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America at ten miles per hour

My second bicycle ride across America

Summer of 1993

Trip photos on Flickr

My New York City photos on Flickr

Google map of this trip

When I requested two months of leave from the job, my boss jokingly said, "we pinned your note to the dart board."  Kidding aside, he has always been willing to make arrangements so I could have the time off for bike travel. 

This was my second trip across America on a bicycle.  My first cross country tour was in 1991.

I am a janitor, maybe not a real high status job, but it allows flexibility in scheduling.  Quality of life means more to me than income and status. 

Someone leaned out the window of a passing car to say my jacket had fallen off the back of my bike.  They drove back to pick it up for me.  As they went back to look, they couldn't find it.  A second carload had stopped to pick it up and bring it to me. When the first carload realized this, they drove up beside me to say, "There are at least two honest people in this world."  I tried to thank everyone. 

I put her in low gears, tune my radio to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation station out of Vancouver, BC.  It's available, even deep in the mountains, from the Select-A-Tenna I have on my bike. 

Riding up long hills, I kick back and listen to "songs of the sea;" a CBC Radio special.  It's an all afternoon concert of folk tunes with vistas of snow clad peaks and waterfalls slowly passing by.   Before long, the concert is over.  It's the top of the pass.

This form of fitness is much nicer than watching the boring display on a treadmill.

Flower pots line the walkway into Gorge Dam powerhouse where an observation deck shows off generators.  Hillside behind the powerhouse is a famous rock garden.  Seattle City Light, which owns the powerhouse, has seized this opportunity to make a tourist attraction. 

If City Light can get it's energy from a flower garden, so can I.  Things I do, which keep me healthy, are enjoyable. 
Some times I do aerobics to the music.  It can be like dancing with out the cigarette smoke of most bars.

It rained all day from Grand Coulee Dam to Spokane. Even with a good rain coat, I gradually got soaked.  Thinking I would stay in a motel, the first one was full. 

As the rain started to subside, I set up camp at Riverside State Park in Spokane.  Starting to lay things out to dry, I looked at the sky fearing more rain was in store.  As I filled out the campground registration slip, my ball point pen didn't write.  It was waterlogged.  The ink floated on bubbles of water so it couldn't reach the tip. 

I found a stubby pencil at the registration booth. Remembering news about 1993 flooding in the midwest, I thought I may have picked the wrong year to cross the country.  The possibility of ending my trip in Pullman, WA., where my sisters live, crossed my mind.  If it kept raining each day, I thought I might end my trip and go back to work in Bellingham. 

Sun came out as I rode through Palouse hills to Pullman from Spokane.  Pullman is the town I grew up in.  As I rode into town, a banner along the road read, "Welcome home class of 73."  It was my 20th high school class reunion.  I bicycled to the reunion. 

Some people go on crash diets struggling to loose weight for the 20th reunion, but they still arrive in cars that weigh several tons.  I arrived by bicycle and was able to eat like a pig with out worry.  They invented a new award just for me; "most unique transportation to the event." 

Retired couple in a recreational vehicle, saw me at a state park near Lewiston, Idaho.  They had everything including a satellite dish.  Panniers on my bike were made from waste paper baskets held to the rack with duct tape. The couple in the R.V. thought my duct tape was an interesting set up.  Then the husband whispered into my ear, "If you want to know the truth, this R.V. is held together with duct tape also." 

Another cyclist stepped into the cafe in Powell, Idaho.  We decided to ride together as far as Missoula, Montana where he would head south and I would head east.  As we started up the long grade to Lolo pass a bright sun filled the air. He peeled off his shirt and revealed a nice body.  He had nothing on under the shirt, but tight fitting spandex shorts. Peddling up the grade we revealed, to one another, stories from our pasts.  He turned out to be a Vietnam Veteran who was now over 40.  For someone over 40 he had quite a physique. Most people in their forties look a bit more sagging.  The benefits of cycling can be quite noticeable, especially as years go by. 

We both happened to be camping at a KOA, in Missoula.  On my way off into town he ask where I was going.  I mentioned I was heading off to see what Missoula's gay bar is like.  I felt I could reveal this since he seemed like an open minded person, even though he wasn't gay.  I mentioned that, "I was on the edge of gay culture."  He said he had guessed I was "gay leaning" from the start.  I was intrigued how he could guess.  "Maybe he sensed something."  Anyway, I headed off to the bar. 

The Missoula bar was kind of dull, but not bad.  It had a nice dance floor, but no one was dancing; typical. 

I mentioned that I had bicycled from Bellingham, Washington to a few people at the bar.  Folks were slightly friendly, but somewhat disinterested.  After a few minutes, I decided I had seen the bar and headed back to the campground.

Back at the KOA, my cycling neighbor was surprised to see me back so soon.  He said, "I thought you would be drinking up a storm and partying out on the town."  I said, "I just wanted to see what the bar looked like and wasn't really into the bar scene."  Then a woman came over, from another campsite. The three of us sat around a lantern eating popcorn.  We talked, laughed and had a great time before going to our campsites for bed.  It was probably more fun than the bar. 

Who needs to go to the bar when one can visit a bike shop.  All those healthy bodies with nice legs hanging around getting their bikes fixed.  I have often thought they should make bike shops into social centers.  A cookie plate, or something, might get people mixing in good conversation.  A candy bowl might bring together all that "eye candy." Most of the people in bike shops aren't necessarily gay, but they sure are interesting. 

Bike Centennial (now Adventure Cycling Association) isn't a bike shop or a bar.  The place is a national bike touring organization, head quartered in Missoula.  They do have a cookie plate.  It sits in the lounge where cyclists can relax and exchange travel stories.  Now, if they just had a hot tub.

The person in charge of historic archives, at Bike Centennial, wanted to get my picture.  They have a special curtain to pose in front of.  It's an official portrait.  I hear they made portraits of over 400 cyclists in the Summer of 93. 

The big radio antenna, on my bike, caught the eye of the photographer.   He acted some what unimpressed, saying, "in this job you pretty much see everything." 

Owner of a cafe in Livingston Montana was impressed with the idea of riding a bicycle across America.  He had his staff make a cookie with the logo of a bicycle in the frosting.  Before I ate that cookie, the staff stood with me in front of the cafe for a picture. This might be what they call a warm Montana welcome. 

Finding myself on MAIN STREET in another small town. Dust devils blowing down the street.  Radio reports  today's hog market prices.  After ten minutes, it's time for the cattle and bull prices.  I decide to turn it off, but that means missing today's hay and barley prices. 

In Forsyth, MT. There's a hotel called the HOWDY HOTEL. 

I camped at Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  On the way into the park, I paid the ranger in the booth.  A car going out the other way past the booth stopped long enough for the driver to roll down the window and yell.  "I paid my money and I didn't see one damn buffalo!"  "Not a one!"  "What a rip-off!"  Then the car sped away.

The ranger turned to me and said, "that happens a lot"' "Someone does the quick drive through, never gets out of their car.  They expect to see a buffalo after paying their money like this is a vending machine.  "Buffalo are not always on display."  "They are often in back country." Then he saw my bike and said, "now that's really the way to see the park." 

I  took my time and was able to see prairie dog towns, interesting geology and yes, I did see a buffalo, but that was just icing on the cake.

When on a bicycle, it is hard to stop at a rest stop, in the Dakotas, with out answering people's questions.  One person said he was writing an article for a travel magazine. He photographed me many times and said I had a good chance of appearing in an article. 

As I sat by myself at a cafe in Glen Ullen, North Dakota, someone signaled me to join them at their table.  This rarely happens in Bellingham restaurants, unless one already knows someone, but small towns, across the Midwest and Northeast, are different.  Total strangers invited me to their tables, at least when they saw my bike. They would ask where I was biking from.  When I told them they would say, "Woe-be- Jesus!!!!!"  They weren't necessarily religious, just astonished. 

"Glen Ullen is sort of a funny town," said the man who invited me to his table.  "More millionaires than other towns in the area, also more burglaries."  For some reason Glen Ullen was suffering more burglaries than nearby towns.  Local folks wondered why.  He went on to explain that people in the town were cliquish.  "There was sort of an inside group that cold shoulders outsiders."  "The locals were also meticulous house keepers; not a speck of dust out of place." 

Just then, several more joined our table.  They were shaking heads saying, "this is typical of Glen Ullen."   A town meeting had just taken place, with county law enforcement officials, to discuss the burglary problem. Typical of Glen Ullen, practically no one showed up at the meeting.  They figured, "everyone was behind their closed curtains; probably watching TV.  One of the people at our table was the local police deputy.  She seemed a bit cynical.  police/community relations were not the best here.  "Not showing up for a meeting was sort of typical of this town." 

As they continued to discuss that towns ins and outs, I was all ears.  Maybe I have this all wrong, but it sounded like one burglary suspect was the son of a prominent towns person.  There was pressure from some people to forget that case.  It also sounded like a new comer, in town, had identified a suspect, but towns people didn't take him seriously.  They would say, "what could he possibly know about solving this problem."  He just moved here 4 years ago."  "He can't know anything."  This kind of situation made the job of the police officer more difficult.  Everyone pointing the finger to someone else to solve the problem while protecting their own interests.

More questions about my bike came from a friendly passerby at a rest stop Near Fargo, North Dakota.  Before we talked very long, he mentioned there was a nice recreation center in Fargo.  He noted that it was a nice place to see naked men.  I said, "I had something to look forward to." "The hot tub in Bismarck was sure nice."  I tried out several steam rooms and hot tubs along my route; a great way to relax after peddling 70 miles. 

Then he ask, "are you gay?" I explained, about being on the edge of gay culture. "Enjoyment comes from looking at, and talking to, people places of nudity.  He said, "I am the same way."  "Funny to find someone similar, especially out here in the grasslands of North Dakota."  "looking and talking is nice and these days one doesn't dare jump into bed with someone, what with AIDS and all that stuff going around."  I agreed and said, "sometimes it's nice to go to a sauna or hot spring where people are basically friendly even though most of the people aren't necessarily gay."
"Just being able to relax and have good conversation is a rare treat in this scattered society." 

He mentioned the many towns he had been to where a public sauna or YMCA was the best place to learn about the area from the local people.  "It was about the only place in town where people relaxed, gathered around and actually took time to visit."  I agreed and said, "it can be one of the few places where people get outside their cars, turn off the TV and start talking to one another." 

He described the last few times he had been in a gay bar;  "everything stunk."  "I had to go home and do laundry, just to get rid of the cigarette smoke."  "Bars (gay or straight) aren't very good places to get to know people at." "People are often too drunk for conversation, or the loud music drowns it out."  Then he added, "What conversation there is, it is quite superficial."  I said, "I like going to places where you can actually get to know other people and I didn't feel I could really talk to people in the bar." Then I added, "I might be real strange, but I find intelligent conversation more appealing than quick sex." 

Then he ask if I had met many interesting bicyclists on the way.  I said I had met a lot, but most of them were going the opposite direction from me.  "About all we could do was wave at one another in passing."  "Even when we stop it's hard to hear conversation along side a road."  "Traffic noise drowns it out."  "I sometimes can't even hear my own radio turned full blast."  "It sits on my handle bars, but all those cars and trucks make a lot more noise than people realize."  "There are a lot of things, in our mobile society, which sabotage people's ability to relax and communicate with one another." 

Then I mentioned the cookie plate, at Bike Centennial's Missoula headquarters, that people gather around.

As we talked, he nervously looked at his watch and headed back to his car saying, "Speaking of time and not being able to talk, I've got to go."  "It was nice visiting with you." 

What does it sound like when one million fire crackers all go off at once?  I found out.  Like the sound of a jet engine taking off.  That powerful rushing sound. 

The million fire cracker string was one of many things happening in grandstands next door.  I was camped at the county fairgrounds of Fargo, ND.  There happened to be a convention of fireworks manufacturers in town; 15 companies strong.  I had a ring side seat to their grand finally with out even planning it. 

Visited a friend in Saint Cloud, Minnesota.  I met her by correspondence from Bellingham.  We are both part of a wild network of artists called the Mail Art Network.  Her name was Lavonna and she pleaded with me to drop by. Saint Cloud was on my way, so why not?  She and her husband showed me around and we had a great gab feast. 

At 4 in the morning, while I was sleeping upstairs in their house, the sound of a mournful siren awakened me.  Its loud whale went out into the stormy night.  I looked out the window, but couldn't see much.  Then I heard a knock on the door. Lavonna said, "we had better go to the basement."  "It's a tornado."  All sleepy, we found our way down the basement stairs.  A portable radio was full of instructions on how to survive tornados.  It also mentioned that they couldn't tell if this was really a tornado or not. The nearest weather radar, in Minneapolis, had just been knocked out of service by lightning.  I was getting my Midwest experience.  Soon the all clear was given and we went back upstairs.

Lavonna described a fear of tornados that went back to her childhood.  Her mother took the kids to a place that had been hit.  To make an impression on the kids the mother didn't explain very much.  Lavonna remembered the experience as being surrealistic.  She saw nothing but the foundation of a house.  Everything else was gone.  Everything except the grand piano.  A grand piano standing in the middle of the devastation, as if undisturbed.  Her fear of tornados dated from that day on. 

Next morning, I sent a card from Lavonna's house to another mail art friend in Bellingham describing the experience.  My friend misread the card and thought we were hiding in the basement from a "tomato warning." 


GIANT POTHOLES, some over 40 feet deep, carved by glaciers into granite on the Minnesota Wisconsin border. They were formed during the ice ages when this area was an outlet for the Great Lakes.  Torrents of water caused large boulders to spin like drills. 


Sweet smell of a corn oil plant filled the air.  Bluffs visible across the river.  I relaxed with young factory workers at a hot tub in the campground.  A riverboat, ablaze with lights, made its way down the Mississippi River even though the river wasn't real wide here.  (Mississippi starts in northern Minnesota.)  The sound from a jazz band, at a nearby bar, filled the campground.  Redwing Minnesota, is a "river town." 

Many old railroad beds have been converted into bike paths.  Some even go through tunnels.  There is a mile long tunnel on the Sparta to Elroy trail.  I walked my bike through it in the pitch black.  Water was dripping all around me and I saw nothing but the dancing lights of other cyclists coming toward me. 

It took three years to carve out this mile long tunnel by hand.  Tunnel goes through soft dolomite rock. It was built, over 100 years ago, by pick ax.  Once served the railroad.  Now serves as a bicycle tunnel. 

I met a bunch of retired folks on mopeds.  Buzzing along at no more than 30 mph, they were exploring back roads of Wisconsin.  One of them said, "I have traveled around the world twice in my life time, but didn't really start seeing things until I slowed down and started riding a moped." 

Rolling Wisconsin countryside offers many peaceful county roads. 

Two gardeners, on the University of Wisconsin campus, put down their tools when they saw me.  They were full of suggestions for places to see around Madison.  One of them laid his ear muffs on my bike.  I discovered them, several blocks later, as I was exploring the campus.  The gardeners were grateful when I returned them. 

Like ideal mini cities, college campuses are nice places to go.  I visited many on my trip. 

An ultimate trivia question:  "Where was the first lighted softball field in the US?"  It's in Footville, Wisconsin.  A sign proclaimed that.

I biked south as far as Ottawa, Illinois to avoid getting  close to Chicago.  Near Ottawa, the Illinois State Trail can be found.  It's a bike path along the old Michigan and Illinois canal.  Most of the canal is not used, but the bike path follows its historic route for miles. 

While I was riding, there was a political debate on the radio.  A reenactment of the Lincoln/Douglas debate that debate took place in Ottawa back in 1858. 

Convenience stores in northern Illinois put their clerks behind bullet proof glass.  One pays for their groceries by slipping the money through a trough that goes under the bullet shield.  In spite of the barriers people still tried to be friendly.  A friend of mine, who owns a convenience store in Bellingham where I live, says  bullet proof glass is a good idea for many places.

I noticed many of the doors to these bullet proof booths were propped open; in some cases behind high stacks of heavy pop cases.  A lot of good that would do.  Can't the robber just walk into the booth?  Things were fairly laid back during daylight, but booths can be shut at night.

As I passed through the edge of Jolliet, Illinois a steady rain fell.  It didn't look like a safe neighborhood so I rode through quickly.  Then I realized that the neighborhood didn't look safe because most of the people were black; my own subconscious stereotyping. In reality, it might have been okay, but media images of Los Angeles riots have had an effect on perceptions. 

As I passed an apartment building, a man called out saying, "the door is open."  I just kept riding and didn't look back.  He probably was a friendly person offering shelter from the rain, but would you want to take that chance?  Maybe. 

With-in a short distance the neighborhood appeared more expensive.  Fancier homes and joggers on the street.  It looked safer, but again, all I was going on was first impressions.  As the steady rain turned to a heavy down-pour, I stopped under the shelter of a drive-in restaurant.  The drive-in hadn't opened yet. Two college students stood under the shelter with me. It rained so hard the street flooded in a few minutes. We watched the rain from our comfortable perch and talked about many things.  They were thinking of moving out to Washington State.  They had the impression Washington was mostly free of crime and almost utopian.  I mentioned that there are gangs in Washington as well and a fairly high per capita crime rate compared to several midwest states. 

I also mentioned another form of robbery, the high cost of housing. They were surprised to hear that single family homes ran around $200,000 (1993) in the Puget Sound area.  In the Midwest, homes were more affordable, like around $75,000 for a comparable house.  They started having 2nd thoughts about moving to the Seattle Area. 

Country roads full of potholes and quiet corn fields spanned the short stretch between Jolliet and University Park.

When I visited a friend named Ann, in Billings Montana, she suggested I pay a visit to her brother Craig, in University Park.  Craig worked as an urban planning consultant.  I talked to him on the phone before getting to the area and he said he was going to be gone most of the day.  He was taking his son to softball practice in Chicago's western suburbs and would be home that evening for a visit. 

Thinking I would get farther than University Park, that day, I didn't plan to stay. 

University Park was a strange town, if one can call it a town.  Lots of roads, going off into the weeds.  There was even a bike path, but it just went to vacant lots.  I thought, "who ever planned this place didn't plan it very well."  I kept looking for a place to stop and eat, but there was nothing.  All I saw was big intersections with stop lights, but few buildings, just weedy vacant lots.  Off in the distance, I saw a university campus.  It looked like it was all under construction, all closed off behind construction fences.  Most of the people driving by me were black.  Visions of the Los Angeles riots appeared in my mind again.  Nothing bad happened to me.  People just looked like they were commuting home from work. 

Finally I found a phone booth.  It was still fairly early in the day, but the prospect of a guest room at Craig's place was more enticing by now as the rain was starting again. 

Since Craig was at softball practice, I expected to leave a message on an answering machine, but Instead, I got his wife.  He had forgotten to tell her about me and she was afraid to invite me over.  One never knows, there is always a chance I could have been a criminal. 

Except for her fear, she seemed friendly and suggested I try to find a cafe, or something, to hang out in.  Craig would get back fairly soon and I could call back. 

All I could see was vacant lots and, due to the cloudy day, I had lost my sense of direction.  She tried to direct me to a mall with cafes in it, but it seemed like it would be hard to find.  I decided it would be better to go back to my original plan not to stay in University Park.  I thought, "maybe, University Park isn't that safe if even my host's wife is afraid to have me come by."  I started riding again. 

With-in minutes, I was back out in familiar looking corn fields headed east again.

By evening, I ask a farmer, who was walking along the road, how to get to Indiana from here.  She said the road to Indiana was right around the next corner.  I also ask if there was a campground near by. She said there was one right at the corner.  Things all fell into place.

At the campground, the manager was a woman with a heavy chinese accent.  As she took my registration, she kept stopping to yell, "QUIET!!!!" to her kid.  The kid kept trying to climb shelves in the little camp store, a boring place for a kid to spend hours in. 

That evening, I did an exciting thing --- laundry.  As I was waiting for my laundry, the campground manager was interested in my trip.  Everyone seems to ask how many flat tires I have had.  When I mentioned going through Jolliet and University park she shock her head. With an ugly tone in her voice she said, "It's all black." "It's all black people."  Then she said, "you can leave your bike outside here unlocked."  "Out here in country - totally safe."  "We don't turn away black people, but when they come they only stay one day."  "They don't like it here."  "They get bored and leave."  "Too country for them." 

When I looked out across the swampy lake and dried corn stalks I wasn't surprised if the place wasn't real popular.  Then I said, "nothing bad had happened to me anywhere on my trip."  "The only thing that happened in Jolliet was a person calling out from an apartment to say that the door was open."  I said, "I didn't stop, but he could have been a nice guy."  Then she said, "he mi-e have be-a gay."  I said, "that might not be a bad thing."  Then she ask if I was gay. I said, "I was on the edge of the gay culture, not typically gay, if there is a typical for gay."  When I said that, I hoped she wouldn't throw me out of the campground.  Instead she said, "gay - that okay."  "GOD create us all different."  "We all have right to live."  "GOD create us all, gay, black, yellow, brown."  "We all different, but try - get along." 

From the campground, I tried calling Craig again.  He was now back from the softball game and was kicking himself for not remembering to tell his wife about me. They were both super apologetic and hoping we could still find a way to get together.  We agreed to meet for breakfast the next morning.  He would drive out to the campground and take me out to a nice cafe. 

Next morning we had, what some call, a "power breakfast."  Craig showed up with his briefcases full of planning documents.  He worked as an urban planner and knew I had a big interest there.

We discussed bike paths, urban sprawl and his attempts to preserve the community focus in the towns of his planning area. 

While we were on the subject, I ask why University Park seemed to have no downtown or focal point.  It just looked like a scramble of roads and empty lots.  He said, "the town was supposed to be a model city;  an experiment in urban design, but funding was cut before it had a chance to get off the ground."  "It was a town that didn't happen." 

This was all, of course, long before he got on the scene.  "The university is doing well, but few people live near it."  "It has become a commuter campus."  I said, "all I could see of the campus was construction fences, but I guessed some of it was already built."  He said, "there was a great sculpture near campus that I  didn't get a chance to see."  "It's a pile of cars with offices and living quarters in them."  "The sculpture is about the time Americans spend in cars."  "Americans are living in their cars." 

I wondered if University Park was a high crime area. He shrugged and said, "not really."  "It isn't particularly dangerous, but some people start worrying as soon as they see black faces."  "A stereotype image can skew people's thinking."  I said, "being able to meet and actually get to know people makes a big difference in getting past the stereotypes."  "Fear of crime can make us all strangers." 

I remembered how his wife had been worried about me.  We all must be victims of reading the newspaper. 

As I got well east of Chicago's metropolitan area, people seemed real friendly.  At just about every cafe, campground, post office and store, people came out of the woodwork to ask me how many tires I had gone through. 

There were many stories from people's lives.  They would often start with the preface, "back when I was a kid and we had the big balloon tires."  Another common start was, "I remember Washington State."  "It was Bremerton Navel Ship Yard during the war." 

The owner of the bike shop in Warsaw, Indiana kept pouring me more cups of tea and giving suggestions about good ways to avoid the ugly sprawl around Fort Waighn, Indiana.  He kept saying, "you don't have to go quite yet, have a seat."  As he replaced my back tire, a kid in the shop ask if I had met President Clinton yet.  I explained that very few people get a chance to meet the president. 

The thought of visiting former vice president Dan Quayle's boyhood home came up.  We both decided it wouldn't be worth the side trip. 

I ask if Warsaw had much of a counter culture. He said, "not really." "Around here it's pretty much just production agriculture."  "Pump the ground full of chemicals and get as much money as you can get."  "there is some counterculture in places like Lafyette; around Purdue University."  He went on to say, "even with out much counter culture, Indiana people are basically good people, friendly people." 

When I ask how much I owed him for replacing the tire, he said, "$20 is fine."  I said, "really" since I knew the cost of the tire, alone, was more than that.  I ask, "are you sure you don't want to charge for labor?"  He said, "it is fine."  "You are fun to visit with."  "We are glad to meet you."  "Not everyone rides a bicycle across America."  "Welcome to Warsaw, Indiana." 

I crouched near a barn as a big thunderstorm hit.  Soon I realized I was crouching  beside the ground wire for the lightning rod; not a good place to  be so I dashed around into the other side of the barn.  Thunderstorms are normally fun to watch, but from a safe vantage point. 

With a broken spoke, my wheel was going out of true. The phone book pointed to a bike shop in Bellvue, Ohio.  As I rode up to the shop, it looked like a farm house.  An old woman greeted me at the door.  She said, "you need repairs?"  "He was going to come by today, but I don't know where he is at."  Then she said, "I hate to call him, we just start fighting."  When I thought I should go on to another town, she launched into a long story about her son and his dad.  They had a bike shop for many years.  Then tragedy hit. The father died from a heart attack and the son found his body in the shop.  She said, "sometimes my son still tinkers around out there, but most of the time he's too depressed." 

"I keep telling him the sign is still up and there is an ad in the yellow pages."  "Maybe he should take down the sign and cancel the ad, since people keep coming by looking for the shop."  You know how it is, we just keep arguing."  "He doesn't know what he wants." 

Then she said, "maybe I should call since he did say he was coming by, taking me grocery shopping."  "No I had better not."  "It's hard to know what to do."  She mentioned that he sometimes disappears for days, but she still had a few groceries in the house to last a while. 

I felt that my wheel problem was trivial by comparison. She hoped I could make it to the next town.  My wheel was still ride able so I headed off.  As I rode off she wished me good luck. 

Band music from a college football team played out from the radio as I entered a bike shop in Norwalk, Ohio.  A confidant man said he could fix the spoke.  As the music played, he put my bike up on the stand. 
Then he discovered something I hadn't known.  The axle was broken.  The wheel was riding on my quick release pins.  I didn't know how far it had gone that way, but it would soon be unusable. 

He looked around the shop, but couldn't find a replacement axle the right size.  I said, "maybe I should just give up the trip here and find a train back."  "I thought about all the rainstorms, I had ridden through, bumpy ground I had slept on and tomato --- I mean tornado warnings.  My bed at home seemed inviting. 

He said, "if I wanted to continue the trip we could find a way."  He looked around the shop and found an axle that he could fit to the right size.  The price was very reasonable.  He gave me his address and said, 'be sure and write." "Let me know how the rest of your trip turned out."  I was back on the road again. 

* A year after that trip, someone I knew from Bellingham, stopped in that same bike shop.  When these people said they were from Washington State, the owner showed them the trip booklet I mailed out.  It's a small world.

I never saw a city when I rode around Cleveland, Ohio. It was something called "THE METRO PARKS BYPASS;" a system of parks that form a green necklace around the city. 

Metro Parks is full of bike paths and picnic tables.  I kept meeting friendly cyclists on these paths.  One couple, who were out for the day, rode with me most of the way.  At the end they invited me to their home east of Cleveland that night. 

Part of Metro Parks is along the Cauyhoga River.  That river has been cleaned up.  I remember a time in the 1960s when it was so polluted it caught on fire. 

Clerks at the campground office near Meadville, Pennsylvania marveled at how far I had traveled.  They were also impressed that nothing bad had happened to me.  No crime, mugging or anything. When I mentioned how nice people had been along the way the clerks kept saying, "that's reassuring to hear --- that's reassuring to hear." 

Then they said, "we watch TV and see all the crap." "Shootings, robbing and corruption."  "Bad things make news, but if you really get out and see it, especially at the slower pace of a bicycle, really get out and meet everyday people, you get a better picture."  I said, "I made a point of staying out of people's way and I didn't look like I had much money."  "No one bothered me."

My sister says I keep out of trouble by hanging dirty socks off the back rack of my bike.  No one wants it when it looks that way. 

By the time I got to Corry, Pennsylvania, I was getting a clearer idea of where the trip would end.  Now it was possible to make train reservations for home. 

It helps to know when, and where, one plans to board the train when making reservations. 

I visited a travel agency to make reservations.  It looked like I would get as far as the Hudson River, in eastern New York State.  The best train connection home would take me through New York City.  I had never been to New York City.  The prospect of being there was both scary and exciting.  The travel agent showed me many options and said she could book a full day in the city with hotel reservations.  On the other hand, I could just go through on the train and not see anything.  The train goes through most of the city in a tunnel so one can't see anything unless one spends some time walking. 

At first I didn't arrange to stay in New York because I thought, "a trip to the city would be a full trip in itself."  I said, "piling that experience on the top of my bike trip across America might be too much, like a giant topple tower."  As I said that, the travel agent started laughing. She laughed so hard that she could barely write up the ticket. 

An attractive man got out of a car and signaled me to the side of the road.  He said he had seen my waste paper basket panniers and wanted to learn more about them.  We talked for quite a while. 

Soon his wife came out and joined us.  They were both avid cyclists that lived near Ithaca, New York.  I  was invited to camp in their yard when I made it to Ithaca.

Ithaca was one of the better towns I visited.  Small enough to be friendly, but, unlike many small towns, it was hardly boring.  How could it be boring with Cornell University right there? Both Cornell and Ithaca colleges give the town a cosmopolitan feel.

Cornell was the home of the famous astronomer, Carl Sagan.  I kept asking people how to get to the astronomy building on campus.  No one knew, but several people knew where Carl Sagan's home was.  I kept saying, "I don't want to disturb him at home, but was wondered about an astronomy museum or something."  I never found one. 

As I was walking my bike on campus, I heard a woman call my name.  "Who would know me at Cornell?"  It was the wife of the person I met from the day before on the road.  I was thinking of calling anyway, to take them up on their offer of over night yard space. Running into her was perfect timing to make the arrangement. 

It was dark by the time I got to their house.  I set up my tent. They had a little "A" frame cabin.  They invited me to a party of Cornell graduate students that was at a house down the road.  A pizza had been ordered.  Lots of interesting people were there.  It felt like being part of the "Cornell scene;" at least for a day. 

Deep gorges with shear rock walls wind their way through New York's Finger Lakes region.  Several impressive ones cut right through the campus of Cornell University. 

Countryside in upstate New York is beautiful.  Rolling mountains and good highway shoulders make it a cyclist's paradise, at least in the summer.  After a Chinese dinner in Greene, NY, I headed up the hill toward a campground.  Before I could get very far a farmer got out of his truck and insisted I stop.  He said, "don't go to the campground."  "They charge a lot and you have to be a member anyway."  "Come stay with me, I could use the company." 

He led the way in his old truck.  We went up some windy roads.  I hoped I wasn't being kidnapped.  When I got to the farm it looked fine. It wasn't some place with guns. 

The farmer was in his mid 70s who's house was built around the time of the Jefferson presidency.  I set up my tent by the barn as he fixed a meal. 

He came out and said, "you come on in the house." "Come on."  Stories about the other cyclists he had invited over filled the conversation.  There were several from Boston and some from Europe. 

A football game continued on TV.  As he changed the channel he exclaimed, "I wish they would get rid of the damn ball game and put on the news."  The other channel was a ball game also.  As he turned the channel again he stopped briefly at a public TV channel.  It looked like they had some PBS documentary on.  I said, "maybe we could watch that."  "It sort of looks like news."  He just tuned past and said, "Huh" like he was hard of hearing.  Back to the ball game he went, grumbling that it wasn't the news.  Soon we heard this rush of steam from the kitchen.  He ran in there to find that the safety valve had blown off the pressure cooker.  He put it back on exclaiming, "son of a gun." "That has never happened before."  "Son of a gun." 

We talked about how he almost rode his horses across the U.S. several years back.  Newspaper articles from his journey were hanging from the wall.  He said he had to give up the trip when he got to Washington State.  I wondered what happened.  "Nothing for the horses to eat."  "Your state is barren."  I figured he must have gotten stuck in dry lava fields near the Columbia River.  He said, "Columbia River Valley is not a valley."  "It's more like a gorge."  "Nothing to eat along the way, no right of way."  "It's either barren or it's all built up."  "It's covered over."  Then he pointed to the area around his house and said, "now that's a valley."  "A real valley that is lush and green." 

The CBS TV documentary, called 60 MINUTES, came on.  It had its usual reporting on high scandals. There was a report about an art professor who turned out to be an art thief.  Commenting on all the bad news, my farmer host said, "that's why I am glad I am here on the farm."  "Always lived honest."  "Fair and square."  "You treat me fair, I treat you fair."  "It's a fair deal out here."


I got to Hudson, New York with two days to spare before the train, I had reservations on, left.  It is good to have plenty of time for catching a train so one can dismantle the bike and take care of last minute things such as laundry. 

Everything went well so it looked like I would have an extra day.  The prospect of spending that day in New York City was tempting. 

The Amtrak agent, at Hudson, made visiting the city sound feasible.  He said it would be easy to find hotels, (expensive but do-able.)  I could take the train down to the city a day early so I could have a day there before my train headed west.  Amtrak sold me a big box for shipping my bike back to the west coast. It only cost $5 extra.  I had my ticket ready.  I also needed another box for supplies.  I thought I could buy a second bike box and cut it to size.  The agent said, "you don't want to pay for another box."  "I'll see if I can find a smaller one for you."  He went across the street to a paint store to see if they had any boxes.  Normally one is on one's own finding a smaller box, but this agent was extra helpful.  We finally found one in a storage area at the station.  It was just the right size. 

As I was boxing my bike, another person stopped to ask about my trip.  After visiting for a while, he said, "I don't know you, but I trust bicyclists."  "You can stay in my Manhattan apartment for free."  He lived in Hudson, but used a Manhattan Apartment for office space.  We arranged it with the building doorman.  I had a free space for that night.  It was lucky because you can't even find Central Park bike tours that are free in New York City. 

With my bike and supplies headed west, I was able to board next morning's train to New York City.  My bike box would rejoin me when I got back home. 

Landing in New York City, my clothing was almost worn out from biking 4,000 miles.  A slightly tattered garbage bag held my camera and carry-on items.  People must have thought I was just another homeless person.  It felt fairly safe from crime, sort of like walking in downtown Seattle.  Folks were scared of me from my tattered coat. 

The hardest thing about life in New York City was finding a place to go to the bathroom.  There were no public bathrooms and small restaurant owners seem suspicious of anyone who walks through the door, even when one buys a meal.  I stopped in a lot of McDonnelds just to order and drink for an excuse to use the bathroom.  Then the drink would make me need to find another bathroom.

One store, I went to, gave me a New York City welcome.  The clerk just froze up and kept saying, "no no no no no" as I kept pointing to the film I needed from behind the counter.  She must have thought I was trying to rob her.  Finally the manager came over and explained to the clerk that I had money to buy the film. No one could speak English very clearly. After all that, she rang up the film and wished me a nice day. 

I got a big smile and friendly wave from many police officers on my trip.  Even in New York City, two police officers, on horseback, smiled and greeted people.  Of course I wasn't ever a threat to them. On a bicycle, one can hardly violate the speed limit.  As I try to tread lightly on this world, I usually get good vibes in return.  I sort of have a soft spot in my heart for police officers who face a difficult job.  If we are becoming a police state, it is not the police that are bringing us there.  It is the ordinary citizens, of this country, that will make it into a police state.  Citizens who fear strangers and lock their doors.  It is also the virtual army of private security guards, in the buildings of major cities, that could make us into a police state.

I can't blame people for being scared, but it is, to a large part, the people who determine the mood of the country. 

One can sure see the influence of crime on a city. It can make society into a prison colony.  Every large building had its own force of security guards.  Quite a contrast to the farm towns, I bicycled through, where doors were often left unlocked and people invited you in. 

In New York City, I did what others do; avoided people.  My energy went to looking at buildings.  I had a long "check list" of buildings to be seen from the curb side.  It was sort of like this --- "there's the UN Building, check --- there's the Chrysler Building, check --- there's the Flat Iron Building, check --- there's Rockefeller Center, check, and so on." 

The door guard at the apartment building, I stayed at, was fairly nice, but, as to be expected, there was a small snag.  The regular doorman, was on coffee break.  This person didn't know who I was, but he invited me in anyway.  He let me wait in the foyer until the regular guard got back.  That was friendly compared to a lot of places in the city where the guard will just lock a door in your face and try talking to you through 1/4th inch glass. 

When the regular guy came back, he said, "oh my bicycling friend" and greeted me warmly.  Then he said, "welcome to New York City."  "It's not as bad as you might think." 

A high point of the trip was walking across the Brooklyn Bridge while looking back on Manhattan. 

The tattered sack with my things was getting dirtier as I got to Wall Street, but I was still taking pictures, left and right.  At one point, I over heard some men in business suites saying, "ah the boy is taking pictures, how nice, how nice." 

At the World Trade Towers Plaza I felt small town friendliness for a brief moment.  The 1993 truck bombing at World Trade Center parking garage was still fresh in people's minds having happened a few months past.  Someone still noticed my camera and started visiting with me about where the best pictures can be taken.  I didn't make it to the top of any sky scrapers as their tops were in thick cloud cover. 

Riding the train back home, across the country, was like going on a bunch of blind dates.  When you sit in the dining car, the train staff randomly seat other passengers at the table with you.  The passengers could be from another race, another part of this country or another country.  Each time I sat down to a meal, the passengers, across the table, would introduce themselves.  Eventually, I would be telling them about my trip.  There was a lot of good meal time discussions.  The opportunity to actually get to know people makes a big difference. 

Cookie plates (like at Bike Centennial), hot tubs, sitting across from what was formerly strangers at a dining table can make a big difference. 

By the end of the three day ride, I had made many friends --- possibly too many.  As I was talking and saying good-by, I missed my stop in Everett.  I had to get off in Edmonds and take city busses back to Everett to pick up my bike.  After that small snag, I reassembled my bike and rode back home to Bellingham.

Robert Ashworth