prarie when we needed water. The town had no stores and we saw no pumps. There was a high school though, and someone had obliegingly blocked a door open with a bit of  two-by-four. That was essentially an invitation, and in we went to fill bottles. That led to sitting down and that in turn led to nap time. At some point one of the two-by-four-dependent workers needed water, and he came down our nap hall and more or less stepped right over us. If our presence was a problem that was the chance to call attention to it. They did not, thus it was not. In the town of Buhler a nice fellow paid for my orange juice and blueberries and a local woman informed me that the recreation center let cyclists take showers for free. I was over there quickly and washed almost as quickly. That little break made what ended up being a 114 mile day a much happier affair. On our last night in Kansas we stayed with a wonderfully sweet family and had a lovely time chatting, joking, and cleaning bike chains. Kansas was a great. 

The Warm Showers network has been amazingly helpful. We met such wonderful, friendly, and welcoming people in Eureka, Parker, and in Eads, Co. It takes a special person to want to be a Warm Showers host. Some are cycling enthusiasts themselves and welcoming others is a good way to payback for revived kindnesses. I know that I stop for every hiker I see trudging along Rt 7 on their way to get groceries in Great Barrington–it just feels wrong to not stop. Janet and Orvin in Newton certainly have done time on their bikes, but they also have a wonderful capacity for caring for others. Robyn in Eurka is one of these as well–a sweet and caring person with a strong care-taker edge. The Campbells in Parker were both cyclists and care givers–but in their case, the whole family was in on the game. They were a great source of information about the upcoming Katy Trail which they rode and knew well. All in all, travel like this is made managable by these sorts of trail angels. It is remarkable that so many people are willing to reach out and open their doors to sweaty road-dirty strangers. But then again, most of the people riding out here are, if not cut from exactly the same cloth, are at least trimmed and edged in similar fashion. Gillian in Eads said that when she opened her ranch to cyclists (in exchange for farm chores), her neighbors said she was crazy and that people would steal from her. She was suitably dismissive saying it was hard to imagine a cyclist trying to rides off with a television, or perhaps a goat. In fact, the only thing most cyclists are liable to steal is storage space for all the things they want to leave behind to lessen the load. On that score, I think I am finally done mailing back all the things I regret carting along–like my sleeping bag! 

Trail angels like these generous people are part of what makes this so great. We live with this constant lie that we are somehow autonomous entities–that we rise and fall on our own merit alone. The truth is that we all are part of some vast hive and our successes are usually a mix of divine favor, luck, timing, and the kindness and labor of others. People who think otherwise are just a bit blind. They need to get out on the roads on a bike more often.

Man Plans, God Laughs Tour, 2017. Larned, Kansas

Riding the ACA TransAmerica Bicycle Route

I got hit today. It was not severe and I was not hurt–I was just clipped by a white minivan’s rear review mirror. But I was very shaken up and really really angry. I was just a few miles outside of Larned at the start of what was going to be a long day. Instead, I had a very short and scary day that ended in Larned right where it began.

I had not planned on staying in Larned at all. This stretch of Kansas has long patches of nothing. Towns that are really just crossroads and miles and miles without any kind of service. It is nothing as bad as the desert–there is water–but it is pretty solitary. I had a great time riding up and over the Pawnee Watershed hills and later made a stop of at the NPS Fort Larned park, because, history. Storms the night before had disrupted my sleep, but even so it seemed warmed out. At 1:30 it turned out it was 104, so that explains the warm feeling. When I rode into Fort Larned I was pretty glad of the shade and cold water. When I rode into Larned proper about 7 miles later the allure of a town was too much to resist. Not that I have been really roughing it all that much. Kansas is dotted with good facilities every 60 miles or so. Over the past few night I stayed in the great gym in Scott City and camped out next to the old High School in Bazine thanks to the nice family that now own it, live in it, and welcome cyclists. But between these wonderful watering holes there is not much. It seems that most riders follow the same path and land on the same lily pads. 

When I got to Larned I learned of the afforbale motel right close by and I succumbed. Soon, I had grocery shopped, cooked, eaten, bathed, and was falling asleep by 9pm. Up by 5 or so today, granolaed, and back on the road soon thereafter. I went a few miles south of town stopped only by a small traffic jam caused by a loading grain train blocking the Main Street. South of town the route runs along Rt 19–a fairly narrow road graced, as it happens, with no shoulder. The white line more or less marks the edge of paving. The next thing I noticed was that the speed limits was 65–and that struck me as a bit  fast even though the road is arrow straight. Right away a roadrunner ran across my path. I think I saw one once before in Arizona but not as close as this. Yesterday I saw a dead coyote by the side of the road, but I have little evidence to implicate this particular bird. The charm of RT 19 I think is that it is lightly trafficked, and indeed, I think only one or two cars passed me before the white minivan. His mirror hit me mid-arm and did not even knock me down. I saw the van speeding off hugging the white line. He made no effort to stop–even though the impact had slammed the mirror back on the door. The road was empty so the minivan had all the room in the world to avoid me. I sceamed and fumed to no avail. I tried to flag down the next car, although I am not sure just why–I think I was just panicked a bit. At any rate, the car just pulled into the oncoming lane and ignored me. Some people are awful. I collected my wits for a bit and made sure I was not actually hurt. I was facing  about 50 miles of nothing eastward, and so I thought it best to head back to Larned in case there was a real problem. Only on my way back did it dawn on me to call the police–hit and run is still a crime. Of course I was probably too late for the sheriffs to have found the van. Nevertheless, once the cars had made it past the train, the sheriffs past me rushing down Rt 19. One doubled back and check in. Deputy Perez suggested I see the EMS team. At first I did not think it was called for, but as we talked I decided to let him call them. Sometimes adreneline can cover pain and I did not want to trust my judgement. The EMS guys did not see anything worrying, and soon Deputy Perez gave me a lift back to the motel–Room three left just as I left it. I filled out some report forms and went back to sleep to silence the anxiety. 

Larned was not in my plans, but I was clearly parts of it’s. I found the local coffeeshop/scrapbook suppply store/tuxedo rental and here I sit watching the cattle trucks and the grain trucks pass by. Burgers and buns, burgers and buns–albeit in their most unprocesed state.  Things here are oddly expensive–and 16 dollars seemed a lot to pay for head shearing–maybe for a full shave–but not just the machine. A store here advertises used c-pap “so clean machines” but most of the store fronts are empty. The streets are largely paved in brick, which is charming, but a bit rattley. I will leave tomorrow at dawn though–“so clean” after a bath tonight. 

In 1700 through, this place was a paradise. The land sits between the Pawnee and the Arkansas Rivers meaning endless water. The soil is fertile–hence all the trucks carting proto-burger buns, and in the old days, the burgers themselves roved in large herds on the plains beyond the rivers. It was easy to get your meat and three veg, and quaff a stiff drink of Colorado snow melt. They tell me that a few miles from here there are surviving ruts from the Santa Fe Trail which ran right through here. But for the Pawnees, Cheyennes, and Arapahoes, each wagon on the trail was a speeding white minivan, swatting everything it could with its massive rearview mirrors. I got off easy. 

Man Plans, God Laughs Tour, 2017. Ordway Co. to Tribune Ks.  

Riding the ACA Trans America Bicycle Route.

Wind. That is the defining thing out here. It colors every action and defines every moment. There are sort gusts, sudden blasts, curling sweeps, hot waves, and cooling zephyrs. Most of all though, there is a constant barrage of headwind pressing against a rider’s desire to go forward. This Mid-western Mistral never really stops–it just presses and presses. It is my constant irritating companion and the sound of its demanding hiss for attention never leaves my sad ears. Sometimes I imagine it as small horse jockey. He is wearing a grarish livery of purple and yellow checks and has his two-toned horsey helmet strapped on tight. He has his little hands clamped hard onto the flats of my handlebars, and he is leaning in towards me, pushing me back with all of his might. His feet are flat to on the ground and as I ride forward despite his pushing, the heels of his riding boots scrap backwards along the pavement leaving little scratch marks and trails of gravel. All day long he stares angrily up at me. Oh, and he is screaming at me too. Sometimes I take a break for a drink or just to enjoy the shade. But when I come back to the bike, the jockey has rearranged himself. For the next few miles, he is going to lay flat on his stomach behind the bike and grasp my rear rack and make me pull him along. I don’t think he minds much how he does it–as long as he is slowing me down. At one bend in the road, near a non-place delightfully named Chivington for the man who oversaw the attrocities committed in 1864 at Sand Creek a few miles to the north, I managed to give the jockey the slip. The road reoriented, and for a moment the Jockey was off his post. He was still there, screaming at me the whole time, but for a mile or so he was sort of hanging onto the left end of my handlebar. Suddenly, my speed jumped up. In no time I was overpedaling and had to shift up three or four gears. The ground was flat but my speed increased even as I felt my effort actually lessen. From the usual 11mph (my depressing Spinal Tap joke–this only goes to 11) I sailed to 13, then 15, then 17mph. The Jockey was still there and screaming, but he was less intense and I could see he was having a hard time giving me a hard time. But then the road turned again, he found his footing once more, we resumed the position of our all-day battle. 

The trucks have a role to play in this too. It is harvest time in this part of Color-ansas, and huge vehicles are shooting to and fro. The horizon is often dotted with lines of giant combine machines strolling along looking like backward mechanical brontosauruses. I see their drivers at every convenience store I stop at–dusty young men in baseball caps mostly, who seem to be in endless good cheer razzing one another and eating snacks. Some trucks carry the grain hither and thither to the silos that are the only buildings breaking the horizon. In Colorado, they also mark towns–but in Kansas they are more frequent and often just sit along rail lines. Other trucks though carry huge farm machines between fields. These are simply enourmous 18 wheelers plus a second trailer bearing 6 more, and are heralded and followed by warning SUVs. The machines have to move between fields because their owners’ livings depend not on the owning of land, but on the operating the machines to harvest it. Teams of harvesters move between towns and fields as needed as well, sometimes staying a day, other times a week or more. My hostel in Tribune is now home to two teams who are in the fields all day and just go to sleep at night. One of their number though seems to be on his own. He just sorts of haunts common room watching Shrek, or sits glumly outside watching the horizon while his fellows work. He has a new cast on his forearm–a clue perhaps to his seemingly unwanted leisure. 

But there is no leisure when the trucks speed by on the road. Their effect differs depending on which way they are headed. The ones coming towards me are the worst. Their arrival is preceded by a momentary silence and then, all of a sudden, the Jockey has five or six friends with him. For a second or two, they are all over me. One jockey wearing black and white stripes is pulling my bike to the right while another all in orange satin, is doing all he can to pull me leftward. The two tug and sway and the bike feels all skittish and unstable. I have to remember each time a truck is coming to get low in the drops and brace for the Jockeys. Meanwhile one dressed in a red top with light blue jodhpurs jumps onto my shoulders and grabs my helmet jerking my head side to side–he kicks my chest with his feet. One time, a jockey in a yellow and green kit tried to grab at any loose items I had on my racks and throw them into the grass, all the while kicking at my panniers. But, blessing of blessings, once the truck passes and the attendant SUV zips by with its dopler-shifted “f*** Youuuuuuuuuuuuuu” trailing in the distance behind me, the new Jockeys all vanish just as fast as they showed up, and I am left alone with my usual friend screaming at me as always.

It is slightly different when a truck comes up from behind me. These of course, present more danger to me than do the ones in the oncoming lane. They are closer–and that is scary enough–but they also once in a while pick up some road refuse and throw it at me. One rock hit me smack in the middle of my back and I had to stop for a moment to recover. If I am going to be hit, it will be by a driver trying to get to the same town as I am. But, my deadly friends have an odd effect on the Jockey.  I have two mirrors so I generally know when things are coming up–larger than they may appear in the reflection. The first thing that happens when a truck gets close is that my Jockey lets go for a moment. On top of that, there is a hot wind that pushes from behind and for a second it is as if everything is lighter than air–no jockey, no loaded bike, just a pushing hot blast. The local drivers know there will be cyclists on the road and they are all adept and thoughtful in giving us plenty of room. Most occupy the oncoming lane as they fly by. This much appreciated consideration has an effect beyond putting safe distance between us. As the truck passes and the Jockey is for the moment disoriented, there is a moment when the full size of the vehicle actually blocks the wind entirely and it is as if I am drafting the truck. The Jockey is, for a second, gone. It is a welcome respite and almost makes up for the mortal terror of having to share the road with these beasts. But, it is a tiny a respite, and as soon as the truck farts its way away, the Jockey is back. He slaps me in the face for thinking that there may be some possibility of a life without him. How dare I dream, how dare I hope. “I am the Gulag and you are Ivan Denisovich, I am Alcatraz and you are my Birdman, I am French Guyana and you are Dreyfus!” he screams at me as he settles his little gloved hands back onto my bars, and the ride continues as before. 

You can laugh now, you screaming harpie–but I will win. I will wake up earlier and earlier each day to ride as many miles I can while the Jockeys still snooze and take medication for their sore throats. If 5:30 am is not early enough, then tommorow I will try 4:30 am–whatever it takes to find the times when you are slacking. And as I get lower in altitude and deeper into Kansas, stable heat and greater humidity will sap your energy. Each mile I ride takes me a little bit closer to the place where your grip will finally fail you, and you will slip, and my wheels will roll right over you. I will back up and roll over you a second and a third time for good measure. And you too trucks. I know your routines now and can avoid the hours when you are most eager to get home. The harvest can’t go on forever. As long as I can make miles, I am winning. 

Man Plans, God Laughs Tour, 2017. The Slingshot is in Full Swing.

Riding the ACA Western Express Bicycle Route.

Sure, I rode this stretch already, but the view was different. Does that count? The fact that the Sierras are so unlike the places I know makes backtracking–um, I mean Slingshotting–seem just like more adventuring. There were a few reasonable climbs today, but what made them hard was really just the heat. It is pretty damn intense. In fact, should climate change carry on as it has so far, in few decades outdoor activity in this part of the world in the summers will not be possible. The big ACA ride circa 2067 will have to be over before May in order to not kill the riders. It will be as impossible to ride here in 2067 as it is now impossible to ride in places like Needles, California where it reach 123 at 2pm today. We also learned that it was too hot in Phoenix for airplanes to take off. Hot. For me it is just about the intersection of aquatics and mathematics. I figure I am drinking roughly a liter of water every hour–that means about a liter every 10-17 miles on average depending on terrain and wind. These numbers are fine when there is water around–even if just at a convenience store. But once past Middlegate–or really past Carroll’s Summit–we were hitting distances like 65 to 75 miles between there being water. That means carrying about 7 liters of water for each of us–and that makes the bike so heavy to get over the mountain passes that I need to drink more to get the load over the hump. It is a losing circle. It seems that one, or possibly two cyclists have already died from dehydration over the last two weeks in this route. I hope that is just a rumor. For these reasons I am happy with The Slingshot. It is costing us more money we don’t have, and I will miss out on Utah, but it will get us out of the worst of it and back on the road. It will still be hot in Colorado, but there will be more water. It’s a moist heat. 

The line is working out well. Our new ride companions, Sam, Chester, and Xander are in good spirits and in good form, so we made good time–well–they all dropped me twice today since I am sticking to my slow and steady approach to heat and hills. We formed a pace line since the head wind was very strong. The drafting worked well until I fell back from a pull and Rami took over on the point. Suddenly the line was speeding up by 2 or 3 MPH and I just let it pull away. Rami is liking the group and I think he wanted to show his mettle. It was kind of fun though watching him pull away–a sort of metaphor for parenting. It also is a sign that The Slingshot is the right call. 

We revisited the convenience stores we hit on the way out and drank drinks. We saw more old folks with odd cars–this time open engine mock hot rods. I am so of two minds about this still. On the one hand, it just more consumer culture sociability and we all participate in that in one way or another. On that score the Mock-Rods score over the ‘Vettes since I am pretty sure that each of these guys did a lot of the actual mechanical work themselves. Skill is always impressive and admirable. The ‘Vetters on the other hand, just make a monthly car note payment to be in the ‘club’ and that is less impressive. On the other hand though, what it comes down to for me is that leisure gas consumption is one part of what is making it impossible to be out here on a bike. It is not an innocent hobby–they are actively participating in something that is harming others, albeit inderectly–depending on how much room they give cyclists. As seniors, they may not be around to see the long term results of their emissions, but they are the last hold outs of a world-view that thought these resources were bottomless, and that is having a hard time understanding the harmful consequences of habits they have always seen as at best a major boon or at worst, harmless. 

Tonight though we sleep under cottonwoods with the smell of sage in the air. Fifty years from now though, this will probably be a desert too. 

Man Plans, God Laughs Tour, 2017. Backtrack Phase One. 

Riding the ACA Western Express Bicycle Route

Let’s call it “The Slingshot”–that sounds better than backtracking. The idea is to roll back a bit to leap forward. Our time is limited, and we have a hard time making the miles we need to get to the eventual rendez-vous. My name for the tour was well chosen. 

Today we made 58 miles in good order with two climbs and a steady headwind. It was of course terrain we had done before, but that is the principal of The Slingshot. I am glad to be leaving Rt 50 behind even though much of the land it traverses is lovely. There is a bleak and foreboding to Nevada. It is a place creatures like us were not meant to live in, and there always is something appealing about those places that have bested us and not the other way around. Sure, there are big boxes here, and Modern Homoamericanus has done all he can to force his needs upon this unwilling landscape. But the sun, and the dust, and the blistering heat are constantly shouting back that man is not the master here. Yesterday in the shade of the cottonwoods and again this morning loading the bikes in the shade of an old bunkhouse, I noticed that the air was just perfect–as far as I was concerned you could just pipe it into my house. But as soon as I stepped out of the shade an into the sunlight, the bright glittering molten sledgehammer came down on my head like sixty pounds of baked potatoes right out of the oven. Meanwhile, we learned that it was hailing in Ely. Someone does not want us here.

It was not always thus. Rami and I napped mid day near some petroglyphs. We had made it through the salt flats where the heat was well over 100 degrees. The picnic tables at the petroglyphs are the first shade we saw in 40 miles or more and we had planned to rest out the worst of the heat there. God himself must be smiling on The Slingshot since the sky was filled with clouds for the first time since we were here. They acted as a parasol and made some of the climbing easier before they took their leave. While we rested, distant dark clouds scuffed into view,and I could see rain falling on the far mountains. About 10,000 years ago this world was totally different and we have to thank the ancient petroglyphiacs for some of this information as well as data from some sites. The killing salt flats had been salt marshes and were home to water birds, sandhill cranes, and of course the people who ate them. Rami reflected on the idea that one problem with man-made and man-enhanced climate change is that it’s speed means that there is not time for animals to adapt. He thought maybe the little tan chipmunks had had the time to adapt to their new environment. Indeed they have–at least to the one they are in now. The animals were on us the second we sat down at a park table. They darted around our shoes and chased around under the table waiting for whatever scrap or crumb fell. They even scampered up the bikes to get in the open panniers and a few even reached up from the ground to try and claw at the bottoms. Adaptive little buggers. We eventually fed them some science fruit squeezes and watched the show. 

It turns out there is a heatwave now and even locals are concerned over it. People tell us all the time that we are crazy–that is common tbing for cyclists to hear. But the heat has added a level of wonder to people’s condemnations–and fairly too. Today was the first day we saw other cyclists on the road. We had passed one or two here or there before, but few tourers and no feeling of mass. Today we passed a large supported group traversing Nevada, a lone east-bounder who looked in fine form and second who was less so. The second’s problem was the he had only one water bottle, was dry already, and had a big backpack on. He was young and strong and would probably be fine, but he knew he needed to adapt to his new environment–like a chipmunk.

We also passed a group of three cyclists who were taking a break. It is always good to stop and chat to see what you might learn about the path. In this case, it was a group of friends from Chicago heading east to, well, somewhere. A bit like us. They seemed up to the task and we rode on. Later in the day tbough we stopped for water at the first convenience after the desert flats and the three riders were there. They had back tracked too and must have passed us while we’re napping with the chipmunks. Now we are a small group riding The Slingshot back towards Carson City. 

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